Some friends of ours used to live in Florida and have been trying to get us to visit the Keys for a while. I’ve not spent much time in the ocean so I didn’t get the hype. I do now. I’m mentally trying to figure out when to suggest a return trip to the Keys.
For all of you desert rats who, like me, know nothing about Florida, at the southern tip of Florida is a grouping of islands referred to at the Florida Keys. The Keys span 113 miles and there is a highway (Highway 1) connecting all the islands. We spent our time in the southern Keys.
I’ve struggled to write this post because part of what made this trip so fun was the company. Spending 10 days with your best friends, exploring new places and in particular, the Keys, definitely makes for a good time. Everything about our time in the Keys was perfect. We rented a house on Little Torch Key and it made an excellent home base. The house had a pool, its own private dock, and a beautiful (screened in) wrap around porch where we watched the sunrise almost everyday.
Every morning we’d wake up, have coffee, eat breakfast, pack some drinks and snacks, put on our swimsuits, and hop on the boat. The first stop was always snorkeling and eventually we’d go farther into the ocean to go fishing. Who knew that could be so much fun! I see a picture of that gorgeous water and am instantly taken back to those moments.
Snorkeling was a new experience for me and one I do not particularly enjoy. For starters, I couldn’t figure out how to get my mask and snorkel to work. Seeing the fish and coral was incredible but the open water freaked me out. Not so much the animals but the fact that you can’t put your feet down and the ocean current moves fast. I’d put my head in the water and when I’d look up the boat was (what felt like) way far away which caused panic and then made it 10x harder to swim back to the boat. I decided to do my own thing and spent the week floating in an inter tube while my friends snorkeled around the reefs. It was glorious. At the beginning of the week I was tying my tube to the boat but towards the end of the week I was more comfortable floating untethered. But still close enough to swim back pretty quickly, obviously. Don’t be afraid to do you.
I’m not a big fisher but held a fishing pole a few times. Day 1 I caught all the fish! Somehow there are no pictures of this. I did enjoy ocean fishing more than lake fishing. Not all the fish we caught were large enough to keep but you basically cast your line and something almost always bites pretty quickly. I have a short attention span to this was nice.
Some other memorable moments while fishing: one of our friends caught a fish and as he was reeling it in, a barracuda was chasing it and jumped out of the water to get the fish off his line. It was a scene straight out of a movie. Another day we had a pod of dolphins swim under us. We saw a dolphin swimming towards us and next thing you know, it and all its buddies were swimming under our boat.
We did a mix of things in the afternoons. Some days we stayed out on the boat longer, other days we came back and got in our pool, and some days we drove down to Key West.
Key West is lots of fun and there are so many things to do. Museums, cool architecture, restaurants, bars, shops, people watching. There’s a little something for everyone. One of my favorite places in Key West is Caroline Street. For obvious reasons. If I could have a house anywhere in the world, it’d probably be on that street. Just throwing that out into the universe. 😉
As I was researching things to do for this trip, I learned of the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. In 1985 Mel Fisher found $450 million worth of treasure from a 1622 shipwreck. Have you seen the movie Fools Gold? The story in that movie is loosely based on the story of Mel Fisher. I love that movie and after researching Mel Fisher’s history, I had to visit the museum where some of the treasure is on display.
While in Key West we took a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. I wrote a separate post on that trip so be sure to check out the link if you’re interested. It’s a fort in the middle of the ocean. Not much is cooler than that. You can only get there by plane or boat and reservations for both fill up fast so be sure to book as early as you can.
We went in late June and it was warm but not unbearable. Definitely bring bug spray though. I didn’t notice the humidity much in the Keys but it was horrible in Miami. Speaking of Miami, If you’re wanting to go to Maimi and the Keys, start in Miami and end in the Keys. Do not start in the Keys and end in Miami. That’s what we did and it was a terrible decision. After spending a chill week in the Keys, Miami was a bit much. Overall, I’d highly recommend a trip to the Keys. The gorgeous warm water, chill vibe, and fun things to do all make for an excellent vacation.
