Just because I love to go on adventures doesn’t mean I don’t still get nervous some times. I’m all packed for China, I’ve got 6 weeks worth of clothes, shoes and things to keep me healthy, it’s my last full night with my little family and the nerves are starting to set in a bit! I’m more excited than anything but I’ll still miss my mom, miss my doggies, I know there will be major culture shock (which I welcome and seek out) and yet I know I’m meant to do this and I can’t wait for the experience/the chance to grow even more as a person. The things that make us nervous, the things that may scare us no matter how excited we are, are the things that get us out of our comfort zone and make us realize how unstoppable we truly are. How much power we have the potential to embrace. It doesn’t matter if your scared or fearful, we’re meant to be afraid sometimes because we’re human. What matters is that you still do things regardless of your fears. I tell this to the kids before they climb, I even tell this to myself before I climb, before I go into the deep ocean, before I open my heart or commit to being vulnerable with my soul. So yes, I am a little nervous about leaving my country and living in another for a little while, but there’s still no doubt in my mind that I am stoked to go and it’s going to be the most incredible summer. It’s the things that excite us and make us feel butterflies at the same time that make life so rewarding and fulfilling. Chase the things that you find beautiful, chase the waterfalls, but also chase your fears. Chase them when they go away and even when they don’t.
I’ve been on a lot of road trips and I was incredulous to find that the most dreamy one I have ever been on is in my very own state. California has so many different geographies and natural wonders that it keeps surprising me, wherever I go. A year and a half ago, my boyfriend and I went on a road trip up the 395 to stay at Silver Lake Campground just north of Mammoth. It was late April and we expected the flowers to be in bloom, the grass to be green. My friend had hand drawn us a map for the whole drive, every fascinating little stop to make. As my bf and I were just about it to make it to our first stop, Convict Lake, droplets started to splatter on our window a little too hard for it to be rain. Chris said it wasn’t snow and I quipped back: “well then it’s frozen rain!”
We then proceeded to get caught in my first snow storm. We couldn’t see on either side of the highway, surpassing the hot springs, not even seeing the lakes that flowed right up to the road. We took the exit for Convict Lake, a masterpiece of the mountains I couldn’t wait to see, and were surrounded by flurries of white snow flakes. The lake was nowhere to be seen, covered in a white fog, and I still couldn’t help but dance in my body and soul. I had never been in a winter wonderland, and here I was in one, in the middle of spring, with my favorite person. It felt like magic.
Getting back in the car, we followed the Jeep in front of us, putting our wheels in their tracks as my little hatchback wasn’t quite prepared for deep, freshly fallen snow. We pulled out and finally made it to Silver Lake, where it was only us and two other campers. I had no idea it was the very first day the campsite reopened and the little old couple that hosted the campground was there to welcome us and let us know of all that we could do to survive the snow, the little places to get warm and collect firewood. That night, we slept in a snow storm. We ate Indian food in the car with the heater running and when it was time to sleep we ran to the tent, which was surprisingly warm as it was insulated by all the snow that had fallen around us. We were in our own little igloo of warmth, hearing the wind long before we could feel it, lulled to sleep by the nearby waterfall made from the melting snow.
Our plan venturing to this part of Cali was to hike around the eastern outskirts of Yosemite, to find the 20 lakes basin and hike among the greenery. But things never go as planned and considering the overhaul of snow, we made alternative plans. Our campground was in a little loop called June Lake loop, where our lake neighbored that one and another one called Grant Lake. We packed up the car and drove, asking local friends we made in the coffee shop nearby about things to do. They sent us with maps and free coffee, saying they loved how friendly we were. We started to drive north about an hour and we stopped at Mono Lake, just outside of Lee Vining, where geographical oddities lined the shores. Called tufas, they stagger like high stalagmites, as if the heavens took sand and dropped it on top of itself, like when you’re trying to make a sand castle. The water was an aqua blue and the fresh air, since it was sunnier the following day, made it perfect to walk around the lake. We fell into the quicksand like mud, making it even more of an adventure.
