You Suck, San Diego

August 18, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Today my name is Negative Nancy and I’m going to do a lot of complaining (also, I did a short hike). I headed out late this morning for San Diego, which was a couple of hours from where I was last night. I don’t actually need to be in San Diego for two more days, but I thought I’d come out a little early and do some hikes until Szilvia arrives here on the 20th. It didn’t take that long before I regretted this decision. But lets back up a few hours (and days) to express my other annoyances with the state of California so far.

I took I-8 over here, obviously because the interstate is the quickest way to get anywhere. About halfway through my drive, there’s a sign for a “Border Control Checkpoint” and all of the interstate traffic comes to a halt. If you’re not bothered by that sentence already, read it again. ALL traffic is purposely stopped… on the interstate. The interstate, which was entirely built upon the notion of making travel easier and quicker by not having any stops on it. Way to go, Border Control. My second annoyance is that it was a “Border Control Checkpoint”… nowhere near a border crossing. I wasn’t driving into Mexico, nor from it. Stop impeding traffic and wasting millions of dollars on “checkpoints” that don’t need to exist on roads that aren’t even crossing the border. I’m sorry, but shouldn’t the Border Control’s jurisdiction only be at the BORDER? I suppose that would just be too logical. My third annoyance with this so called “checkpoint” was that they didn’t even CHECK anything. Didn’t check my ID to verify who I was. Didn’t check my registration to verify I owned the vehicle or that it was even registered. They had drug dogs sniffing around vehicles and asked “Are you American?” I said “Yep”. Asked “Do you own this vehicle?” I said “Yep”. That was it. Seems to me the “Border Control” only cares about drugs, not protecting the “borders”. You’re not the DEA, stop trying to do their job (they waste enough money on their own).

You might be wondering why I’m so irritated from a two minute stop, and it’s the principle of the matter. This is America, last time I checked. I didn’t cross a border, so go eff yourself. Although, I will admit, it was slightly funny being stopped and asked if I was an American by someone who clearly came here from Mexico. Well, maybe he didn’t directly (I would hope you would have to be a naturalized US citizen in order to be a border agent), but I’d bet money both his parents are 100% Mexican.

Because the drug dog was there, I could do a whole side rant about how the government is creating crime by having drug laws, which are almost as stupid as having seat belt or helmet laws. Stop creating laws to protect stupid people; eventually they’ll filter themselves out and the problem will solve itself. Creating laws and wasting money to “protect” people from that stuff is about as stupid as creating an army to protect us against invading unicorns.

Druggies will eventually overdose. Non-seatbelt wearers will eventually fly through a windshield. Non-helmet wearers will eventually have their skulls crushed. Let nature take its course. Not only will the world be free of one less idiot, but think of all the jobs they are supporting in the process! Police, EMT’s, nurses, doctors, coroners, morticians, cemeteries, and many more people and businesses will all get paid because they’re all involved in the process. It’s a win-win, if you ask me.

The other thing that annoyed me was that this wasn’t even the first time this happened. When I crossed from Nevada into California on I-15, they had an “agricultural checkpoint” that also shut down all interstate traffic and they, too, didn’t do any checks or searches of any kind (not that they could, since we have this little thing called the Fourth Amendment). They simply asked if I was transporting anything, I said “no”, and I was on my way. They have no choice but to take me at my word, so what is the point of forcing traffic to a stop at all? Anyone who is transporting something they’re not supposed to is also just gonna say “no” and be on their way just like I was, so what’s the point? I completely understand having trucks that are transporting agricultural things having to stop, using an exit ramp, just like a weigh station; but stopping everyone doesn’t make sense, especially when that road only goes to Nevada and Nevada is basically 100,000 sq miles of sand. Wasting money on shit like that is partly why California is broke in the first place. You have idiots in charge who don’t know how to properly manage money and government agencies wasting millions doing things they don’t need to be doing.

Anywho, I’m off topic. Don’t worry, more annoyances come later.

Eventually I made it to San Diego and stopped at a Walmart and was gonna just hang out there for the rest of the day, but then I noticed it was one of the Walmarts that had signs stating “No overnight camping allowed”. No big deal, I’ve come across a couple of those Walmarts already. It’s rare, but there’s a few like that here and there.

