Part Four: Stormy skies, hot springs and other wonders of the great divide.
Summer storms. The power of rain torrentially pouring down upon you, a dark sky ever looming in the distance, threatening to blow your tent down, the most epic rainbows, and lightning’s strobe-light show, slapping loudly not-so-high up above. At any moment the weather can change, really change, drastically, and after five years in California, and a couple weeks in the desert, this was a gloriously welcome addition to our lives.
We burst into Colorado and you could feel the moisture in the air nearly upon crossing state lines. The world was green and the air cool and dewey. After much needed (free) hot showers at Mesa Verde, we started a journey up and across the state, driving through 11,000 foot mountain tops, exploring picturesque old mining towns, and finally landing ourselves in hot bubbling waters beneath the big Colorado stars.
Teetering on the edge of the Great Plains and the Continental Divide, we found ourselves stunned when the Grand Tetons suddenly emerged from behind a poof of clouds with all their jagged glory. We had our first sightings of buffalo, first rumors of bears, and took in the epic views, winding our way up to the most popular park in our country’s system, Yellowstone.
Upon arrival we felt disappointed. The lines of cars, the crowds of people stacked with selfie sticks, and the seemingly zero fucks being given about the reality of where they were besides snapping your photo with Old Faithful, made you think you were at Disneyland rather than America’s greatest natural park. But we soon realized that the moment you make the effort to walk further than a quarter mile on one of the many trails the park offers, you are in absolute solitude and the great wilderness we were promised is anything but disappointing.
After some adventuring we hopped back in the car, and made our way deep into Montana. We got away from the crowds and more glamorous sites this country has, and instead found lakes and rivers we’d never heard of, throwing in a line or two. We found hot springs we got hot tips about, quirky ghost towns, and we drank Banquet Beers at a small town rodeo in Belt, MT. We stood on the spot where Custer had his last stand, and drove by those faces up in the rocks because we didn’t feel like paying for parking.
As we descended from the Rockies into the Great Plains where the buffalo roamed, and hopped on more highways rather than winding roads, the world got a bit flatter, but never less interesting. Our journey was approaching its end with our plan to fast-track across the Eastern half of the states, but we still had a few adventures left ahead of us before we’d be settling down.
Photo Locations (from top to bottom): Plains below Grand Teton mountain range; looking out above Silverton, CO; mountains near Ouray, CO; power lines; through the trees at Leigh Lake, Grand Teton National Park; Leigh Lake, Grand Teton National Park; Buffalo and the Tetons; Log cabin, Tetons; Beaver at Jackson lake, Tetons; Storm and thermal in Yellowstone National Park; Thermal creations in Yellowstone; Land of steam in Yellowstone; Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone; road in Montana; Hot spring in Montana; Rodeo in Belt, MT; Buffalo at Custer State Park in SD; Abandoned roadside in South Dakota near Badlands; Sunset at Jackson Lake, Grand Tetons.
Photos taken on Canon AE-1 with 35mm film and on Canon Rebel SL-1.
Sometimes on a road trip, it’s the little things rather than the big views that bring you the most satisfaction. Upon our exit from a horrendously hot and demoralizing experience of backpacking in the Grand Canyon, we were fortunate enough to have an oasis of sorts to go home to, hang our Roo’s and have a cold beer. Our oasis wasn’t necessarily physical to start, but rather a couple sweet, sweet unicorns that were also road tripping around the southwest at the same time we were.
Our friends, Risa and Michael, offered some much needed comfort, some killer cooking skills, and just the companionship we wanted at that moment. Over the next week, we made our way up and out of Arizona and into and across southern Utah, zipping through all those Utah state parks that without fail cause a shortness of breath and the occasional tear. We caravanned through desert, mountains, and even took refuge from the heat in a pine valley, a cool valley of pines, happily accompanied by the name “Pine Valley”. We saw nature in full Kodachrome, constantly astounded by the colors flying by and taking shape as the sun laid down for another southwestern evening, putting on a show and casting golden hues across our smiling, satisfied and full faces.
Our friends cooked, and when we say they cooked, THEY COOKED! They made meal after meal, carefully crafted on cast iron, heated only by the fires we tended, maybe a stove or two as well. Regardless, we were healed through food, fixed through friends, and when the time came to part there was a palpable bitter-sweetness to leave our comrades. And so we did, on to Colorado separately, while our friends stayed to explore more of the Mormon wonderland by way of Moab and Arches.
