May 2017 Adventures

May 2017 Adventures

In May I spent some time camping with my brother, found my favorite campsite so far in all of my travels, and played around with the drone and video editing. I went to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, further up the Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend, and Zion National Park. Wow!

MAP OF TRAVELS

May 2017 Adventures

I started out the month in Las Vegas. I’d been there to meet up with friends who flew down from Portland. I had a wonderful time with them.  I drove from Vegas to Sedona to meet my brother. On the way, I stopped for a night in Flagstaff. That city really has a pull on me. I like it a lot. It’s an awesome place to spend some time during the summer.

SEDONA – WITH MY BROTHER 

My brother, Brandon (@thetinglytraveler ), realized he had multiple sclerosis in 2015.  He was having a standard successful American life: a stable job that he was very good at and was promoted to manager, a nice house in Denver with a sweet garden, time and money for his hobbies

If I understand correctly, the biggest challenge he had (other than now M.S.) was all the stress at work. He was extremely loyal to his company, and thus ended up having a lot of responsibility and stress there.

After his diagnosis, he changed his life quickly. He Started eating healthier and running, and lost excess weight he’d been carrying for years. He found a wonderful girlfriend. He started thinking about how to reduce his stress at work.

House prices had went up a lot in Denver. Brandon sold his house in Denver and moved in with his girlfriend. Then, they sold her house. They both quit their jobs. They got a truck and a travel trailer. They’ve been traveling around the U.S. the last few months.

They expect to choose an area to buy some land and start a homestead. He’ll probably work more. I expect it will be in a technical role that he enjoys.

I’m proud of my brother, and I’m excited for them.

We crossed paths Sedona and camped together.  It was nice camping with them and catching up on their travels so far, trying to give each-other things that we no longer use and don’t need (neither of us were successful at offloading much of anything), comparing ideas of places to travel to, sharing some meals, going on a hike, and so on.

May 2017 Adventures

 

May 2017 Adventures

 

May 2017 Adventures - Sedona

 

May 2017 Adventures - Sedona

Remember that drone that Dan of Big Ox Little Bird gave me a few months ago? I had a heck of a time getting a charger and batteries for it. I’d gotten the charger after about a month, and one of the batteries I ordered didn’t arrive in Phoenix until after I’d left the city. (The other never did).  When my brother passed through Phoenix, he picked it up from me from my cousin before heading north to Sedona. So, I finally got to use the drone. It’s a lot of fun.

May 2017 Adventures - Sedona

This was the first video I recorded with it. I wasn’t even checking the exposure and the sky is all blown out.

We had loose plans to travel together for a while. We weren’t sure how long it would work out, as we have our own sort of speeds of movement, and they would need to go back to Denver fairly soon. We made plans to go up to the Grand Canyon next. I got itchy feet about a day earlier than they did, and headed up there. it was useful for me to go first as I could scope out potential campsites for them. Their trailer doesn’t have a lot of ground clearance, and their dog is scared of other dogs and people. So – I could go check what the roads were like and try to find a campsite that’s a bit secluded from other campers.

The next day, after they ran errands and started heading up, they had trouble with their trailer. Something with the wheel bearings – I believe not having quite enough grease and basically burned up. So they were stuck down a bit south of Flagstaff for a few days.

GRAND CANYON

I camped in the National Forest south of the Canyon. I ended up staying in 3 or 4 different spots. I’d drive over to the canyon each day, and then just go to a different spot. At the spots nearest to Tusayan, there was a lot of low flying helicopters, so I only stayed there one day.

I didn’t really like taking pictures of the canyon. It’s so huge that the other side is all hazy. When shooting with a wide lens, it’s basically all the same and just blends together and looks flat and boring. I did go shoot there during sunrise one morning. I didn’t think I got much of anything, but I did end up with one picture I really like (the first one).

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

 

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

 

May 2017 Adventures - Grand Canyon

After a few days, there was some cold weather approaching. I didn’t know when my brother would get the trailer fixed and head up, and I wouldn’t be of any help if I went back down there. I wasn’t crazy about the canyon, so I headed off to a really cool campsite that my brother found on Instagram

ALONG THE COLORADO RIVER

This was my favorite campsite of all my travels so far. It’s on some BLM land that goes right up near the edge of the canyon. It’s near the old site of Lee’s Ferry, and it’s quite remote. It’s only like 10 miles from Page as a bird flies, but it’s 50 miles of driving.

I stayed here for about two weeks. I ended up making 3 trips into page. One of those was an extra trip to go buy a 1.5mm hex key. A hundred miles for a $.10 tool.

Why? Well, I was flying the drone a lot, and realized it had a problem. The gimbal was shaking around a lot. With a little research online, I saw it was likely because of a certain set screw not being tight enough. I needed a 1.5mm hex key to tighten it. I have a ton of hex keys in various sizes. I had a 2mm, and I believe a 1mm. But no 1.5. I wanted to fix it while I was still camping out here because it was an awesome place to record drone footage. Tightening the set screw did fix the gimbal vibration issue. So, then I had to re-record all the clips I’d gotten so far.

I have a lot more pictures from here, and an incredible nice drone video, but I’ll save it for a specific post about the spot. Here’s a taste of it:

May 2017 Adventures - Colorado River

 

May 2017 Adventures - Colorado River

 

May 2017 Adventures - Colorado River

I was flying my drone a lot and one evening I was sorting through clips and editing them together. The way I had my van parked, the setting sun would shine in through a window and reflect on my computer screen, so I had my curtains up. Those curtains sort of blocked out my view of the sunset.

While editing, I glanced out the front windshield and noticed a bloom of color on the clouds. A brilliant pink.

I jolted out of my seat, grabbed my camera bag and tripod, and scurried over to the edge of this canyon. I only had about 5 minutes before it faded away

May 2017 Adventures - Colorado River

PAGE & HORSESHOE BEND

I shot there at 3 different times. Here’s a picture from the first time. Yep, looks just like all the other Horseshoe Bend pictures.

 

May 2017 Adventures - Horseshoe Bend

I wasn’t that crazy about this place. The view is nice. There’s just so many people coming in and out and taking the same pictures. It’s sort of a zoo. At one point while I was set up and shooting, an old Asian lady who couldn’t speak english thrusted her camera into my hands and gestured for me to take a lot of pictures at different zoom ranges. I think she was scared to go up to the edge.  That was actually kind of nice because she had a Sony a7 and I’d been wondering what it was like to use their electronic viewfinders.

ZION NATIONAL PARK

After a couple weeks near page, I figured I should get on into Utah. I’ve never been to southern Utah, and I’ve been looking forward to it a lot.

I drove back through Page and then to Zion National Park.

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

I drove through the park – on that road that goes through the south end. WOW! It’s an incredible drive. It’s a continual stretch of amazing views – literally the whole way, other than while inside the two tunnels you go through. The next day I hiked up Angel’s Landing.

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

 

May 2017 Adventures - Zion National Park

I’ll probably have a bunch more pictures to share from Zion. I spent a couple days walking around the canyon and shooting.

PLANS FOR JUNE:

It’s gotten hot, and I’ve left Zion.  I’ll come back again at the end of the summer or in the fall. I have a loose idea of where I’ll go next – maybe something like what’s shown below. This whole stretch from Cedar City to Zion looks super remote. The towns on the way are extremely tiny. I haven’t researched actual places, so if you know the area and have any suggestions, please share them!

 

April 2017 Travels

April 2017 Travels

I spent most of my April in Arizona. A few incoming packages took longer than expected, and kept me near Phoenix longer than I wanted. I camped up north of Phoenix along Highway 87, and also near Sedona. Then I headed over into Nevada to meet some friends in Vegas.

Here’s everywhere I went in April (starting in Phoenix)

April 2017 Travels

SPOT WEST OF 87

(33.94633,-111.45529)

There’s a nice little group of spots to camp just a couple miles off hwy 87. I’ve camped here three different times. This last time, I went down to a spot that’s a bit off of the road and behind a hill. I’d never seen until midway through my second time camping there when I noticed that a few people went back there. It’s a little hairy getting there (the road is slanted sideways), and it’s really hard trying to find a flat spot down there.  But it’s nice though.