Since I had to leave anyway, I decided I might as well drive to a hike that isn’t too far North of San Diego called Mount Woodson Trail (better known as Potato Chip Rock). I couldn’t find where the parking for the trail was, as the road the directions took me to said “private driveway” and “no trail access”. I figured it was like in Hawaii where the trail is actually located on privately owned land and some idiot comes along, does something stupid, and the land owner shuts down access for everyone. Or, maybe I just didn’t know where to park.

Instead, I went to the Iron Mountain Trail, which I passed on the way there and wasn’t too far down the road. It’s a 6.4 mile trail, round-trip, that doesn’t have much to look at along the way. It’s basically rocks and dirt the entire way, but there was a certain kind of desolate beauty to it. I was just happy to be on a hike, since I hadn’t hiked at all in the last two weeks. I forgot to take my camera, so all the pictures are pretty crappy because my phone isn’t that great at taking photos. Oh well.

After the hike, I decided to go to a different Walmart (San Diego has like 20 or more of them). Again, I was greeted with a “No overnight camping allowed” sign. Since I thought it was pretty odd coming across two Walmarts in one day that didn’t allow overnight parking, I decided to call some more instead of driving around wasting gas. Every Walmart, Home Depot, and Flying J (Pilot Travel Center) that I called all said they don’t allow overnight parking. By this point, I assumed there must be an entire city-wide ban against overnight parking and after a quick Google search, my suspicions were confirmed.

Not only is it completely illegal to park an RV on the street in San Diego between 2am and 6am, it’s also illegal to park a boat, trailer, or vehicle taller than 7 ft (my van is over 8 ft tall). If you’re a resident of San Diego, you can buy a 24-hour permit to park your RV, boat, or trailer, but that’s it. You get 24 hours. And you’re only allowed to purchase 72 of those permits over the course of a year. It’s pretty sad when a city screws over its own residents (there’s apparently over 100,000 people in the city this law effects).

So, San Diego, you suck and you have officially made my boycott list. After reading about that law, I immediately left the city and I don’t plan on going back until Thursday when I have to because I’m picking Szilvia up from the airport. Since there are things in San Diego she wants to see, I will be forced to violate my boycott until at least Saturday, but after that I don’t ever plan on returning to San Diego because it’s clearly run by morons. And during the two days I will be there with Szilvia, I do not intend on spending a single penny of my money within the city limits because they clearly don’t want travelers there. Message received, San Diego. I will take my money elsewhere.

I’m really hoping Los Angeles and San Francisco are smarter than San Diego and don’t have similar overnight parking bans.

Anywho, other than the hike I did today, I was pretty happy that it was 90° or less. Normally I would think 90° is way too hot, but not after spending a week and a half in 115°. By comparison, that’s the same difference between 45° and 70°. So yeah, I’m pretty happy about the 25° temperature drop. It should be an extremely comfortable night.

Cheat Day

August 15, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

I have a confession. I did not sleep in the van last night. WHAT?! I know, right? Like, total oh em gee.

Yesterday afternoon, shortly after I posted my last update, I got the hankering to go to a (very cheap) motel. Emphasis on cheap. Seriously. I was practically in Mexico. I could have probably walked to the border from there. On top of that, I was still in the desert and it was 115° yesterday. If it hasn’t sunk in yet, it wasn’t exactly a popular tourist destination and prices weren’t very high. My last oil change cost more than the room did.

Why did I go to a motel? Well, after I finished interneting yesterday and was about to leave town, I noticed my air conditioning in the cab was no longer blowing cold air. Instead, it felt as if I had the heat on full blast (side note: I might need to buy an AC recharge kit; although, today it was working fine). On top of being blasted with heat, I also realized that I hadn’t taken a real shower in a month. Since July 17th, I’ve been washing my hair in the van sink and using a washcloth for everything else. It’s not ideal, but it works and is incredibly cheaper than paying the $10-$12 to shower at a gas station. I also really wanted a night away from the triple digit temperatures and drowning in sweat.

