Santa Cruz Island Backpacking

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santa cruz island-12I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts for months now and yet I still haven’t found the motivation to write what I think needs to be said about this lovely trip we took to Santa Cruz. So for the sake of posting it, I’ll be brief.

I was nervous about this adventure because Santa Cruz island requires not only taking a small boat (I am prone to sea sickness) but also that you carry all your water for your trip. On the other hand, Santa Cruz Island boasted a chance for a secluded backpacking trip and a opportunity to see the native island fox.

We headed out for an overnight stay with friends in the early summer. The hike to the campground was relatively easy, even with the extra water. We spent most of the trip hanging around our campsite relaxing and doing some shorter hikes in the area. There were beautiful views of the sunset from our spot on top of the island.

Before we left camp in the morning we were lucky enough to see some of the petite island foxes. They clearly knew to come and scavenge the campground when people were packing up their stuff. Of course we didn’t feed them but they were not particularly scared of humans at all.

It is amazing how much this island has been able to come back since it was nearly devestated by human meddling. The island foxes are doing well and they’ve even reintroduced the Bald Eagles after successfully relocating the Golden Eagles that took over their territory.

On the boat ride back to the mainland we were treated to seeing a large pod of dolphins that swam along with the boat. It was a magical way to end a little island getaway.


Another year of mediocre blogging has come to an end. I will probably be shutting down the blog soon since I have neglected it so much. If anything, I may start something new but I find that unlikely as well. I’ve loved having this place of my own over the years but it has really run it’s course.

I’ve been struggling with the internet and social media and such in not being able to show a balanced picture of who I am. I want to share personal things but realize this can be damaging professionally. I’ve also become wary of sharing parts of my personal life on the internet. Conversely, more often than not, I don’t even think I even represent myself in the way that I want to be perceived, as a writer and filmmaker.

Besides a few friends, the majority of visits I get here are for old recipes. I still love making vegan food but I’m not interested in developing recipes nor do I honestly have the time to blog about it even if I did (so much time is needed for taking good photos of food!). There are many other talented bloggers covering this territory.

I certainly don’t identify as a blogger any more. There was a time when this was important to me and it was a great way for me to connect with people but that time has passed. I never cared much about having a high ranking blog, just a good one.

This isn’t goodbye exactly. I’ll probably put together a little e-book of the recipes here if anyone is interested in them. I may move some parts of this somewhere else. I have lots to decide. I guess, so long for now and thanks for reading.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

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lassen volcanic-8We visited Lassen Volcanic National Park on a busy holiday weekend and yet it was still quiet and serene. The campsites were full so we headed into the backcountry despite some rain. I pledged to jump in one of the gemstone colored lakes but never found the opportunity. At our camp I hid in our tent to avoid rampant mosquitos and couldn’t sleep despite a long day of driving and then hiking into the wilderness. It was such a treat to find solitude in such a beautiful location without having to hike so high into the mountains as one would in the Sierras. There were so many geothermal areas to explore, we followed the trail of volcanos up through the Cascade range into Oregon.

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death valley-10This post is a little overdue, as this trip happened back in November, but nonetheless here it is.

I had been wanting to go to Death Valley all year but as we missed the cooler months in the beginning of the year, we had to wait till fall rolled around to visit. I thought it was going to be my first time at the park but I realized once we were there that I had been to the racetrack when I was young. I’m glad to have been there as a child as it requires a 27 mile drive on a rough road that I don’t think I could do again. It is crazy to think that they’ve just finally figured out how the rocks move on this dry lakebed after decades of research. Though it was previously thought that the rocks were pushed by the wind on icy mud, they confirmed last winter that the rocks are actually stuck in ice sheets and as sections melt, the wind pushes the floating ice sheets, dragging the rocks with them. This is a very technical description as you can tell. You can see a video here.

Our first stop was at the Mesquite Flat Dunes. Several signs warn not to go out into the dunes in the afternoon and I could easily see why after trekking out into them. Walking up and down the sand is deceptively tiring and there is almost nowhere to hide from the sun. Even in the cooler months, out on the sand it suddenly felt like midsummer. I particularly liked seeing various tracks in the sand, like a record of all the things that had happened over the past few days. The dunes themselves and the views they provide are quite stunning.

After cooking up some vegan cheeseburgers at our camp we headed down to the Natural Bridge and then to Badwater Basin. The Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level and has been filled with salt from runoff from the surrounding mountains. A cycle of rain dissolving the salt, freezing and crystallizing has left a patchwork of hexagonal ridges. The salt flats are a strange and beautiful place. Some parts looked much like a snow field but the hard salt cracks under your feet as you walk.

We camped at the furnace creek campground in part of the tent only section surrounded by mesquite trees. Up until this point we’d had a lot of luck finding really great campsites without making reservations but finding a private spot in places with lots of other visitors can sometimes be a stressful gamble. This trip I didn’t want to have to worry about it so I reserved a spot, site unseen and hoped for the best. I figured if it was truly terrible we’d hike into the desert and camp there as backcounty camping is allowed further than a mile from any road in the park. The site (no. 139) was fairly secluded though and there wasn’t anyone at the nearest sites to us. Further away, some bikers had set up a projector and were watching home movies and celebrating, but from where we slept we couldn’t heat them.

I think because some of my earliest camping experiences were in the desert, camping there feels very comfortable to me. Though there is obviously extreme weather to deal with, there aren’t bears to steal your food for instance. The desert at night feels wide open, looking up into the sky and seeing the expanse of the universe. As we climbed into our tents for the night a pack of coyotes began to howl, they’re calls echoing through the valley. Late in the night, the winds started to blow like crazy. We had left some camp chairs outside so as Shawn went to grab them, I headed towards the bathroom, where I saw several other campers frantically pulling down pop up tents and various items likely to blow away. In the morning I saw a few people sleeping in their cars.