April 2017 Travels
You can see the van down there near the middle of the picture

April 2017 Travels

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

April 2017 Travels - Camping north of Phoenix

PHOENIX AGAIN:

I drove back into the city to pick up a package, and stayed for a few days. I watched the last few hours of the Paris-Roubaix bicycle race online. That’s always a fun race to watch.

SEDONA

During two of my three vehicle living test trips, I spent time in Sedona. It was one of the places where I decided I wanted my current lifestyle. I’d been looking forward to going back. I tried to go camp in the exact same place I did the first time there, but it was occupied. I ended up camping in three different spots

1 – Southwest of Sedona: (34.68848, -111.86182). 

This is one of the spots that a guy at the visitors center recommended. It was ok, but not very good as far as campsites near Sedona go.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

2 – West of Sedona – Forest Service Road 525c. (34.879, -111.94486)

This was close to the where I’d camped on the test trips.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

It’s close to the Robber’s Roost – a cave overlooking the way into Sedona. Robbers and bandits, used to hide out here when they had some heat. From the cave, they could see people approaching from far away. Also, while in the cave, you can hear people from below very well.

Robber's Roost

Robber's Roost

 

3 – “Base Camp” – Forest Service Road 525 (34.82324, -111.90566)

I went into town in the afternoon, and didn’t leave until it was starting to get dark. I didn’t want to sleep in Sedona, so I came out to this spot – just about the first place you can camp on 525 when coming off the highway. Many people stop here and then find another more secluded spot somewhere along 525 or 525c and move to it.

I stayed here one night. Some balloons landed nearby.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

4 – Forest Service Road 525 (34.8682, -111.90365)

Near the north end of where you can camp on 525 is closer to the hiking and biking action. A lot of the spots on 525 can hold many rigs and end up being communal spots. There were 3-5 other groups present while I was there.

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona
My campsite is in this picture, over towards the right

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

April 2017 Travels - Camping near Sedona

The weather was absolutely perfect in Sedona and I was enjoying being there. After about a week, I was getting itchy to move on though. I had plans to meet some friends in Vegas at the end of April, so I found a place to camp on the way there.

LAKE MOHAVE – Telephone Cove

(35.23068, -114.59371)

Telephone Cove has free camping. And others, I believe. It’s a pretty nice stretch of beach. The pictures below don’t show it, but it was a bit crowded here because there was some kind of boys’ camp going on at the other end of the beach.

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

 

April 2017 Travels - Camping at Telephone Cove - Lake Mohave

Then I got itchy feet and drove to Vegas early.

LAS VEGAS

Parking lot behind the LINQ – (36.11835, -115.16655)

Street with parking near the Link/Ferris Wheel/Westin/Cromwell (36.11631,-115.16643)

I went out to Vegas 9 days before my friends would getting there. I’m not entirely sure why I went so early other than that I felt like moving on from where I was previously. I spent the first weekend at the strip and it was fun. I’m very used to going places and doing things by myself, but I’ve only been to the strip when it was with friends. This time, on my own, it wasn’t quite the same.

Camping on the Las Vegas Strip
This was a good place to park the van. It’s a big parking lot for the LINQ casino/hotel. It’s temporarily free until after they do some kind of construction project. There is a ton of security patrolling the lot and it’s well lit. You have to not make it obvious that you’re sleeping in a vehicle though or security will tell you not to.

After 3 or 4 days at the strip, I went and hung out around other parts of the city. Vegas isn’t all that nice. The UNLV Library is really really nice though. I go to a lot of city/county libraries, and sometimes there are too many bums there. Really stinky ones. At this library on UNLV campus, it was only students. Everyone’s clean. Everyone’s nice. The wifi is good. And it’s beautiful – I mean, just look at this place:

April 2017 Travels - UNLV Library

I think I’ll start hanging out around campuses more when I’m in cities.

My friends arrived the next weekend. While waiting for them in the airport cellphone lot, I did the following:

  • Ate dinner
  • Moved water from my big reserve jug to my smaller jugs that I normally use
  • Repaired my sandals (Sewed part of the velcro back on one)

Once my friends arrived, I drove them to their hotel on strip, and we hung out at the strip that night. The next day we went to their pool, walked around the strip, went to the pool again, and then went to Fremont Street to gamble a bit and walk around. I think we had more fun at Fremont street than on the strip. It’s smaller and sort of simpler. You don’t have to spend 10-15 minutes walking to go from one place to another like you often do on the strip. We also walked past what’s probably considered the normal end of the Fremont street area (on the east end) and continued. There are some fun weird/hipster type places there.

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Zoltar Machine
On Fremont Street. (Downtown Vegas)

 

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Zoltar Machine
My friend is a champion of making stupid faces

 

Downtown Las Vegas - Fremont Street - Gold Digger

The last day they were there we went over to a thrift store (a Buffalo Exchange north of the strip – it is a good one), and then back to some casino where we had lunch. Then they headed back home, and I was ready to get out of that city.

Wow. When I put all the places I went in one month into one post, it sure looks like a lot.

PLANS FOR MAY

  • Go meet my brother and his girlfriend in Sedona
  • Go to Grand Canyon
  • Go through Northern Arizona and into Southern Utah

Exploring Arizona 4 – New Friends

New Friends

I went back to camp at the same area as two trips ago – the place where it rained for two days while I was there. This time, I had 6 days of absolutely perfect weather there. Also, I met some new friends.

I had been wanting to find a place near Phoenix to camp – somewhere still down in the desert but not all messed up with trash, noise and shooting. I asked on the CheapRVLiving.com forums and members there recommended a place just southwest of Phoenix. I was excited to go there.

My mom visited Phoenix for over a week, and I stayed in the city then. After she left the city and I was ready to go camping, it was hot in Phoenix, so I decided to go up in elevation rather than the hot desert spot.

Campsite:

New Friends

 

Mom’s Advice:

My mom said I should post more pictures of myself here. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, but never of myself. When I looked at my Instagram Feed after she asked, I noticed I hadn’t posted a picture of myself for many months. I suppose some pictures of me would make it more personal and more interesting. So, I took a few of myself on this trip. More coming in the future. My grandma once told me I could be a male model. She’s probably the most biased person in the world, and that was like 15 years ago.. Anyways,… here’s a start:

New Friends

New Friends

New Friends

The Weather

I don’t see how it could get any better:

  • ~75 degree highs
  • ~55 degree lows
  • Slight breeze
  • Sunny nearly all day every day

Bike Rides

I went for two bike rides along the Forest Service Road I was camped by. The road goes about 8 miles into the forest, eventually hitting a wilderness boundary and hiking trailhead. I rode out and back both times  and it was fucking amazing. I recorded some more footage with the GoPro. It really doesn’t do the views justice.

Someone recently asked if I record any different views while riding so I tried turning the camera around. It works pretty well, and now you get to look at my crotch a bunch 😛

 

New Friends from Instagram

I met a couple name Dan and Cindy and they camped with me for two days. Dan had sent me some messages on Instagram. Him and Cindy live in Tuscon and had a trip planned to go to Havasapai falls at the Grand Canyon. I was pretty much on their way, so they stopped to hang out a while.

You can find out a bit about them at:

I’m just going to post a picture of my journal entry from the day after we parted. My handwriting has really went downhill since I stopped working. I used to write a lot by hand at work, and since I quit, I’ve done very little. If I start posting journal tidbits like this regularly, that will give me a good reason to improve.

New Friends - Journal - Handwriting
The blurred part is nothing bad. It’s just something about them that I’m not sure whether they want shared publicly.

New Friends

 

New Friends

 

New Friends - Journal - Handwriting

 

New Friends

 

New Friends

Exploring Arizona 2 – Rained out near the Beeline

Rained out near the Beeline

For my second trip out of Phoenix, I wanted to find a place to camp in the desert – at lower elevation, and fairly close to Phoenix. As of February, it’s still pretty cold at middle elevations in Arizona. I like the low altitude desert near Phoenix. There are a lot of cool saguaro cacti. I wanted to find some nice places to camp in the desert, at low altitude, fairly close to Phoenix. I expected that might not be so easy….

