Hiking the Vasquez Rocks

Vasquez Rocks was my first ever hike almost ten years ago and provided a friendly introduction into the hiking world. So any time I get to hike out there, it’s always a special occasion for me. This time was even more special because I got to hike with my tribe AND experience flowing water in the creek among the beautiful rocks. It was the first time I had seen any sort of moisture out there. The place is typically dry and barren and you can even walk in the creek bed. This time we had many water crossings where it was hard not to get wet. Yes, this actually happened at Vasquez Rocks and the following pictures prove it.


One of the best things about this hike is that it provided a great opportunity for me to test out a pair of new insoles from SoleStar. Crafted 100% in Germany, these hiking/mountaineering insoles give comfort, stability and support while traversing some pretty tough terrain. I paired my insoles with my go-to hiking shoes I’ve worn over the past several years on shorter day hikes and they fit like a glove. My old insoles that came with the shoes were starting to wear out, so I had been looking for a new pair with better support.


The SolesStar insoles were good to go right out of the box. They were very sturdy to the touch and I could tell they had quite a bit of well-designed support to them as well. The minute I slipped my feet into the shoes, I knew I had a winner. Just walking around the house initially, I could feel my feet molding to the soles perfectly. I couldn’t wait to test them out on the trails.

 


We started off
 with a bit of rock climbing and climbed up the famous rock outcropping that you may have seen in movies like “Star Trek”, “Planet of the Apes” and many other films that have been shot out there. At a distance, the rock appears to be at a 90° angle, but it’s really more like 45°. Many people climb to the very top of it, but we didn’t venture quite that far up. We parked ourselves on a ledge about 15 feet from the very top and that was good enough for me. I already challenged my fear of heights. I didn’t want to challenge my safety as well.

 


After pushing our limits on the rock outcropping (caused by the shifting of plates beneath the San Andreas Fault), we hiked a short loop trail that took us into a rocky, yet green, wonderland. Near the end of that first trip, we topped out at an area that provides amazing views of Vasquez Rocks, the surrounding Agua Dulce area, the 14 Freeway, and the backside of the snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains.


After we finished the smaller loop, we hiked a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that took us along th
e creek and underneath the 14 Freeway via a rather lengthy tunnel. We stopped for a long break on the other side and then headed back the way we came. I had done that version of the hike with the Santa Clarita hiking group a couple of years ago, but it was completely dry and much warmer then.

 


The guys
 and I added on another mile to our hike by taking a larger loop around that had quite a bit of elevation gain, but eventually brought us back to the parking lot. It was such a gorgeous day out. The weather was perfect and it was so much fun to be on another great adventure with good friends.


As for my Solestar insoles, they are definitely keepers, and I highly recommend them for your outdoor adventures. The insoles are a high quality product that can take as much of a beating as you can give them witho
ut your feet absorbing the shock. If you are looking for stability and comfort while ascending great heights or traversing the deepest canyons, look no further than Solestar. I am happy to have found a pair of insoles that are crafted to go the distance.


Hike on!

~J

On the Road with Desert Dog

On Thanksgiving weekend, my boyfriend Bill and I took Cody on his first ever camping trip. From the moment we started packing up the car the night before, Cody was filled to the brim with excitement over what his new adventure had in store. He had no idea where we were going, but he knew we were going somewhere, and that was all it took. The next day, we were off to Death Valley for a weekend of camping and hiking with friends. Although this wasn’t my first visit to Death Valley, each experience is unique and special, and I was happy to share this one with Bill and Cody.

We weren’t sure how Cody was going to do on his first road trip, so Bill covered up the two large ice chests on the back seat with a comfy towel so he could relax and still be able to see the open road in front of us. First, he wanted to sit on my lap, but Bill nudged him to the back seat and he laid down on his towel. He looked so cute on his makeshift bed.

Death Valley is quite a drive from Long Beach. We decided to take the scenic route and drove in via the 190 from Olancha in the Eastern Sierra. It was a bit of a longer way in for us, but being that it was the more scenic route, we didn’t mind the extra time on the road. Plus, we got to see some of our beloved Eastern Sierra.