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/IMG_9096-copy.jpg10801440Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2022-11-13 03:23:592022-11-13 03:23:59A Magical Visit to the Floria Keys
I’m not sure if our visit really counts as a visit but I did scratch the circle off on our national park map afterwards. Everglades and Biscayne National Parks are really close to each other so we planned to visit both while in Miami.
We were running out of time in Miami and were trying to cram in the last few things I wanted to do. Mostly, making sure we visited all national parks in the area. We planned to take a kayaking tour through the mangroves at Biscayne but after our mosquito tour of Everglades, we decided kayaking would likely be a terrible idea. Instead we stopped at the visitor center and planned to do whatever we could without hopping a boat to explore the ocean. There is a trail near the visitor center that goes along the beach and through the mangroves but much to our disappointment, it was closed for repairs to the boardwalk. So we just walked around the visitor center and left. It was definitely a disappointment and I’m still not sure I can properly say I visited Biscayne but I guess I have a picture with the sign so it counts. 🙂
95% of Biscayne National Park is underwater so it requires more time to properly visit. There are boat tours, lighthouses to explore, snorkeling/scuba/kayaing tours, there’s even an underwater scuba trail that takes you through reefs and shipwrecks! Maybe one day we’ll be back and visit the park properly for but now, we’re checking the box.
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Biscayne-NP.jpg10801440Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2022-08-28 02:30:262022-08-28 02:30:29Biscayne National Park
When you think of Everglades National Park in June what comes to mind? Humidity and swarms of mosquitoes? Yup. Me too. Except never actually having experienced that, I was like how bad can it be? It was bad. Like I was literally running from swarms of mosquitoes. While I’m not sure I want to relive that experience anytime soon, have you really lived if you haven’t ran from mosquito swarms? I think not. Crazy adventures make for the best memories/stories.
I’ve always wanted to visit Everglades and am not sure when we’ll be back that way so we decided to ignore the warnings and visit in June. I was really excited for Everglades because the terrain is so different from anything I’ve ever seen.
We arrived at the Shark Valley visitor center at 9am when it opened. Everglades is divided into several sections and we chose the Shark Valley area because we wanted to take an airboat ride which is in the northern section of the park. Shark Valley is a neat area with the chance for lots of wildlife sightings. There is a 15 mile path/loop that follows a river where alligators and other wildlife live. It’s really pretty. You can walk the path, rent a bicycle, or take a tram to complete the 15 miles. We didn’t have time for the tram ride so we opted to walk for a bit.
As all good visitors do, we stopped at the visitor center and asked the park ranger for a hike suggestion. He must have not liked our group because he gave no warning for the suggestion. Honestly, I have no idea why he suggested it in the first place. It was not appropriate for June.
The loop the ranger suggested was Bobcat Boardwalk Trail, Shark Valley Loop Road, Otter Cave Hammock Trail, and then back along Shark Valley Loop Road to the car. The mosquitoes weren’t too bad to start but then we made the brilliant decision to hike the Otter Cave Hammock Trail. Sounds like a cute trail, right? I have no clue what the trail looks like because we were being eaten alive and trying to run out of there as fast as possible. Turns out walking into a heavily wooded area in the middle of the summer is a terrible decision. Two of the six in our group knew better and didn’t follow us in. The four of us from Arizona foolishly kept going.
Once we exited Mosquito Cave Trail, several of us literally ran back to the car, being chased by swarms of mosquitos (you probably think I’m exaggerating but I’m not), jumped in and declared we were done with the Everglades. My skin is itching just thinking about how many mosquito bites I had. We had 11am tickets for an airboat ride, which it was not yet time for, but had no more interest in exploring so we drove to the airboat place and sat in the car until it was time for our ride. Since there were six of us, we had booked a private tour and our tour guide was able to start our tour a little earlier than planned.
The best decision we made was to book an airboat tour. If you visit in the summer, this is a must. Summer is wet season in the Everglades and the rain refills the grasslands. During the winter, or dry season, the ground dries up in many places. Ecosystems are so cool. In my next life I want to become a environmental scientist. Is it too late to change careers?
