Sunday, November 29, 2015

RoadTripEleven: Mammoth Lakes Area

Jon and Rachel Pacio (#thenewpacios) joined us in Bishop for a few days and we headed up to the Mammoth Lakes Area for the weekend. We rented a cabin in at Convict Lake.

This lake reminds me of escaped convicts and murder.

Apparently Convict Lake was named after some escaped convicts from Carson City prison in Nevada who killed a guy at the lake in 1871 and then ran away and got caught somewhere else. It hardly seems like the most notable experience that has ever occurred in that location. It certainly shouldn't be the namesake of the lake. How about “Volcanos and colliding continental land masses make beautiful high Sierra Mountain lake.” That was a pretty important event in the history of the lake. Rolls right off the tongue too.

I got a mustache at Convict Lake. I carved it out of my beard and left it between my nose and my upper lip. Jon had one for Movember (male cancer awareness mustaches) and I decided that I wanted one too. I only had it for it for Movember 22-23rd though. Not that I don't support male cancer awareness. It's just I started getting cravings for Coors Light and Nascar and it seemed like a dangerous road to go down. Next thing you know I'd be living in a white trash trailer home somewhere. Though I guess I live in a minivan currently, so that might be a step up. Mostly, though, Spring thought it was gross and wouldn't kiss me.

That is not a caterpillar.

Also, I really love the movie Joe Dirt. Don't you?

We had heard that the Mammoth Lakes area had some strong energy vortices. With all the recent changes in our life we needed to center our qi (chi) so we spent some time in the healing waters of the nearby hot springs. The area between Mammoth Lakes and Bridgeport, CA is teeming with geothermal activity and some volunteers have been kind enough to develop several hot springs sites. We visited six of them in two days to receive maximum spiritual healing. When it comes to healing waters, the more pruny you are the more you are benefitting.

Healing their calves first. There's an order to it all.

Sunset steam = maximum healing power.

We listened to the whispers of the steam rising off the waters. They told us that we needed to go see Methusalah, the oldest tree in the world, to be enlightened by his ancient wisdom. Or maybe the Forest Ranger at the Visitor Center recommended the hike. I don't recall. Either way, the next morning we set off towards the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountain Range of Inyo National Forest, where Methusalah has resided for over 4,800 years with his fellow elders. The road was long and windy and climbed up above 10,000 feet. We parked the car and headed into the grove of old, gnarled bristlecones pine trees.

We met one of the trees named Burt who said he had been an extra in The Lord of the Rings. I was like, “Nah uh.” And he was like, “Yeah huh. Check out my trunk.” And sure enough there was Peter Jackson's autograph carved into Burt's trunk. Can you imagine? I would have loved to stay and chat but we had to carry on. We had not undertaken this epic journey to meet celebri-trees. We were here to see Methusalah; to learn the meaning of life.

Washed up tree actor.

About two miles in we came upon Methusalah. I knelt down before him and asked that he impart the wisdom of the universe upon me. He cleared his throat of pine needles and responded, “Get a job and quit living in your van like a hobo! What's wrong with you? Also take better care of your teeth.”

The wise one. Or his neighbor, maybe. We didn't actually know which one was Methusalah.

It wasn't what I was expecting. I was hoping for something along the lines of follow your dreams or whatever. But he was a grumpy old tree. He kind of sounded like Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino. Anyhow, Methusalah had spoken. So we turned our car towards Los Angeles to go buy some floss and wrap up the final odds and ends before flying to Maui, where we plan to get employed and and find a stationary residence.

In case you were wondering how they line up.

But first, one more stop for a hot springs soak and some hammock time.

Hot springs soak by the (cold) river.
View from the hammock. Doesn't get any better.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

RoadTripTen: Eastern Sierras - Bishop, CA

Too many days in the desert was starting to get us. The best cure for desert daze is snow capped mountains and pine trees. So we left Death Valley, the lowest point in the US and headed 100 miles West towards Mt. Whitney in the eastern sierras, the highest point in the lower 48. We didn't actually go to Mt. Whitney but we saw it from afar, and for dramatic effect I wanted to make that comparison. You were awed, weren't you? I knew it. We turned north before we hit Mt. Whitney and drove up the 395 to Bishop, CA in search of some snowy, pine forest hikes.

Guess where where we found them. In Yo' National Forest!! If you are a US citizen that is. Our tax dollars, you know? No offense. Feel free to enjoy it, whatever your nationality.To be more specific we are in Inyo National Forest in the Eastern Sierras where the snowy, pine forest hikes are infinite. And they all lead to sierras-ly** gorgeous views.