Upon our entrance into Death Valley, we stopped at our first vista point, Father Crowley Overlook. Bill, Cody and I got out to take a look and were instantly captivated by the majestic sight before us. I thought it looked like a mini grand canyon. Little did I know, we would see other places in Death Valley that were even more similar to the Grand Canyon. Cody was just as excited as Bill and I were.

Death Valley is on record as the hottest, driest and lowest place on Earth. The hottest rating doesn’t apply in November, though. However, the climate is so arid that it’s very important to stay hydrated, even if the cooler temperatures don’t make you “feel” thirsty. Bill and I made sure to bring plenty of water for ourselves and for little Cody.

I had been using this new Bubi Bottle and Bowl on some of my walks around town with Cody and was anxious to use them at Death Valley. Made from BPA Free Silicone, the Bubi bottle is ideal for kids, pets, work, travel, sports and adventures of all sorts. It was the perfect gear combo for our trip to Death Valley.

I’m so used to carrying plastic bottles of water on my adventures and they get to be pretty cumbersome after a while. When I’m out on the hiking trails, especially when doing long distance hikes, I drink a lot of water, and water sources along the trail are not always available. Carrying back empty bottles are quite a pain. Hydration bladders are more convenient, but they are hard to clean, as are the plastic 1-liter bottles. The Bubi Bottle is so soft and flexible that it can be cleaned inside-out.

When Cody and I took a break, I pulled out the Bubi Bottle and had a drink for myself, then attached his bowl to the top, unscrewed it and poured him some water. He gladly drank it as he was super thirsty from being exposed to such a dry climate. He loves his bowl so much. It wasn’t super warm or cold during the day, so we were fine drinking the water at air temperature. Since it cooled down overnight, the water had enough of a chill to keep us refreshed.

After we downed all the water, I scrunched the Bubi Bottle down, collapsed Cody’s cute little matching bowl and stuffed them into Bill’s pack. Even when the bottle was completely full, nothing spilled or leaked into the pack. The Bubi Bottle’s puncture-resistance withstood the beating that we gave it. I’m looking forward to using this bottle and bowl on future adventures. It’s so lightweight and portable that sometimes I forget I’m carrying it…until it’s time for a drink of water.

Cody enjoyed his first road trip/camping trip. There were so many sights and smells that he loved to explore and we had fun watching him. The smiles on his face were priceless. Cody did have a little scare the last night of our camping trip. He was sitting with Bill on a picnic bench near the campfire and a coyote approached. Neither of us saw it, but Cody did, and he freaked out and tried to go after it. Cody is a little dog, but very strong. It took Bill quite a bit of effort to restrain him. Thankfully, the coyote ran off into the night and we were all able to breathe a sigh of relief, but we remained on alert the rest of our time there.

On the drive home, we took a different route than the way we came in and stopped at the Trona Pinnacles, an area that sparked my curiosity a few years ago when passing through on the way to Death Valley. The Trona Pinnacles consist of an area of tufa formations, similar to those at Mono Lake near Mammoth Lakes, CA.

You have to drive five miles on a fairly well-graded dirt road to get to the Pinnacles. Then you arrive at the official entrance. Beyond that, you can drive in a loop around the Pinnacles or take the hiking trail and walk among them. There is a map posted at the entrance so you can easily familiarize yourself with the layout.

Bill drove us around, then we stopped for a break and had lunch. After walking around the Pinnacles and doing a bit of rock climbing, Bill, Cody and I headed home. What a fun weekend.

Kearsarge Pass and a Tale of Overcoming

Last weekend, I accomplished a great achievement and hiked to Kearsarge Pass via the Onion Valley Trailhead. This wasn’t my first time up to the pass, but it’s a big victory to me because it was my first hike above 11,000 feet in almost three years. I had hiked to this pass several times, but this was the most special for me because it was a comeback of sorts.

