Tag Archives: California

Western States Horse Expo – Sacramento

We didn’t expect to stop in California but we saw a sign, literally, that put Sacramento onto our trip itinerary. We were driving along I5 when we saw a billboard advertising that the Western States Horse Expo at the Cal Expo center would be in Sacramento the next day. We made a last minute decision to go to Sacramento for the night to attend the Expo. This would give me a chance to see a number of different horse breeds and talk with horse breeders, riders, and experts about what it really means to own a horse.

We went for the first day of the Expo and I attended a couple of seminars but the best part of the day was talking with the exhibitors at the Breed Revelation. I heard first hand from the breeders and owners about the characteristics of the specific breeds and why they chose their breed of preference. Before the Expo I was only familiar with the Quarter Horse, Clydesdale, Mules, Arabians and Mustangs but here I had a chance to see some new breeds that I’ve never heard of like the Halflinger,  Gypsy Vanner, Percheron, Peruvian Paso and Tennessee Walking Horse.

Here are some photos of the above breeds that were taken during their breed show events.

Tennessee Walker
Gypsy Vanner
Peruvian Paso
Highland Pony

There was an event called the Ultimate Super Horse where riders went through a series of challenges that were unfamiliar to the horse. The rider would demonstrate their control over the horse and the successful horse would navigate these challenges with little or no resistance. Below are a few photos of these challenges. Some examples of challenges not pictured include where a person with a bicycle would run with the bike weaving next to the horse and rider and another where a person dressed as a hiker would walk out in front of the horse waving their hat and making a wide gestures in front of the horse and rider. All of the riders that we saw made it through the stations but some horses were more hesitant than others to go through them all.

This Gypsy Vanner made it through the shiny / noisy junk obstacle just fine.
This Gypsy Vanner made it through the shiny / noisy junk obstacle just fine.


This Appaloosa was the best at this challenge where they had to walk side-ways with the pole between front and rear legs then walk backwards staying between the poles.
Here the horse had to walk through these scary pieces of foam.

Later in the day we watched the draft horses in action pulling wagons either individually or as teams. The Percherons were my favorites! Here is a video of a team of six galloping through the arena.

At the end of the day we spent some time talking with Lynn of the Gypsy Rose Ranch. The Gypsy Vanner captured my interest so much that I made plans with the breeder to stop by her ranch in Lodi, CA on our way through California later in the month.

Yosemite National Park

We only spent one day in Yosemite on this trip but we have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend many, many days in Yosemite over the years. Living in the Bay Area we were only about 4 hours from the park and we took advantage of the proximity to this valley. One of our first trips to Yosemite was to climb Half Dome during a full moon. That was an experience we’ll never forget. From the top of Half Dome we could see flickering embers of distant controlled burns and the valley glowed with the moonlit granite monoliths. It is one of my favorite memories of Yosemite. Our other favorite times to visit the valley is after a snow during Christmas or Thanksgiving when there are only a handful of tourists around. The park is transformed by the snow making it feel like your own little winter wonderland.

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This photo was taken on Dec 26, 2012

On this visit we arrived just before midnight during the height of the tourist season which also meant that there were no campsites available. We didn’t have any reservations and the only place to stay in the valley was at Housekeeping Camp which was our most expensive campsite of the whole trip for a slab of cement, three walls covered by a tarp and a cot with no bedding to sleep on. It was the last place that I wanted to stay given that a few people contracted hantavirus from the accommodations. It’s a deadly virus spread by mouse droppings. I didn’t sleep well that night with dreams filled of mice climbing the walls and crawling on me.

We spent our day in the valley visiting Yosemite Falls and walking up to Lower Yosemite Falls. We watched a few people jumping off the bridge into the Merced River then relaxed near El Capitan. I was able to put my new binoculars to use by spotting climbers inching their way up the massive granite face. We’re pretty happy with the binoculars which I purchased at REI. I wanted something of a reasonable size that I could take on our hikes in Alaska in the hopes that I can spot some wildlife at a safe distance. We settled on the Nikon Monarch M511 8×42.

We left our favorite valley sometime in the late afternoon continuing toward Oregon via Sacramento, CA to Ashland, OR.

