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Why We Travel

We’ve always enjoyed travelling together. Whether to Sante Fe in the winter, Savannah in the spring, time living in Germany, racing in Oklahoma or New England or Scotland … travel has been something we’ve shared and been invigorated by.

But these adventures started at a distinct point in time … Paul and I decided to take a road trip in November of 2013. We have done other shorter adventures in the past, but this would be three weeks of traveling. We made up a loose plan to head down to New Orleans, make our way to Big Bend National Park in Texas and then wind our way back to PA. We filled our Honda Fit with all our gear, tents, running shoes, bikes etc.. and headed South. The trip went well and stirred up a desire in both of us to travel more. You can see the pictures from that trip.

Paul’s parents have been travelling around Europe for several years in a camper van, an idea which became more appealing to him as time went by. He turned 50 shortly after we arrived home and announced that he wanted to buy a Sprinter van and customize it for traveling. I thought he might be joking but he actually bought  a van via e-bay and that was that. I am glad he measured our driveway first because the van barely fits in it. The winter and spring of 2014, and later the early winter of 2014/2015 saw a huge amount of work to outfit the van with solar power, cabinets, bedding and more. You can follow that continuing story over on the build thread at Sprinter-Forum.

There is nothing better than exploring a new place to make you feel alive and present. It could be running the canyon trails in Texas, cycling in Colorado, wading across the Escalante River, camping under the stars, eating local flavors, swimming with the fishes, hiking the Wonderland trail. These are the memories I want to remain with me. I feel grateful for the possibility.

Travelling Close to Home

This post is written mostly for Paul’s mother, who isn’t going to be travelling much any more and will certainly never see the landscape close to where we now live. Sometimes, you can (and must) travel from a bed instead of a van.

This morning we went out on a short 4 mile run, mostly on trails around Galisteo. The weather wasn’t particularly sunny, but the photographs below capture some of the details of the neighborhood as well as a few broader landscape shots. Sorry that the photographs do not link to larger versions, but even the larger versions where not really worth viewing due to graininess and the odd morning light.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls …. the gate to the local cemetery

The two shots above come from the edge of a property owned by a British couple. The husband is a fairly famous architect who grew up in Woodford and like me used to ride his bicycle into Epping Forest as a child.

Above are examples of the different way that color and a particular kind of botanical beauty occur here in our semi-desert climate.

The Jemez Mountains to the west
The Sangre de Cristos Mountains (still with snow) to the north
Cerro Pelon, a landform that defines an edge of the Galisteo Basin
The Galisteo Creek, which flows (almost) perenially a few 100m from our home
El Puente de Galisteo, which we almost always have to cross when going home

Finding our way back home

One thing I was hoping to do more of on our west coat trip is swim. The coastal water was too cold so Paul and I decided to find a lake in Arizona. Alamo Lake SP is a large lake in the middle of the desert. It opened in 1969 after a dam was built to control the flow of the Bill Williams River. It is popular with boaters and fishermen. There is an abundance of spring wildflowers and we enjoyed listening to the wild burros. There were many spots to choose from so we got a terrific lake view. It was a new moon so the stars were extremely bright and easy to pick out many constellations.

Having a few days to relax and not move the van, I napped, played guitar and read while Paul worked. We enjoyed swimming but wore our wet suits as the water was a bit choppy and colder than I like. You could definitely swim by the shoreline without one. On an early morning run I spotted wild burro on the road. They all just stopped and stared looking surprised to see me. The drive into the park was 40 miles so Paul took the opportunity to ride his bike out while I drove ahead.

Our next stop was a special treat to visit my cousin Kelly, Mark, Finnegan, and Delilah. They have a beautiful home in Fountain Hills and we spent the evening there having dinner and catching up. We talked till late then Paul and I slept comfortably in their driveway(in van of course). Next time we will remember to take a few photos.

We try our luck at another park but Lyman Lake State Park is not appealing for swimming. Dirt beaches and when we tried to walk in it was muddy. Probably just good red earth but couldn’t motivate myself to jump in. We did enjoy the park trails quite a bit. You could piece together a bunch of trails for a longish run. There are large rocks with petroglyphs, adobe ruins, and plenty of peace and quiet. Dark night sky with shooting stars.