The group’s goal was to hike to Bullfrog Lake and back, but my goal was to just do the pass, which was quite a feat by itself. I backpacked the Rae Lakes Loop a few years ago, so I didn’t feel I was missing much of the backcountry scenery. My thing was, I didn’t want to tire myself out by having to go over Kearsarge Pass twice. Since the group went beyond the pass, I took my time on the way back and stopped at Heart Lake, then revisited Flower Lake and one of the waterfalls.

The group at the trailhead.

Wild onion.

A gorgeous waterfall just off the trail before Gilbert Lake.

Gilbert Lake.

While listening to my boots grinding rock and dirt underfoot, I couldn’t help but remember lying in that hospital bed, having been diagnosed with a DVT (deep vein thrombosis), frightened, thinking the worst and wondering if I’d ever hike again. The whole situation came out of nowhere.

Just a couple of weeks prior to my hospitalization, I was a healthy (albeit overweight) 38-year-old going about my adventures, traipsing across the Sierra, leading and inspiring others along the way. Then, I got blindsided and taken out of commission. I couldn’t even finish the last hike of the Sierra series I was leading, and that devastated me because I was really looking forward to closing out the series on a new peak that I had never reached before, Cirque Peak.

Flower Lake.

Heart Lake.

After a brief hiatus, I did start hiking again, but it wasn’t the same as before. I stayed away from high altitude hikes and did hikes that were closer to home and at a lower elevation. It took me a while to work up to doing long distance hikes again. I eventually began dabbling into the high altitude hikes, but only on occasion. The highest elevation I attained post-DVT was Mt. San Jacinto at 10,834 feet.

The final stretch to Kearsarge Pass.

Looking toward Bullfrog Lake and the Kearsarge Lakes from Kearsarge Pass.

The popular rock column at Kearsarge Pass.

A marmot taking in the scenery at Kearsarge Pass.

Looking down at Big Pothole Lake from Kearsarge Pass.

Last year, I mustered the courage to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe, which was another big milestone. That gave me the confidence I needed to start pushing again. Gradually, I’ve made my way back to high altitude hiking and I’m feeling pretty good. I’d like to climb Mt. Whitney again, although I’m not sure I have another Whitney in me. Only time, coupled with a season of training, will tell. For the time being, I’ll continue enjoying the great outdoors while reconditioning my body to do what it was made to do. In the near future, I’d like to go and hike to Cirque Peak since the DVT stopped me in 2015.

Kearsarge Pass “summit” selfie.

Sometimes, we get blindsided and are tempted to give up on ourselves. In those dark and uncertain times, we have to look back and remind ourselves of why we started our journey to begin with. It’s always harder to restart something than it is to begin in the first place. The resistance feels even greater. But we have to show that resistance that we are more determined than it is. We have to stand strong and not let fear or trepidation intimidate us. We are more than conquerors.

Hike on!

~J

Mount Baldy and Wildlife Sighting

It was the perfect day for a Baldy hike. Not too warm or too cold, but just right. Since we got such a late start at 11am, we took the ski lift up to the Notch and hiked from there to the summit and took the lift back down. Even though this is considered the “gentler” route, it’s still pretty brutal when you’re out of shape and haven’t been hiking at altitude very much. It’s hard to admit that I’ve grown a bit lazy in terms of hiking, but I have. Part of it has to do with the DVT I had back in 2015. Some have noticed that I’ve dialed it down quite a bit since then and haven’t been going on the big adventures I used to do.

As many of my hiking friends can attest, once you stop hiking, even for a little while, your body reverts back to its pre-conditioned state. Beginning again is almost like completely starting over, which is discouraging because you put in so much work to get to where you were. Now you have to push through all the pain and resistance in your body once again to help it reacclimatize. That’s how I felt on this hike, as well as on my last two high altitude outings.

The hardest part of this hike is always the first mile or so, and this time it seemed ten times harder. Taking the ski lift up probably didn’t do me any favors besides shortening the distance because my body didn’t have a chance to acclimate before beginning the hike at 7,800’ elevation. It’s almost like taking the tram up from Palm Springs to hike Mt. San Jacinto.