A little further up the highway and off a winding dirt road decorated by green, flowered meadows, is an old ghost town called Bodie. We drove the bumpy dirt roads, listened to my favorite African band and Chris played his African drum along to the beat. It was a desolate old town. Wooden churches, apothecaries, little gas pumps used by the folks that worked in the mines throughout the area. Built in the mid 1860s, when gold was discovered in the area, it turned quickly from a town of a few hundred people to one of nearly 10,000, hosting a dangerous combination of 65 saloons, a red light district and the hunt for gold. It was incredible to see the remnants of a past civilization outlined by the Sierras. It’s own world back in the solitude of the mountains. We got in our own little snowball fight but otherwise tread gently on the grounds, hearing it was bad luck to take, even accidentally, something from this ghost of a town.
Another half an hour up the highway is a little town called Bridgeport. We drove there to find the hot springs that were supposed to be filled with cleansing, though stinky, sulfur. The town was made of one little strip. We stopped at a classic red and white burger joint for veggie sandwiches and the cashier was about 14, training what seemed to be a 12 year old. And it was the most delicious veggie burger I’ve ever had. We met an old lady in a tiny shop called This and That and she told us her life story with a parakeet on her shoulder. It might’ve even been him who told us how to get to the hot springs.
Just a couple miles southeast of Bridgeport is the turnout for Travertine Hot Springs. An oasis of pools that sits up on the hillside, overlooking the meadows and pastures, not to mention an incredible horizon filled by the snowy Sierra Nevadas. An upgrowth of the earth spills out hot water into three pools that fill from the last, offering three temperatures, though all hot, to heal your body and soul. There’s something kismet about our travels, how Chris and I always happen to get beautiful places to ourselves for a bit. A sort of well known hot spring, there were a few others, but everyone was friendly as they too are open to nature’s healing properties. We had about 20 minutes to ourselves and there was nothing like those few minutes. Hot springs will change and renew you.
We had one more night in Silver Lake and we used it exploring the little mountain town. Chris took me to a cozy, red cabin restaurant where on the table there was a bowl of fresh croutons waiting our arrival. We went to the June Lake Brewery and it was the most family friendly one I’ve ever been too. Nice young couples had their children and even their giant great danes or huskies inside the open air bar. Helpful young folks were celebrating their full day of volunteering to clean the lakes after the snow and rain storms. It was the first time I thought that maybe I could live in a little mountain town. Surrounded by young families, animal lovers, philanthropist and eco friendly hearts. I’d go back to that brewery just to experience that feeling of community we all at some point seek. The connection our roots need.
Nature is powerful and unpredictable. It is best to go with no expectations, but we usually always have some semblance of one, or some version of a plan of what we believe might happen. I never expected a snow storm, a hiking trip to turn more into a relaxing road trip. But I didn’t know it was exactly what I needed. The universe and the earth will always give you that, even if it’s hard. Your adventure in nature will always be what it’s meant to be for you. We have no control of what Mother Earth will offer us and if we accept what she sends us, we can learn the lessons from it. We can appreciate all beauty, even in forms we weren’t prepared for.
I got to survive a snow storm with my boyfriend. I got to watch him make fires while I made our tent a home. We got to see who we both were in times of unexpected trials. And we loved what we saw. We found places, broadened our exploration to landmarks we didn’t know existed. We listened to local’s advice and made new friends, we heard suggestions and advice from a friendly stranger instead of from an internet site. We became a part of a community for a day. Without the surprise snow storm, without the moments of nervousness from an unexpected twist, without the willingness to and necessity of changing our plans, we wouldn’t have been a part of an old timey community for a weekend. We may have been off in wild woods, which is always good, but sometimes wild hearts need moments to meet their neighbors in whichever place they call home for the day.
It was a few years ago that my love for travel was ignited. My dad took me to Spain and Turkey in the same year and I couldn’t believe how invigorating it felt to learn about the world on a global level. I was obsessed with traveling abroad, I even went to study in Italy. Recently, with my new job and exploring my love for camping again, I decided that though of course I would keep traveling, maybe I’d get to know my own state, my own country a little better. I started to realize that I didn’t have to go as far to see wonderful, beautiful places or to learn new things about the world or myself. It’s not to say that I won’t keep traveling internationally, but this more local travel has encouraged me to find beauty in my own home. To not take where I come from for granted. I went to Utah, traveled the PNW and most of all, I feel like I really got to know my own state: California. And it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I’m continually impressed and awestruck by all the different geography and landscapes. I feel lucky and proud to have fallen in love with my home. Somewhere I used to want to leave to feel like I changed/moved on, but all I needed was to open my perspectives and realize that I don’t have to go thousands of miles away to find new experiences. Seeing places like this has made me love my home and I love travel, in every form, for that.
