Pinnacles National Park

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A few weeks ago, on our way up to the Bay Area, we made a detour to visit Pinnacles National Park. It is one of the newest parks, just converted from a National Monument in 2013 and is quite small in comparison to some of the other parks in California. You could hike all the way across the park in a day if you wanted. The rocky landscape was formed by a combination of volcanic activity, movement of the tectonic plate and erosion. Red rock pillars jut into the sky and fallen boulders make caves throughout.

We wandered the trails through the park, making our way through the caves and up to the reservoir built in the 1930’s. There weren’t a ton of people out and we found most of them relaxing by the reservoir. There were quite a few rock climbers and it was exciting to see them high on distant peaks.

The place felt old and mysterious. We joked that we were stepping into Picnic at Hanging Rock. At the end of summer the place was still hot and sort of desolate feeling. Though it would be difficult to get lost in the clearly marked trails, you could imagine in an earlier time one of your party going missing.

There’s a feeling that this place is just crossing over from remote tourist attraction to a protected park. The campground was not very enticing, more of an RV spot than anything, though it oddly had a swimming pool. If we had more time, I would have liked to hike more of the trails. Still, it was fun to picnic there and climb through the caves, exploring nooks and crannies with giant boulders overhead.

7th Annual Halloween Movie Marathon & S’mores bars

s'mores-1I may get my blogging credentials* revoked as I did not take any photos during this year’s Halloween Movie Marathon. It was year seven and we switched it up a little by starting the fest in the morning rather than at night. Since the marathon has been officially running for 24 hours for the past few years, we thought this would make it less about endurance and more about just having a fun time. We also stuck to mostly classic films and included some that were not as scary. It was a great time.

I made the usual treats: caramel popcorn, sugar cookies and spinach artichoke dip. Shawn set up a hot dog bar as always. We kicked things off with fresh bagels and cream cheese for the morning crowd. There was late night cashew mac and cheese. At one point, our friend, Scott, showed up with two seitan meats jesus pizzas from Pizzanista. There was so much food we couldn’t eat it all. I had made jackfruit carnitas for burritos but we never got to making them. There were secret donuts that we were all too stuffed to eat.

The one specialty thing I made on a whim were mini s’mores bars. Someone asked that I post the recipe so I will do my best, considering I just winged the whole thing. They were awesome though and really easy. For me, the perfect candy treat. Recipe below!

And of course, for posterity, our playlist for this event:

1. The Worst Witch
2. The Wicker Man
3. Psycho
4. Blue Velvet
5. An American Werewolf in London
6. The Lost Boys
7. Rosemary’s Baby
8. The Orphanage
9. The Quiet Ones
10. Poltergeist
11. The Exorcist
12. The Brood
13. Halloween


Mini S’mores Bars


1 bag vegan chocolate chips
about 1/2 cup Dandies mini marshmallows
5 or 6 Speculoos cookies
chocolate mold – I used a chocolate cup mold, but you could probably just spoon these onto aluminum foil and be ok

Break up the speculoos cookies into small pieces and crumbs, making sure they’re small enough to fit into your mold, but not all powder. If you can’t find the Dandies minis, you can cut up some larger mallows into pieces. They’ll get really sticky, so rolling them in powdered sugar will make them easier to handle.

Melt most of the chocolate chips in a double boiler on medium low heat (or in a bowl over a pot if you don’t have a double boiler like me), setting a small amount aside for tempering. Once the chips have melted, remove from heat and stir in the remaining chips until they are also melted.

Mix in your marshmallows and cookies. Measurements above are approximate so you might want to do this a little at a time so that there the mixture is still sort of drippy and mostly chocolate. Spoon the chocolate into your mold and let cool in the fridge for 1/2 an hour to an hour. Pop out of the mold and store in a cool place, or refrigerate. Try not to eat them all at once, even though you’ll probably want to.

*as if there were such a ridiculous thing

new things

sunset-1It’s easy to let blogging slip by when you’re outside exploring. I try to take pictures, remember moments to bring back to this place. I keep finding that the weight of a large camera gets in my way. So it takes awhile for me to collect my thoughts and assemble them here. Too long, one might say.

There are other things too. I’ve been blogging here in earnest for over six years now. It has evolved over time, from a place of mostly food, to a more personal journal and then to catalog of adventures. I’ve let things go quiet in part because the blog world isn’t what it used to be. Long ago I sought out blogs to connect with others. These days blogs feel like a window where you’re always on the other side of the glass. It’s easier to chat on twitter or just ignore the internet all together. Social media or whatever seems to be spiraling into a new place.