My heart started racing the minute I stepped off the ski lift, and with each step after that, so I stopped frequently to let it slow down. My pack was pretty heavy since it held three liters of water, plus an additional 20 oz bottle of Oxigen water which I received at the recent Climb for Heroes event. I also carried food. To lighten some of the load, my partner offered to take the water bottle and carry it in his pack, which helped, but I still struggled and took a break in every piece of shade I could find along the way.

After huffing and puffing uphill for a while, I finally gave in and decided to drink the Oxigen water, along with the tube of saline solution meant to go with it, and have a little snack (some almond butter.) According to the information on the bottle, this Oxigen water contains the O4 molecule rather than the O2 molecule, which means the oxygen stays in the bottle after you open it. I had never heard of that, but with my free bottles, I tested it out on two recent high altitude hikes.

On the Anderson Peak hike, I didn’t feel a difference at all. On this hike, I was able to hike a lot stronger after drinking the saline and chasing it down with the water. I don’t know if I can attribute my second wind to the Oxigen water and I’ve now used up my freebies. At $3/bottle, I don’t think it’s worth further testing when I already know Trader Joe’s Electrolyte Enhanced Water does the trick at a much cheaper cost. I just didn’t have any this time.

When I reached the saddle between Mt. Harwood and Mt. Baldy, I noticed about five bighorn sheep grazing on the western slope of Mt. Harwood. I had seen bighorn sheep near the ski hut before, but never on this side of the mountain. Of course this happened the one time I decided to leave my big camera behind and use my phone for pics. Needless to say, I was kicking myself, yet still happy to be able to see those beautiful creatures enjoying their habitat.

When we reached the summit of Baldy, we were shocked to see that, in the middle of the day, there were so few people up there. It was in stark contrast to the last time I hiked Baldy last month. Granted, that was a special event that draws in thousands of hikers annually, but on a typical day on the mountain, you can see scores of people milling about on its barren summit. A wave of people showed up about ten minutes before we left, so our timing was perfect.

After spending about an hour on the summit snacking and comparing our O2 levels with my oximeter, we descended Baldy’s rocky, scree-laden eastern slope, said our goodbyes to a lone bighorn sheep on the side of Mt. Harwood and made our way to the Devil’s Backbone Trail. I didn’t get an altitude headache this time and traipsed down the trail feeling pretty good.

Hike on!

~J

The Texas City Disaster

IMG_0002Since I’ve been visiting with my family in Texas for the holidays, I decided to take a trip down to my hometown of Texas City, TX to tour some of the historical sites related to the Texas City Disaster. Most people don’t know anything about this event, but it’s actually a big part of Texas, and even national, history.

On April 16, 1947, a ship carrying ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded and destroyed much of the town of Texas City, killing about 600 people. About 65 of those people were never found or identified.

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This anchor was blown from the S.S. Grandcamp when this ship blew up on April 16, 1947, while moored at Texas City Terminal docks. The anchor, which weighed approximately 3200 lbs. originally, was projected from the ship to a point on Pan American property at 2000-S and 2160-E, sinking about 10 feet into the soil in landing. The distance traveled from ship to point of landing was 1.62 miles. It is now at Memorial Park, the site where the unidentified dead lay at rest.

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This statue, created by Lee Stark, sits in the section dedicated to those grieving the victims of the Texas City Disaster and the 1900 Storm that hit Galveston.

I had heard stories about this event growing up, but it wasn’t until I was in high school and had to write a paper on it that I became more interested in what happened. I interviewed my grandpa since he lived near the site of the explosion and was there at the time. He told me that when he heard the explosion, he thought Judgement Day had come.

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This fountain and statue were built in memory of the Texas City volunteer firemen who lost their lives in the Texas City Disaster.

The explosion was the force of an atomic bomb and the effects were so strong that windows in Houston, some 40 miles away, shattered. The blast also registered on a seismograph all the way in Denver, Colorado.