Bluewater Lake SP is located in the Zuni Mountains, New Mexico. I wanted to check it out for future swimming. It was super windy as a storm was coming so I didn’t get a chance to go in. We parked our van near the pinon and juniper trees for protection. I think this place will be enjoyable in summer when warmer as its altitude is at 7,400 ft. The lake can freeze over in the winter allowing ice fishing. I managed a beautiful, short run on park trails. A wide variety of birds, canyon walls, a dam, and expansive views. The wind picked up even more and it started to snow. Time to go back to Santa Fe.

But wait….Why is there snow in April? ugh

Joshua Tree

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…but this is pretty close. We arrive at Joshua tree and all the campgrounds are full (of course) because its spring break time. We decide to do a drive through the park to get a scope of the place. I can no longer stand being couped up in the van so we park by Split Rock and head out for a run. We connect various trails together, skull rock, face rock, discovery trail and even made our own trail. (got lost)

In God’s Country
With or Without You

BLM land camping is normally pretty good but we read reviews of camping in Joshua Tree BLM and it was pretty mixed. When heading out on bumpy dirt roads we found many people in all sorts of campers, tents, RVs, etc.. were spread across a large field. Securing a level place to park, we set out our chairs, had a nice dinner and watched the sunset over the San Gorgonio Mountain range.

In the early morning we head to Natural sister’s cafe for organic coffee and juice. No bathrooms on BLM so that too. Back into Joshua Tree Park and have breakfast in the van. Head out for a long run on Stubbe Springs Loop.

Lots of good single track, some sandy parts, and becoming immersed into the desert . Big eared jack rabbits hopped very fast off the trail ahead of us. Flowers of various shapes, sizes, and colors dot the path. Cactus varieties also cling close so you have to be careful when running. They are super sharp. Wide open views of Mt. Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio.

down in the valley at left is where Coachella happens

We both got pretty hot by the end of the run. Lunch break in van at Keys View. One more overnight on BLM land and Paul is able to get some work done. 4G on the hot spot, whoo hoo. I choose to stream a movie instead.

Big Sur

March happened to be spring break for many students and all the camp grounds on the coast looked booked on-line. We decided to drive Pacific Coast 1 anyway and see what we could find. This was my first time to Big Sur and the surrounding areas. I was floored by the beauty and now know why this drive is so magnificent. We asked at Plaskett Creek Camp ground if we could stay a night. They were full but let us share a group site with another friendly surfer man (John). We sat outside the van and enjoyed the ocean sounds. In the morning we ran along the muddy coastline, some in pastures.

spot the van at Plaskett Creek SP

Sunshine, sea air, trail running, and even mud..ahhhhh happy place. The national forest lets people camp for free right up the hill from where we stayed. Tricky road but we know now for next time. Crazy views.

Elephant seals sunning on the beach. I didn’t know what they were at first.

They had some official viewing areas but Paul and I drove to a beach spot where kite boarders were surfing. I walked down the road a ways to a small bridge and looked over. To my surprise there were all these elephant seals looking up at me. They found a perfect place to hide and swim in creek water. They made fun noises while playing. I ran back to tell Paul and show him my discovery. We watched for a bit and then left them to their privacy. Cool find.

San Simeon Camp Ground was set back from the beach. Our daily run included scenic overlooks, rest-stop benches and interpretive panels with information on wildlife and habitat. San Simeon Natural Preserve consists of vast wetlands, riparian areas, and several undisturbed native plant communities including unique mima mound topography. The Preserve is also the wintering site for monarch butterfly populations. Very pleasant indeed. The beach is vast but it was windy and I couldn’t even find a place to nestle in and enjoy a book. Lots of driftwood everywhere too.

Cambria is a pleasant shopping stop. We buy bread and have taco lunch from a food truck. We make our way inland on 166 and find parking in National forest land. ( one dirt road was way too scary for me and treacherous) There is plenty of bug life but also extreme quiet. Peaceful night sleep.

Morning rest stop in a small town New Cayuma. Head back to the ocean over a pass on 33. Stop and eat lunch out of van to take in the sights a bit longer.

Back at the beach we camp at El Capitan SB, Nice ocean views but a rocky beach. I walk a mile north and find one with sand to relax and read. Only a short dip here as the water is so cold. Wake early and enjoy a sunrise run with bunnies, wild flowers, and hugging the ocean. The bike path was closed because of erosion but you can manage a run and it connects with Refugio SB. This is a nice spot directly on the beach with sand. Would be my choice next time.

Gaviota SB is rustic but has charm. Nice sand beach, showers, train bridge, and many interesting rock formations.