Parked outside our tent at Housekeeping Camp.
The rustic interior. 🙂
Climber on his way to El Capitan.
A view of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.
Hanging out at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.
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Beautiful Half Dome
Sunlit butterfly on our walk along the Valley floor.
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Close-up of the Merced River.
Keeping cool in the waters of the Merced.
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Bridal Veil Falls blowing in the winds.
Shadows in the valley.


Mono Lake, California

After picking up my license from Crowley Lake we went back north to Mono Lake. This is just north of the junction of 120 and 395. It’s one of the bluest lakes that I’ve ever seen. Set against the backdrop of the barren eastern sierra makes the blues of the lake pop. Along its edges are tufas which are made of calcium-carbonate crusts.

There are brine shrimp and alkali flies that birds feast on during their transcontinental migration along the great flyway. It’s a magnet for photographers who arrive by the van loads to capture the landscape in the softer evening light. We left at about the time they arrived and didn’t capture the sunset. We still had a lot of driving ahead of us to get to Yosemite Valley and we still had to stop for dinner. Our time at Mono Lake was short but as always, it was a lovely way to spend the late afternoon.

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Bodie…Our favorite Ghost Town

After Bishop we started our drive north on 395 toward Bodie. The plan was to buy me an annual fishing license since I purchased only a day license earlier.  Darryl already had an annual one knowing that he would want to fish later in the trip. After Crowley we would spend the night on the BLM land outside Mammoth. We stopped at Lake Crowley just long enough to purchase the license and take a few photos.

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We camped a few nights on the BLM land outside Mammoth last December during our trip to visit the hot springs. There are about 5 hot springs in the area and we visited all of them during that earlier trip. The hot springs didn’t sound as appealing in 100+ degree weather so we skipped them on this stop. The area is a popular place for campers considering the popularity of the hot springs which can get a little crowded at times but the views make it well worth it.

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This is a photo at Wild Willies hot tubs from our December-2013 trip.

This evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset with rainbows and storm clouds that threatened rain but never delivered.



The next day we stopped into Mammoth for breakfast then did laundry. After our morning of errands which included laundry and buying me my fishing pole and lures we found a little fishing spot along the Mammoth Creek so Darryl could give me a spinning lesson with my new pole. I managed to catch the weeds right next to me, the bushes across the river and a tree and then a brown trout! It was only abut 4 inches long so we tossed it back into the river to continue its journey.


After my fishing lesson we went to Bodie. We love this ghost town having visited it once before almost 15 years ago. We overheard a waitress describing Bodie to a customer a few nights earlier saying that it’s kinda boring and if you go, you might stay for about 20-30 minutes. Well, we were there for almost four hours! If you like history and taking photos of interesting scenery with beautiful backdrops, this is the place for you. If you don’t like that sort of thing then maybe skip this side trip. Bodie is a typical gold rush era town growing from a handful of people to over 10,000 in just one year. There were some interesting characters that lived here back in the day. The town’s reputation for lawlessness is evident from this quote from a child’s diary after learning she was moving to Bodie; “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.”  Evidently the law did rule the business relationships when James Cain sued Standard Mine, the largest gold mining company in town, for drilling on his mine. He won the lawsuit and ended up owning the trespassing company when the resulting fines broke them.

You won’t find any services at Bodie except for a few porta potties. The state park service maintains the town in a “state of arrested decay” which I think means that they do the bare minimum to preserve the town’s structures. There are quite a few tourists that come through but not so many that they obstruct the photographs. It’s only about 30 minutes north of Mono Lake off of Hwy 395 up a well maintained dirt road. We recommend taking the time to make a short side trip if you like this sort of thing.

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On our way back from Bodie I noticed that I forgot my drivers license at Crowley Lake. So instead of camping at Mono Lake we headed back down to Bishop so that I could pick up my license the next morning. It’s a good thing we don’t have a set schedule!

Exploring new hobbies in Bishop

Welcome to Sunny and very, very, very dry California!

Now that we arrived in California, our next destination was Bishop, CA. We heard that Bishop was a nice town in the Eastern Sierra popular for its fly fishing and hot springs among other activities. We decided to stop through there on our way to Mono Lake, Bodie and Yosemite. Bishop is a small town with a lot of character and we fell in love with it! Our quick drive-by became a 5 day layover. Mammoth is a small town of about 8,000 people. The town lies within the Owen’s River Valley backed up against the mountains with nearby Mt. Whitney. Just the sort of place to spend a few days to get to know its character and the perfect spot for us to explore some new hobbies.