Fast forward 3 weeks and 3000 miles. We had figured we wouldn’t see our dear friends for quite some time, but as fate would have it, South Dakota had a different plan and we were once again greeted by Risa and Michael as well as an evening of crackling lightning, deafening thunder, and rain drops so thick they sting with their weight. An evening soaked in fear and soaked in a tent, and we were left a little tired, but happy to grab some diner breakfast and continue on our separate journeys. We said our goodbyes (for real this time), and each moved on to newer, literally greener pastures along the rust belt, every day pushing a little further East.
Photo Locations (from top to bottom): Camille taking pictures in Bryce Canyon; Zion National Park geology; Risa at Bryce; Bryce through the pines; Desert tree; Bryce Canyon rock formations; Desert flower; The depth of Bryce Canyon; Ty walking into Bryce; Bryce Canyon big view; Ty at Bryce sunset with camera; Risa’s Bryce sunset; Home at Pine Valley, UT; Michael cooking a feast; Ty’s Bryce sunset; Glen Canyon view; Camille standing in Zion; Desert sage and cactus in Utah; Risa and Michael at Bryce.
Photos taken on Canon AE-1 with 35mm film and on Canon Rebel SL-1.
You forget what it truly means to be on the road. You are rich in places to sleep, yet essentially homeless. Your car is your home. Your car is your kitchen. Every national forest is your home. Your hammock and tent, your nest. Every Walmart parking lot, a potential home if all else fails. You create systems inside your car that only you understand. Everything has a place. Five inches of space are as valuable as a whole room in your house. You become one. Your seats start to smell. The dashboard is thick with dust and dirt. You brought a bunch of clothes, but you wear the same every day. There’s a collection of rocks starting to grow already. Cold beer is god.
We alternated between trail and road. Sweaty then showering down in the campground bathroom. Or a bath in the creek, any cool water would do. The heat penetrated our souls as we careened across the south west of our country, and some days we felt like we may never be cool again. We began to deeply and carelessly long for our future in Maine; the notion of cold winter and icy fingers became an every day daydream.
A hike into the depths of the Grand Canyon brought us to our knees far away from the comforts of civilization. We struggled in a new way, but that discomfort made the reward that much sweeter: friends awaiting us at the rim with a campsite we’d call home where we hung our hammocks, drank cold beer and ate not-cliff bars. We slept like babies (until one of us was nudged by a burro in the night), and awoke refreshed, ready to find new roads to explore and new places to lay our heads for a night or two.
The options were endless, we chose the way. This was our new life.
Photo Locations (from top to bottom): Roadside stand east of Grand Canyon on AZ Rt 89; Crossing the Colorado River near Marble Canyon; Hermit Creek trail inside the Grand Canyon; Vegetation inside the Grand Canyon; Dreamcatcher on AZ Rt 89; The vast Grand Canyon National Park; Dealing with the heat inside the Grand Canyon; Rocks in Arizona; Comfort at Desert View Campground, Grand Canyon; Roadside stand flags east of Grand Canyon on AZ Rt 89; View of the Colorado River from the Tonto Trail inside the Grand Canyon.
In May we packed up our San Francisco studio apartment – the one which has kept us “cramped up” – and we busted out of the Bay Area with one thing in mind: to get out.
We got out of our routines, out of our jobs, out of our apartment, out of our comfort zones. Outside, out of town, on and off roads, in and out of our typical notion of civilization. Five weeks zig-zagging our way across the United States, knowing it was only the beginning of an entire three and a half months we would spend on the road; plane tickets awaited us on the East Coast, bound for Europe.
But first this. Our first week was spent working our way down the 395 through the great state of California, our now former home, enjoying its beauty and slowly preparing to detach. Quickly remembering what it feels like to roam free.
Photo Locations (from top to bottom): Route 62 driving east from Joshua Tree; Yosemite National Park; Hike near Lake George in Mammoth Lakes CA; Crystal Crag from trail in Mammoth Lakes; Shepherd’s Hot Spring in Mammoth; Fossil Falls off CA395; view off Route 62; Desert life in Joshua Tree National Park; Friend’s re-furbished trailer in Joshua Tree; Warm sunset in Joshua Tree; Plant silhouette in Joshua Tree; Ready for bed in friend’s trailer Joshua Tree; Joshua Tree starry night.
Photos taken on Canon AE-1 with 35mm film and on Canon Rebel SL-1.