I checked in around 2 or 3pm yesterday afternoon and stayed until I absolutely had to check out this morning. Even though it didn’t cost much for the room, I still wanted to maximize my usage of the wonderfulness that was air conditioning and having the ability to take a real shower. You can bet your ass that a shower was the first thing I did upon checking in.

After sitting in the room for a bit, basking in the cool air, I walked down the road about two blocks to get some snacks. It felt like I was walking through hell. Mind you, it was 115°, but being spoiled with the cool air for just a short amount of time seemed to have ruined my adaption to the heat.

I’ll be honest, with the combination of AC, cable TV, and free WiFi, I did not get a lot done last night (I didn’t get anything done). It was wonderful.

It was after noon by the time I got back to Slab City today. I spent most of the day reading At the Water’s Edge. It’s almost midnight right now and still 103° in the van, but I seem to be readjusted to the temperature already.

A Week in Slab City

August 14, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

It’s been a pretty hot week hanging out in the middle of the desert in Slab City. The average outside temperature has been 110°. The temperature in the van stays at or below the outside temperature during the day, but stays hot during the night even when the desert cools. Surprisingly, I’ve become pretty adjusted to the heat and it barely bothers me anymore. Granted, I’d still love it to be 80° or below.

Last Saturday night I checked out The Range to see what kind of music the residents of Slab City perform. I’ll admit, it wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it was better than nothing. At least half the people there were pot heads, so I’m sure it was a better time for them. The Range is open every Saturday evening for anyone to come up and showcase their talent. You don’t even have to be good!

I left after about an hour and walked the short distance back to the open gravel area where I had parked my van. The night sky is absolutely gorgeous here and I stayed outside for a bit enjoying the stars and listening to the music from The Range. It sounded a lot better from a distance.

I’ve spent the majority of time either watching The Office or reading. I’ve gone through three books in the past week (A Wrinkle in Time, The Great Gatsby, and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) and started two others (Walden and At the Water’s Edge). It’s nice to finally be getting some reading done, but only two of the books I’ve read so far have been actual books; the others have all been digital books. I brought an entire stack of real books with me and my goal was to get through them all before this trip ends. I’m not doing that well so far.

My internet out in the desert isn’t that great so I haven’t been able to use Duolingo to practice any Spanish. I have, however, started working on my sign language. I bought a book on it over a year and a half ago, like many of the other books I have, but never really focused on it. So far, I can sign my numbers up to 30 (the book doesn’t go above that), know all of my alphabet, and have the signs for 11 colors memorized. The book also contains 1,000 words that I slowly need to start working on. I’ve been interested in learning American Sign Language since 2005, maybe 2006, when I was in Baltimore with my friend Steve and he randomly started signing to a guy on the street one night.

I’ll admit, I have not been practicing the guitar that much. I think there’s only been two nights, at most, in the past week that I’ve practiced. It’s been so hot and sweaty that it’s just not something I wanna do.

I watched some of the meteor showers the other day. Most of the ones I saw were barely glimpses, but there was one really awesome one that had a huge trail streaking across the sky. For some reason a lot of people were out that night driving around, including what I assume was the local sheriff because they were shining a spotlight around and it was really quite annoying.

Here are some pictures from sunset a few days ago. Despite being a sulfur-smelling desert filled with a hundred or more little shanty houses, it can be a quite beautiful place.

I’ll probably stay in this area until Tuesday and then I’ll be heading to San Diego to hopefully do some hikes or something with my friend Janice and then meet up with Szilvia on Thursday to start the second part of this trip.

Slab City, California

August 7, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 309.4
Miles hiked: 0

I woke up today, near the border of Nevada and California, after one of the coolest nights I’ve had in the van in the past few weeks. Even though the temperature read as 86°, it felt fantastic compared to the above 90° temperatures that it has been.

I took a very relaxing morning and watched the second Divergent movie, Insurgent. I did some reading for a bit, too, but as the temperature increased, I became more and more tired from reading. I decided to get some driving done, not fully sure on where I was destined.

I headed West for a couple hours before stopping in Bartow, California and was gonna camp out at the Walmart there. After stopping for five minutes and using their bathroom, I decided that town was not for me. The bathroom had the most foul odor I’ve encountered in a long time. The store itself was an older looking store and seemed as if it had not received any love since the early 90s. No, thanks.