I’ve started a new instagram account and in many ways it’s taken the place of a lot of what might appear on the blog. A cell phone is light and easy to carry with me up a mountain. This isn’t some kind of goodbye post, more like an introduction for a new place to find me. The past month has been full of travels and October is full of Halloween festivities and it feels like there hasn’t been a moment to sit at a computer to write it all down. I will though, in time, I will.

mt baldy loop hike

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mt baldy hike-7As you might be able to tell, I’ve been in love with hiking and backpacking all summer. In reality though, I’m not super athletic. I spend most days at sitting at a desk, letting my muscles atrophy. On our last few backpacking trips I’ve found myself rather exhausted when we arrive at camp. Hiking with a backpack is so much more difficult than just regular hiking. I’ve known for awhile that I need to start pushing myself if I want to go on longer expeditions.

A few weeks ago I got it stuck in my head that we should hike up Mt. Baldy, the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. It would be a long hike (the loop trail is just over 11 miles) and also one that would challenge my fears about elevations as the peak rises above 10,000 feet. Shawn was shocked that I wanted to do the hike, particularly because he has been asking me for years to go up to the ski hut in the winter. I always firmly decline. It always sounded terribly strenuous, even though he often assured me the hut wasn’t even at the top.

We started bright and early, trying to avoid hiking in the afternoon heat. Even at 7am there were numerous other hikers there, heading out onto the trail. I was nervous when we started but I psyched myself up for the day of hiking. As we started heading upward I saw the ski hut above us. I wasn’t totally sure If I could make it to the top but I made it a goal to at least make it that far. It wasn’t long before we had made it to the hut. There were lots of other hikers at this point. We stopped and had some snacks, then headed up the mountain. I still felt great and this propelled me forward up the mountain.

In the beginning of the hike, I had let others pass us since I am fairly slow. After leaving the hut, I felt energized and raced over the rocky path past groups. Though we were surrounded by people as we left the hut, everyone seemed to disperse as we made our way up. I kept repeating to myself onward and upward as a sort of incantation. We reached a section where people seemed to have cut trails in every direction. At one fork, we veered to the left and found ourselves curving around the side of the mountain. There was suddenly no one around.

We walked on but didn’t seem to be going any higher. So of course, I was convinced we had gone the wrong way, knowing there are other trails in the area. My legs were starting to get seriously tired and the elevation was beginning to have an effect on me. I ate a fruit snack but it was so intensely sweet I couldn’t eat more. It’s strange how elevation can make things taste different. After walking for awhile more, we came upon the remains of an airplane crash. Finally we caught a glimpse of some hikers on a ridge above us and we cut up to meet them on the main trail.

Then it was just up and up and up. The trail was steep and I slowed down to a turtle’s pace. Yet I pushed forward. At once point, we passed a few hikers coming down and a woman, I’m sure seeing how I was struggling, told me that we were only five minutes from the top. I couldn’t even imagine the top at this point. My muscles felt like jello and my head like mush. I figured it was probably another 15 minutes and sure enough, five minutes later, another hiker heading down told us ten minutes more. The last five minutes felt like forever.

At the point where I could finally see the top, I sincerely felt like I could not make it that far. I also knew I had no choice so I just kept shuffling forward. Onward and upward. I wanted to cry (I didn’t cry).

When we finally arrived at the peak I drifted around until I found a spot to sit. Everyone was relaxing, eating lunches, taking photos. I felt miserable. The elevation was hitting me hard. I wish I could say I felt triumphant at this point but I mostly felt like melting into the ground.

Not long after arriving we started our descent. I started to feel better as soon as we made it to a lower elevation. Unfortunately, the rocky trail down from the top was murder on my knee, particularly when my legs were already so exhausted. After awhile we stopped off to the side of the trail and ate burritos that we had brought with us. We were lucky in that the sky remained overcast so it was fairly cool for most of the day.

The descent over the devil’s backbone trail was a beautiful one. In one section we walked along the ridge with views down to either side of us. Though my knee hurt significantly on the way down, my enthusiasm rose as we walked downhill. At one point, we saw the ski lodge off in the distance and it seemed so far away. Eventually the trail led us straight to it. We wandered around for awhile and I thought about previous visits to the lodge. I’d only ever been when everything was covered in snow and it was curious to be there in the dry summer. The restaurant was still full and many people were riding the ski lifts.