The Party Zone

A big city like Phoenix has over 4 million people. Any city with 4 million residents will include a lot who like to go out into the nearby National Forests, and many of those will like shooting their guns, driving loud dirt-bikes, ATVs, and Side-By-Sides (those sort of off-road go carts with motorcycle engines that are super popular now), and/or taking a few cases of Bud Light and a mattress out to a camp site and leave everything behind minus the liquid beer. Some people seem to think a National Forest is some kind of black hole where no one else goes and where the trash they leave behind doesn’t matter and won’t be seen by anyone else because surely no one else goes to such a remote place 20 miles from the city, right? Ok, I don’t like to judge other peoples’ ways of enjoying nature, but I definitely judge the litterers.

With surely a large number of people as decribed above existing in any city, many National forest areas within 40 miles of the city are likely to have a some or a lot of these folks. I’ll call this ring around a city the “party zone”. This makes finding a nice desert area to camp challenging because the National Forest areas north of Phoenix all seem to increase in altitude the further north you go. So by the time I get out of the range of the shooters, partiers, and ATVers, I’m up at 4,500 feet. Around 3,500 feet, the plants change from cacti to shrubs that are thorny and also really thick in some spots.

The Plan:

I decided to go out along Highway 87 this time, which is known as the Beeline. I took a look on Google Maps and found some areas that looked like they may work. There are quite a few roads going off from the Beeline, and a quick look on the satellite view** showed a lot of potential campsites.

** The “satellite” views on maps are shot from airplanes

Strike One

The first place I went to, shown as “A” on the map below. Once I got there, it was clearly a serious OHV area (there were signs). So I went back to the highway and continued north, looking for other roads.

Rained out near the Beeline

Strike Two

The second place I went, shown as “B” on the map below, has a bunch of places people could camp. People have done a lot of shooting there, so some parts are littered with casings, empty shotgun shells, broken glass, and the occasional old TV or computer monitor that’s been shot to pieces. It was also really close to the highway, and right under a busy flight path.

Rained out near the Beeline

I arrived in late afternoon and spent the night there. A couple guys drove into the area together and hung out for a while. One of them is from Phoenix and knew a lot about rocks and the area. The other has a house in Hawaii. He built a really small home out in the back yard, and lived in that while renting out the main house. Now he’s bought a truck and camper, and is in the process of renting out the small house to a friend for while he drives around the continental US in his truck camper for the next year or so.  He’s in love with the friend who is renting his small house. They are good friends and she just wants to be friends. He said “we’re perfect together, soulmates, she just doesn’t know it” a two or three times.

He has plans with a string of different women to come join him at times. In one case of plans overlapping, he’s going to have two women joining him at the same time at his condo that he bought on a whim while in a ski town in Utah. It was interesting talking with a guy who really really wants a travel companion. He is certain he’ll feel unsatisfied traveling by himself. In my case, I don’t mind traveling alone. There are many things I’m missing out on by not having another person along, but there are also many ways that traveling alone is easier and simpler. I do wonder a little bit whether the difference in my preferences and this guy’s are entirely personality based, or how much of it is me being more content with simpler things.

Strike Three

I got tired of hearing the traffic and airplanes, so the next morning I headed further north. I got up to higher elevation, and out of the “party zone”, and found a nice spot (in area C on the map).  It was up at about 4,500 feet.  I had a wonderful view out the windows. The spot was pretty close to the highway but with enough elevation difference and a big hill in-between to block all the noise. I did have a direct line of sight to cell towers across the highway, so I had a nice data connection.

Rained out near the Beeline

The first day there, the weather was wonderful. I went for an exploratory hike down the road to see what the road is like and if there were other good campsites further back.

Rained out near the Beeline

Rained out near the Beeline

I’d checked the weather before leaving Phoenix and saw two rainy days in the forecast. I looked closer while camped up in area C, and saw the forecast was non stop rain for 48 hours. Uh oh. I figured I’d just stay put through the rain and then enjoy  a couple nice days after before heading back down to the city.

Once it started raining, the clouds were thick.  They were also low and I was literally in them. This meant I didn’t have power for charging my computer or whatever else. I’ve now gotten in the good habit of letting only my fridge and MIFI device charge as needed, and only charging or using other devices when the sun is providing enough power for them on top of however much the battery can take at that moment. This way, the battery is always getting as much as is possible.

So… the first day, I read a book. This may be the first day in my life that I read all of a normal-sized book in one day. It was good. It’s called How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. As the title suggest, it’s about how to make money by entrepreneurial means, but it’s written as a novel in the first person – from the perspective of you being the main character. It’s a really good book.

It rained almost every minute of the day. And night.

Rain itself doesn’t bother me much. But it was also about 40 degrees, and I don’t like just sitting around in the van when it’s also cold. The second morning of rain, I got impatient. I’d already read an entire book, now what the hell am I supposed to do? :-P.

The road up to my campsite was very nice. Most of it was a nice well graded gravel road. The spot I was camped in was dirt, and now really muddy, and slightly uphill to get back on the road. Then the road was all downhill. I figured if I could get back on the road I could probably make it all the way down.

The mud had gotten saturated a few inches deep. It was really slippery. I made it out though. I started down the road. There had been a big camper in a spot about 1/8th mile before mine. I saw they had left, and saw tracks in the road that were probably theirs from leaving the previous afternoon or evening. About another 1/8th mile down, I got to a reeeeaaally soft and muddy spot. The trailer had made it down through this, and it looked like about 3 or 4 vehicles had been in it and tore up the road a bit.

Rained out near the Beeline
This is “the bad part”, looking uphill

I got through that part, but just barely. I almost inched off into a small ditch, which would’ve been an annoyance rather than a problem, as I could’ve just waited there in the ditch for it to dry and then easily driven out, but, the van would’ve been at an annoying angle. My van was sinking into the mud quite a lot. The mud was really soft, and my van is fairly heavy and the tires aren’t especially wide. I’d traveled up that section of road a couple days ago and it was flat and smooth. Now it was getting all torn up and I felt bad about doing some of it. I decided that I’d rather stop and wait it out rather than tear up any more parts of the road, so I went just far enough past that bad spot to get to where the road was wide enough and flat enough to the side for me to just stop right there on the road with plenty of space for others to drive by.

Rained out near the Beeline
Where I stoped to wait it out. Really, not a bad place at all to be ~stuck waiting

Two other vehicles did drive by, coming up the hill. Both of them went a bit into the bad section but turned back right away. I got out and walked around a couple times, but spent most of the day in the van.

The  next morning, the rain stopped. And the sun was shining about half the time. The clouds slowly cleared out.

Rained out near the Beeline

I waited until after noon. Then I walked the road all the way to where it’s paved, and it wasn’t bad.In the afternoon, after walking the road,  I drove the rest of the way down and headed back to the city. I probably could’ve driven the rest instead of waiting. Turns out the only tricky spot was the turn right in front of where I’d parked. It was banked inward pretty heavily, and past the outside edge of the road is steep downhill. When I watched one of the vehicles that came up and turned back, they did a pretty aggressive 4 wheel powerslide to make it through the turn to without sliding down the banking. I didn’t want to attempt something like that.

I suppose I should’ve checked the weather a closer before heading up. If I’d seen exactly how much it was going to rain, I probably wouldn’t have went up there. But I saw that the rain would only last two days, and that it wouldn’t be snowing or freezing, and I was camped maybe a mile’s walk from the highway, so there was not really any safety risk of being stranded up there too long or in too bad of conditions.

I decided I’d definitely do more research on lower desert areas before heading out next time, so I’d have much less chance of being up in the cold rain.

All-in-all, a “rained out” trip didn’t turn out so bad. I had two and a half days of really nice weather, a nice hike, read a really good book, and found a nice campsite are mid elevation easily accessed from the highway.