I continued driving for another hour until stopping at yet another Walmart, hoping it would be better than the last. Thankfully, it was. Though, I swear it had more cameras in the ceiling than one of the Vegas casinos. Pure insanity. I was there for around an hour, debating on what to do. Since I’ll be driving around California for almost the next month with Szilvia, I didn’t want to see anything now that she might want to see later. I debated on hiking a portion of the John Muir Trail, but it was so out of the way from where I was and I wasn’t sure what I’d do with my van for however long I’d be hiking, so I ruled that out as well.

Then I remembered about Slab City and knew that wasn’t one of the places planned for the next month. It was 187 miles away, deep in Southern California out in the Sonoran Desert. It was decided. I was headed to Slab City.

For those not familiar with Slab City, it used to be the location of some Marine barracks, but after WWII the barracks were removed, leaving only the concrete slabs behind. The land was given to the state of California and since that time squatters, campers, and other travelers have taken to living there. In the summer, the Slabs are pretty empty due to the desert heat and most travelers migrating North. In the winter, it’s said that there are thousands of travelers (“snowbirds”) that call this place home.

There is no running water. There is no electricity. There’s no sewer, toilets, garbage pickup, or other city services of any kind. Slab City does not officially exist. There are no rules and no parking or camping fees. People are here just being people and living life without restrictions. It’s quite magical.

There’s an ever changing art display painted onto a concrete bunker on the road leading up to Slab City. It’s almost like a “welcome” sign. I really like the “Danger: Reality Ahead” as you head back out to the real world.

One of the first sights you will see upon entering Slab City is Salvation Mountain, a huge mound of earth covered in concrete, adobe, and paint and plastered with bible verses. It was project of two decades built by a single man. Although I’m not religious by any means, I still appreciate the artistic and creative aspect of what he built.

Anyone up for a boat ride? A random boat, also located at Salvation Mountain.

As I sit here, watching the day transcend into night, listening to some dogs bark across the way, I can’t help but be overcome by a sense of freedom you can’t find most places. Even when I camp out at Walmart, there’s always an itch in the back of my mind worried about how long I stay there for fear of crossing whatever magic number of hours it is before Walmart decides you are no longer welcome. It is an almost constant distraction when camped in other, more random locations. But not here. Not in Slab City.

I’ve been here for barely an hour and love it. And not just for the ability to pull off the road anywhere and camp without being hassled about living a different kind of life. It’s the vastness. The emptiness. The desolation. It’s hard to put into words how beautiful those things can be.

I’m not sure how long I’ll stay here, but I have 13 days before I need to be in San Diego. It might be one day, it might be 12. Since I got here late in the evening, I’m not sure how bad the daytime temperatures will be yet. I’m for sure staying through tomorrow, as every Saturday evening they have an open performance of music or whatever other talent someone wants to showcase at a “nightclub” called The Range. I’m really looking forward to it.

As I finish writing this, nightfall has almost entirely engulfed the sky. The lack of light pollution, combined with a clear day like today, makes for a stunning display of stars.

Viva Las Vegas

August 6, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 176.9
Miles walked: ~20 (over three days)

I’ve been in Vegas for the past few days and honestly haven’t felt up to writing by the end of each day. But before I talk about Vegas, I want to go back to three days ago because I’m pretty excited about some improvements I made to the van. When I camped out that night, I decided to head over to the automotive isle in Walmart. Although I didn’t get what I went there for, I came across a clip-on oscillating fan that was designed to be plugged into a car’s DC outlet. One of the neat things about the fan was that it also came with a mount so that you could remove the clip-on part and permanently attach it to something.

I bought one of the fans and thought I’d try it out and see how well it worked. I have five recessed LED lights in the van that I thought would come in handy, but I haven’t used them at all since I started my trip. Since I wasn’t using the lights, I decided to reroute one of the electrical circuits to power the fan I’d just bought and mounted it on the rear wall above the bed. Once I had everything wired up, I tested it out and instantly loved it. So much so, that I went back in and bought a second fan to mount on the opposite wall. I’ve actually been looking for something like those fans and was very pleased to come across them. They’re a little louder than I would hope for such a small fan to be, but I’m ok with it since they blow air considerably better than the fan I’ve been using for the past month. I also love that they oscillate and I can position them to face any direction. It’s still hot in the van, but having these fans makes it a whole lot better.

