Tag Archives: hiking

Bet You Can’t Have Just One

2 Oct

I’ve wanted to hike Potato Chip Rock for years and a few weeks ago I finally conquered it.  My brother was coming to visit and we wanted to do a simple one night camping trip.  By the time we booked, most of the more popular camping spots were taken, so we chose one of the few spots left Southern California at William Heise Regional Park.  From the reviews I assumed it was going to be more crowded and full of families.  After all, it boasts a playground and year round cabins.   I was pleasantly surprised with the isolated, wooded sites and miles of hiking trails overlooking the Anza Borrego Dessert.  Sure, we could see a couple of fancy houses on the hills surrounding the park, but overall it was a great spot for summer camping.

After a night of camping, we headed over to our destination.  My brother had Googled photos of Potato Chip Rock for ideas on how we should stage our picture.  If you look it up, you’ll see all kinds of creative ideas, from rock climbers hanging off the edge, to yoga poses, to groups that have set up a fancy tea party on the rock.  We weren’t prepared for the long line of photo takers and by the time we got up there (and I overcame my fear of the short jump to the rock), we didn’t have a lot of time for creativity.

By all rights, this should be a Photo Adventure, but it’s not.  Mostly because i was too caught up in the actual hiking to stop and snap pictures.  Partly because I didn’t bring a camera and my phone was dying.  Because of that, you only get one.  Just one picture, achieved after an hour wait in line and a four-mile hike straight up in the heat.  But boy was it worth it.


~ April


Photo Adventure: Winter Backpacking (In May)

6 Jun

I should have known better.

We were getting ready for a backpacking trip, the weather was beautiful as we packed our gear; not too hot, not a cloud in the sky. And then I said the stupidest thing possible.

“It’s May. How bad could the weather possibly be?”




Three days of every form of precipitation and chilling dampness you can imagine. It snowed on us. It hailed on us. It rained on us. There was lightning. We even got fogged in.

And yet, through all of the heinous weather, I had a great time. The company was first rate. There were ZERO complaints, and they didn’t rise up as one and hang me by my ankles from a tree for tempting fate.


It even cleared up for us just the tiniest bit. (As we were hiking out.)


Two days later I was sweating in 93 degree heat.


Oh Lord, Oh Lord, What Have I Done?

7 Aug

Before reading this post, I suggest you listen to this:

Now, the only relation it has to the rest of this post is that it has the same name as the trail I hiked this weekend.  It certainly would have been a better song to have in my head than Jonathan Coulton’s Mr. Fancy Pants on my climb…


Unlike Robin, I don’t live in the middle of a national park and I repeatedly use this excuse to spend the weekend at the movies, the beach or just watching Orange is the New Black instead of exploring the outdoors.  What this translates to is this… I am not in shape.  I also want to do a backpacking trip to Valhalla in Sequoia this year, but in my current condition, I’m not quite up for hiking 10 miles in a day, especially in the Sierra so my boyfriend and I are trying to do small but mighty hikes nearby to prepare for the trip.

First on the docket was Mt. Baldy.  As the highest mountain in Los Angeles and Orange counties, it’s a fitting challenge, especially considering I’ve never hiked a peak before.

Thinking about it again, I guess I was wrong.  That Civil Wars song begins with the line “Oh Lord, Oh Lord, what have I done?” and that’s exactly what was going through my head about half way up the first incline… less than half a mile into the hike.  Between the rapid elevation change (sea level to 7,500 feet in an hour), my weak legs, and the steepness of the climb I was about ready to slide down that ski slope and call it a day.  Happily, I did not choose to do that and instead was treated to the namesake of this hike, the Devil’s Backbone.


It’s one of those rare vistas that actually looks cooler in pictures than it does in person.  While the sides are just as steep as they look, the trail seems wider when you’re on top of it.  On a clear day, you can see the deserts to the south, the ocean to the west, and a sea of surrounding mountains.  On our trip, it was a little overcast so we didn’t get the full experience, but we did get to see some pretty fantastic views, including misty mountains.


Somehow I was too busy motivating myself to keep going on the way up to take many pictures so I didn’t get a good shot of the trail climbing to the peak, but I did take one going back down.


Slowly, I made my way to the top, and once it sunk in that I had made it, the burning calves were worth it.


We sat on the top for a lunch of cheese and crackers and popcorn.  I was amused to note that we were enjoying popcorn purchased at the Chicago airport and cheese from Amish country in Ohio.  I’m sure the manufacturers didn’t imagine their wares being eaten on the top of a mountain in California.