Photography is one of Darryl’s interests and he was familiar with the work of the late Galen and Barbara Rowell. Their studio is Mountain Light Photography gallery located in Bishop. They were able to capture moments that the majority of us with cameras never see.  There were stories alongside many of the photographs explaining how the photo was composed, the time of day and the inspiration. These photos didn’t come by chance, they were planned and their patience paid off. They traveled the world for their photography and we’re looking forward to seeing many of these places along our own journey.

Our time in Bishop turned into an experience of personal discovery for us where we indulged in our personal interests one of which is fly fishing. During the past year we started looking into the sport and in the fall of 2013, we spent a day with the late Bill Lowe of Sacramento, California. He was a fly fishing guide and a wonderful teacher of the sport. We had a great time on the American River where Bill taught us the fundamentals of fly fishing, casting, how to read the currents and a basic intro to entymology. The day piqued our interest enough to purchase the gear and put our very basic skills to the test as we travel.

Our next stop in Bishop was at the local fly shop to get recommendations for fly fishing guides in the area. We were fortunate to find Beryl Rhea of The Trout Scout and she was able to fit us into her schedule at the last minute. She took us up to Upper Intake 2 along Hwy 168 for an afternoon of fly fishing. I loved it! I even caught a few fish! Mine were small brown trout and rainbow trout but Darryl managed to catch a respectable size rainbow of about 4 pounds! We left all of our fish in the lake but came away from the afternoon with a heightened interest in learning more about this sport. We hope to have many more opportunities to practice fly fishing but we bought spinning reels if we actually want to have something to eat for dinner. 🙂

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Nancy w trout



In the spirit of exploring our interests, Darryl encouraged me to call on one of the many horse trainers in the area. Like many little girls, I was obsessed with horses when I was growing up. My dream was always to own a horse but I never pursued this dream. I had lots of excuses for not doing so like too much work and not enough time. Darryl pointed out that I don’t have these excuses anymore so why not reach out to really learn about what it means to be a horsewoman? I found a horse trainer, Linda of the Double L Ranch, and gave her a call fully expecting that she wouldn’t have time to answer my silly questions. To my surprise, she spoke with me for almost 20 minutes giving me some advice on how to pursue this dream while traveling! She also introduced me to the idea of owning a mule instead of a horse. I have never heard of such a thing and learned that mules are 15x smarter than a horse and are more sure-footed than horses on the trails. Mules also tend to establish a stronger bond with their owner than a horse does. This was all very intriguing to me.

We stopped by the Double L Ranch to see if she had time in the next couple of days to give me a riding lesson. She had time right then but I didn’t have the proper boots to wear. So instead, she spent the afternoon showing me how to groom and tack a horse and then had us stay to watch a riding lesson. She walked us through the basics of what she was looking for and what she was asking of the rider. It was a wonderful introduction into this world! But I really wanted to get onto a mule so she sent me to the local horse riding outfitter to buy some proper boots to wear and agreed to give me a lesson the following day. Here are some photos from the ranch.




They love their mules here!

The next day I arrived ready to start my lesson and Linda introduced me to Max, their champion mule. We thought that I would have a chance to ride him but he wasn’t very interested in being led to the riding area. Since this is uncommon behavior for him, Linda looked him over very closely and found that he had a sore on the back of his leg so we put him back and pulled out Jazz, a chestnut quarter horse.

Max the mule. Isn't he handsome!?
Max the mule. Isn’t he handsome!?
Cleaning Jazz's hooves before our riding lesson.
Cleaning Jazz’s hooves before our riding lesson.
Linda giving me a few pointers before we head out into the arena.
Linda giving me a few pointers before we head out into the arena.
Keep your head up and your eyes forward!
Keep your head up and your eyes forward!
Getting the hang of it. Look at that view!
Getting the hang of it. Look at that view!
Jazz enjoying her cool down after our lesson.
Jazz enjoying her cool down after our lesson.
Another beauty on the ranch. She was curious about Darryl's camera until the shutter clicked and the she bolted.
Another beauty on the ranch. She was curious about Darryl’s camera until the shutter clicked and the she bolted.