It gets windy here and dusty too so being in a van was a plus. Paul and I did an epic run to a sulfer hot spring. It was harder than we expected, and longer, but we both agreed it was worth the challenge.

Lake Piru is off the beach but worth mentioning. The camp is set in a 100 year old Olive Grove. Very quiet at the beginning of April but is probably hopping in the summer. The green trees, blossoms, deer and crazy big horn cows make it even more interesting.

California Dreamin

Leaving Reno and heading over the Donner pass speckled white with snow, we can feel the pull of the warm California weather. Finding our way through Nevada City and Grass Valley we stop in a town called Dobbins. Here we chat, drink tea with John DeMarco and play with his dog Snoop. John is an old friend of Ron’s from high school. He is an artist, writer, and musician. Ron admired John and I believe with so much in common they would still have been friends today.

The drive on 20 to Clearlake was full of flowers and green hills. Too bad that the State Park was closed because of flooding. We pressed on to Cloverdale in the dark on super windy 175 W. I don’t recommend this route at night. I was pretty scared. Late dinner at La Hacienda with a needed margarita and park overnight on a nearby quiet street. Next morning going through Sonoma wine country, you can see the large amount of rain has flooded many fields. The Russian River also overflowed(the worst flooding in over 20 years) and many people lost property. Very sad to see that.

We made it to the Pacific Ocean! Breakfast in the van at Sonoma Coast SB then a good run in the rain at Point Reyes National Seashore. We were the only runners out there.

We made it to the Pacific Ocean! Breakfast in the van at Sonoma Coast SB then a good run in the rain at Point Reyes National Seashore. We were the only runners out there.

Paul wanted to attend an audio software conference at Stanford. We spent some time outside the van in Palo Alto. (the van has a much better bed than the airbnb) We met interesting people, had many conversations, and I caught up on laundry. I enjoyed running during the day. A highlight was Wunderlich County Park filled with redwood trees, deer and steep trails.

The Nature preserve by google plex was close enough to run. I went there a few times and enjoyed the birds, waterways, and watching people stream into work. The art museums at Stanford, Cantor and Anderson collections, are worth a visit. They are not only full of a wide variety of art but they are free. My favorites were Elizabeth Murray, Josiah Mc Elheny “Island Universe”, Rodin and Richard Serra sculptures, and Do Ho Suh (crazy wallpaper).

Paul and I ate most dinners out in Palo Alto and shared one evening catching up with some of his friends Juan, Sarah, and Raj.

Alameda, what a lovely place. Who knew? My niece Lucy and wife Ari live on this sweet island and Paul and I found it charming in many ways. The homes look mostly Victorian but there is also a mix of new and old. Blue Dot cafe is the perfect place for a filling breakfast sandwich and coffee. The public transportation seems very easy so I took the bus to San Francisco for the day. There Lucy gave me a blue ribbon tour of Slack the company she works for.

I was super impressed with the design layout and how each floor of Slack was trying to emulate a different level of the Pacific Crest Trail. Think dirt, rock, desert, water, wood, snow etc… I am not sure how many floors I was on but it was an unforgettable journey. Plus you get treats on any floor, coffee, tea, cookies and more. It was nice to see Lucy enjoying her work and also to see how people responded so positively to her. My sister Carrie, George and Milo and friend Ella happened to be in San Fran at the same time. We got together for an enjoyable day where we walked around, saw the 16th street mosaic steps and had an evening family dinner back in Alameda. Plus Ice cream at Tuckers!

Just Drive 395

After our breathtaking experience at Lone Pine campground, Paul and I drove 395 North to Reno. Now there are many pretty scenic roads out there but we found ourselves ooohing and aaahing most of the way. Mountains caress you from both sides and can be distracting at times. Making your way north you are suddenly surrounded by white, glistening snow. Sunglasses were needed for this part of the journey.

We stopped briefly mid route to enjoy the reflections on Mono Lake. The season had not yet started so it was very quiet and the road had barely any traffic.

I promised my Aunt Carol we would stop for a visit this trip. The sisters at the Carmel of Reno are some of the friendliest people we have met. They made Paul and I feel so welcome and included us in daily meals and conversation. I especially enjoyed spending time with my Aunt Carol who is a creative, beautiful soul.