I got a notification on Facebook that it’s been two years since I’ve graduated from college and I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on how much I’ve grown since. I had an old friend message me recently and ask about how I got into living my life the way I do and it made me think about how it is that I do live it. What I seek out in order to keep doing what I love. I definitely live for what I’m passionate for and not for money, I live for what I want now instead of my college years when I felt like I was living based on society’s expectations. I figure I can always make my life work around what I love. And my first response was to say that I find the things that make me happy and do that. Then I thought about that. Of course happiness is great, but it is not a permanent thing. We are always feeling different emotions, it’s who we are. There is so much going on in this world that we are meant to feel every emotion and that’s what makes our lives beautiful (it’s something I’ve been learning just this year).
So what I seek out instead, is what inspires me. What reminds me of my passions, why I’m here on this planet, why I want to keep working every day to do good, why I want to keep exploring, why I work every day to be a better person. Because if I’m always being given inspiration, I can handle any emotion. Of course the happiness is in plenties, because I’m doing what I love. But to be inspired helps get you through everything. No matter what you’re feeling- happiness, sadness, exhaustion, frustration, if you have something that is always inspiring you, it fuels you through whatever state of existing you are in. It motivates you to continue your happiness, get beyond your frustration or reminds you that the exhaustion is worth it. If you live a life filled with inspiration, you feel you can do anything and regardless of the emotion, there is an always present fulfillment and contentment, your life always has purpose. I’m inspired by nature, travel, kids, teaching, spreading compassion, family, animals. What inspires you?
Our journey through Southern Utah was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was incredible to see so many different types of geography within such a short distance from one another, like visiting other worlds only hours away. The energy was so friendly, light and encouraging and I felt it should be shared. So, I made a little video to give you a snippet of our adventures and hope it gives you a sense of the lightness, love, fun and adventure we experienced!!!
One of my favorite things about road trips is finding the random, beautiful and spontaneous spots to call home for the night. During our trip through the Mighty Five, we stayed every night in a different free spot between and around the amazing national parks. I find that once you travel outside of Southern California, where I’m from, there is so much BLM (public land) accessible for camping. To me, these are often the most scenic, peaceful spots since they are usually overlooked by the masses. You can find yourself in a place where nothing interrupts your moments with nature.
One of my favorite parts about trekking the Mighty Five, which includes Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches, is that once you get to the first park, starting from either the western most (Zion), or the eastern most (Arches), the parks are all in within 2 1/2 hours from the next one on the route. So you really don’t spend too much time driving, which of course leaves more time for exploring. Plus, not only are the parks incredible, but the highways between are just as stunning. Filled with so many colors, roadside attractions and geographical beauties. Scenic Byway 12 is especially gorgeous. I’ve compiled a list of some of the best places to free camp if you decide to trek the Mighty Five someday!
Zion National Park
We started our road trip with Zion National park and here we stayed two nights. The first night we stayed off of Sheeps Bridge Road. About 12 miles south and just off the main highway that leads to the Western entrance of Zion. The campground doesn’t have any view of the park, but it offers many open spaces off of a windy dirt road. A few others had heard of this spot, so we had neighbors. But we slept under the beautiful stars and woke up to beautiful red mountains on either side of us. If you’re looking for an easy to find campsite with quick access to the park, Sheeps Bridge is a great place. Plus, we were only 10 minutes from the Springdale Visitor Center just outside of Zion for when we needed to use the bathroom in the morning 😛
Our second night, we stayed off of Kolob Terrace Road, which was my favorite of the two. It is one of the recommended scenic drives to take around Zion, so when looking for home sweet home, you get to see some incredible views. Kolob Terrace Road is a highway that takes you to the back side of the park and along the way you can find camping just about anywhere. People were pulled off on dirt roads, car camping or with full campground set ups. The best way to find a spot to camp is to look for already built fire pits so you can use them to roast yourself some dinner, or s’mores!! But I think the best part about this spot is that there is a free ranging tribe of cows that roam the mountains here. Make sure you drive slowly and you’ll get a chance to say hello to some mommas and their calfs. We fell asleep to the sound of their cowbell and I couldn’t help but wake up smiling.