Anywho, I did not plan to come to Vegas at this point in my journey, it just happened. It started the same day I bought the fans when I saw a friend post an update saying they were in Vegas. Since I was only 120 miles from Vegas, I figured it’d be nice to stop by on my way to wherever I’m going next (I still don’t know).

I headed out pretty early the next morning and arrived in Vegas a couple hours later. With plenty of time in the day, I drove down to the iconic Las Vegas welcome sign to be a tourist and get a picture of it. Even though I’ve been to Vegas a couple of times before, I have never taken the time to go out and see the sign. There’s nothing that fancy about it, but it’s a piece of history; like the Hollywood sign or Route 66.

I spent the first day playing penny slots just to get “free” drinks and then walked around for a bit before meeting up with my friend and her husband later in the evening. We chatted for awhile about my journey and reminisced about the idiocies of our old work office. And, boy, do I love to talk about how much I don’t like that place. They had tickets to one of the Vegas shows and since I’m way too cheap to pay for stuff like that, I called it an evening when they headed out. I camped at a Walmart that evening, only to realize the next morning that there were signs saying “no overnight parking”. Whoops, my bad. Luckily, I didn’t get towed or anything.

The next morning I played roulette for awhile and was up $125 making small, $5 bets. Somewhere along the line I got a little too confident in my winning streak and well, lets just say by the time I left the table, I was no longer up $125. I was no longer up at all. I’m now convinced that roulette is the devil… that, or it’s all rigged. Since it’s Vegas, it wouldn’t surprise me.

I met up with my friend and her husband and some other coworkers of theirs that afternoon. I spent a good chunk of time educating them all on Wisconsin’s greatness and all the amazing things or people that have come from there. Seriously. I can talk for hours about Wisconsin. We also played some more penny slots to get “free” drinks. They, again, were seeing a show that evening and I ended my night at that point.

Today, I didn’t do much at all. I spent the majority of the day reading an amazing book called The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman which made me revel in childhood spirit. It was a fairly short book and I ended up reading the entire thing today. In the afternoon, I met up briefly with my friend and our other friend who just flew in this morning (there’s a huge nerd conference going on in Vegas right now). Later in the evening, I drove a little ways outside the city to escape from all the hustle and bustle. I’m not a big fan of large cities, crowded streets, and busy highways. I much prefer the simpler life.

I’m happy that I’m finally getting some reading done, as that was one of my goals for this trip; to read more. I even read about a quarter of a second book today. I’ve also been using Duolingo to practice my Spanish, as I really want to learn at least one language besides English (but ideally more than one). I’m no where near fluent, and might not ever be, but I can at least easily understand simple sentences at this point.

Now I just need to force myself to practice the guitar more. And by “more,” I mean I’ve only practiced once in the week I’ve had it. No bueno.

The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

August 3, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 78.4
Miles hiked: ~12

Today was wet. I spent the majority of the day walking through the Virgin River in the Zion Narrows. It’s a 10 mile “hike” down the river, round-trip. To get to the hike, there’s another two mile, round-trip, walk along the river you have to do. I’m honestly not sure how far I went, but I’m confident I made it close to the very end. It’s a very busy hike, in the beginning, and I hiked until I was alone. Then I kept hiking. I spent five and a half hours hiking in the water, only stopping for brief moments to take pictures and enjoy the scenery.

The water is fairly shallow for most of the way and averages at most two feet high. The deepest section came up to my belly button, which is probably around 40″ or so. I walked pretty slow through that section as the water increasingly got higher and the coldness crept up my body.

I don’t feel like writing a lot today. Instead, here’s 40 pictures for your enjoyment.