Exploring Arizona 1 – Apache Trail and Roosevelt Lake

As I mentioned in my post about test trips, I drove the Apache Trail a couple times when I used to visit Arizona for work.  I’ll quote myself to share a relevant part of that post:

About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around North America. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.

There are more beautiful places for sure. And there are countless places as nice as along the Salt River. But because I had been here on a test trip and because of how I felt while driving the Apache Trail, those feelings had me thinking back to it, and looking forward to it.

Arizona – Excursions from Phoenix

At the end of 2016, I’d just crossed the border from California to Arizona. I spent a couple weeks near the border, by Ehrenberg and Quartzsite, and attended the RTR, where I did a fun little “Rigs of the RTR” photography project.

After the RTR, I came to Phoenix. I had decided to make Phoenix my home base for the rest of winter.  I’ll to spend about 10 weeks in and near the city. I expect to spend half the time inside the city, and half on excursions of about a week each. Most of these will be within 50-80 miles of Phoenix.  As the weather warms up in the spring, I’ll go further north and stop coming back to Phoenix.

Ok… on to trip 1:

Apache Trail

My first excursion, as you’ve likely guessed – included driving this beautiful stretch of gravel and dirt. The Apache Trail is a 40 mile stretch of Highway 88 from Apache Junction to the dam at Roosevelt Lake. The southern half is paved, and the northern half is a well-maintained gravel road.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

There are some tall tales about this area. When I told my Grandma who lives in Phoenix that I’d be going on camping trips, she said “ohhhhhhhhh, don’t go out in the Superstition Mountains!”. The Apache Trail passes through them. The tales are mostly centered around gold mines, buried treasures of which old mysterious maps give vague directions, and murders of miners, treasure hunters, and some of the original teasure owners. The biggest of these tales is about the “Lost Dutchman’s Mine”. This is the most talked about and most searched for lost mine in North America. There are over 100 books and maps about the mine. Adventurous go-getters have been searching for the mine for over 120 years, with as many as 8,000 people searching in some years. Many have died while doing so.

There are numerous fascinating stories and tales all wound together. Some of them are definitely fact. Some are fantasies and deception.

A few excerpts:

From Wikipedia:

The legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine centers around the Superstition Mountains. According to the legend, a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz discovered a mother lode of gold in the Superstition Wilderness and revealed its location on his deathbed in Phoenix in 1891 to Julia Thomas, a boarding-house owner who had taken care of him for many years. Several mines have been claimed to be the actual mine that Waltz discovered, but none of those claims have been verified

 

But – a warning – if you’re searching for treasure out here, you might wander into Hell:

Some Apaches believe that the hole leading down into the lower world, or hell, is located in the Superstition Mountains. Winds blowing from the hole is supposed to be the cause of severe dust storms in the metropolitan region

 

From a website about Tortilla Flat (a little outpost of a town along the Apache Trail)

Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer in America in the early 1500’s. During an expedition to Florida, he was shipwrecked on a Texas island in 1528. There he was enslaved by the Indians. He escaped and made his way into the Southwest and eventually into Mexico by 1536. His wanderings brought him in contact with the Pueblo Indians, and his later reports in Mexico gave rise to the legends of the Seven Cities of Cibola, — or the Cities of Gold. These legends were the catalyst for bring Spanish explorers and prospectors into the Arizona territory. As part of the Coronado expedition into Arizona for the Seven Cities of Cibola, Marcos de Niza traveled westward along the Gila River as far as what is now the Phoenix metropolitan area. He may have been the first Spaniard to see the Superstition Mountains.

What has all this to do with Tortilla Flat, you ask? Because of it’s location, Tortilla Flat, even presently, is affected by the search for gold in the Superstitions. Each Spanish expedition inspired other expeditions looking for the vast wealth in gold. In the late 1600’s through the Mid- 1700’s, Jesuits priests were located throughout the Southwest. Allegedly, the Jesuits had amassed a fortune in gold and didn’t want to share it with the King of Spain. The king, convinced of treachery, ordered the deportation of all Jesuits in 1767. However, before their departure, they supposedly hid their treasure in various places throughout Southwest and according to legend, the Superstition Mountain region was one of these hidden places.

In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and an influx of Mexican prospectors poured into the Superstition Mountain region. Don Miguel Peralta was a wealthy landowner and miner from northern Mexico. Reportedly, his expeditions recovered immense quantities of gold from the Superstitions in 1847 and 1848. All but one member of the expedition was killed in a battle with the Apaches at a site commemorated as Massacre Grounds, located at the west end of the mountains.

If this sounds interesting, here are some links to get you started:

 

My Searching Expedition

I was on a search alright. But not for gold. I was searching for a perfect campsite along the Apache Trail. For the campsite I’ve daydreamed of hundreds of times. I did little research, figuring I’d go by memory and probably just find the right spots.

Like the treasure hunters, I came up short. But I didn’t die! There aren’t many nice camping spots along the road. A couple are right near the bottom of the big cliff that you drive down if you’re traveling northwards. They’re down at the bottom of this picture:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Ok.. look at the front of the van up by the windshield. Then track just a bit to the right. See that little branch off from the road with a white and red speck? That speck was a pickup with a camper and his hood up – a sign that he was settled in camping – putting the hood up is a method to try to prevent rats from nesting in the engine bay. Further north on the road, maybe 100 meters, is another good camping spot that had a car in it as I passed. They were likely out hiking or treasure hunting. Or maybe down in hell.

These two spots are the best free campsites along the Apache trail. That’s just according to my opinion right now, which is based on limited understanding of the area. Next time I drive this road going north, if one of these spots are open, I’m definitely stopping there.

This is a shot of the road as it continues down:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

See how the road sort of disappears in the distance, and turns back around? There’s something cool down there right at the horseshoe turn:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Did people used to live in that cave/overhang? It would be a decent spot, with that river right below.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
This place calls out for me to hike back along the river. Next time I drive the Apache Trail, I’m going to.

I continued along, hoping to find a spot on or overlooking the salt river. Further north, on the last few miles before the dam, the road parallels the river pretty closely. I’d seen campsites during my test trips when I was just passing through this road and daydreaming. Now that I was looking to actually stop and camp, what I found is:

  • The campsites off the west side of the road – towards the river, are all sites where you have to pay (I don’t stay at those)
  • There are a few roads going east off of 88. Everything on the east side of 88 is all just normal (free) dispersed camping. The one I explored wasn’t so great. Lots of hill walls would block the sun this time of year (a problem for my solar electrical system), and there weren’t any good views for as far as I walked up it.
  • There are spots right along the road where you could stop and camp. Some of them have nice views. There’s a lot of traffic on this road though

I made it all the way to the dam without finding a spot that felt right. So I continued up past the dam and went to the Tonto Basin Ranger Distric Office. It’s a really nice visitor’s center, as nice as most National Parks have. I got some information and a bunch of free maps/papers, and headed over to the only free campsite along the lake (Bachelor’s cove). I stayed there for a few days, and then moved up to a Forest Service road that climbs the hills overlooking the lake. I stayed up there for a few more days.

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
My campsite for the second half of the week. My van is one of the specks down towards the lake. (I was still about a half mile from the lake)

I went on a few bike rides and hikes. My first trip up the road I camped on was on my bike. But past a certain point the road is so steep that I had to get off and walk a lot of. Later, I hiked all the way up. I also went on a bike ride over to and back down the Apache Trail. I remembered to take my GoPro! You may want to watch it at 2x speed to make it less boring.

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Some parts are a lot steeper than they appear here

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Lunch at the top of my hike: a sardine sandwich and an apple.

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail
Those mountains you keep seeing in the background are the “Four Peaks”. They’re the highest mountains in this small area, at about 7,500 ft. (Roosevelt Lake is 2,000ft)

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

Bonus – Ever wondered what’s inside a cactus?