We toured the grounds, art studios and card making facilities. We also went into downtown Reno to stroll on the river walk. We were very impressed with the city and its artsy feel. One major highlight was a run on the steamboat ditch trail with spectacular views of the city below.

Death Valley

Paul has had an intimate experience with Death Valley in the past cycling 200 miles in the desert for fun. This would be my first trip to the place he spoke so fondly of and I was a bit nervous that it would not hold up to all the admiration.

We arrived at Furnace Creek on a windy Tuesday and I actually sat outside the van reading for the first time in a long while. The stars looked amazing but the wind decided to pick up and shook the van all night long.

The next day we decided to run Dante’s View towards Mt. Perry. It was a bit chilly but the scenery was spectacular. 5400′ above the Badwater basin and an incredible single track (sometimes precarious) trail out and back.

sometimes you just want to go for a jog in the woods …

By Thursday the wind had died down and we rode our bikes to Badwater Basin. On the way back we took the long way on Artist’s Drive to view the colorful patterns in the rocks. Artist’s Palette was really a treat and I was so perplexed that there was blue, purple and pink in the rocks. When we arrived back at the van we could have dinner outside, so lovely.

Paul enjoyed some more cycling while I explored Mosaic Canyon. Hot run up to canyon but worth seeing the rocks mosaiced into the canyon walls. Stovepipe Wells camping area had a pool and shower we could use that was handy. We both also ran all of the Fall Canyon trail and part of Titus Canyon road that was closed to vehicles because of flooding.

Paul wanted to cycle the one exit from Death Valley he hasn’t completed. He rode from Stovepipe Wells to Panamint Springs. I was a bit worried after driving ahead in the van and kept looking through binoculars to see if he was coming. It was definitely challenging but he had an enjoyable (possibly epic) ride.

Tuttle Creek outside of Lone Pine was our next camping experience. It couldn’t have knocked our socks off any more than it did. Wow! You are on the base of the Whitney Portal and have views of Owen’s lake ( a dry salt lake) in the basin. The next morning I ran part of the famous Movie Road in Alabama Hills. Over 400 movies were filmed in this area including Gunga Din, Rawhide, Gladiator, Django Unchained, Ironman, Tremors and many more.

Springtime in Death Valley is certainly a treat and well worth visiting and exploring.

Flagstaff, Sedona, Hoover Dam, Vegas

After our amazing time at the grand canyon we headed to Flagstaff to visit with friends Shari and Paul. They made a big move from the east coast to a property in Flagstaff near the National forest. Their home is warm and cozy so we skipped sleeping in the van for a few days. I was a bit jealous of all the amazing running opportunities they have right outside their door.

Shari and Paul also love to hike so they took us to Sedona to get a closer look at the red rocks. There are a multitude of trails in the area and I believe you can’t go wrong in choosing. Everywhere we looked was full of gorgeousness. We enjoyed tasty woodfired pizza at Pisa Lisa. Just warm enough to sit outside.

You can’t drive over the Hoover Dam without getting a closer look. It is a spectacular construction that took 5 years to build and many lives lost (96). You are allowed to drive over it after your vehicle goes through a security checkpoint.

Vegas! Sin City and the home of Most Reverend Bishop Pepe, cousin Joe. We didn’t give Joe enough notice so we just took in Monday night mass and said a quick hello. Nice dinner at Hedary’s Mediterranean and then to walk around old town, Fremont Street. Cool art happenings, weird outdoor/indoor mall space where people fly over your head zip lining. Light show on the dome ceiling, music, drinking etc…all a bit overwhelming.

We parked the van on 9th street and it was very quiet overnight. In the morning we had a delicious breakfast, almost too large, at Publicus. Very nice ambiance. Seems like a popular meet up space where people gather, drink coffee and enjoy fantastic food.

Grandest of Canyons

Who really wants to admit they have a bucket list, but I do. Being able to hike in the Grand Canyon has always been on the top of my list. Growing up in rural Wisconsin one can only dream of a landscape that feels like something out of a western movie. Desert winds, shadow canyons, mules, and ravens who speak to you.

Paul and I called the Bright Angel Lodge in high hopes of a cancellation. We lucked out and were told to arrive by the next morning (7 am) for the waiting list. We drove from Santa Fe as fast as we could and got to the Grand Canyon on time. We could stay at Phantom Ranch in a cabin!