We thoroughly enjoyed the breeze in our face and lack of mosquitoes. Our tour guide was a lot of fun and shared lots of cool information. I could have spent hours out there. The area was gorgeous and gliding through the water and grass was a blast. There are airboat tours all over the area but only a few are licensed to operate in Everglades National Park. If that matters to you, be sure to look at who’s authorized to operate in the park.
We didn’t see much wildlife because who the heck wants to be out in the middle of June. We were there to ride in an airboat so any wildlife was a bonus but we did happen to see one alligator. A mother guarding her nest of eggs. In the picture below, there is a dark circle in the middle of the picture. What looks like a rock is her head. Her nest is in the grass somewhere in the back.
The views were incredible. I’m not sure if the water is always that still or if we were there on a good day but everywhere we turned, the sky perfectly reflected on the water. Hence why I could have stayed out there all day.
In the middle of the picture below is a pond apple tree. They’re all over this area. The crazy thing about these apples is that the seeds are poisonous. What?! So basically don’t eat pond apples.
I know I’ve complained a lot about the mosquitos but I’d do it all over again if given the chance. If you are planning to visit in the summer, I’d suggest minimizing your walking. Take the tram, rent a bicycle, or take an airboat tour. You want to be moving faster than the mosquitos. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the area but that just means we’ll have to go back (not in June)!
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/IMG_9255.jpeg14401080Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2022-08-11 05:31:222022-08-11 05:31:22Everglades National Park in June
I love the national parks and would love to visit them all eventually. Some are harder than others to get to and those I assume I may not get to. Dry Tortugas was one of them. It’s 70 miles off the coast of Key West and Florida has never really been on my list. Nothing against Florida but there’s just so much to do between Arizona and Florida that it’s way down on the list. A friend of ours is from Florida and convinced us to take a trip to Key West and boy am I glad we said yes! When we started planning and I realized how close we’d be to Dry Tortugas, I knew I had to make it happen.
The Dry Tortugas are a group of seven islands west of Key West. The islands were named Las Tortugas (The Turtles) in 1514 but later changed to Dry Tortugas to signify that there is no fresh water on them. The United States started building Fort Jefferson on Garden Key (one of the seven islands) in 1846 as a way to control navigation of the Gulf of Mexico and protect Mississippi River trade. During the Civil War, the fort was a prison for captured deserters and also held the four men accused of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Most notably, Dr. Samuel Mudd. (We’re huge fans of the National Treasure movies so seeing Dr. Mudd’s cell in real life and learning even more about the story was exciting.) Eventually the Army left the fort and in 1908 it became a wildlife refuge. In 1992 it became a national park and is home to endangered sea turtles, birds, coral reefs, ship wrecks, and Fort Jefferson.
There are two ways to get to Dry Tortugas – a 2.5 hour ferry boat ride or a 30 minute seaplane ride. I guess the third option is to take your own boat but that’s only for local boat owners. Of course no option is perfect. With the ferry you get to spend four hours on the island. With the seaplane you only get two and a half hours. I really wanted to take the seaplane to see the area from the sky but our group opted for the boat. As long as the sea isn’t too rough, you can stand on the front of the ferry which was fun for a little bit but so windy as we were going 30+ MPH.
Fort Jefferson is massive and was constructed with 16 million bricks. The color contrast between the red bricks and the different shades of blues in the sky and water make for absolutely stunning views everywhere you look.
It’s so hard to decide how to spend your four hours because there is so much to do. Snorkeling, swimming, exploring the fort, walking on the beaches. We started with a dip in the water and a picnic lunch on the beach. Off in the distance in the picture below, you can see the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key.
After lunch we decided to explore the fort. There are three levels and throughout are signs explaining how the fort was constructed and operated. Every hall looked like the picture below. Some narrower than others but so perfectly constructed. Are all forts like this? This is the first I’ve been to so maybe this is normal.
In between each pillar is a window and I’m pretty sure I took a picture out of at least half of them. Jaw. Dropping. They each so perfectly frame the gorgeous sky, sea, moat wall, and beach. I could have sat there all day but only had four hours so we had to keep moving.