We drove into the mountains from Bishop and found a cool looking hike up to a lake along Bishop Creek. When we got to the trailhead there was about four inches of untouched, fresh powder on the trail. We charged up the trail, shredding the gnar pow, doing misty flips and method grabs, and just being awesome; until we noticed some footprints start all of a sudden that were clearly fresh bear tracks. It freaked us out a bit but we had already invested time and energy into hiking this trail. Spring said that we were supposed to sing songs loudly to make our presence known and scare the bear away. But Spring and I don't know all the words to any songs. We tried “Wheels on the Bus” but only knew the “round and round” part. Then we started making up songs but they were pretty bad and we were scared the bear would come maul us just to get us to stop singing. So we decided to backtrack and try another trail.

I faceplanted.
Bear footprints.

I would recommend that if you plan to hike in bear country that you learn some good songs. If you're hiking with a group, learn to harmonize. Bears like that. Dub poetry might even work. Be creative. Have fun with it. But just know that you are the bear's jester and he will only spare your life so long as you entertain him.

A good sign that your singing is working.

We found an equally inspiring trail that headed towards a lake in the other direction. There were fresh human footprints which put us at ease because hopefully the bear got him first and he wasn't hungry anymore.

** Wordplay provided by Rachel Pacio.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

RoadTripNine: Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is more or less what the name suggests. Barren desert, bright sun, roads that go on forever, and place names that refer to death and satan. Apparently it began as a borax mining site. You youngsters might not remember back when Borax was all the rage but in the 1880s we always used Borax for cleaning stuff. Now it's just weird natural people who use it. But when the Borax mining stopped being profitable the mining company decided to turn the area into a tourist attraction.

It IS a big hard sun, Eddie Vedder.


A lot of Death Valley is below sea level. We went snorkeling while we were there. The marine life was a little disappointing to be honest. We saw a sea rabbit. It just kind of looked like the rabbits above sea level. Also no water, which is weird. Overall I wouldn't recommend it as a snorkel/scuba destination. 

Hope we don't get the bends.

Naturally, because Death Valley is the hottest, driest place in the United States, and therefore, highly opposed to the survival of all forms of life, they decided to grow grass and build a golf course lined with Palm Trees. Not so impressive now, are you Scottsdale? Granted, if you're able to get over your tree hugging preconceptions of where golf courses do and do not belong, then the golf course's bright greenery is a welcomed sight after driving through different colored dirt for so long. In the end we decided not to play a round of nine because they were allowing people on the course without Polo shirts. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Stolen from Internet. Forgot my helicopter.

The real magical part of Death Valley is the nightlife. And I'm not talking about an evening mixer at the country club. I'm referring to the sunset. 

Blood red skies in Death Valley.

The sunsets in Death Valley were magniferous. Magniferous isn't a word but I feel like I'm getting a little heavy on the use of “spectacular” in this blog. I should have brought a thesaurus on this trip. I write all of these things away from internet access and by the time I get near WiFi I forget to fact check or look up synonyms and I just post. Although, I'm writing this right now so I could just make a note to look up a synonym as soon as I get to WiFi. But then I would have to erase the last few sentences. The problem is that if I have WiFi I won't write any blogs because I get too distracted with more important things like the weather in Scotland (note to self: look up the weather in Scotland so I'm not lying). That's why the only two times I've consistently posted blogs are the Peace Corps and this road trip, both where I had very limited internet access. Ironic, no? No? I'm planning on getting self-discipline some day but until then I'll just continue to seek out places without WiFi, for as long as they still exist.

Rainy I guess.

Which brings me back to point. Death Valley. No WiFi. Amazing sunsets. Even amazinger (note to self: real word? Look up) starry night skies. We happened to be there during Leonids Meteor Shower. I'm not familiar with Leonid's other works but he had an extraordinary meteor shower, which peaked on Wednesday from Midnight to Dawn. Little know fact: Wednesday from Midnight to Dawn refers to the first five or so hours of Wednesday. As in a second after Tuesday ends. It does not mean 24 hours of Wednesday and then Midnight to Dawn. That's Thursday. Luckily it was a multi-day event so we still got to take in our fair share of meteor sightings.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

RoadTripEight: Tucson to Death Valley

The highway from the deserts of Tucson to the deserts of Death Valley is, unsurprisingly, surrounded by desert. Looking at the map it did not seem to be a stretch of land with anything of much interest so I didn't have high expectations for the drive. Boy was I only a little bit wrong but mostly right.

One point of interest along the road from Tucson to Death Valley is a town called Nothing, Arizona. There is a picture of the town below. I was a little disappointed because I was expecting to see nothing in Nothing but instead there was something, even if it was just an old ramshackle shack. A better name for it might have been Nobody, AZ because there certainly weren't any people there. They must have been out looking for Something, which, to the best of my knowledge, isn't the name of any town that exists. Or perhaps they were vacationing at their second home in Nowhere, Oklahoma, which does exist.