After our time at the Double L Ranch we drove up into the mountains to cool off. We stopped to enjoy the view at Lake Sabrina.





DSC02777Before leaving Bishop, we drove through Fish Slough to find the petroglyphs that we heard were out there. Darryl read about them but it was difficult to find any information on their exact location. It seems that there has been much vandalism to the petroglyphs. Vandals have written over them while others stole some of the pieces and in the process they destroyed some of the panels. He did find the coordinates for the petroglyphs which were on the main road out to Fish Slough.





You can see the piece stolen from this boulder toward the front of it.

We had a wonderful time in Bishop and look forward to returning sometime soon after our trip. If you get a chance to go, check out the Burger Barn! We ate there twice while in town. The menu is a riff on the plain burger with dozens of options for your toppings. They get the fundamentals right starting with fresh food sourced locally and prepared well. It wasn’t anything fancy but oftentimes I find that fancy is overpriced and they under deliver. This place makes a reasonably priced meal that tastes great.

My dirty hippie sandwich - a veggie burger topped with bacon and cheese. So good!!
My dirty hippie sandwich – a veggie burger topped with bacon and cheese. So good!!


Anza-Borrego State Park

We only spent a day in Anza-Borrego but this park deserves much more time than we gave it. We arrived late so had a quick dinner and then we set out for an evening hike in the moonlight.

Palm oasis silhouette at sunset.
Palm oasis silhouette at sunset.

The next morning, we took our time with breakfast and eventually made it out for a short hike. The nature trail included a self-guided tour with numbered posts along the way pointing out various plants and interesting points along the trail.

Our morning hike.
Our morning hike.

It was in the mid-90’s during our hike and completely exposed. We could see the oasis off in the distance but we were walking through this beautiful desert landscape.

Our destination off in the distance.
Our destination off in the distance.

I kept looking up in the hills hoping to see the elusive big horned sheep but I never saw one. We continue to see signs along our travels telling us that there are small herds of big horned sheep in the area but we have yet to see any. I need to invest in some binoculars and then perhaps I could find one! All I found along the way were these beautiful lizards and one tiny toad.

We saw a bunch of these guys. I loved their brilliant colors.
We saw a bunch of these guys. I loved their brilliant colors.
A rare treat to see a toad along the trail!
A rare treat to see a toad along the trail!

Anyone that has been out on a trail, in a car or on a bike ride with me understands my very limited directional skills. This is perhaps why my loving husband felt it necessary to tell me which direction to head even though the state park had a sign posted as well.

A sign left for me by my loving husband. Can you see it?
A note left for me by my loving husband. Can you see it?

Our destination! It was worth the short 1.5 mile hike to get here. We spent a short time wandering through the oasis and enjoying the shade. There was a stream through here that ran over some boulders creating little waterfalls. We turned around at this point but you can continue up the canyon where there are hundreds of palms throughout. It’s a beautiful juxtaposition of green against the desert landscape. There’s much to explore here which will have to wait for another visit.

Amazing to see a palm oasis in the middle of the desert.
Amazing to see a palm oasis in the middle of the desert.

Hanging out in San Diego

After our two kayaking experiences in Baja we decided that it would be wise for us to take some kayaking lessons to gain some proficiency in this sport. We really enjoyed our time on the water but we spent a lot of energy during these short trips. Since it’s a sport that we’re interested in pursuing we decided to invest a little time and money getting some tips from an expert. We found our expert at Aqua Adventures Kayak Center in San Diego. Jen Kleck, the owner, was our awesome instructor with Paul as her co-instructor. Jen is a patient instructor with an impressive background. In 2009 she was the first American to reach the highest coaching standard within the British Canoe Union. We had a great time out on the water learning various paddling strokes for steering, bracing and propulsion. We also learned some very important skills related to capsize recovery. I’m pretty confident that Darryl or I will tip over at some point giving us the opportunity to put this particular skill to the test. Darryl scored extra points by doing a double capsize recovery where both kayakers tip into the water and have to recover both kayaks and paddlers. I learned how to do a self-recovery by using my paddle with a flotation devise attached to the end of it as a brace and pulling myself into the kayak. Our lessons were in a protected marina setting so now we need to practice these recovery techniques in a real world situation out on choppy, moving water.

With Jen and Paul after our day of kayaking lessons at Aqua Adventures in San Diego.
With Jen and Paul after our day of kayaking lessons at Aqua Adventures in San Diego.