You can walk on the top of the fort which is a little crazy as there are no rails. There are a bunch of cannons up there (I don’t know if they are original or replicas) and more signs explaining the history. The fort is so large that we didn’t have time to explore the entire thing.
Inside the fort walls there used to be several buildings. In the left of the picture below you can see what remains of the barracks. The right side is the armory which is still largely in tact.
After exploring the fort we headed back to the beach for more swimming and snorkeling before having to board the ferry back to Key West.
This was such a fun day and one of my favorite days on our trip. I cannot get over the insanely gorgeous water colors. I’m mostly a mountain girl but I can see why people love the beach and this part of the world. If you ever get a chance to visit Dry Tortugas, I highly recommend it. It’s a little pricey but worth every penny.
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/IMG_8948.jpeg10801440Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2022-07-04 20:52:532022-07-04 20:52:55Dry Tortugas National Park
If I’ve learned nothing else from this past year, it reminded me how important it is to do the things you want while you can. As such, my travel list has grown substantially. It’s possible all this time at home has provided extra time for wanderlust and list creating.
Death Valley National Park was on my list because it’s a national park but it was never a priority. The hottest place on earth? Meh. I mean, what’s really great about that? Boy was I wrong! Death Valley is so cool! We were there for three days and only scratched the surface. Little Miss was supposed to join us but ended up having a conflict so we brought a couple friends. Traveling with friends is so much fun! We arrived in the afternoon and tried to squeeze in a few sites before dark.
At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. The area is covered in salt flats that you can walk out on. We walked out a ways but the scenery wasn’t changing so we turned around. Apparently we stopped too soon and if you walk out farther the salt flats start to get really cool. Next time.
Right next to Badwater Basin is the Devil’s Golf Course. We almost didn’t stop here and I’m so glad we did! Pictures do not do the area justice. Those are not rocks but rather rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain to create the jagged spires you see. They are fascinating to see in person!
As we worked our way back to camp we drove Artists Drive Scenic Loop. It’s an 8.5 mile one way drive that winds through hills splashed with different colors.
We had a little bit of daylight left after we finished the scenic drive so we stopped at Golden Canyon. We didn’t get very far in but what we saw was so cool. Apparently Star Wars was filmed in the some of the canyons back in the day and Golden happened to be one of the locations.
Our goal for the morning of Day 2 was the Ubahebe Crater and we stopped at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes on the way. If you haven’t been to sand dunes before, they’re similar to Las Vegas. Everything looks close but you soon find out your destination is miles away.
We planned to hike to the highest dune at only a mile away. Easy peasy, right? Not! We got 1/2 or 2/3 of the way there and decided we were good. The constant up and down sand hills is tiring. The dune we were going for is the tallest one you see in the right side of the picture below.
We read that it’s best to visit Ubahebe Crater earlier in the day as the wind picks up in the afternoon. That’s not a joke. We left camp later in the morning that planned so by the time we made it to the crater is was close to lunchtime. The wind is legit and was making it so hard to walk. You can walk around the entire crater but we opted for only a short section. Pictures do not do the crater justice. It’s huge and so cool in person.
The picture below is an accurate depiction of how windy it was. We planned to have a nice picnic lunch on the edge of the crater but instead huddled behind the truck in the parking lot.
If you are planning to visit the crater, the turn off of 190 is not well marked. We were traveling north on 190 and completely missed the turn off. Next thing we know we were at the sand dunes, which at this point we didn’t realize are after the turn off. Once we left the sand dunes we kept on driving and eventually realized we were driving west, towards the other exit of the park. Nothing like adding a bunch of unnecessary miles to the day!
After lunch we worked our way back to camp and stopped at the Keane Wonder Mill & Mine. It was a gold mine in the early 1900’s and we spent some time exploring the area. I love seeing bits of history and imaging what it would be like to be alive during that time. I cannot, however, imagine mining in Death Valley pretty much anytime of year.