I took these pictures because I’m working on a story that takes place during the disaster and wanted to get reacquainted with the events that transpired. I grew up seeing these sites and artifacts, but had no idea of their significance back then. It was good to see them now with a new appreciation of this historic event that helped shape Texas City into the town that it is today.

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The S.S. Highflyer exploded in the main slip on 4-17-1947, after being set on fire by the S.S. Grandcamp, which exploded in the north slip on 4-16-1947. This is one of the Highflyer’s propellers that blew off during the explosion. It sits at the entrance to the Texas City Dike at Anchor Park.

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There are several of these anchors on display throughout the city. This is the one at Anchor Park near the Texas City Dike.

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A view of the docks today. The north slip where the Grandcamp and Highflyer exploded is somewhere in the center of this picture, probably near the tall silo.

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Looking toward the docks from outside the fence. The area is closed off today, but when the disaster occurred, residents could walk right up to the docks.

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There used to be rows of houses on this grassy land, which sits right across the street from the refinery. The homes that were destroyed during the disaster were eventually rebuilt, but have since been torn down as the refineries have bought the land. I think some people still refuse to move, but this is not a good location to live in.

One thing that was new to me on this tour was the newly redesigned Texas City Museum that has an entire section dedicated to the Texas City Disaster. They had lots of artifacts from the explosions and even a video that a woman took on an 8mm camera of the explosion as seen from the Texas City Dike. I had no idea that someone caught this on video and it was pretty fascinating to see.

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This anchor sits right outside the Texas City Museum. This museum has been there since 1948, but I missed it since I rarely spent any time on 6th Street. I also wasn’t into history or museums when I lived there. This museum has recently been remodeled and looks very nice on the inside. The curators take great care in keeping it up.

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The shipper’s Export Declaration Form from the S.S. Highflyer — a true copy of the original dated April 15, 1947. If you can zoom in, you can see the amount of ammonium nitrate that was ordered.

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A shoe belonging to one of the victims of the explosion.

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A piece of shrapnel from one of the ships that exploded.

While I couldn’t take any pictures or do any recordings of the videos, I could take pictures of everything else, so I took as many as possible. I even touched things that were okay to touch, like a large piece of shrapnel from one of the ships that exploded. Seeing the artifacts in the museum and reading the stories almost made me feel like I was there.

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The caption on this reads, “Frozen in time. This clock is from the City Hall Service Station in Texas City. The clock stopped at exactly the time of the first explosion on April 16, 1947.”

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From the museum’s description: “There were 59,000 rolls of sisal binder twine stored in the hold of the Grandcamp. When the explosion occurred, the twine was scattered over the entire area of about a mile radius. It is believed that the bales torched hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline and oil spilling out from ruptured reservoirs and pipelines. This is one of the rolls of twine from the Grandcamp.”

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The caption reads, “There are various pieces of shrapnel from the ships that exploded during the Texas City disaster. The pieces of shrapnel were called “raindrops” because they fell from the sky on April 16, 1947.”

This was a great visit and I was able to scout locations and gather a lot more important details that I can use in my story, although mine is more of a fictitious narrative based on actual events. However, I still want to make it as real as possible.

What’s in a Name?

In this video, I share my personal story and unveil a new name with a new logo. Please forgive the technical glitch on the title slide in the beginning. I was just made aware of that when this finished uploading to YouTube. Also, there is a bit of wind noise coming through the microphone. I was testing out a new Rode mic for the first time and will probably return it for a better one. Take a look at what’s on the horizon for this series.

OptOutside Hike: Skeleton Canyon

The day after Thanksgiving, my friends and I drove out to Mecca Hills, CA to participate in REI’s OptOutside campaign. Since it was such a far drive, we decided to make a weekend out of it. Our first hike of the weekend was suggested by my dear friend Ava and took us through the narrow walls of Skeleton Canyon. We didn’t find any skeletons out there, but had a spook of a time!