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.

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!

Hiking the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge

The Goat Canyon Trestle bridge, located in Carrizo Gorge near Jacumba, CA is the largest curved wooden trestle bridge in the world. We started our hike at the trailhead off the dirt road next to the De Anza Springs (clothing optional) resort. The hike was on a relatively flat trail that followed a railroad track all the way to the bridge. A few people in our group rode their bikes while the rest of us hiked. This was a 16-mile out and back trail in a remote location and it is not recommended to hike or bike alone. Round up a few friends, go out there and have a fabulous time on this epic adventure!

In the Midst of the Storm

About to board the tram for Mountain Station

About to board the tram for Mountain Station

It’s the holiday season and work has slowed down for many of us, so what is the best thing for outdoorsy people to do? Go out and take a hike, of course! Rain or shine! It just happened to be stormy Tuesday morning, so my friend Kim and I headed to Palm Springs for a scenic ride up the Aerial Tram and a short 1 1/2-mile hike on the Desert View Trail. I had always been curious about that trail, but never had time to do it since each time I’d been up there was to hike to San Jacinto Peak. We didn’t even consider aiming for the peak in the storm, but felt it was pretty safe to hike around Mountain Station at 8,516ft.

View from the tram

View from the tram

The ride from Valley Station up to Mountain Station wasn’t very scenic as visibility was limited due to the weather. When we arrived at the top, we took a few moments to get our bearings. I had never been to the tramway during the Christmas season, so it was really neat to see all the decorations.

Christmas decorations at Mountain Station

Christmas decorations at Mountain Station

After we had seen everything, we looked outside and contemplated when to go out. We didn’t ponder IF we should go out; we already knew what we were getting ourselves into and were prepared. We wanted to see snow and possibly experience getting snowed on. It was cold, rainy and windy outside. The very sign on the door warning that the door had been secured due to high winds caused us to shudder. We bundled up and braved the elements, along with several familes with small children.

Wind advisory

Wind advisory

I knew this would be a great opportunity to test out my new Ossipee Women’s Midweight Crew base layer from Minus 33, which I wore underneath my synthetic down jacket. The merino wool base layer did well on a previous hike a few weeks ago, but I started to get a little toasty with warmer temperatures. This time, it was cold, rainy and windy, so the base layer was perfect for the conditions. I stayed warm and dry, despite the blustery weather.

Once we entered the Desert View Trail and hiked away from Mountain Station, we had the trail to ourselves. There wasn’t a soul around. The trail makes a short loop with five notches that allows for incredible views of the Coachella Valley below. However, we had no visibility because we were socked in by the clouds. Still, it was pretty rewarding to hike up to each individual notch.

Beginning of the Desert View Trail

Beginning of the Desert View Trail

At Notch 1

At Notch 1

We definitely saw snow on the ground as we had hoped, but it wasn’t the type of snow we expected or wanted to see. This snow was hard, packed and slippery in spots, so we had to be very careful. Kim put on her microspikes, but even though I brought mine, I didn’t use them. My backpacking boots have pretty good traction, even in icy conditions, but I still had to be careful.

My legs usually don’t freeze, but I’m sure they would have had I not worn a pair of midweight bottoms under my thin hiking pants. The Franconia Women’s Midweight Bottoms kept my legs nice and toasty, even with the high winds and chill factor. The fabric was very comfortable and the fit non-restrictive. Most of the time, I forgot I was wearing the bottoms under my pants.

The view from Notch 5

The view from Notch 5

After visiting Notch 5, we continued on the loop and crossed the wooden bridge that took us to the Discovery Trail, a short 3/4-mile loop that passes the Adventure Center, which was closed at the time. I love bridges, so crossing it brought out the kid in me. We saw a snowman on the way back and I noticed that Frosty was missing an arm, so I performed a brief surgery and replaced his limb with a nearby stick. He was all better after that.

"Frosty" before his limb replacement

“Frosty” before his limb replacement

I took a few more pictures and then we made our way up the long, winding paved path back to Mountain Station where I warmed up with a rather spicy cup of chili. It was much more crowded than before and we almost couldn’t find a place to sit. We lucked out and secured a spot near the entrance.