After our lessons, we spent some time exploring the San Diego area and driving along the coast up to La Jolla. We really enjoyed out time in San Diego. We camped at Campland on the Bay which is an RV type of campground that allowed tent camping. It was nice to have hot showers every night although we camped on the asphalt in the parking lot. The campground is just a few blocks from Pacific Beach so we spent a few days exploring the neighborhood and walking along the coast.

If only I could fly!!
If only I could fly!!
These beaches are gorgeous.
These beaches are gorgeous.
At play with the sea lions.
At play with the sea lions.
Harbor seals at Casa Beach in La Jolla, CA.
Harbor seals at Casa Beach in La Jolla, CA.

One of the goals for this journey is to find our new home. When we find a place as wonderful as San Diego, we explore the neighborhoods to try and get a sense of the place. This would be a great city to consider except that the cost of living is almost on par with the Bay Area. We are looking for someplace where the cost of living is less than the Bay Area and more low key. San Diego definitely felt less stressful than the Bay Area, especially in the Pacific Beach neighborhood but there is still the high energy city vibe going on that doesn’t fit our vision. However, it does have a pretty awesome dessert place to satisfy my sweet tooth! We had to stop at Extraordinary Desserts one more time before we left.

More desserts at Extraordinary Desserts!
More desserts at Extraordinary Desserts!
Decisions, decisions!
Decisions, decisions!

The biggest highlight of all during our stay here was seeing our good friend Renee. She recently moved to San Diego so this does add to the city’s potential as a new home. We’ll keep the area in mind but would likely try to find someplace in the surrounding area that is a little more economical. The search and the journey continues.


Balboa Park – San Diego

We spent a couple of days at Balboa Park visiting the museums, looking through the artists’ studios and enjoying the people watching. The park was a beautiful backdrop for weddings. These couples looked so happy in their moment and the variety of ceremonial styles reflects the wonderful and varied ethnic make-up of San Diego.





There were so many museums that we didn’t have time to see them all. We chose the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) and the Museum of Natural History. The photography museum had an exhibit of the Prix Pictet prize winners of the year’s theme of “Power”. Each year, an important social or environment theme is chosen. These were photos demonstrating the artist’s interpretation of Power and its societal and environmental impact. There were 12 shortlist artists whose work was on display. These ranged from photos of the Chernobyl nuclear waste zones by Rena Effendi, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill by Daniel Beltrá, and incredible photos of the raw emotions on display by our world leaders at the 11th United Nations Conference on World Climate Change by Joel Sternfeld. This was photo journalism that reminded me of Life Magazine and what I miss in today’s journalism. Creating an image that really makes the viewer think is so undervalued today and it was refreshing to spend the time admiring this artform. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take photos in the museum for obvious reasons but I encourage you to take at look at their work here http://www.prixpictet.com/portfolios/power-shortlist/.

We saw an exhibit on Real Pirates at the Museum of Natural History that we really enjoyed. The booty from the slave ship Whydah, a sunken pirate ship, was on display along with the narrative of the ship’s captain “Black Sam” Bellamy. The ship sunk in 1717 off the coast of Cape Cod and wasn’t discovered until 1984 by Barry Clifford. We have all heard of pirates but I really had no sense of the number of pirates (around 2000 at the height in 1720’s) that were terrorizing the high seas and coastlines of the Americas during the 1700’s. The possibility of making a small fortune as the crew of a pirate ship was the lure for many young men, and a few women. These pirate crews would share equally with their mates if they landed a ship.

There were no photographs allowed in this tour but here is a photo of the museum being attacked by a pirate!

The rest of the Museum of Natural History had the expected displays of fossils and information on our earth’s history. I love going to museums to learn about the natural history of the area I’m visiting and the San Diego museum had much of its focus on Southern California and the peninsula of Baja California both on land and sea.

Mouth of a finback whale.

There was a special exhibit on California’s water history. I love seeing the creative ways that information is displayed. Museums have the special challenge of trying to be informative and engaging in designing their exhibits. I loved this particular display showing how the water of the Colorado River is siphoned off to various cities and states along its route. The most startling fact that I learned in this exhibit is that only 2% of our earth’s water is fresh water that would be suitable for human consumption in all of its forms for drinking, watering our lawns, gardens & crops or for our livestock.