I had assumed it was all just a wet mass. Sort of like a melon. Well, no. Inside some cacti are a system of sticks/trunks/branches:

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

Exploring Arizona - Apache Trail

 

 

The Most Interesting People in San Diego

The Most Interesting People in San Diego

I spent six weeks in San Diego in late 2016. As I mentioned in a previous post, I met few new people and most of my social interactions were with people I already knew. One was an old friend of a friend. Another was a guy I only knew from the internet before. Turns out, him and his wife are the most interesting people in San Diego. It’s kind of funny. I only really met about 10 people around San Diego. And most of them are really interesting. Yeah, It’s absurd to declare I know the most interesting people in San Diego when I only know 10 of them. But hey, some “how to blog” thing I read said to make compelling titles. And I may still be right anyways. I’ll tell you about a good deal of those 10 people here.

The Most Interesting People in San Diego

Craig – the Video Guy

Craig is an old friend of some of my other close friends. We never lived in the same city but we saw each other once or twice a year for many years. He’s a videographer and has had a number of interesting jobs in the field. He also made this short film called A Server Life a few years ago which you particularly enjoy if you’ve worked in the service industry. Or if you prefer the more real/natural world, here’s this video he recorded of when a huge whale carcass washed up on the coast near where he lives.

His current day job is recording what I understand to be court depositions. He gets to listen in on witness accounts of what happened in a variety of cases. A pervious job was a private eye. Yeah, a private detective. Like the guys who tail somebody recording their whereabouts and filming them. He had some really funny stories from that. One was about a mentally unstable and violent guy he was supposed to follow. He asked the company he got worked for some questions to get a better idea what he was getting into  (like, “hey, is this guy going to try to kill me if he notices me?”) and if I can remember right, they just said “ahhh, I don’t know..  just go ahead and do it, you’ll probably be fine”

Because of the subject’s mental instability, he was already super paranoid about being followed and monitored (even before Craig started monitoring him). He’d do crazy stuff like leave his house at 5am to go to a 10am doctor’s appointment that’s only a 15 minute drive away. So of course, since he was so paranoid about it, the guy eventually noticed Craig monitoring him. Craig survived though.

When I got to town, Craig said “Let’s meet and [have a drink], I want to talk business”. That “business” was making a video about me living in the van. So we spent a few days working on that, shooting various clips of driving the van, doing stuff inside it, and some interview parts with me talking. I felt like I was being way too boring, so I hope he’ll be able to make me and the video look cool with editing magic.

San Diego
We shot a bit of video here

Funny moments with Craig – free stuff just appearing!

On our first day out shooting, we went to a little area of dirt overlooking a beach and sort of a swamp.  While Craig was setting up his camera and the shots, I walked around to move trash that was probably in the shots. One of those trash Items happened to be a 6 pack of tall beer cans, with four unopened cans remaining.  The cans were undamaged so I took the 6-pack over to Craig to see if he wanted it. He did, and said that it’s a fancy beer. $15 for a 6 pack.

The third location we went to was near a Library. We found a parking spot in the Library and started walking over. As we walked past the front entrance, there was a rack of books and magazines with a “free” sign on it. One book stood out to me right away. It was about serial killers. We had just been discussing them last night because Craig’s girlfriend has a sort of fascination with them. So I grabbed that book to give to her. We took another book, and about 10 magazines that my Craig likes. Score!

The Most Interesting People in San Diego
One of the Encinitas beaches. We shot a some video here

Funny Moments with Craig – Trash Endemic of the Rich

Ok, this one’s not exactly funny. One evening we did some shooting near the beach pictures above. While driving back towards my Craig’s house, we went down a road with beachfront houses. Craig noticed some trash cans out on the street and said “oh yeah, this street is a dumpster diving goldmine”. He listed a number of nice things he’s found here left out for trash by their owners. Furniture, electronics, etc. After passing 10 or so houses, a trend was apparent. These people throw a lot away. Every house had multiple cans out. Some had SIX or SEVEN! I thought maybe this trash pickup is infrequent.  Surely, with this much trash, it must only be collected once a month. Or every other week? I asked Craig. He said it’s picked up twice per week. TWICE PER WEEK!

By my quick calculations, these households are throwing away somewhere between one and four THOUSAND pounds per month.

Craig’s cousin – Angela – The Hiker

Craig’s cousin is cool. He made about her hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. We went on a couple hikes with her.

We went on a short hike to “Mushroom Caves” one day:

The Most Interesting People in San Diego

We snaked through some really narrow paths. Extra narrow, at one point, because we took a wrong turn. The picture below is shot from inside the “Mushroom Cave”. I don’t know whether the entire cave was carved out, or if some/most of it was natural. Now there’s all kinds of stuff people have carved into it. The carvings are pretty ugly, but someone did at least carve out some nice seats in there.

The Most Interesting People in San Diego

 

Jared – The Podcast Guy

I was out with Craig one night. We met some of his friends at a bar to hang out and watch UFC fights. While there, Craig told a guy  (Jared) about me being retired, living in the van, and traveling. Earlier, I’d overheard Jared telling another guy about a project he was working on. Some stuff about how people don’t go after their dreams because they let their fear of failure get in the way. Jared talked to me a bit and asked me if I’d be on his podcast. Sure, what the hell. I’m keeping this brief because I’ll likely make a full blog post about it. Hint: there’s already a link the podcast near the bottom of my front page. 

 

Rich and Amanda – The Most Interesting People in San Diego

I knew Rich from a forum on the Internet. This was the first time we met in person. Rich and his Wife Amanda met me for tea/coffee in Balboa Park – in the same area pictured below. They brought a thermos with hot water, cups, etc. We had some great discussion. I showed them the van. Rich showed me the building they manage, which has a secret lair. Seriously.

The Most Interesting People in San Diego
(I started building this website while in San Diego)

Rich and his wife have designed an interesting life. Starting 20 or so years ago, they saved up some money, quit their jobs and went on a HUGE adventure. Then they came back to San Diego, got new jobs, and saved up again. Then, another HUGE adventure. And again. They take partial retirements every few years. And they’re also building up for a full retirement later.

Their travels and adventures are extensive. Their first trip, essentially their honeymoon, was taking a VW Bus (a camper), south into Mexico. And further south through Central America. And all the way to the southern tip of South America. Then back up through Brazil. Then they shipped the Bus over to Africa or Europe and continued! They wrote a book about this big first trip. If you like this kind of travel, or big adventures shared by daring, optimistic, and funny people, read it. I promise you’ll like it.

That was just their first trip. They also went bicycle touring through Southeast Asia, rode a motorcycle through India, went to Mt. Everest, and more! Their lives are so  inspiring that an insurance company made a commercial about them:

(After their commercial, another commercial with a different guy starts at1:50. I was confused by that the first time I watched it)

It felt like a privilege talking to a guy who has spent much of his life doing awesome things and learning about life and people instead of learning about TPS reports. He has friends who are super rich, and friends from Tijuana who are probably quite poor.  He is really really good at identifying interesting people, and at getting them (and normal people) to tell him their interesting stories. He asks them another question as soon as they finish answering the last, and doesn’t leave pauses where the conversation can lull or stop. And is very interested in the person / their story. 

Amanda grew up in Mexico. She came across the border every day to go to College in San Diego. Crossing the boarder into the U.S. is crazy. There’s a ton of traffic and it can take hours to get through. She waited in that line every day to go to school. You have to really want something to be willing to do that.

Their book tells about a discussion they had one evening. (forgive my poor telling of this from memory, It’s told much better in the book).  They were both having a “there’s got to be more to life than this” realization. They sort of decided to do something adventurous but didn’t have any clear decisions made. The next day Amanda came home from work with a stack of papers. She started rattling off things. Ok, we’re gonna need [this] and we’re gonna need [that], and it will probably take about [this many] weeks to get [such and such]. Rich was like “huh? whoah. what? What’s all this?”. And she says. “Mexico. We need to go to Mexico! On an adventure. I started planning today.”

Pretty soon they’d saved up money, quit their jobs, outfitted a Volkswagen with clothes food, and a bunch of random spare parts. They crossed the border to kick off a honeymoon that lasted years.