After our mine exploration we headed back to camp. The boys had to do a little camper maintenance (change a broken leaf spring on a trailer) and they needed enough daylight to get the task done. Once the sun set, we watched a movie outside. Is there anything cooler than watching a movie outside while camping? I think not.
On our third day and final day in the park, we got up early to watch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point. It’s a short walk from the car but a very popular destination. Get there early to ensure a parking spot. This view of Death Valley is stunning. Even if you don’t get here for sunrise, be sure to stop by.
Our next destination was Dantes View, a viewpoint 5,500 feet above the valley floor. On the way, we drove through the 20 Mule Canyon which was a fun little side trip. Dantes View is 25 miles from Furnace Creek and not really worth the drive in my opinion. The view was nice but the drive was long and it was really windy up there. Personally, I’d rather have spent that time exploring the other areas of the park.
Next up, the boys wanted to ride Artist Drive so we picked up their bikes and dropped them off. Man, that road is steep! The picture below is one of my favorite from the trip. I was driving up the road and looked in my rear view to see this image. So I stopped and took a picture.
And they rode their mountain bikes which makes it extra hard. But now they can say they rode in Death Valley!
We visited in February 2021 and unfortunately, the Visitor Center was closed due to the pandemic. But we did get to see the iconic sign! The temps were perfect when we were there.
Our last stop was Harmony Borax Works. I had no idea borax is mined in California nor what it’s used for other than my favorite ant bait, but now I do! Borax was found in Death Valley in 1881 and a plant built shortly thereafter. The borax had to be hauled from Death Valley to the nearest railroad. They filled wagons, like the ones in the picture below, full of borax and then had 20-mule teams haul it 165 miles to the railroad. You know how on your box of borax is says 20 mule team and has a picture of mules and wagons? Now you know where that came from. Just another one of the many reasons I love national parks.
Unfortunately, our time in Death Valley had to come to an end but we will be back. There is still so much to explore. We stayed at the Sunset campground which is literally a parking lot. Most of the campgrounds in Death Valley do not take reservations but after speaking with a ranger, I learned they rarely fill up. We visited the end of February and the campground was hardly full. If you aren’t able to make a reservation I wouldn’t worry too much.
Death Valley is barren and there is not much shade. I would not recommend visiting in the summer. The gas was stupid expensive so make sure you fill up before entering the park. I can’t think of any other tips other than to add Death Valley to your bucket list.
One our way home from Death Valley we stopped at Lake Mead for one night. We stayed at the Lake Mead RV Village at Boulder Beach. The sites are a little close together but you’re camping close to the lake so that’s expected. We weren’t right on the lake but it isn’t a far walk. Boulder Beach Campground is right next door and would be a great place to stay also.
In order to build the Hoover Dam, a railroad was built to carry the supplies to the dam. A section of the Hoover Dam Railroad system still remains and has been converted to a hiking/biking path. I LOVE the Rails-To-Trails system! This trail has five tunnels, gorgeous lake views, ends at the Hoover Dam parking garage, and there are signs all along explaining how the railroad and dam were built. Once again, the boys rode their bikes and the girls walked. If you’re in the area, I’d suggest checking it out.
That’s a wrap on the Death Valley National Park recap! If you’ve been to DV, what did you think? Hopefully you loved it it as much as we did!
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/20210226_104653-2.jpeg9601440Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2021-07-23 05:30:022021-07-23 14:30:05Death Valley National Park
After hearing that I went on a solo camping trip, several friends commented that they’d love to embark on a solo trip but don’t think they could do it. First of all, you are stronger than you think and you can certainly do it! Second, if you’d rather go on a girls trip let me know and I’ll tag along. 😉 I wrote this post in a way that will hopefully take you on this journey with me. Grab a drink and a snack because this one is a little long!
I’m not normally big on birthday celebrations but I turned 40 this year and wanted to ring in the decade right. There was no way I was going to do anything remotely close to the normal grind on my 40th. I wanted fun, new and epic. The problem was that my birthday was in the middle of the week and my husband is out of PTO. At first I felt sorry for myself, then I thought about trying to convince someone to come with me, and then I realized that I can do things by myself. The idea made me a little nervous so I knew I needed to make it happen. And that’s how this trip was born.
