Aber and Out West: Mojave National Preserve

Enjoying our tiny spot in the shade.
On our way to Mojave we encountered our fist In-N-Out Burger and couldn't resist the temptation to try that iconic patty so we shared a meal and can say that it lived up to its reputation.  We headed down the road entering Mojave and began to wonder if we had made a wrong turn.  The road was shotty and we seemed to be headed nowhere fast.  It appeared that we had actually found the middle of nowhere.  To our relief a tiny visitor's center appeared on the horizon and we found our campsite appropriately named "Hole in the Wall".  This dry, hot, and desolate place was quite a contrast from our previous stops. 

The lizards were plentiful around camp and on all of the trails.  We hiked the 6.25 mile Barber Peak Loop Trail that included a slot canyon that had to be climbed with the aide of metal rings embedded in the rock.  We passed a white and yellow snake on the trail that gave me a good scare when I nearly stepped on it though it didn't appear to be a dangerous variety.  A highlight of the hike was a cactus grove with several varieties in bloom with hot pink and white flowers.  The beauty of the cacti was soon forgotten when Jay accidentally swung is arm and whapped the side of a cactus towards the end of the hike.  Luckily we were able to get out all of the spines with tweezers and a little duck tape.

This park was sparsely populated and had very little infrastructure compared to the Grand Canyon.  It was nice to enjoy the peace and quiet from our campsite shared by ten other people at most.  The night sky was clear and made for great stargazing.  Did I mention it was really hot?  So hot and dry that it was difficult to boil water for noodles without it immediately evaporating.  After a baking night in the tent we were happy to get on the road and head for Sequoia.

The snake in the trail!
Jay in the slot canyon climbing up the rings.
Working my way up the rings.


Aber and Out West: Grand Canyon National Park

Elk! No way!
On our way to the Grand Canyon we stopped at the Four Corners monument to experience the thrill of standing in four states at one time. About fifteen minutes was enough and we were off to our next stop on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We were met on the entrance road to the park with a serious omen when a crow dropped a snake onto the road directly in front of us. Talk about eerie and foreboding. Our campsite was located in the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world and was it ever beautiful. This was one of the most spacious and scenic campsites of our trip. After setting up our station we set off on our bikes to explore the city that is part of the infrastructure on the south rim. We were able to bike to the historic lodge, general store, visitor's center to get our passport stamped, and get a general feel for the layout of the park. We biked within twenty feet of three elk as they munched alongside the trail on this first trip out. There were many foreigners, and with school still being in session, we were among few other native English speakers roaming the park.  We had some lovely German neighbors at our campsite providing an opportunity for Jay to brush up on his German language skills.

Grand Canyon! No way!

Pie! No way!
With three full days at the park we were able to pack a lot into our itinerary. We visited the geology museum, attended an evening ranger talk about the first river exploration of the canyon, toured the exhibits at the historic canyon photography shop, and hiked galore. Our first hike, Bright Angel Trail, was a 3 mile 1,100 foot elevation trek below the rim. It also happened to be Jay's birthday that day so with a little luck I was able to secretly smuggle a miniature pie and candles in my backpack. When we reached the turnaround point on the trail I made an excuse to use the restroom and managed to get the candles lit and a posse of park rangers and other visitors to help sing happy birthday to Jay. Apple pie was great fuel for our long hot ascent back up to the rim. We also hiked the Trail of Time along the rim at sunset and the South Kaibab trail to the 6 mile stop at Skeleton Point. All the trails were riddled with mule scat and we had to hug the canyon wall several times as the mule tours passed by. We were also able to bike 21 miles along Hermit Road stopping at many scenic overlooks.

Nice RV, bro. 
Our evenings at camp were in the twenties and we were happy to have brought firewood for warmth and weenie roasting. We had several run ins with the ravens that roamed our campsite. While we kept all of our food stored away during the day they decided it would be fun to peck about twenty holes in our five gallon flexible water jug. We arrived at camp one afternoon to find the water cooler spurting like a sprinkler in all directions  The ravens also managed to unzip a bag of paper goods while we were gone one day. We came home to find all of our paper plates, towels, baggies, foil, and napkins torn to shreds and strewn across ours and the three adjacent campsites. We spent the afternoon doing a thorough trash cleanup of the tiny shreds of debris. Perhaps the most shocking event at our camp as foretold by the crow and snake omen on the way in was a surprise fire at six in the morning. Jay and I were awakened by the sound of loud popping and eventually a roar when we finally looked out our tent window to find that the camper trailer next to our site was engulfed in thirty foot flames. Someone had called the fire department and rangers but sadly the thing was reduced to ash before they could get the fire out. Luckily no one was inside and the surrounding forest did not go up in flames. Still this made us both glad we were in a tent without the potentially shotty wiring of a camper to pose a threat.