Observation Point, Zion National Park, Utah

August 1, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 78.3
Miles hiked: 8.0

Due to the possibility of flash floods in the Narrows at Zion, I used today to hike up to the 6,508 ft Observation Point. Although it was a tiring climb and it’s over 700 ft higher than Angels Landing, I don’t feel it was as rewarding (read: “challenging”). It does have nice views at the top and there’s a really beautiful canyon you get to walk through just before the halfway point. There’s also a significantly less amount of people on the trail compared to Angels Landing.

The trail starts out similarly to Angels Landing, hiking up a set of long, steep switchbacks that are part of the East Rim Trail. Roughly half way up the switchbacks, there’s a side trail for The Hidden Canyon, but it’s closed this year for construction. There’s a lot of beautiful views as you hike up, but unfortunately there’s not a good spot to look back down and see all the switchbacks.

Shortly after the switchbacks, there’s a gorgeous canyon you get to walk through. This is probably my favorite part of the entire trail.

The rest of the climb up follows a walkway built around the edge of the cliffs. It’s nonstop up and there are several more switchbacks along the way.

Eventually you’ll reach the top and follow a dirt path for about 10 minutes to walk out to Observation Point. From there, you can look down directly at Angels Landing and can see the people over there if you focus enough.

As I said earlier, I don’t feel it was as rewarding of a climb as Angels Landing. It was definitely a challenge and has great views, but Angels Landing has an added level of risk that just makes it more worthwhile.

I’ve hiked almost all the trails in the Zion Canyon area that are listed on the park map. There are three small trails I haven’t done and the 10 mile Narrows. I still have 18 days before I need to be in San Diego, so I’m not exactly in a rush.

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

July 31, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 93.7
Miles hiked: 5.4

Last night was another warm night. It stayed over 95° in the van until at least 2am, the last time I checked the thermometer. When I woke up at 6:30 this morning, it had dropped down to a “brisk” 89°. It’s gonna be such a relief when I get to California and out of this desert heat.

I headed back into Zion shortly after waking up. My only goal for today was to hike up to Angels Landing, which stands at 5,790 ft. I did not expect it to be as awesome as it was. Flat out, if you ever go to Zion National Park and aren’t scared of heights, hike up to Angels Landing. It was an awe inspiring view and simply making the climb is worth smiling for. To stand at the top, on the edge, looking straight down over 1,400 ft below really makes ya feel alive. I used to feel that way all the time after climbing Koko Head; complete and utter relaxation, intermixed with joy and the feeling of accomplishment.

The beginning of the trail walks you into the canyon and leads up to a set of long, steep switchbacks. I dare you to try to do them all without stopping for a break (stopping for pictures counts as a break, which is what I did).

After the switchbacks, there’s a small bridge and a short distance of relatively flat ground before you arrive at Walter’s Wiggles (yes, that’s what they’re really called). Walter’s Wiggles is another set of steep switchbacks, but they’re much shorter. They’re named after the park ranger who was responsible for the trail when it was first created almost 90 years ago, if I remember correctly. This is also the last tough section before reaching Scout Lookout, which is where many people stop at after seeing the last section of trail in front of them.

Here’s a cooler picture I found on Google that shows the Wiggles from a different angle.

From Scout Lookout, you can see the last 0.5 miles of trail that leads up to Angels Landing. It looks far more insane in person. Try to look at the pictures closely and focus on the people to gain perspective of its size. And then remember that this is a very narrow ridge and each side has a 1,400 ft drop. This is by far the best part of the trail.

The climb up was slow and crowded. You don’t have many opportunities to pass people, due to the narrow width of the climb. At the same time, people are climbing down the same path you need to climb up, so be patient. The view at the top will be worth the wait.

I didn’t stay at the top very long, as the sky was grey and I didn’t want to get stuck up there in the event it started to rain. I just had a quick snack and headed back down. The climb down is significantly more challenging than the climb up. Other than your footing has changed, you’re looking down the entire way. I tried getting a picture that showed what I mean, but I don’t think it really captured it.

Once you get back to Scout Lookout, the hike down is easy, but has a lot of impact on the knees. I took a lot more pictures on my way down than I did on my way up.