Grand Canyon Hermit Trail – Hermit’s Rest to Monument Creek & Hermit Creek
Semi-Loop – 21 miles
Day 1 – 9.3 miles – Hermit’s Rest (canyon rim) to Monument Creek
Day 2 – rest and exploration around Monument Creek
Day 3 – 3.5 miles – Monument Creek to Hermit Creek
Day 4 – 8.2 miles – Hermit Creek to Hermit’s Rest
We woke before the first light to beat the inevitable heat. As we took our first strides down the steep, rocky path we were strong, confident and thrilled at the glowing canyon walls around us, illuminated by the sun’s early rays. With each step we took down, we knew we’d eventually have to come back up, but we brushed those thoughts aside, eager to dive deep into the truly impressive Grand Canyon; an enormous gash in our Earth’s crust, not visible from the surrounding plains until you are standing at its dramatic edge.
The sun rose higher and higher, but the bending and folding canyon walls shaded us with their cool rock as we meandered our way down into the warmer air that felt as though the night air had never cooled it down.
But eventually our luck ran out and the time had come for us to feel the full brute force of the sun’s heat. Hiding behind boulders and crouching under small bushes we tried to grasp at every inch of shade we could find, while feeling the desperate need to push on to our final destination in order to beat the heat that we knew would only get worse with every minute. And so it did. And with only two miles left, and still an hour or two before High Noon, we met our 100 degree match. But we pushed on, knowing that a cool creek and some form of shade were promised at our trail’s end. And thankfully the promise held true.
We spent the following day and a half dipping our feet and splashing our bodies in the small creek, exploring the deep slot canyons of our narrow, protected valley, hiding in the cliff overhang that was the only cool shady spot between 10am and 4pm, building relationships with lizards, flies, bees, birds then bats and frogs and crickets that made the most powerful orchestra as the short, hot night settled in.
We were trapped in a way that was unfamiliar. We were safe and cool, but we both had daunting feelings all along that the only way out of the buggy safe haven we had called home for two days was a long grueling path that we would soon enough have to take. But before we had to face that reality we were happy to have a short early morning jaunt over to the plentiful Hermit Creek where an actual shady swimming hole awaited us with other hikers who had experienced the same hardships as we had. It was surprisingly wonderful to have other humans to lament with and share in the joy of a cold dip, and to build up courage all together to face the 4000 feet of elevation gain that challenged us in the coming dawn. By nightfall we were no longer afraid and felt ready and excited to charge our way out.
We woke before the first light to beat the inevitable heat. As we took our first strides up the steep, rocky path we were strong, confident and thrilled at the glowing canyon walls around us, illuminated by the sun’s early rays.
We were awake early and snuck by throngs of tourists to steal breakfast from the hotel we didn’t stay at. With at least a bit of Skyr and some pickled herring in our stomachs we got in the car to find the fabled hot spring swimming pool, Iceland’s oldest, Seljavallalaug.
The dirt road we decided would bring us to the trailhead, ended up being the right one on our too small map and when we got out of the car there was still a bite to the air as the sun hadn’t made it around to where we were yet. The scenery was a construction site, rocky with a bit of water flowing through and a seemingly uncaring man wearing an Icelandic wool sweater operating a front end loader, still this had to be the spot. There were two guys on enduro bikes, who had come from the same place we wanted to head to and they assured us we were in the right spot but that the pool was having some maintenance done by a few local volunteers that pressure wash it once a year.
We made our decision to walk in and check it out regardless of construction, or not; after all those guys could be lying, trying to keep tourists like us away from their local swim spot, hope is a curious thing. As we turned to find the path in, an old Black Lab comes up to say hi, she is greying around the mouth and friendly as can be with quite a bit of slobber to go around. Immediately after introducing herself, she is on the trail beckoning us to follow and so we we’re off following our doggy guide to the oldest pool in Iceland.
Rocky black construction, gave way to rich vibrant green hillsides and cliffs surrounding the valley we were walking through and the trickle of water we had seen in the flat before the trail turned into a river. The morning was still and the air still cold, but this place was almost spiritual; calm and borderline solemn, justifying Icelandic folklore of fairies and trolls. Our four legged tour guide took us up and down hillsides, knowing every which way to get around obstacles and as we approached a medium sized creek crossing, noticed our struggle and brought us lower to an easier place to get across.