There is a beautiful botanical garden in Balboa Park which had beautiful displays of orchids.

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This orchid looks fierce!


We spent quite a bit of time just walking through Balboa Park, enjoying the scene and doing a lot of people watching. We also spent a little time going through the artist studios and speaking with the various artists about their passions. There were potters, painters, sculptors, jewelers, glass blowers and perhaps others that we missed.


At the water’s edge near the botanical garden.
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Mallard close-up
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Street scene in Balboa Park
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Balboa Park from the artist’s perspective.

USS Midway in San Diego

I underestimated the amount of time that we would want to spend touring the USS Midway. The ship is massive and there is so much to see and learn during the tour that it would take a full day to cover everything. We completely ran out of time so missed the presentations about the control tower, the launching of the planes and the landing of the planes.

The number of volunteers that are on the ship assisting with the tours and basically making the whole USS Midway accessible to the public is amazing. They are also responsible for much of the work that went into cleaning the ship like removing the rust from the anchor chains (each chain weighs 156 lbs) and twenty-ton anchors on display. There were veterans at various audio tour spots who would who would answer questions or provide their own short presentation relevant to the particular section of the ship. We were fortunate to hear a veteran’s experience as an intelligence officer during WWII. The whole experience just added to the respect I feel for all of our military personnel who serve our country. This is definitely not a pleasure cruise.

The flight deck is 1,001 feet long and 4.02 acres.

They’re living in quarters that I doubt the average person would consider living in for any length of time and working jobs that would be demanding under normal conditions on land but they might be out at sea under the stress of war. It’s beyond my imagination to truly appreciate what they do. Imagine coming back to these bunks after a long day!


The displays were impressively designed to give the tourist a sense of what life was life on the ship with life size figures dressed in uniform performing their duties as if frozen in time.




View from flight deck. Do you recognize anyone here?



After our tour we had dinner at Ra Sushi in the Gaslight District. The food was quite good but what I was really looking forward to was dessert! Darryl found this amazing dessert place which was the second highlight of our day! Karen Krasne’s Extraordinary Desserts DSC00065has a mind boggling number of desserts to choose from and they all look delicious which makes it even harder to choose just one. During our stay in San Diego, we tried both of their locations because it was that good! They have a smaller restaurant in Balboa Park neighborhood which features desserts, cakes and teas and a larger restaurant in the Little Italy neighborhood near downtown San Diego. Karen studied at France’s Cordon Bleu culinary school and although she is recognized as a celebrated pastry chef, she frequently returns to France to train with other masters and finds inspiration through her travels.


Inside of Balboa Park location.



Death Valley to the Salton Sea and Places In Between

We started our trip at a little past midnight on Saturday, March 8 heading toward Death Valley from our home in San Jose, CA. The distance is just over 400 miles which we broke up into two stops. The first was at a Holiday Inn Express in Fresno, CA and the second at Ricardo Campground in Red Rock Canyon State Park just outside Mojave, CA.

This was our first camp site.
This was our first camp site.
Darryl washing dishes after breakfast.
Darryl washing dishes after breakfast.
Our home for the next 6 months.
Our home for the next 6 months.


On 395 near Olancha, CA we stopped to check out the Freshjerkey.com. Neither of us eat much jerkey but this was really good! Nice and tender with great seasoning. Their dried apricots were so good that Darryl had to return after getting gas to buy another bag. DSCN0235We were thinking that we found this unique little place until we saw another one a few days later outside of Beatty, NV. In any case, we highly recommend the jerkey and the dried fruit so check them out on line at Freshjerkey.com and they will ship their goodies your way.

Dropping down into Death Valley we stopped at a vista point off of 190. The views were spectacular but impossible for me to capture adequately on film.DSCN0258

We stayed at Panamint Springs Resort in Death Valley. I met a fellow Iowan working at the General Store. She and her boyfriend were following seasonal work throughout the National Parks. They just came from Glacier National Park. Pretty cool way to spend your first years out of school in my opinion!

Enjoying the trip!
Enjoying the trip!