Bryce Canyon National Park
It’s so hard to pick a favorite Utah national park since they are all unique and pretty much incomparable. But if I had to choose, the other worldly feel of Bryce was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before!! It seemed like ancient, alien life forms that chose this very spot for their tribe. There are adorable small towns on either side of the park that offer affordable hotel and motel lodging, but if you’re looking for a free campsite, we found the perfect spot!! Just west of the turn for Bryce Canyon, there is a road that leads to the East Fork of the Sevier River. It’s a dirt road, but pretty flat and my little hyundai hatchback survived it. If you go for a few miles, once you start to think you haven’t seen anything and probably won’t, you’re likely almost there! Forest Road 80, to the left, offers quite a few small campsites with already built fire pits. They’re big, private campsites amid tall trees and along an old river bed. We didn’t stay here but it was definitely a spot we were going to go back to if we didn’t find another one within half an hour. We decided to chance it and drive a couple miles further until we reached the Tropic Reservoir. All of a sudden we saw a beautiful, giant body of water surrounded by trees and campsites. It was beautiful finding a spot in the quiet woods tucked seemingly so far off the main highway. I will say, if you plan to stay here, which I highly recommend, make sure you are prepared to make yourself cozy!! It was freezing, which I should’ve expected since there were several, random unmelted snow piles that decorated the campground. But it’s all worth it to sleep amongst the trees and be so close to Bryce!!!
Capitol Reef National Park
So, I’ll admit, as much as camping is my boyfriend and I’s favorite way to adventure, we sometimes like to treat ourselves! Capitol Reef National Park was not only our most pleasant surprise, but it had such a wonderful energy that it encouraged us to do what we sometimes like to, and indulge. We rented a hotel called the Affordable Inn, just to the west of Capitol Reef and for just about a hundred dollars, we had a cozy little home nestled in the beautiful red cliffs of the area. We had dinner at a restaurant called the Red Rim Cafe and we watched every shade of orange, red and brown the sun turned the mountains around us. Even though we stayed inside that night, there is plenty of BLM just outside of Capitol Reef. Between Torrey, Utah and the western park boundary, south of highway 24 is all BLM (free camping) for your convenience. On the eastern side of the park, there is BLM on all sides of Hartnet Rd and Notom-Bullfrog Rd. I highly encourage a visit to Capitol Reef. Don’t overlook it even if you’ve never heard of it. Seeing evidence of every shift of the earth as the sun glinted off the rocks is a sight I will never forget.
Canyonlands National Park/Arches National Park
Canyonlands and Arches National Park are within 40 minutes of one another. They are both local to Moab, Utah, which is an awesome adventure hub for outdoorsy travelers. Since we were coming from the West, Canyonlands came before Arches on our route. To get to Canyonlands, you take highway 313 to make it to the incredible view points of the canyons. The road winds you through open pastures and some of the most uniquely shaped canyons that don’t even begin to prepare you for what it’s like when you finally make it into the park. Along the way, you’ll see a turnout for Dead Horse Point State Park and about halfway between here and the entrance to Canyonlands, you’ll see some dirt roads that venture off the west side of the highway. They’re a little bumpy, but about a mile back you will find a little intricate system of campgrounds that overlook part of Canyonlands. It was one of my favorite spots. We watched the sun go down beyond the canyons we had just explored, drank some beer named after Bryce Canyon’s Hoodoos and felt as if the earth went on forever.
Valley of the Gods
This was, in my opinion, the coolest named camp spot and also our last little home in Utah. We were wrapping our way down the Eastern side of Utah after leaving Arches so we could make our way into Arizona. We wanted to see Monument Valley, which is a famous view used in many old western movies, but once you pass through, there is Navajo owned land for about 4 hours and you can’t free camp within. So we needed to find a place before. We saw a small sign for a place called Valley of the Gods about twenty minutes north of MV and after talking to a ranger at a local state park, the Goosenecks, we decided we would stay in the royal valley. It is a 20 mile, winding loop that takes you through the home of giant, red rock gods. Their phenomenal shape and size makes you feel as if your surrounded by stone, sleeping creatures that might awake if you’re even slightly too loud. The power in their presence was astonishing. There were campsites all along the winding way with already made fire pits. We set up in windy conditions that only added to the brilliant energy but dwindled as the night went on. We got to watch the sun set behind these magnificent structures, watching the silhouettes change with the light and getting a preview of Monument Valley in the distance.