Mountain Station Chilli

Mountain Station Chili

Overall, we were very happy that we went on the journey into the storm. I couldn’t help but wonder why we did it. Why did we leave the safe, cozy comfort of our homes to deliberately go out into the elements where there was potential danger and unpleasant conditions? Why do we adventurers do what we do?

Those are questions I can’t answer right now. But my tales are still being written. I suppose someday it will come to me on one of my treks in those conditions. For now, I’m happy with not knowing.

At V.W. Grubb's Viewpoint

Anza-Borrego Desert Adventure Part 1 – The Slot

This is the first part of our series of adventures in the Anza Borrego Desert. On this first day of the adventure, we caravaned from our campground at Borrego Springs and explored a narrow slot canyon that featured some extraordinary geological formations, such as a huge balanced rock and a cave.

 

For more information on hiking The Slot, visit hikespeak.com.

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The Art of Doing

I’m a dreamer and I like to encourage others to dream. Dreaming is good. Well, it’s good until you get so caught up in dreaming that it begins to take the place of actually DOING something. What I mean by DOING is putting forth the physical effort necessary to see to it that what worked out so perfectly in your dream will come to fruition.

There are a lot of things floating around on the canvas of my mind, ranging from things I know I need to do, to things I really want to do, to things I’ve started but haven’t finished. For instance, I went on a desert trek in Israel a couple of months ago, volunteered at a youth camp, and toured the Holy Land. I took lots of pictures and recorded videos of the trek and the tour, but haven’t touched any of it. I know it’s going to make a great episode, or series of episodes (I haven’t decided) for the web series…

…if I could just bring myself to do it.

So what’s the holdup?

Well…I also have a ton of video footage to edit from a weekend adventure in the Anza-Borrego Desert here in California. I went there the week after I returned from Israel and had a blast. We caravanned on dirt roads while hanging out of the sunroof of an SUV, explored some really cool slot canyons, went spelunking in mud caves where it was pitch dark, and witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets I had ever seen from the top of a peak above some other freaking amazing slot canyons. This would make a really awesome episode as well…

…if I could just put some action to all of that dreaming.

I also have an upcoming trip this weekend to a breathtaking lake in the Sierras where I’ll be filming another episode of the web series. I’ve got to write a script to break it up into segments like a show because I want this one done right. I’m organizing and leading a group for this hike, so I need to get a lot of things coordinated and I have a limited amount of time to do it.

And I still have the Israel trip and Anza-Borrego unfinished. I also have to do laundry and pack for the upcoming trip. I need to go to REI and pick up some last-minute camping stuff. I need to make sure I remember to pack all my winter clothing to sleep in because it’s going to be in the 30’s at night and I just can’t go out there and freeze. I need to be sure to provide my group with all the information they need regarding this weekend’s trip.

Yet I still need to do those episodes that are waiting in the wings. See what procrastination does? It makes us look busy, like we have so much on our plate, when all we need is proper planning. A good, well though-out schedule will surely solve my problem with ease. But then there’s the issue of keeping up with the schedule. The act of DOING.

Perhaps I should call it the ART of doing. After all, it takes great skill to successfully balance multiple tasks and see them through to completion.

The antidote for procrastination is accountability. Now that I’ve opened up about these things, I’m obligated to fulfill my role of the artist, so to speak, and see these dreams materialize.

I wonder what sort of a tale I will find myself in while taking on this mountain?

“I didn’t sign up for this!”

A lot has happened over the past couple of weeks and I have many stories to share, but I’m going to start off with this one tale of the trail from my most recent trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California. This is a place I had been longing to visit, so I was happy to see it posted with a group of adventure enthusiasts I’m familiar with.

Photo credit: Irina P.

Photo credit: Irina P.

Among the list of adventures planned, the big draw for me to sign up on this weekend getaway was the hike to the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge. I had seen various pictures and videos posted of the hike and of the bridge itself and had grown very intrigued. The prospect of finally getting to do the hike filled me to the brim with excitement. I set out with the group on Saturday morning, GoPro and camera ready.

As we started out of the campground in Borrego Springs, a brief check of Google Maps showed that the trailhead to the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge was at least 2 hours away and almost 100 miles. This wasn’t what we initially thought or planned for and it didn’t bode well for us since we had a caravan trailing behind. It probably would have taken us closer to three hours to get there, leaving us with less time for the other things we had planned for the day.