Activities

I went along with Rich to a swap meet. I bought three pairs of really nice wool socks for $2.00,  and some hiking pants for a few dollars. Rich bought about 16 things. One of his hobbies is buying outdoor gear cheaply at places like this (places where the goods are just one short step away from a landfill) and selling them to people who will make good use of them. The flow of goods is interesting:

  • People donate to Goodwill, and companies offload excess products.
  • Goodwill takes excess stuff to sell in lots in Mexico
  • Those Mexicans come back across the border to sell that stuff at the swap meets
  • Rich buys the good outdoor gear from them
  • He knows many of them. They set aside stuff for him because he pays a little extra
  • Rich re-sells the stuff, mostly on Ebay, to people who are likely to make good use of it.

(There are other material sources than Goodwill. Like garage sales where at the end the seller just wants everything gone. And companies that get rid of excess inventory (new/unused items))

We went for three bike rides together. The first one, we rode to and took the ferry to Coronado Island. Coronado is a small island just barely off the coast. About half the island is used by the military. The other half is nice houses and fancy places. We worked out at a park that had the appropriate structures. The second bike ride we went on was in Balboa park on some mountain bike single track. It’s good riding in there. I crashed! And got a flat. And another flat later. oh, man! Our third ride was over to Mission Bay Park. There was a steep, long hill on the way back. Rich lead up the hill and went fast. I could just barely keep up. At a couple points, I didn’t think I’d be able to hang on with him. But I did, and as we got to the crest of the hill, I rode up alongside him and said “That’s a nice hill. Good warm up. Can we go back down and come up again, and go fast this time?” 😀

The Most Interesting People in San Diego

 

San Diego: Notes on the City

San Diego

I was in and near San Diego from November 5th to December 21st. Here are some observations and thoughts on the city. 

Overall – About the city 

San Diego is a cool city. It’s nice because it’s not so big and spread out. The farthest I’d drive at once was about ten miles. The weather there is amazing. Balboa park is wonderful; it’s a big park in the middle of the city with nice plants, trails, old buildings, museums, and a cool ‘town square’ area in the middle.  The Libraries I went to in S.D. sucked. They were small and had too many smelly people.

I spent a lot of time in Encinitas because my friend lives there. Encinitas is also wonderful. It’s small, so you don’t have to drive much. Parking is easy. The Encinitas library is awesome. It’s probably the nicest Library I’ve ever been to.

The People

I think I had strange timing because I was there right after the election. Dating went really poorly.  Most of the time I spent interacting with other people was with those I already knew before getting here.

Beaches

San Diego

Coronado: Nice beaches. Not many people when I was there. Reminded me of the Baywatch beach (which is very foggy in my memory, so I’m not sure the comparison is accurate). Fun fact I learned from a Coronado beach insider: one time a lifeguard, while driving one of those Lifeguard trucks on the beach, put the truck in reverse to back up and ran over someone. After that, reverse was not allowed.

Ocean Beach – This area is nice. It’s also strange.  In the residential parts, the people seem really cool. There are many around my age. And younger people. They seem to have their shit together. And they’re out and about – walking around a lot.  In the commercial area (the streets near the beach with restaurants and stores) there was sort of a douchebag, almost white trash vibe on the weekend. On the beach there were a lot of surfers, as usual. And families, and groups of friends, as usual. But the defining Ocean Beach folks were sort of crusty looking vagrants/vagabonds/runaways. The kind of of folks who also live in vans, but there are 6 people in one van. One of them reads a book while the rest seem to just sit around and do nothing all day. A friend explained to me that Interstate 8 ends in Ocean Beach, so hitchhikers (and also ‘runaways’) who were traveling along I-10 and I-8 just end up there because it’s literally the end of the road.

San Diego

I spent thanksgiving parked in this nice little lot right by the beach.

San Diego

Ocean Beach has a really long pier.  People surf right by the pier so you can walk out on it to watch and take pictures.

San Diego

San Diego

Blacks beach  It’s a ‘Clothing optional’ beach. There were 80% old leathery guys with dark orange tanned dicks, and 20% students from the nearby University of California San Diego (most of them were clothed)

San Diego

Getting down to Black’s Beach is a bit of a hike. I like that. Only people who really want to are going down there.

Encinitas Beaches These were nice too. The thing is, tons of the beaches around here are nice. I hung out here a few days:

San Diego

San Diego Neighborhoods

Balboa Park: It’s a big park in the middle of the city. Seems old. Has cool buildings and plants and trails. Lots of museums but they are not free. Good single track biking/running trails.

Hillcrest: It’s the “gay neighborhood”. Someone told me that it is a bit less gay than before. His reasoning was that maybe since gay marriage became nationally legal, gay folks feel more accepted by society and less of a reason to live together in a specific ‘gay’ community. Anyways, while I was walking around one day, I saw a building under construction.

San Diego

 

Ok. Nothing special. As they often do, the company making the building had a sign on it advertising themselves. Well, this company has a pretty interesting sign:

San Diego

You know what else is special about Hillcreast? The Goodwill store! It’s a small store. It’s a Boutique Goodwill. Seriously.  It’s an absolute goldmine for small swimsuits. I had been looking for a small swimsuit like this for years:

1950s-mens-swim-shorts-ad

(but not specifically for a reversable one.. just one that fits that way)

Granted, I wasn’t looking very hard. A couple times when I was traveling for work and had an afternoon to kill, I went to try to buy swimsuit. But all I could find are big ones. I started seeing some guys this summer in small ones. I’d usually go ask them where they got it. The answer was usually some fancy boutique store that has mostly gay customers. And the little swimsuit cost $70. Well, I didn’t want one that bad.

I was walking to the Grocery store in Hillcrest and saw a Goodwill. I went in thinking I might find a T shirt or two. But I found a entire rack full of little gay type swimsuits. New ones with tags. For $7 a piece. I found a good one. YEEEEAH BUDDY!

San Diego

Other Neighborhoods: A lot of the other neighborhoods I spent time in were pretty similar. I mean ons north of Balboa Park. North Park. Northern Heights. University Heights. Nice places, all with a strip of businesses on sort of a “main street”.  One thing I noticed is that there seemed to be fewer parks than in other cities. Maybe that’s because of the vicinity to Balboa Park?

I could see myself spending a month at a time in San Diego. Or more. It’s not a ideal as Santa Barbara. But the people in San Diego are ‘better’. In the next post, I need to talk about some of them – because I met the most interesting people in San Diego.

Get the hell out of the city: Camping near San Diego

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

I’ve been traveling down the California coast for the last few months and have spent a few weeks in San Diego. The coast is wonderful. But it’s not very good for (free) camping. Especially right when I passed through, with the entire National Forest area at Big Sur closed due to a fire. So even though I’ve been driving down that coast and seeing wonderful places, I spent every single night in a city. Curtains up. Peeing in a bottle and dumping it out on people’s lawns. Driving multiple times each day. These are slightly annoying details of a way of living that is still very easy. But being in cities so much fed a longing to get the hell out of the city, go camp/hike/bicycle, and stay parked in one place for days at a time. So I found a nice place to go camping near San Diego.

 

Where?

I was in San Diego. There are numerous options. Extremely nice ones if you’re willing to drive a few hours. But I wasn’t. I looked at the big chunk of Cleveland National Forest that is directly east of San Diego. It looks nice, but the places that look good to camp are at a fairly high altitude (~3,500′) and in December would be colder than I like. There is a smaller part of Cleveland National forest to the north of San Diego (and a bit east) – just directly north of Ramona. It’s at lower altitude and looked promising on the maps.

I went just a few miles north of Ramona, and then up a hill. There is a Forest Road, or as they call it here, a “Truck Trail” that follows the top of a ridgeline. This meant I got nice views in at least two direction. WOO HOOOO!

Get the hell out of the city. Camping in Cleveland National Forest near Ramona and San Diego

Driving up:

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

Here is the first spot I camped:

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

What do you do up there? Do you get bored?

Here’s what I did over 6 or 7 days.