The trip back down was faster, if not less work.  I had a chance to pay more attention to my surroundings.  Just above the treeline there were a crazy amount of grasshoppers in the rocks.  I tried to tell them that there was no grass, but they just clicked at us.

Halfway down we could finally see the Top of the Notch restaurant in the distance and its promise of a ski lift down.


After such a sense of accomplishment who knows what I’ll take on next… Mt. San Jacinto?  Whitney?  Everest?  Only time will tell.

~ April (in Autumn)

Photo Adventure: Point Reyes

27 Jul

I spent three glorious days in Point Reyes National Seashore. Unfortunately my camera died about halfway through the trip, which is an enormous tragedy for you. I was initially disappointed that the last part of my route led me away from ocean views, but the fog veiled forests on the Woodward Valley and Sky trails were like something out of Narnia. I would not have been surprised to have turned a corner and come face to face with a unicorn. It was magical. I’m so sorry you missed it.


Chocolate croissant from Bovine Bakery


The bench where I ate the croissant. (Slightly squished, but totally worth it.)


Amazing scenery


Beautiful beach scapes


Beautiful sand scapes


Banana slugs, which aren’t quite like unicorns, but are close enough.


Beach coyotes


Crazy Geology


Swap Skort

11 Jun

Destash Bash

Picture 1

Summer has come to El Portal. On days like this most of us bust out the shorts and spend the entire day by the river, but not me. I need to spend my day packing and I dislike wearing shorts. Imagine an emu trying to wear a tankini at a cocktail party and you’ll have an idea of how awkward I feel when I put on shorts.

On really hot days I usually wear a skirt, but I still spend a considerable amount of time frolicking around the woods doing active things in the company of people who probably don’t want to see my underwear. This is why hiking skorts are my best friends in the summer. They’re practical, sassy, and they usually come equipped with handy things like pockets and belt loops.


I recently discovered the Refashionista’s blog and wondered if I could make my own hiking skort. My opportunity came when my friend Katie organized a swap party. I found a great pair of columbia shorts and a dress that was really cute except for the botched screen print on the front of it.


I sliced off the skirt of the dress with my rotary cutter, and used a seam ripper to open up the side seams about halfway down the skirt. I refinished those raw edges with a flat seam. This left a slit in the skirt that makes the side pockets on the shorts accessible. Then I carefully sewed first the back and then the front of the skirt to the shorts just below the waste line. I overlapped the front and back sides a little to hide the pocket slits.


I trimmed off the excess seam allowance and folded the skirt over and sewed it down a second time to finish it.


Here’s me wearing the finished skirt at Wapama Falls during our Hetch Hetchy backpacking trip. I may be totally disheveled after three days in the backcountry but dang…..look at that spiffy skirt!


Materials Used

Dress (free box!)
Shorts (free box!)
Thread (stash)

Thanks to Jillian the Refashionista for the inspiration, and to Katie for organizing the swap party (and for making crepes!)


Photo Adventure: Panorama Trail

27 May

This is a total flyby post because I leave for a backpacking trip tomorrow morning and I haven’t started packing yet.

These are all from a hike I did on the Four Mile and Panorama Trail. I don’t know why I waited two years to do this hike, it’s one of the best day hikes in Yosemite!

El Capitan from the Four Mile Trail

Glacier Point view of Halfdome, Nevada and Vernal Falls

The backside of Half Dome and Illilouette Falls

Nevada Fall

OMG Rainbow!

Starlit El Capitan (notice the climber’s lights)

I love this quote


Death Valley Flashback

10 May

If you’re looking for Sew Mama Sew giveaway, go here.

In all the hullabaloo of Earth Day, I didn’t get a chance to talk about an awesome trip I took at the beginning of the month.  Our new boss gave us a few extra days off before Easter and it was the perfect time of year for a trip to the desert.

When I was in elementary school, I was entranced by the idea of two national parks: Petrified Forest and Death Valley.  For a kid growing up in Ohio where everything is either green or covered in snow,  dry, desolate places captured my imagination.  I was sadly disappointed when I visited Petrified Forest in my mid-twenties.  My 10-year-old mind had imagined it to be a full-on forest, just made of stone.  Instead, I was treated to a desert with some rocky looking things lying around.  I haven’t been back since, so I in no way hold to that opinion.  I hated Joshua Tree the first time I went, too (going in July will do that to you).  Death Valley was a much more fulfilling experience.