Leaving the Grand Canyon we had many future plans for rim to rim hikes, mule rides and visits to the ranch at the bottom of the canyon.  So much to do and so little time...

Laundry Day?


That's the 1000' tall cliff that we are standing on the edge of across the precipice.

Self explanatory. 

Yea, thats where we hiked to and back from. Bam. 


Aber and Out West: Mesa Verde National Park

Our first two nights were spent camping at Mesa Verde National Park.  Jay had never been and I hadn't visited since I was a young child.  The campground was located on the top of the mesa and equipped with bear boxes for our food.  We took every precaution and managed to avoid the bears, though the deer felt at ease moseying through our camp.  We participated in two ranger led tours of the more famous Pueblo dwellings of Balcony House and Cliff Palace.  Though we're not usually ones for group tours it was exciting to climb up and down the wooden ladders and through the narrow passageways of the pueblos.  We were also pleasantly surprised by our first interaction with the park rangers leading the group.  They were so knowledgeable and really made the tours worth while for the minimal fee of $3.  We also did self guided tours of Spruce Tree House, Far View House, and walked the Petroglyph trail.

In an odd coincidence, I was admiring some shell fossils that appeared in a rock ledge on our Balcony House tour when a woman came up to look at them sporting a scallop shell necklace.  Upon complimenting  her necklace we discovered that she had bought it in Santiago, Spain after walking the Camino.  Not only did she walk the entire Camino, she did it in September of 2012 starting only 8 days prior to us.  Now what are the odds of that?  Later that day while walking the Petroglyph trail we round a corner to the summit and found her again perched on a high rock ledge overlooking the mesa.  Here we all sat for some time enjoying the views and recollections of each of our caminos.  There were warm feelings all around at the odd circumstance that brought us together and we left Mesa Verde the next morning excited for what lay ahead.


Aber and Out West: Durango

First stop Durango, Colorado!  Naturally, no trip of ours can pass without sampling a few of the local beers so on our way to Mesa Verde we stopped for an afternoon in Durango.  This slightly too touristy mountain town had 4 breweries for Jay's tasting pleasure though we only made it to two in our brief stay.  Carver and Steamworks breweries provided us nice stops along the main drag decked out with historic charm.  We had an opportunity to meet some of the locals where we were shocked by the free loving attitude and open discussions and assumptions that most everyone in the town partakes of Colorado's newly legalized recreational product.  With Jay's long hair and my feeble attempts to look like a legitimate mountain hippie perhaps we're inviting people to freely broach that subject with us.  Speaking of hippie and mountain gear, we have found a treasure trove of technical and high end adventure clothing at local thrift stores in Colorado and Durango was no different.  I scored a pair of padded bike pants and a dry fit shirt while Jay found a pair of moisture wicking hiking shorts at Durango's second hand shop.  We continued to find awesome thrift store deals in outdoorsy towns throughout the west on all kinds of hiking schwag.  We made a pass through the train depot and museum at the end of Main Street to check out the vintage train cars that make up the narrow gauge line from Silverton to Durango.  Before hitting the road again we had a nice picnic lunch in the City park.  Someday we hope to take that train from Durango to Silverton and finish touring the other two breweries in town.


Aber and Out West

We're back to soft fluffy beds, hot showers, and four walls.  Our three week camping road trip of the west has come to an end and we are happily enjoying the comforts of civilization in Cuchara, Colorado.  This will be the first in a series of after the fact blog posts entitled "Aber and Out West" highlighting our road trip.  We planned the trip with the goal of visiting as many western national parks as possible.  We purchased an annual national parks membership card allowing us entry into any of the parks for the next year.  We even bought national parks passports that we stamped with each park's unique cancellation stamp that includes the date of the visit.  With time and budget limitations we left plenty of parks unexplored for future trips and are more inspired than ever to keep them high on our bucket list.  The master list of parks we visited on this trip is as follows: Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Mojave, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, Lake Mead, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Great Sand Dunes.

Top of Angel's Landing in Zion National Park. 1500 feet up from our camp on the valley floor.  The best hike of the trip!

The trip was marked by extreme weather and terrain as well as many firsts for the both of us.  As neither of us had spent much time west of the Continental Divide we were awed by the new landscapes we experienced while driving to each destination.  We became experts at setting up and taking down our "station" as we like to call it and making and breaking camp became a smooth operation.  Our little Toyota Corolla was visibly burdened by the load of camping gear, three weeks worth of food, and our new bikes attached to the trunk but it performed flawlessly on this nearly 3,500 mile road trip.  The trip ended with us both feeling like we had tapped an incredible resource for fun and adventure for many years to come.  Plans are already in the works for a trip to the National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in our home state.  More posts in this series on the way!

Our "station" at Bryce Canyon National Park.