We had a windy breakfast at camp, packed up our gear and went to Artist’s Drive. The hills in this area are an array of vibrant colors caused by the different metals left from volcanic eruptions. As we hiked through the Artist’s Palate we came across a small wedding (that happened to be the celebrating bikers from the campsite the night before). Though we were a ways off, I could still hear them cheer when the officiant announced that the couple was married and it felt magical to be witness to such an event in a beautiful place, even if they were strangers.

Finally, we visited Zabriskie Point. Besides the stellar views I was particularly excited because of the Antonioni film of the same name. Though I didn’t expect there to be some crazy orgy between the hills, it was still cool to see the iconic location in person. Mostly thought it was just beautiful in every direction.

The park is so huge, there was so much left still to explore so I look forward to going back and checking out other areas.

yosemite winter and cross country skiing

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In early December, when we heard that it had started snowing in the Sierras, we made our way north to Yosemite for the weekend. Though we’d visited the park at the tail end of last winter, the severe drought meant that there was only a little bit of snow. It was a treat to get into the real winter spirit. Down in the valley it was cold and rainy but there was a few feet of snow in the higher elevations. We stayed in Camp Curry in one of the unheated tents. It was nice to not have to set up camp in the rain and have more space to spread out our things but Camp Curry has some drawbacks too. You aren’t allowed to cook anywhere in the camp, which means traveling to a picnic site a few minutes away. It was sort of an amusing adventure to cook all alone in the dark though, even if it meant carting all our stuff.

After nightfall, we went to the Ahwahnee hotel to warm up and check out the massive fires they have. It happened to be the night of the Bracebridge dinner, so the main halls were empty except for the costumed performers who made their way in and out of the dining room. We found a table for ourselves and played cards and ate chips until late in the evening.

In the morning, we woke up early and headed up to Badger Pass for a day of cross country skiing. We signed up for a group lesson but happened to be the only two in the group. While Shawn has been snowboarding for years, I’ve been skiing all of once when I was a little kid, so my snow experience was basically nonexistent. I fell a few time and struggled to get the hang of it but still had lots of fun learning. It was crazy to climb up the trail on skis but eventually we made it up to the Old Badger Pass Summit. It was super hard and by the end of the day my muscles were aching but it was really cool to explore in the snow. I’d really like to go on the skating tracks, where it’s much easier to glide along. One day we hope to ski all the way out to the Ostrander Ski hut. I could certainly use some practice first. Mostly I’m hoping for more winter weather so there are snowy places to visit.

Pacific Northwest Adventure: Mount Rainier

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mt rainier-7From Olympic National Park we made our way across Washington to Mount Rainier. We couldn’t resist a quick stop at some of the Twin Peaks locations on our way. We picked up some donuts from Mighty-O to enjoy at our destination, then proceeded to take a bunch of goofy photos with stacked donuts because we are so totally cool. Some people at the falls were really confused about why we were doing this, so I just played the theme song from the opening credits on my phone and ignored them.

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After a scenic drive we reached Mount Rainier. We checked out the Paradise Inn Hotel which was open for its final day of the season. It had that same feeling of bustling people and impending doom that you see in the Overlook hotel at the beginning of The Shining (though I’m sure it’s a pleasant place, not a haunted one).

We then grabbed some leftover slices of pizza that we had saved from Pizza Pi and began the hike up Skyline Trail. Though the first section of this trail is paved and full of people, as you get farther up the mountain the crowds thin out. We even saw a marmot snacking in the meadow. The views of the glaciers and the mountain itself as we climbed were beautiful.

Near the top of its loop, the trail crosses a small snow field. We had the option to go up and around but we were feeling adventurous and decided to make our way across. Very slowly, step by step we inched across the steep snow on a narrow trail. It wasn’t until we were nearly on the other side that we noticed that there was rocky crevasse at the bottom. In any case, we made it safely without slipping and felt invigorated by our accomplishment.

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Once on the other side of the snow we saw only a handful of people and had the trail almost entirely to ourselves. The sun set over the mountains and we walked in the cool afternoon down the trail. We crossed several streams and the terrain reminded me of Mount Tongariro with its meadows laced with volcanic rocks and numerous streams crossing the trail. I’m sure Mount Rainier is stunning in spring when the wildflowers are blooming as well as winter when everything is covered in snow.

We made it down to the trailhead before it got dark, had a few more of those tasty donuts, and started our drive out of the park. Rather than driving all the way back to Portland, we spent the night at the McMenamins Olympic Club in Centralia, WA. Our room was super cozy and the hotel quiet. We were too tired to check out the bar but all the restored vintage decor was really impressive. Staying there did feel a little like traveling back to a time of boarding houses and social clubs. I’m fairly sure we were the only ones staying there that night which only added to the quaintness of the place.

The following day we spent hanging out in Portland, eating some of our favorite vegan foods and visiting the Snow Peak store. We grabbed some sandwiches from Brass Tacks before catching a flight home, which turned out to be a perfect dinner to bring to the airport being both tasty and packable. I wish we could have stayed longer. There are always more places to explore and more places to eat. I guess not getting enough will always make me want to go back.

Shawn has some of his own posts up about our trip, featuring a lot of the great food we ate on our adventure, starting here.

Other posts in this series: Mount Hood, Hoh Rainforest and Hurricane Ridge.