The next day we went to Ubehebe Crater. We thought that it was a crater created by a meteor but learned that it’s actually the result of a volcanic eruption and there are many of these craters scattered throughout the park.Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley

We hiked down to the bottom of the crater which was a pretty steep descent. You can see Darryl off in the distance.
We hiked down to the bottom of the crater which was a pretty steep descent. You can see Darryl off in the distance.
From inside the crater
From inside the crater

We had hoped to drive through Titus Canyon on this trip through DSCN0435Death Valley but learned that it was closed due to some washouts that were being repaired but might reopen any day. In the meantime, we decided to do a side trip over to Las Vegas to pick up some car parts at the Toyota dealer. Along the way, we stopped at Rhyolite, a ghost town just West of Beatty, NV. There were still a number of buildings visible.

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Cook Bank Building
Cook Bank Building

DSCN0393There was a quirky little outdoor art exhibit at Rhyolite led by Albert Szukalski which led to the founding of the Goldwell Open Air Museum.

An interpretation of The Last Supper by Albert Szukalski.
An interpretation of The Last Supper by Albert Szukalski.
Ghost rider
Ghost rider


After Rhyolite we headed over to Las Vegas and had the best BBQ yet at Road Kill Grill! IMG_1156This was a real find thanks to Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. When we don’t have time to get a local’s recommendation, we have had great luck at checking out the spots that he has reviewed http://www.flavortownusa.com/.


Our next stop was to learn about ghosts at the Amargosa Opera House. Someone we met from Pahrump, NV told us about the place and how it was featured on a ghost hunters program. DSCN0468We thought that it would be fun to stop by and take the tour. We Didn’t learn about any ghosts but instead were treated to the fascinating life story of Marta Becket. She is 90 years old and owns the tiny town with a population of 2. She passed through Amargosa in the late 60’s and returned for good in the early 70’s leaving New York with her husband to create a new life in the West. She held weekly performances in the Opera House but rarely had an audience to the remote location. Marta decided that if she didn’t have a live audience then she would create her own and painted the murals the decorate all of the walls and ceiling of the Opera House.



After the tour, we walked over to the little cafe in the hotel and had the BEST cherry pie EVER! DSCN0469Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo quick enough. If you ever drive through Amargosa, this is well worth the time to rest and have a wonderful little treat.

Our next stop was Dantes View in Death Valley. This viewpoint looks over Badwater in Death Valley. Again, the views are dramatic but I haven’t figured out how to do them justice in my photos.



On our way back from Dantes View we took the dirt road through 20 Mule Team Canyon. This was our first “off road” trek which was extremely tame. Just the sort of baby steps I needed to get comfortable with the idea of “off-roading”. 🙂 There was really no need for a 4×4 and the views were stunning. It is definitely worth of a short side trip given the scenery.DSCN0512

That evening we camped in the back country along Hole in the Wall road. This was our first free campsite in Death Valley since we didn’t realize that you can actually dry camp in the back country as long as you’re 2 miles off any main road. There is a DSCN0585brochure that you can get at Furnace Creek if you ask the ranger. It’s not something that is publicized and we couldn’t find any information about backcountry camping on the National Park Service’s website.

Our first free campsite and my first attempt at using the tri-pod and timer.

We drove to the end of “Hole in the Wall” road after breakfast and found more beautiful views and interesting rock formations but we couldn’t find the hole.DSCN0540


Since Titus Canyon was still closed we decided to venture back toward Stovepipe Wells and DSCN0558do the short hike at Mosaic Canyon. The hike was nice and cool since it was through a tight canyon with cool marble-like rock surrounding us. Here we are at the end of the canyon.

After the hike we made the trek toward our next campsite at Wildrose. This was also free but was a maintained site with vault toilets and fire pits. As we watched gained in elevation, we knew that we would be in for another cold and windy night! We learned that March is the windiest time to visit Death Valley and the nights got down to the high 30’s but the days were perfect just hovering in the low-mid 70’s. The campsite as at 4,144 feet but FREE! DSCN0574On the way, Darryl had me get out and take a few shots of a “bad ass” vehicle we saw along the way. There will be a separate home for his killer vehicles that we’re collecting along our trip.

The next day we drove down to the Swiss engineered charcoal kilns DSCN0591built by Chinese laborers in 1879.These were built to make charcoal, a process that would take up to two weeks. This charcoal was used for the silver and lead mining operations at Modock Mine in Death Valley. The kilns closed after only 3 years of operation.