Today was a great day. I’d rank it as one of the top three of the entire trip so far. There’s another hike on the opposite side of the road called Observation Point, which is over 700 ft higher than Angels Landing. I still want to hike into the Narrows, but Observation Point is now on my list to do before I leave here. The Narrows is 10 miles, if you do the entire thing. Not to mention the two miles you have to do to get to the Narrows and back. The visitor center had a sign saying there’s a high risk of flash floods tomorrow, so I’m not sure what I’ll get done.

Zion National Park, Utah (Part 2)

July 30, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 128.5
Miles hiked: 4.85

I spent the day yesterday working a random asphalt job nearby. I have an entirely new outlook towards road construction. It is some hardcore, back-breaking work which my “pampered” lifestyle has not accustomed me to, especially in 100° or more. The people who do that stuff for a living should be paid more. And I don’t mean the employers, I mean the actual laborers. If you ever have a chance to talk to anyone working on a road crew, tell them thanks. We drive on roads and parking lots every day and the amount of work that goes into it is purely amazing.

Today I went back to Zion. I was honestly pretty sore from yesterday and barely hiked at all. I wasn’t that concerned with taking pictures, either; I just wanted to be in the moment.

The first hike I did is called the Watchman Trail, a 2.7 mile hike up to an overlook that gives views of lower Zion Canyon and the Towers of the Virgin. The trail starts out walking along the Virgin River. I don’t think the trail is as popular as others, as there weren’t many people along the way. It was a very tranquil walk along the river. I stopped and sat for awhile on the way back just listening to the water flowing.

On the way up, I caught the sun shimmering over a ridge line. This was one of the only photographs I took today, as it was too beautiful not to share.

At the end of the Watchman Trail, there’s a short loop trail that doesn’t seem to be documented in the park guide. I talked to the ranger at the information center and she wasn’t sure on the exact mileage, but agreed it was at least 0.4 miles. Granted, I walked the whole thing before I knew anything about it. You can’t go anywhere new by walking the path you already know. Oh, and I did think this tree root looked interesting.

After I finished the Watchman Trail, I headed over to the Pa’rus Trail. Both trails are accessible from the visitor center. The trail is actually a bike path that follows the Virgin River up to Canyon Junction, about 1.75 miles away. I only walked the trail one-way and ended up taking the shuttle back. It’s not a very interesting trail and is directly in the sun the entire time. I didn’t take a single picture along the way.

The temperatures in the van have been soaring in this heat. Yesterday when I looked, it was 108° F in there (100° outside); the max temperature in the van has been 112° F. The biggest downside of the increased heat is the fridge consumes more electricity to keep things cool. Since I haven’t been driving a lot lately, the batteries are relying entirely on solar power to charge and the fridge has been using all of that power by itself. At 6am this morning, the batteries were too low to power the inverter any longer and I had to shut it all down to give the batteries a chance to charge back up. Luckily, I don’t keep much in the fridge and was able to throw everything in the cooler. Without the fridge running, the batteries had a completely full charge from the solar panel by noon today when I got done hiking.

I also rigged up my fan to run directly off of DC power so that I can still use it when I shut the inverter off. That fan is my lifeblood at the moment and is the only thing that makes the van remotely bearable to sleep in. I’m gonna monitor the voltage tonight to see how much only running the fan and the lights uses up. Tomorrow night I’m gonna kick the inverter back on with nothing plugged in and test how much power it uses up to determine if it’s worth leaving on or not. Other than the fridge, I only use the AC power to plug in my laptop on occasion. Typically I charge it up while connected to the internet at McD’s or Starbucks, but an outlet isn’t always available.

Tomorrow will be the last day of the first month of living in the van. I’m fairly excited about it, to tell the truth. It’s insanely refreshing to know that “home” is wherever I want it to be.

Zion National Park, Utah (Part 1)

July 28, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven (since last post): 219.0
Miles hiked: 5.8

I took the last couple of days off. I spent one day in Cedar City, uploading my posts for the two previous days, then just relaxing. Another day I drove down to St. George and spent most of the day there. I ended up going to a pawn shop and buying a guitar so that hopefully I can force myself to learn how to play with all this free time I’ve been having in the afternoons. I’ve been buying guitars for 12 years, always telling myself I need to learn, then never actually learning, and eventually selling the guitar or giving it away. I’m hoping this time will be different… we’ll see.