  • Hiked a couple times
  • Bicycled on three or four days
  • Took a lot of pictures
  • Recorded video of driving the van along the ridge top, and of bicycling (For my friend to use in a video that he’s making)
  • Watched a football game (Yep, I had internet up there)
  • Wrote a bunch of blog posts (to get caught up on my travels to date)
  • Played a computer game
  • Read a book
  • Read and watched stuff on the internet

Nope, not bored.

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

After a few days, I moved to another spot where I could walk just a little ways to take really nice pictures and fairly good video to give to my friend.

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

If you want to go here:

The coordinates are 33.123648,-116.879194. This was the first places I went in the part of the National Forest, so for all I know, there could be way better places to go.

The good:

  • Great views from the ridge
  • Great Verizon signal (for 3G at least)
  • Good hiking/biking along these truck trails
  • Not very far from San Diego
  • Fairly low elevation (less than 2,000′), so it’s not all that cold

The bad:

  • This area used to be designated for gun shooting. There are casings and shells all over the ground in many places. And a lot of broken glass. There are signs warning about high lead content. Don’t lick the ground here!

zweb_dsc1111-edit

 

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

Get the hell out of the city. Camping near San Diego.

 

This really doesn’t do the view justice, but here you go

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

On my way south, before getting to Santa Barbara, I stopped in San Luis Obispo for a few days. The big news here was that the plants in people’s yards started looking wonderful. And they smelled good! Really fragrant! Wow! Just walking around a block I’d walk by 4 or 5 different wonderful scents from these plants. This was the first city on my way down the coast that smelled this good. Maybe it just seems this way because I’ve spent little time here and haven’t seen these kind of plants, but the plants people have in their yards here seem so much more beautiful and varied that what I’m used to from the midwest. 

After that I went down to Santa Barbara. There are some national forests around there, so I went into the forest to camp for a while. I went to the Santa Barbara district which is – big surprise – right by Santa Barbara. Turns out they are worried about fires right now and don’t allow you to do much of anything. You want to camp? Ok sure, yeah, you have to go into one of the 2-3 campgrounds right next to each other (basically a parking lot). Oh and you have to pay $20 per night. No fires anywhere in the Santa Barbara ranger district. No No No. NO! 

So I went down into Santa Barbara. I’d spend the next 15 days there. Santa Barbara is really freakin’ nice.

Santa Barbara

(Shopping area, just off State Street)

Santa Barbara in a few paragraphs

First thing’s first: the best beach there is Hendry’s. It’s way better than the others. The second best beach is over by the 4 seasons resort, which has free wifi. Santa Barbara was the first place on my journey down the California coast where the water was warm enough to swim in relative comfort. It’s still pretty cold, but you can go in it without wanting to get right out. And it’s not cold enough to painful. The weather was absolutely perfect while I was there. The highs ranged from 70-85 and the lows were around 50-60. I spent 6 days at the beaches – at least a few hours each time laying on the beach, reading, and going in the ocean. 

The main road in downtown is State Street. It’s really nice. They’re doing shopping right. No mall. Lots of stores along a downtown street. There are pianos sitting on most corners along State Street. Each time I walked the length of the street (about a mile), I’d pass 4 or 5 people playing a piano very well. I never knew that so many people who are just walking around in public can sit down at a random (and I’d guess, pretty crappy) piano and play wonderful music. I bet there are very few cities where you could get music of this quality by placing communal pianos downtown and letting whoever wants play them. Maybe something to do with how much money people spend? (including piano lessons for kids)

 This is a great city for road cycling, as long as you like going up hills. The city is on a pretty narrow stretch of flat land between the coast and hills/mountains. There are a number of different paved roads going up those hills. I rode up San Marcos St. 4 or 5 times. The views from that road are wonderful. Others (Gibraltar) are probably as good or better.

House prices in Santa Barbara are insane. I checked Zillow and put an upper limit of $500,000. No results. NO RESULTS. There are some small and crappy houses here but there’s not one for sale for less than half a million. People here seem to spend a LOT of money.

The age demographics here are odd. There are a ton of old people. There are a lot of college kids. There’s not many people in between. Except for in the Mexican parts of town. They have all the normal age ranges. 

How about a History Lesson?

There is some interesting history here. I know very little of it, and It’s now been a few weeks since I read about this so I forget the names and the details are cloudy, but I’ll share it anyways

There was a guy – an American – a decorated guy who had some fame for bravery, exploration, and other successes. He was in charge of the American military in the area at the moment when the U.S. decided California was too awesome to let Mexico keep having it. This awesome guy lead the U.S. Army (or whatever) over the nearby mountains to storm into Santa Barbara for a battle.

Backing up a little – the Spanish had set up a fort in Santa Barbara. It was a few acres in size. It was some buildings and hallways that made an outer square, with most of the middle open (although there were also houses and other buildings added to the middle at some point). 200 people lived in there, and 50 or so were soldiers. Now, I guess, this fort and the land were a part of Mexico.

So the brave Americans come running down the hill over the mountains. It was snowing and cold and everything up there. Windy as hell. Slippery. Treacherous! A bunch of their horses and mules died. But no soldiers. They came charging down the hill towards Santa Barbara, foaming at the mouth, ready to crush these little Spaniards/Mexicans into oblivion. 

The Mexicans in the fort saw them coming and were appropriately worried. A nice old lady in the fort convinced the leadership that it wasn’t worth fighting. When as the Americans charged in, the Mexicans said “nah, we don’t want to fight”. So they didn’t fight. I don’t know exactly what happened next. But pretty soon all of California belonged to the United States.

Vandwelling in Santa Barbara

It’s easy.

Parking is generally easy. In the suburbs to the west, there are plenty of neighborhoods with room to park. In Santa Barbara itself, it’s more congested, but still pretty easy to find spots. The tricky part is the street cleaning schedule. They have a very specific rotation and each street has a 2 hour “No Parking” window every week when the street sweeper comes through. The schedule is all spread out, so one street may be closed 8-10am Monday, and the next 1-3pm Tuesday, and so on, with the cleaners appearing to work full days all weekdays. Well, one time I parked and forgot to check the sign, and I happened to pick the wrong street at the wrong time and caused a little bit of the street to not be cleaned and got a ticket for $50.

I found some good areas to park east of State Street, over where a lot of Mexicans live. It’s also very easy to park in the western suburbs.

At the beach – the one by the four seasons

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

 

When I was taking the pictures above, a guy walked by and talked a bit. Then I saw him a little ways down the beach and we spoke more – for about an hour. He’s probably in his 50’s. When I told him about my van and traveling, he told me a bunch of stories of his own – how he’s had two different Volkswagen vans that he either lived or traveled in. How he went to Yosemite a TON of times and would camp there against the rules, hidden in plain site in his van (and would just not respond to the knocks of rangers, which would quickly move on) or hidden out in the park, at times in a sleeping bag on a tarp, out in the open with no tent, just nestled in some prairie. He said there are groups of climbers and other sorts of people who know a bunch of tricks for free camping in Yosemite. 

 Santa Barbara

 

On the way down to San Diego:

Santa Barbara

What’s next? I’ll be in and around San Diego for the next month or more. (I drove through the entire Los Angeles area quickly. I wasn’t in the mood for LA. I did have an In N Out Cheeseburger. mmmmmmmm, yeah buddy!)

Cambria, CA

Cambria

If you ever go through Cambria, there is a nice park along the coast. It’s called Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. The preserve occupies about 1 square mile. It’s mostly just grass and hills next to the coastline. Along the coast there is a walking trail and a bench every now and then. There are also trails going all over the park. Ok trails for walking. Wonderful trails for bicycling (on a cross or mountain bike). I wanted to record video on my Go-Pro, bug I never remembered to move the videos from the memory card in theGo Pro to my computer. I only thought about it while riding.

Cambria

Cambria

Cambria

Big Sur

Big Sur

I drove all the way through Big Sur in one day. From Carmel to Cambria. There is a national forest stretching about 50 miles along the coast. There was a big fire this year and that entire district is closed. Normally, it seems like it’d be a wonderful place to camp. I stopped at the information center to ask them about it. This Forest has very few roads. There is no MVUM. They don’t allow dispersed camping like most NF districts do. Only camping in designated areas. I’ve seen this kind of setup referred to as “designated dispersed camping areas”. They change them around to limit impact, and it looks like they have 5-6 areas open at one time. You can get a map from them showing the current camping areas.