From there, we still had about another three miles to go. Three miles is nothing on a normal day, particularly walking on the wide flat fire road. Space seemed to expand, drifting on and on, and still I was ecstatic to be nearing the end. We sang songs that I could not remember the words to (singing in front of anyone, even just Shawn, is not something I do often, which just shows how elated I must have been) and walked and walked and walked. Luckily the smooth road was much easier on my poor aching knee.

As we closed in the on the end of the trail, we came upon a few hikers coming down from the other side playing Kraftwerk from a tiny speaker. We picked up our pace to catch them and then in no time we were at the bottom, the whole hike completed. I ran the last hundred feet to make it back to the start in under 8 hours (so slow!).

Afterwards I was quite tired and my knee hurt like hell, but I was also super excited to have completed something I wasn’t sure I could finish. Despite being difficult and painful, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I know that besides the physical struggles, the hardest part for me is often in my own head. Knowing that I could accomplish something like this hike helps me combat some of the the things I often worry about. I did not feel well at the top, but I’ve certainly felt worse. I was able to climb nearly 4000′ in just 4.5 miles. I’m pretty happy with that alone.

I thought that after we finished the hike, we might relax for the rest of the weekend, lounge around and watch movies. Instead, we went on another, albeit much shorter and easier, hike the next day and it was great. If I could be hiking every day, I think that would be just fine with me.

photos by Shawn Bannon

summer’s end

San Gabriel Mountains from Mt. BaldyWell here we are, creeping further into the year. Summer burns on but suddenly I can see Autumn on the horizon. I’m not quite ready to to give up the excitement of weekend adventures playing outdoors but I’m starting to look forward to the cooler months. Luckily, with California’s varied climate zones we’ll be able to keep exploring into the winter. I am looking forward to visiting the deserts that are too warm for the summer months. But I’m getting ahead of myself here; it is still August and there are many sweltering days ahead.

There have been a few, brief, glorious rainy and overcast days here in Los Angeles. Having spent most of my summers on the East Coast, it’s something I miss greatly. I remember one year, leaving the Newark airport on a bus, the grey skies unleashed a wondrous downpour and I thought to myself I am home. I remember lightning storms and fat rain drops falling on me. These are some of my favorite summer memories. Yet here, the drought continues, forests turning into wildfire tinder and lakes drying up completely.

It was always so hard to return home at the end of summer, sometime in August, when the valley would still be devastatingly hot and all my friends still in the East. I have so many memories of plane rides where I couldn’t breath, the air just evaporating from lungs as I held back sobs. The loneliness would form a pit in my stomach that I would carry for weeks. I would try to make grand plans to keep myself occupied: this year I would pour myself into school work or another I might try to see every movie possible. Mostly I would just end up listening to sad songs on repeat until I felt nothing as teenagers are wont to do.

We visited New York this weekend for what felt like only a moment, spending time with family and not having time for too much exploring. While we were there, time moved slowly, as it can when away from every day realities. We walked the streets of the bustling city, celebrated the love between two people and got to meet our new nephew and it was so nice. My heart was full and upon leaving I felt that small pebble in my stomach, the sadness of going home, back to real life. I wish I could have stayed, seen the friends I missed and spent more time with those close to my heart.

I’m not so great with long term plans. I have no idea what my life will look like at the end of the year (probably much the same as it does now) let alone five years from now. It seems so silly to make plans when things are always changing regardless of my intentions. This post from Liz, posted the day I started writing this, coincidentally touches on exactly this. I do believe in goals though and deadlines.

Today the kids in Los Angeles went back to school, earlier than I ever did as a child. There was always so much hope a the beginning of a school year, excitement mixed with dread. Adulthood rarely has these sort of reoccurring punctuation marks. A chance to start fresh or be let down again. Now we just trudge forward waiting for a break in the clouds.

I listened to a report on the radio about the death of Lauren Bacall and though she lived a long life, full of success, I couldn’t escape that feeling that everything comes to an end. Death is inescapable. I couldn’t help but think of her later years when she was no longer acting and imagine what it must have felt like to look back and see that her achievements were all in her past. Perhaps it was a comfort, to know you could just drift forward. Perhaps it was like a dull aching loss with no grand schemes in front of you.

In theory my accomplishments are still in my future. It’s best I get started making them happen. I was going to make a list here for some sort of accountability purposes but I’ve gone over it so many times in my head it’s burned there like a mantra. Summer may be coming to a close but creative times are ahead.