So, first thing we should all know is that a scene or two in Star Wars was filmed in good old Death Valley. Remember Mos Eisley?

Wretched hive of scum and villainy. (Photo from Star Wars Wikia)

That’s Dante’s View – my first view of the valley.


There’s other canyons that we visited that feature in Star Wars as well, but I won’t get into that too far. If you’re into it, my boyfriend talks about it in his podcast. The Death Valley part starts at about 1 hour and 13 minutes. If you just want to see the Star Wars comparison shots, skip ahead to 1 hour and 22 minutes.

What surprised me most about Death Valley was its diversity.  I was expecting long stretches of scrub brush and dirt broken up by the occasional cattle skulls and cacti.  Unlike the Petrified Forest, my dashed exceptions were welcome.  Among the gems of the park were an array of canyons with names like Golden, Mosaic, Desolation, and… Titus.


The aptly named Mosaic Canyon was my favorite.  The walls are worn smooth from rushing water, revealing layers of rock compacted together, looking quite like a mosaic.  There were even a few chuckwallas enjoying the shade from the canyon walls.


Death Valley is known for being “Hottest, Driest, Lowest” and rightly so.  Even at the end of March, when it was still snowing in Ohio, temperatures were in the mid-nineties.  The park doesn’t recommend visiting between April and October since temperatures rise even higher.  In fact, the highest temperature on the planet was recorded in Furnace Creek – 134°.

Death Valley is also the lowest place in the United States.  When you drive down to Badwater (or, if you’re adventurous, rent a bike), you’re descending to 282 feet below sea level.


Despite the heat, the landscape looks arctic.  Although the stretch of white crystals is convincing enough to pass for snow, it’s actually salt leftover from evaporated water.


Back at elevation (of just about sea level), another area of the park leads you straight into the Sahara.


The only dunes I’d seen before this were the ones in North Carolina and at Pismo Beach.  The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes were something entirely different.   They just appear amongst the typical desert scrub, like someone just swept all the loose sand into one place.

If you want to stay in Death Valley and don’t have a camper, I’d suggest taking our route.  We stayed up at Mesquite Springs campground.  While it’s a bit out of the way (you’ll have to drive about 40 minutes or so to get into the Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek areas of the park), it’s also at 1800 feet, making it about 20° cooler than the valley floor.  When you’re enjoying the pleasantly warm rather than unbearably hot evenings, the drive feels worth it.  Besides, we got to share our campsite with some very enthusiastic bats.

As Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, it’s impossible to see everything in a few days.  A lot of the park is only accessible by off-road vehicles.  The dunes we saw were about 100 ft tall.  If you have an off-road vehicle, you can see dunes that rise 700 ft, making them the tallest in California.  Next visit will definitely involve some of the sites that are farther afoot.


Photo Adventure: Hite Cove

31 Mar


Lately, I have been spending a ridiculous amount of time inside, but yesterday I woke up determined to hike Hite Cove. I’ve been on a bit of a painting kick lately, so I tossed some water color stuff in my backpack and set off. Of course when I got to a gorgeous spot on the trail I discovered that I absolutely did NOT want to paint. Fortunately, I had also brought my camera with me, and I was content to just snap photos as I went along.






I’m the type of person who packs a camera and field guides and binoculars and a journal, AND art supplies for a hike, and then I spend hours just throwing rocks into the river. I am baffled by how finicky I can be when it comes to entertaining myself. (I can’t even imagine how the people around me must feel.) Most of the time it’s frustrating to carry all that stuff and not use it, but on days like this it’s totally worth the extra weight.

Sometimes the heart just wants what the heart wants.


Pssst! You can find more Hite Cove pictures in my flickr set.

Great Things to Do in Cleveland

2 Jan

I am back in my hometown near Cleveland, Ohio, for the holidays. Occasionally during my semi-nomadic life I have heard people belittle Cleveland as “the mistake on the lake.” I have a tendency to take that nickname a little more personally than I ought to. Sure, Cleveland has its fair share of pitfalls, but so has every city I’ve lived in. In defiance of such a crude attitude, I wanted to share a few places on my list to visit when I come home:

West Side Market:


The West Side Market predates the trendy farm-to-table movement by several decades. In fact it’s a relic of the era before the rise of mega-mart grocery stores. To this day, it reflects the ethnic diversity of Cleveland’s population; and it’s my favorite place to explore and expand my culinary pallet. (Usually by starting with the cannolis and working my way down the alphabet.)