This stretch of coast is very beautiful. There are many other beautiful spots along the entire California coast, and  the views in Big Sur aren’t any more special. But in Big Sur, there are a lot of those wonderful views packed consistently in a short distance. Other than going up in to the National Forest, there’s not really anywhere to stop and camp. That’s why I drove the whole thing in one day. I got some fairly good pictures, but often it was overcast which isn’t good for taking pictures of big open views.

Big Sur

Big Sur

Bixby Bridge

This is the Big Sur bridge that you’ve probably seen a bunch of pictures and videos of. It’s at the north end of Big Sur.

Big Sur - Bixby Bridge

Big Sur - Bixby Bridge

Big Sur

Big Sur

Big Sur

Big Sur

McWay Cove

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

This is McWay Falls, in McWay Cove. It’s that famous spot you’ve probably seen a bunch of pictures of. There is a pretty good story about this spot. The two main people in the story are women. I forget the details. One of them was a sort of poor/normal person. I think she lived right around here first. The other was, I believe, an orphan but she also inherited a bunch of money. The second Lady also came and lived here. I think she is the one that built a house overlooking this cove. When they first made the house, there wasn’t a beach here. It was just cliffs or hill all the way down to the water. The waterfall dropped into the ocean. Then there was a landslide a bit to the north. A bunch of that landslide ended up in the cove and made the beach.

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

Big Sur - McWay Cove Falls

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

I only spent a couple days in the San Francisco area. Instead, I got on moving from San Francisco to Big Sur. I’d been driving a lot, and I spent most of the last two months in cities. I wasn’t excited about hanging around another big city. Especially one as dense as San Francisco. I drove across the Golden Gate bridge in the evening on a Saturday. The city was PACKED. There was a ton of traffic. Cars everywhere. Almost nowhere to park on the street. So I drove through the city and 5-10 miles into the suburbs. It was easier to park, but the streets were still packed full down there. I was in no mood to search and fight for parking spots.

San Francisco to Big Sur

Music Festival. Hipsters everywhere

The next day, a girl told me about a huge free music festival going on: in Golden Gate Park: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. What? A bluegrass music festival?!  Sweet. Well, I happened to drive right by where it was happening and that explained part of why it was so busy. So on Sunday I drove back up there and went to the festival. It was cool. I think they should change the title from “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass” to “Barely any Bluegrass” though.

It was great people watching. I haven’t seen this many hipsters since leaving St Louis. I saw more cans of PBR and PBR shirts than I ever have in one place before. People had their most stylish and weird hippie/hipster/festival outfits on. The park rules about bringing in alcohol, and especially selling it, are quite strict and tough sounding, so I was a tiny bit worried about the flask I was bringing it (wondering if they might have an entrance where they search people – although frisking would still be unlikely). But upon arriving it was obviously more of an anything-goes event. Some of the more enterprising hipsters were walking around with coolers or cases of beer and selling them for $5 and up per can.

One of the funniest things I remember from that day was seeing a woman and child talking as I was walking by. The child was obviously not hers, it seemed like they didn’t really know each-other. There was one of those big fat bees on the woman’s hand, and they were both looking at it. As I pass by, I hear the boy ask, entirely seriously: “Is that your pet?” I loved that kind of imaginative open-mindedness. Another thing I saw was a very bohemian looking guy walking with a basket. In the basket was a fluffy rabbit. One woman, quite polished and preppy looking, saw the rabbit and just reached out to pet it. The guy pulled in the basket to his chest and turned away a bit to reject her attempt. This was probably a woman not used to being physically rejected so immediately, but she seemed to take it ok. A couple seconds and about 10 feet of walking later, another woman, more hippie-ish, saw the rabbit and asked to pet it. The guy was happy to let her.

So, take note, if you want to meet girls at a festival, the rabbit strategy is extremely effective. Anyways, the music was good. I left a couple hours before the end and got the hell out of San Francisco.

Cowell Ranch Beach

One of the fancy little towns just a bit south of San Francisco is Half-Moon Bay. A bit south of HMB is Cowell Ranch Beach. This is a REALLY nice beach! The area is basically just the beach and a parking lot 1/2 mile from the beach. The parking lot is small – room for about ten cars. I pulled in around noon on a weekday. In the parking lot, there were 3 black Lincoln Navigators and 3 black Mercedes, and most of them had a guy in a suit sitting in the driver’s seat.

Ok, looks like some spendy people hired fancy cars to take them to this beach. I figured it was either a wedding, or some silicon valley company outing. When I went down to the beach, I saw a family – just 4-5 people. They had a nice setup on the beach. Canopy things. Tables and chairs. At the back of the beach were boxes /containers of stuff, and a guy sitting or standing there. The family Patriarch waved at the guy and he jumped up, grabbed a camera that was sitting on one of the boxes, and ran over towards the family – ok, this was their personal photographer. There were no other people around. The beach has ends that would not be hard to walk past. There was a trail that left from the top, where these pictures were also taken from, but that trail is only open on weekends and it was gated closed. So I was wondering why there were 5-6 cars for this small amount of people.

When I started heading back for lunch, it looked like the family was done back there and would come back soon. They did, and then all the cars, bit by bit, left. (I couldn’t see where they got in the cars, it was sort of around a corner from me). Anyways, I hung out there the rest of the afternoon and took these pictures at sunset

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

I stopped for a few days in Santa Cruz and that seems like a nice enough place. I also stopped a bit in Monterey.

Carmel-By-The-Sea

Carmel is a really fancy little town. I spent 5 or so days here.  Parking in Carmel could seem tricky because in all the residential areas, there are signs saying you can’t park overnight unless you have some permit. But in the downtown area, there are no permits required, it’s just 2 hour parking from 8am to 6pm. You can park at the beach all day long, and you just can’t park there from midnight to 6am. So my daily routine was like this:

  • Wake up, drive van from where it’s parked downtown to the beach. It’s about a 1/4 mile away and there’s a parking lot right at the beach.
  • Have breakfast. Do whatever – read, computer stuff, etc.
  • Walk around on the beach
  • Work out (bodyweight strength training)
  • Maybe take a nap
  • Take some pictures if there are clouds when the sun is setting.
  • After it’s dark, drive van and find a spot on a quiet street downtown

San Francisco to Big Sur

The 5th or so night, I was a bit more daring that I should be and I parked on the main street downtown. The cops came and knocked on the van at 11pm to tell me that there is no camping allowed in the city. He suggested I go park in a shopping center that’s on the edge of town (there’s a Safeway, Starbucks, gas station, etc.). He said that I’ll probably see some other vans/campers parked, and that the cops won’t bother me there.

 San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

There were only clouds and a sunset one night. A different evening I felt like shooting, so I walked along the beach looking for subjects.

San Francisco to Big Sur

The beach here in the town is really long, and there were many people out. There was no one in the water except for these two kids: the only people with the kind of excitement about life that it takes to brave the cold Pacific. And they were in the water a long time.

San Francisco to Big Sur

They were about knee deep in the water, but they were small enough and the waves big enough that they were knocked over by some. They always stayed near eachother. When they saw a big wave approaching they’d hold hands so they could feel the wave crashing into them but not fall down with it.

A Ferrari is not out of place in Carmel. The Ferrari probably cost more then $150,000. I’d guess it’s used 5 hours per month. The van cost $15,000 (to purchase and build out). I use it about 500 hours per month. To each his own.

San Francisco to Big Sur

Point Lobos State Nature Reserve

This area is just a few miles south of Carmel. It has a bunch of walking trails and many nice views. There is also a TON of poison oak here. I got some on my arms and legs. It’s annoying, but not nearly as itchy as poison ivy.

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

I can’t recall what town these were from

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur

San Francisco to Big Sur