Last night I decided I was gonna hit up Zion in the morning and so that is exactly what I did. Being that Zion is one of the more popular parks in Utah, I knew I needed to get there early to beat the traffic. I woke up shortly after 6:30 this morning and headed directly for the park, which is only about an hour Northeast of St. George. Since I got there before the visitor center even opened, there was plenty of parking available.

Zion is quite different from the other parks I’ve been to so far. In my opinion, they have a much better system in place to manage traffic and congestion. Most of the park you’re not allowed to drive private vehicles on without a special permit, unless it’s after October 25th. Instead, they have a free shuttle service that continuously drives through the park and you just get on and off at whatever stop you want. They say a shuttle comes by almost every 15 minutes, but I never had to wait more than five minutes. What I loved the most was that I didn’t have to fight for parking at each stop and I wasn’t using any gas to get around the park, which means I save money. I wish all the parks had a system like this, especially Yellowstone.

Since I had never been to Zion before and honestly knew almost nothing about it, I decided to take an easy day and focus on simple hikes and exploring the majority of the park to decide where I wanted to spend more time. My first stop was at the Emerald Pools Trails. There’s a Lower Pool, Middle Pool, and an Upper Pool. The Lower Pool has a lightly trickling waterfall that the trail goes behind, which is pretty cool. Altogether, it’s a 2.2 mile, round-trip, hike to see all the pools. On the way down from the pools, I decided to take the mile long Kayenta Trail over to the next shuttle stop and just get picked up from there.

From where the Kayenta Trail ends, you can jump onto the West Rim Trail to connect up with the Angels Landing Trail, a steep, narrow ridge to the summit that is not recommended for people who are afraid of heights. I skipped it for today due to the length of it, but I wanna hike it either tomorrow or the next day, depending on what else I try to cram into the day.

I jumped back on the shuttle and headed up to Weeping Rock. It’s a very short (0.4 mile, round-trip) hike. This is also the location to hike up the East Rim Trail, which has the Hidden Canyon Trail connected to it. I wanted to hike the Hidden Canyon, but apparently it’s closed this year for construction. I know at least part of the trail has a narrow ledge on the side of a cliff that has chains anchored into the cliffside for safety. Sounds awesome, right?! But, alas, I’ll have to come back here a different year to do that one. Most of the pictures I took at Weeping Rock didn’t come out or I didn’t like them.

Next stop was Big Bend, shortly up the road. It’s just a bend in the river, but it gives you a view of Angels Landing from the ground level and a couple other formations. I hiked down to the river area and followed an unmarked path for a short while, snapping up a few pictures along the way. I really love the one with the trees.

Then I headed up to the Temple of Sinawava, the last shuttle stop on the Zion Canyon road. There’s a two mile, round-trip, Riverside Walk that, as you may have guessed, follows the river into the canyons. At the end of the walk you have two options: 1) Turn around, or 2) Continue on by walking in the river for the next five miles in what they call The Narrows. When I talked to the lady at the visitor center this morning, she said the water only gets about waist deep, but it’s important to pick the right day to go, as there’s a risk of flash floods any time it rains. This is a hike I want to do for the pictures, but hiking 10 miles today just wasn’t the goal.

My last stop for the day was back towards the front of the park at the Court of the Patriarchs. I missed the stop on the way up. It’s a quick stop with a short hike up to an overlook area to get pictures of “The Patriarchs”, which are three large peaks grouped together.

Now that I have an idea of the park, I know where I want to focus some more time. I definitely want to hike the Angels Landing Trail, as well as three trails accessible at the visitor center area, I’d like to hike the Narrows, and I want to drive the Mount Carmel Highway that connects the Zion Canyon section of the park to the East side and has a 1.1 mile long tunnel in the middle of it. I’ll probably spend three or four days here to do it all.

I’m WAY ahead of schedule and even after I hang out in Zion for a few days, I have almost 20 days before I need to be in San Diego to meet up with Szilvia for the next portion of this adventure. I haven’t decided what to do with that free time yet or where to go.