Something in Nothing.

We didn't want to do the full nine hour drive in one day so we split the trip into two days and stayed over at Burro Creek Campground south of Wikieup, AZ. Supposedly there are wild donkeys (burro = donkey in spanish) that visit the creek adjacent the campground. We didn't see any of them but their presence was confirmed by hundreds of piles of donkey poop as we hike along the creek.

Burro Creek Campground.

We drove through Las Vegas on the second day of the trip. I won $6,000. Then I lost $6,011.47. Really I just spent $11.47 on lunch, but mathematically speaking that's the same thing in the end. I almost broke even. Next time.

After Vegas you just drive through a whole lot of nothing for a while, not to be confused with the town of Nothing in AZ, until you arrive at Death Valley National Park, which is basically in the middle of nowhere, not to be confused with the town of Nowhere in Oklahoma. Which isn't to say that Death Valley isn't a cool place to visit. For being a whole lot of nothing in the middle of nowhere, Death Valley sure is something, not to be confused with the town of Something, which doesn't the best of my knowledge.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

RoadTripSix: Sedona-ish and Tucson

Given the weather in Northern Arizona we decided it was time to migrate south for the winter. Arizona, I believe, is relatively friendly to migrants, so long as they're headed South. We drove down through Sedona. Sedona is a very beautiful town. It is also a very fancy one, and even though we were recently hygieneated, we didn't feel quite comfortable getting out and exploring the art galleries, wine boutiques, and new-age mystic healing centers, so we continued through town until we found a Circle K on the outskirts, where we bought a Six-Pack and some Fritos.

After a night in the motel we wanted to find some place warmer and away from it all in Central Arizona. But sometimes to find that hidden gem you have to take the road less traveled. And you start down that road only to find out exactly why the road is less traveled. It's because nobody should be driving down that road in a minivan. Some people just aren't well equipped for the road less traveled. No shame in that. There's a lot of good stuff on the well traveled roads. Go see a museum or something. But also sometimes you're stubborn (all the time?) and you keep going down the road anyway, wincing at the screams of pain coming from the bottom of your minivan and trying to ignore the pompous laughter of the barren desert surrounding you. Then finally you arrive at a beautiful desert stream oasis and you realize that it was worth it all along, although your minivan vehemently disagrees. Your minivan doesn't care for streams.

It was way worse in real life.
Live streaming.

The last paragraph was meant to be a riff on Robert Frost's poem further research revealed that it's actually called “The Road Not Taken” and it isn't actually about being brave and individualistic and doing unconventional things, and most of the world has had it wrong, and poet scholars have been laughing at us for a long time. So be it. I wasn't trying to write a metaphor anyway. What I was talking about was the literal road less traveled. We've been driving down a lot of sketchy dirt “roads” on this trip. This one in particular was near Camp Verde, AZ and was the worst one of them all, but with a most beautiful payoff, relative to its surroundings. We parked the van streamside in our new private wilderness and enjoyed the stars and the babbling waters. It doesn't get any better than that. Unless you have all of that plus a TV marathon of “Yukon Men” and some Del Taco.

In the morning we woke up and took the road slightly less, less travelled back to the highway and continued south towards Tucson.

The drive from Sedona down to Tucson is not especially pretty. There's Phoenix which is essentially a huge strip mall, so far as I can tell. There's an endless procession of Border Patrol trucks who find my beat up minivan very suspicious until they see me driving it. And then a lot of dry earth. Mostly dry earth.

Tucson is much more attractive than it's big brother to the north, with 360 degrees of mountains surrounding the city and as many saguaro cacti (pronounced sah-WAH-ro) as humans. Tucson is home to the largest cacti in the US. It is also home to sub-$2 gasoline. It is also the home of Cameron Jones, which is the main reason for selecting it as the location for the unofficial biannual reunion of our closest Peace Corps friends. The large cacti were just an added prick. I mean pirck. Perk?

It's pretty pretty in Tucson.

Say whaaaaaat?!?!

We thawed out pretty nicely in Tucson with temperatures in the high 70's. We rented a house for all of us to stay in. We followed the usual reunion itinerary: eat, hike, drink, laugh, fun fun good times and happy feelings. We ate seafood because, as they say, “when in the desert, try the seafood.” We rode bikes to relive the feeling of saving world…when it was convenient. We went to the local breweries. I'm just listing stuff we did. It was a great weekend. I ate a steak. You can ride in the back of a pick-up truck legally in Arizona. I like that a lot. 