We parked the van at the Mather campground and packed our bags to hike down. It was a 3.3 mile hike just to get to Kaibab Trail Head. There we put on our micro spikes because of snow and ice on the steep top part of the trail. We had shorts on but it got warm soon enough down the trail and we were thankful. We enjoyed dropping lower into the depths and feeling more and more like we were becoming enveloped in the landscape. It took us 3 1/2 hours to get down (7 miles) but we ooohed and aaahed the whole way.

Crossing the Colorado River and heading up to Phantom Ranch, we both knew how lucky we were to be in this special place. The weather was now about 70 degrees and we could sit outside with feet in the creek.

Our cabin was rustic but almost an extravagance when you think of how much effort it took to build one here.

(thank you Mary Colter) The food was family style, hearty, and delicious. You could order wine or beer(which we did) and play games or cards until the wee hours (defined here as 10pm).

Paul and I both woke with sore legs but I was able to shake out a short run. Up the rushing bright angel creek starting in the dark and watching the sky lighten the canyon walls. I got back in time for a communal breakfast with plenty of coffee, eggs, pancakes, fruit, bacon etc.. to motivate you or move you to nap. We left around 8 am to hike up Bright Angel Trail (9.8 miles) thinking it would take us more time than the descent.

This trail was a surprise in that it was mostly accompanied by water, first the Colorado River and then heading upward we zigzagged across Garden creek and Pipe creek to the Indian Garden Campground. This was the only water stop along the way at this time of year.

From there it is switchbacks up, up , and up getting cooler as you go. By the time we reached the top (4 hours) it was windy and cold. A shuttle bus gladly took us back to the campground.

The next day we rode our bikes to Hermit’s Rest. More views from the top with vista points that left me feeling overwhelmed. I was still awe struck and loved watching colors on canyon walls change with the sun and cloud shadows.

The intimacy was gone though. It was nothing liked being deep in the heart of the grandest canyon.

Moab, Canyonlands and Arches

Ninja Paul

Before we even sold our home and decided to head west, our friend Gene Dykes told us about an ultra race in Moab that he would be doing. It seemed the perfect opportunity to get intimate with the National Parks surrounding the town. We headed out of Santa Fe in the afternoon and ended up sleeping in Pagosa Springs where the temperature dipped to -9 degrees F. The town was super quiet so we parked right in the middle of it and woke to sunshine and steam coming from the hot springs.

Pagosa Hot Springs

Too bad the hot springs didn’t warm the place up. We left early and headed to Durango for breakfast. Smiley Cafe is set in an old school building that now houses Smiley, offices, a Montessori school and more. Wonderful artwork on the walls, tasty food and coffee. Next visit I would like to expand our exploration. Very sweet mountain town with artsy feel plus, the Greenery. (say no more)

Moab is breathtaking and I feel that winter could be the best time to visit. Small crowds, plenty of places to camp, and the National Parks are quiet and peaceful. I love the dusting of snow on the red earth. Not enough to hinder travel but enough to make things sparkle. We meet with Gene for dinner and fuel up for the Arches Ultra event. BLM land is free to park on over night near the race start. Wake early and connect with Gene and Richard for a 6:30 am start. The race is difficult and muddy in many parts. Paul may have been smart to do the 50K instead of the 50 miler. Gene and I enjoy the race but it does take more time and effort than he thought it would. We are the last finishers but happy to have completed it in 12:44.

Breakfast at Eklecticafe

Time to relax and camp in Canyonlands. No entrance or camping fees due to government shut down. We bought a parks pass before our trip so I feel a little less guilty. There are a few campers out there but we are pretty much alone with the stars.

Canyonlands in the afternoon

In the morning we go for a very short trail run then head to Arches NP. We drive through the park and do a few short hikes including one to Delicate Arch.

Delicate Arch and a small mini me

Rock formations in Arches NP
Smaller arches to find on hikes

While in Moab we recommend, dinner at Arches Thai , the Moonflower Coop, Sand Flats Recreation Area (camping), and coffee at Wicked Brew.

Paul and I are in search of a new home so we looked at a property outside Santa Fe. This special place had spoken to both of us before we left for Moab so we decided to head back and be clear about our feelings. On the way we took a different route stopping at Four Corners, the only place you can be in 4 states at one time.

We also stopped in Blanding, Utah (nice free museum there), Farmington, NM to run on a river trail, and slept in a rest area outside of Taos.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Morning walk around Taos plaza, coffee and hot chocolate at Elevation Coffee, we then make our way back to Santa Fe to contemplate the future.