After our venture out to the charcoal kilns, we headed back to Furnace Creek, a distance of over 70 miles, to ask again if Titus Canyon was open. Unfortunately, it was still closed with two more sections to fix. It wouldn’t be open anytime soon so we decided to move forward with our trip and leave Titus Canyon for another day.

We stopped in Baker, CA for gas and a quick bite to eat to figure out our next place to spend the night. We decided on Hole in the Wall campground DSCN0614in Mojave National Preserve. A little trivia for you here; the difference between a National Preserve and a National Park is that you can hunt in a Preserve. Fortunately, our campground was in a “Safety Zone”. We know this because there was a sign posted at the entrance. I only hope that bullets can read signs. Our campsite cost $12.

The next day we headed over to Kelso Depot and spent some time looking at the “Mojave Moonlight” photo exhibit by Tom Lowe. They were pretty impressive photos of the desert at night. IMG_1170Our next stop was Kelso Dunes. I was enjoying the stroll through the dunes then realized that Darryl had a workout planned for us when I saw him heading straight up the side of a dune rather than taking the more gradual route along the ridge. I then learned the literal meaning of “one step forward and two steps back” on that climb!

On the way down, Darryl took the easier route.
On the way down, Darryl took the easier route.

We headed out to Barstow to find a few ghost towns to visit before heading down to Joshua Tree National Park. IMG_1182On the way we spent the night at Owl Canyon Campground in Rainbow Basin Natural Area (BLM land) just North of Barstow.
It was here that Darryl and I first heard of the bear-dog that roamed this area 16 million years ago!




The desert sky was getting more spectacular as we drew closer to the full moon.DSCN0650The next day we searched for nearby ghost towns and struck out looking for the first one so we went over to Calico which was well marked on the map and by street signs.

Starbucks pre-IPO circa 1881!

It looked really interesting on the website so my expectations were running high and then they dropped a little when I saw the huge parking lot for all of the tourists and then I went into full-on disappointment when I saw the Starbucks sign. I’ve got to remember to keep my expectations in check!! But as Darryl pointed out, it was interesting to see how one of these towns looked at their peak.

Replica of original school house.
Mining operation at Calico.
Fire engine

After the tourist trap we continued toward Joshua Tree National Park where we stayed at Jumbo Rocks campground. We hiked the Boy Scout Trail the next day. DSCN0694The drought this past winter resulted in a very limited desert bloom throughout Death Valley, Mojave and Joshua Tree. I was pretty excited to see the few blooms there were in Joshua Tree which had many more blooms compared to Death Valley.




The next day we took the Geology Road and saw a little more of the back country. The road was actually a self-guided geology tour along an 18 mile dirt road. They did a really good job of identifying various geological points of interest along the road. If you make it to Joshua Tree, spend the hour to take the tour. Unfortunately, my photos didn’t make the cut for this post.

DSCN0782We then headed out of Joshua Tree the park and into Joshua Tree the town for a few hours of cleaning. First, Darryl found this amazing shower at Coyote Corner where you could get 7 minutes of water for $4. Well worth it after a few too many days without one.

Then we went to get our landry done. While it was drying, we went to the Natural Sisters Cafe for something sweet and we were not disappointed. We shared a vegan apple muffin (delicious!!) and we each had a smoothie. Mine was the Climbers Revenge made with dates and Darryl’s was the Desert Sunrise. They were both awesome! We highly recommend their deserts and smoothies. We didn’t try the sandwiches but they get great reviews on Yelp.

Our next stop was Palm Springs, CA where we had amazing burgers at Woody’s Burgers. We did errands in the Palm Springs area and then back to the fun stuff.

We continued on to the Salton Sea. DSCN0806Here is a photo of our guest at the campsite there, a beautiful little black widow. We wandered along the coast of the sea which had the most interesting beach made of what lookedDSCN0825 like fish cartilage. The place smelled like dead fish given the many fish die-offs resulting from the over population of Tilapia which is estimated to be over 400 million.



Our final stop along the Salton Sea and before dropping into Baja Mexico was to see Slab City which I saw in the movie “Into the Wild”. I was curious to see how similar it was to the movie, it wasn’t. Hollywood sure can create fiction from reality.DSCN0834


DSCN0865Next stop border crossing at Mexicali and then on to Baja California, Mexico!!