Anything goes in the Wild West! Hey, stop at the red light.
Beach cruising. 

Down on the dude ranch after a hard day of wrangling cattle.

Friday, November 20, 2015

RoadTripFive: Flagstaff Cheat Night

OMG! We are sooooo BAD! We totally rented a motel room for the night with comfy beds and heat and showers. I can't even. We are SO bad!

It's true. We were supposed to camp until we got to Tucson on Thursday but we woke up to snow falling in the Grand Canyon and a weather forecast in the teens for tonight so we decided that a motel was in order. Did you know that it snows in Arizona? And that there are beautiful pine forests and mountains? I was shocked the first time I drove into Flagstaff and saw snow and pine trees and cabins instead of guns and cacti and tract homes.

Kala had never seen the snow before so we stopped in the mountains of Coconino National Forest to introduce her. She thought it was pretty fascinating at first until she realized that there was dirt underneath the snow. Then she was mostly just interested in digging through the snow to find the dirt, or a big elk turd if she got lucky.

Kala, who are you wearing today?

After the mountains we proceeded to our cushy motel accommodations in Flagstaff, AZ and I proceeded to watch the Discovery Channel for about four hours. About two hours into my TV sesh a marathon of Yukon Men came on. Yukon Men is about people in the Yukon region of Alaska who hunt and race dogs and trap fur and stuff. Pretty tough guys. I started getting inspired. These guys were walking around in sub-zero temperatures carrying around dead animals, and here I was hiding from a little Arizonian snowfall in a heated motel room. So I threw on my gear and grabbed my trusty hunting dog and I headed out into our sub-zero wilderness (celcius), braving the whipping winds and merciless snow, to hunt us down some dinner. I settled on Del Taco because it was the closest place and I was real cold. Then I hurried back to the motel room to cheer on my fellow winter warriors and eat tacos in bed. Whatever, those shows are all staged anyway.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

RoadTripFour: Grand Canyon National Park

The first time I ever visited the Grand Canyon was on my cross country road trip when I was moving out to Los Angeles at the end of 2011. I wrote about it in a blog back then, but to make a long story short we did not see any of the Grand Canyon due to an intensely thick blanket of fog. We could barely see our hands outstretched in front of us; which didn't worry me because I'd seen my hands before and I could still feel them. So we walked away, defeated, not knowing if the Grand Canyon was real or just made up like the 1969 Moon Landing.

There's a Grand Canyon somewhere in that Fog.

To be honest I had never really cared to see the Grand Canyon in the first place. It just happened to be a convenient attraction along our cross-country route in 2011. But having gone and seen nothing, all of a sudden I was determined to return to see it. So I made sure to plan it into our Southwest road trip this time around. We arrived on Sunday afternoon, a nice sunny day, as unassuming as any other. We walked to the Grand Canyon from the parking lot and there it was; completely exposed, not a thing covering it. It was indecent, really. Nothing left to the imagination. I was embarrassed for it. But if I'm being completely honest...I looked. For two days, I looked.

WARNING: Graphic Nudity XXX

If the Virgin River is an exacto knife, carving out the intricate canyons and stunning cliffs of Zion, then the Colorado River is an excavator, focused on quantity over quality, hired by the ancient Aztec Gods to transport billions of tons of sediment to the Sea of Cortez for building more temples and such. Of course in recent history the heavens of the Aztec gods have been gentrified by Catholic Angels and Saints and the like. Consequently, the Colorado has been relegated to a big irrigation ditch for Southwestern Agriculture. Wether or not Big Ag has connections to The Vatican I cannot say. Let's just say that Pope Francis enjoys his fresh tomatoes in December. Nevertheless, the canyon that the Colorado River continues to leave in its wake is massive.


And the weird thing about the Grand Canyon is you stand there on the Rim looking at the vast absence of earth, a mile deep, and you can't really grasp it's immensity. You know that it's immense and you see that it's immense but you just can't can't get your brain fully wrapped around how amazing that should be. Other people have told me that you have to hike down inside it to really experience it. I suppose if I return I will have to do that. Judging by the look of some of the folks coming out of there, it won't be easy. But, fully grasped or not, the Grand Canyon is quite a sight to behold.

That said, the most spectacular experience, by far, at Grand Canyon National Park, is the hot showers. Eight glorious minutes of hot water cascading out of a real faucet. After five days of strenuous hiking and 30 degree nights, it just may have been the best shower of my life. Also there were laundry machines next to the showers. And WiFi in the laundry room. And a grocery store and cafe down the road. Come to think of it camping at the Grand Canyon isn't quite roughing it. It's more like camping in your parents' backyard, if you had a mile deep canyon in your back yard.