Growing closer, the ground emitting the scent of sulfur and steam that only comes from the geothermal, we rounded a corner to see the old pool; built into the hillside, some of the concrete crumbling but still there, and three men in oil gear pressure washing as we’d been told. The pool was empty and we both felt the pang of disappointment despite knowing this prior to our walk in. We took a photo or two, gave the guys a wave and with that followed our friend back to the car, over obstacles, creek crossings, and appreciating every bit of the sun now warming our cold faces and the glowing green hillside behind us.
This post was featured in Volume 1: Issue 2 of Lay Off The Iodine’s Analog Companion.
All photos in this post taken on Canon AE-1 on 35mm film.
Lost Coast Trail – Mattole River to Black Sands Beach
North to South – 24.6 miles
Day 1 – 8.3 miles – Mattole River to Randall Creek
Day 2 – 9.7 miles – Randall Creek to Shipman Creek
Day 3 – 6.6 miles – Shipman Creek to Black Sands Beach
Slowly. Step, wait, step; balance, step. Head down, eyes on your feet, step, look up to the hazy California coast dropping to the fury of the winter Pacific, step; the rock you’re on wobbles, slides, and down, propped up by a hand. Struggle. A push up with forty on your back, a knee that says no, an aching body that only wants a view; affirmation.
Sand. Soft dry sand, wet firm sand, granular sand, powdery sand, sand with rocks, sand with sticks, sand with seaweed. Step, sink, step. Slow going on this section, tide is returning and your race to escape it takes on new urgency. In a few hours violent waves mercilessly pummel rock into sand. Move along.
Blocked. Stuck, knee deep and rushing; gallons upon gallons screaming for escape. You gaze up and down the stream, hoping to see something different, a log, a series of rocks, nothing. Pack off, bend down, laces untie, boots off; step. Slowly, carefully, propped by a pole, still slipping; stub a toe, a curse. Other side, trail in front, boots on, laced up, forty on your back; step.
A bluff; bright green, well fed grass, a worn trail of firm dirt to coast along. Up and down, side to side, eyes ahead; take it in, and down. Rocks. A uniform groan and it begins. Slowly. Step, wait, step; balance, step. Head down, eyes on your feet, step.
Day 2 – 17 miles – Pat Spring to Double Cone Summit and back to Pat Spring
Day 3 – 8.5 miles – Pat Spring to Bottcher’s Gap
Two women eager to tackle Double Cone. Seemed fitting. But when we read the tid bits of information online about the trail to Ventana Double Cone in Big Sur, the results were confusing. Some “reviews” told of an impassable, totally obstructed trail with zero water, while others spoke of it as a delightful hike with gorgeous views; the mileage was unclear. Per usual with internet findings you have to find the truth somewhere in the middle. Or by just trying it out for yourself. We found out pretty much for sure that there was water at our camp destination at Pat Spring, and decided to take on the potential challenge. How obstructed could a trail really be?
We doubted our negative informers, and we underestimated ourselves. The trail was longer than planned, and invisible at times, but we found our way to the top of Double Cone. And back down. We had nearly enough daylight left to take some photos, write in the mountain-top log book, and begin our 8.5 mile journey back to camp, with the last hour and a half in the dark. We didn’t listen to everything we were told by the internet, or the Eeyore-like ranger, or even those we encountered along the way. We took pieces of it all, said fuck it and went for it, and ended up with a true adventure of our own.
A sunrise out of the sea is hard to come by in California. Camping on the Sea of Cortez, although mainland Mexico lies beyond, you get to see the warm sun rise straight out of the water. The salty sea clashes smoothly with the sprawling desert that surrounds, and in the early morning, with not a soul in sight, it seems like another planet.
On a rough dirt road somewhere between San Felipe and the intersection of Rt. 1 and Rt. 12 lies Coco’s Corner, a legendary Baja pit stop teeming with character in the middle of nowhere. Upon approach the place looks somewhat derelict, a ramshackle shelter decorated with empty cans in the middle of the desert and few, if anyone, around. Pulling in, you hear the sounds of the welcoming, thousands of empty cans singing in the warm Baja wind.
A boat, a hanging dirt bike, two out-houses, a circle of abandoned toilets focused on prime time broken television, hundreds of photos of off-roaders and dirt bikers, panties upon panties dangling from the rafters, and finally, a call from your host, Coco, an older fellow with good cheer and humor that warrants at the very least a beer worth of visiting. Coco is missing the bottoms of both legs but is quite spry none the less; he loves visitors and talking about the area he lives in, as well as a shooter or two from his plastic jug of brandy from behind the counter. In the end, Coco’s Corner is a place that holds magic and the true essence of the lesser traveled desert Baja.