To my dismay, we had to axe the Goat Canyon Trestle idea and move on to Plan B, which in my mind wasn’t as spectacular. I was crushed since one of the main reasons I signed up for the event was to see that darn bridge and take tons of pics and video footage of it.

Thankfully, all was not lost. My disappointment over not getting to hike to the bridge almost rendered me unaware of the blessing of great friends and company by my side. We may not have had the bridge, but we still had each other, and there were adventures to be experienced.

The CaravanAs we approached our first destination under “Plan B,” we had a little fun in the truck by opening the sunroof and all the windows and hanging out of the car waving at the caravan of five or so cars behind us. Two people maneuvered up through the sunroof and climbed onto the luggage rack on top of the 4 Runner. It was quite a sight!

The slot canyons were pretty impressive. We started out heading the wrong way at first down a trail that led to a cliff where there was no way to proceed. After backtracking to the parking lot, we found the route leading down into the winding canyon. The canyon walls were steep and narrow and reminiscent of the Narrows at Zion National Park in Utah.

Slot CanyonIn order to make our hike a little more adventurous, we turned the hike into a loop and exited the canyon a different way. This required scrambling up some steep, rocky terrain and crossing over multiple washes before making our way back up the ridge to our cars in the parking lot. Once we made it back, we enjoyed oranges and ice cold water.

Gaining the RidgeWe stopped at a small general store on the way to fill up with gas to get to our next stop and spent a lot of time there just hanging out. We chatted with the store clerk, ate ice cream, checked out some local maps and educated ourselves a bit more on the area we were in. There was so much to be discovered in the desert and we knew we were at the brink of something great and spectacular.

Our next and final stop was the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves. The mud caves are found along the walls of a wash canyon and are one of the most extensive mud cave systems in the world. They contain approximately 22 known caves and 9 slot canyons.

Inside the Mud Cave

Photo credit: Irina P.

We somehow ventured into one of the most difficult caves in the park, according to a couple of people in our group who were familiar with the area. We basically parked, walked up and said, “Hey, that’s a cool hole in the earth! Let’s go check it out!”

So we proceeded to investigate and what struck us immediately was the air conditioning down there. It was a very hot day and being greeted with a burst of cool air on our faces was an invitation to explore further. What we discovered was a multi-level cave with skylights further in where a rope had been installed to assist the climb up a sheer rock wall about 25-30 feet high.

Slot Canyon LookoutAfter exploring the one cave, we went and found another one a short distance away. This cave started out dark and then opened up into an amazing slot canyon with beautiful geological features and several places for photo opportunities where we could look down into the canyon.

As the sun began to set across the horizon, we scrambled up to a high plateau that provided us 360-degree views of the Badlands of Arroyo Tapiado. It was totally worth the climb to watch the sunset from there, but to do it in the company of great companions was absolutely priceless.

Sunset on PlateauOn our last day, before heading back home, we hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to a refreshing desert oasis where we were able to cool off in the shade and soak in pools of water while reminiscing over the weekend’s events. We even saw quite a few bighorn sheep that happened to be very photogenic!

The tale of the trail?

I was disappointed when the plan to go to the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge fell through. It almost ruined the experience for me before it even fully began. But because I made a slight attitude adjustment, I was able to embrace what was ahead with open arms and I ended up having one of the most incredible and thrilling experiences of my life with some really amazing friends.

Sometimes, the plans we make in life fall through. I’m not at the place I expected to be at this point in my life and despite the endless fun I seem to be having, I’m working through a great deal of heartache over some broken dreams. Despite the heartache, I have decided to make that attitude adjustment and embrace the many blessings I’m able to enjoy. It’s given me so much freedom.

Do I still feel the sting of disappointment? Yes. Do I let it drag me into a state of despair? No, absolutely not. I have learned to embrace new dreams and thank God everyday for the ability to do what I’ve been given the privilege of doing. This isn’t the life that I signed up for, but it’s what I’ve been given, and it’s not so bad.

It’s not what you’ve lost that counts. It’s what you do with what’s left.
–Charlie McGonegal

Hike on!

~Joyce

Photo credit: Irina P.

Photo credit: Irina P.