Cleveland Museum of Art:


The Cleveland Museum of Art has been one of my favorite places for a long time, but now is a particularly exciting time for the museum which just reopened a big chunk of its collections as part of a long-time renovation project.


The collections are as splendid as they ever were. The special exhibition on Peru’s Wari culture has some of the most beautiful textiles I have ever seen. But the newly completed atrium made me a little thankful that I live thousands of miles from the Cleveland Art Museum. It is spectacular, and I suspect that if it were a little closer to home me and my laptop would be tempted to set up shop permanently and the museum would have a hard time getting rid of us. Did I mention that admission to the museum is free?


Cuyahoga Valley National Park:

I admit, I rarely find a park I don’t like. I may also be slightly biased because I grew up within a few miles of Cuyahoga Valley, but this park has the number one place in my nerdy park-loving heart.

If you go to Cuyahoga Valley expecting the same grandeur of scenery you would see in, say, Yosemite, I’m afraid you are going to be disappointed. Cuyahoga Valley also lacks the trackless wilderness of many of the glitzier national parks. There are even many native Ohioans who don’t realize that the park exists, or often mistake it for the regional metroparks. To some, these may seem like major drawbacks but they make Cuyahoga Valley Cleveland’s best kept secret.


The park covers 20,000 acres of land along the Cuyahoga River. It was originally created to protect the watershed of a river that was once so infamously polluted that it caught fire, but it is so much more than that. The corridor of the Cuyahoga River was one of the most important transportation routes in North America that was used by prehistoric Native Americans, and later an innovative canal system that revolutionized life for Ohio’s frontier settlers. It also preserves green spaces in a densely populated area, protecting them, but also making them accessible for a number of recreational activities. The real beauty of Cuyahoga Valley springs not from the superlatives that can be attached to it, but from the subtle way that history, habitats, and opportunities for education, conservation, and adventure intertwine.


And that is why all the little chicks with the crimson lips go “Cleveland Rocks!


Thanksgiving Rocks: Pt. 2

5 Dec

If you’d read the last post (Thanksgiving Rocks: Pt. 1) you may have been curious as to when Part 2 would arrive. You may have wondered whether it would arrive at all. I wouldn’t blame you for the second wondering, considering I am fully aware I left you hanging on the Halloween wreath tutorial I promised (next year, guys). I am a woman of my word this time around though, and not only am I offering you a part 2, I am offering it in record time.

The second part of my adventure led me to Red Rock Canyon. If you think to yourself, “Hey! I know where that is! It’s in the Santa Monica Mountains / the Mojave Desert / Las Vegas, Nevada / Hinton Oklahoma / Colorado Springs!” or any number of other places, you would be right. It seems that when it comes to places with crimson-tinted stones, humanity is not very good at being original. I even found a Rocas Rojas in the Canary Islands.

The one I went to is Red Rock Canyon state park in the Mojave Desert. It’s a little closer to Orange County than Joshua Tree and makes for a great one night camping trip. Even on the weekend after Thanksgiving it was relatively secluded.


The camp sites butt up against a bizarre rock wall. The formations in the wall almost look like statues from a distance. It’s a great area for staying around the campsite and exploring all the crevices.


The area is a common nesting place for raptors and other birds. In one of the nooks we found feathers and owl pellets. I was hoping to see an owl on the prowl at night, but this was the only sign of him.


When the sun went down, star-watching was quite good. Even though the moon didn’t go down until early in the morning, we still got a great view of Jupiter and four of his moons. as well as some of that iconic striping in the atmosphere.


Red Rock Canyon is a state park, and as such is very underfunded. While the solitude was nice, I know the parks need more visitors and funding to survive. We haven’t talked much about the situation our state parks are in on this blog, but both Robin and I feel strongly about their preservation. As my boyfriend pointed out, how is it that something can look like this and still not have the same protection as a national park?


The state parks have recently faced $22 million dollars in cuts. 70 of them were supposed to close by this July, but a last ditch measure saved 65 of them. Although they’re saved for now, that doesn’t make them safe. In some of the parks there’s only one ranger for huge areas – up to 5,000 acres. You can learn more and support the parks by visiting the California State Parks Foundation.


~ April (in Autumn)