Leading up to the trip, the campsite was booked, the park was researched, dates were taken off work, but I kept the idea very quiet. I told only a couple people who needed to know, like my husband, and a few coworkers who happened to see some cryptic markings on my calendar. By keeping it quiet I was leaving room to back out as I still wasn’t totally comfortable with the idea.
MONDAY EVENING: I decided I wasn’t going. I thought of all the reasons why it was unsafe, stupid, thought of all the what if’s, and firmly told my husband I was staying home.
TUESDAY MORNING: I was driving home from the gym, thinking about what I would do instead of solo camp and realized that I was giving in to fear and that I’d probably regret not going for the rest of my life. I got to work and mentioned this to a coworker who proceeded to give me the best pep talk (we all need someone like this in our lives!), wrapped me in a virtual hug and by the end of the conversation the trip was back on. But for real this time. I spent the rest of the day frantically shopping and packing. And overpacking.
WEDNESDAY MORNING: I planned to leave early Wednesday morning but ended up having to work for a few hours. I finally got on the road around 11am. Google told me Joshua Tree National Park (JT) was five hours away but with stops and such it took about six. One thing I missed driving solo is a navigator. I knew there’d be no gas in the park but had no idea where I would need to stop to get gas. I could have figured this out ahead of time but am not used to planning to this level.
There were still so many unknowns at this point on the trip so the decision of where to stop for gas carried more weight than normal. I knew I was getting close to JT and saw three names on a sign so I decided I’d stop at the last one which was presumably the closest to JT. Turns out, the last one is just a road. At this point I was regretting not stopping at every gas station I passed but I kept going. The point of this trip was to work on not letting fear take over. I saw a sign for an upcoming summit and assumed it was just the top of a pass. I guess it was but they also had gas! And the General Patton Memorial Museum and Matzner Tank Pavilion. That was a fun stop and a huge sigh of relief. I filled up on gas, took a few pictures and headed to JT.
Of course, I had to stop for the obligatory sign picture.
Shortly after I entered the park I stopped at the Cottonwood Visitor Center to get a map. There were six kids, probably more like college students, there also and they asked me to take their picture. They handed me a disposal camera and a polaroid. The encounter made me chuckle and also reinforced that I’ve lived long enough now to see my childhood regain in popularity. I guess that’s fitting for 40. I made my way towards the campground and enjoyed the quiet drive through the park.
Along the way I stopped at the Cholla Cactus Garden. Living in the desert myself, cholla are not new to me so this sign made me laugh.
I arrived at the Jumbo Rocks Campground just before sunset. Surprisingly, I still remembered how to set up the tent! I got everything set up and popped open a bottle of wine. I didn’t want to deal with cooking on this trip so I brought oatmeal bars for breakfast, wraps for lunch, and backpacking meals for dinner. The only cooking I had to do was boil water for coffee and dinner. Backpacking meals really aren’t that great when not backpacking but they still beat having to actually make and clean up a meal.
I ate dinner sitting in a chair and watching the sunset. At this point the stress of the day was starting to melt away but it was also starting to get cold. I retreated to my tent pretty early with the plan of reading but was so tired I crashed. Several hours later I was reminded of the downside to tent life when the wind picked up and it felt like my tent was going to fly away. This went on for a while so I ended up playing games on my phone for a few hours.
THURSDAY – MY BIRTHDAY!: When I awoke the next morning I was glad to see I hadn’t blown away during the night. I boiled some water for coffee and got back in bed.
I opened my book and started reading and since I had no required agenda, I kept pushing my self imposed deadline back. I read for an hour or two before finally getting out of bed to start the day.
I finally made my way out of my tent to explore the park. I had no real plans other than to stop wherever I wanted. The first stop was the Hall of Horrors. I wasn’t sure what that was and was surprised to find there was no map or explanation. Fortunately the area is really pretty and walking around is fun on its own.
The area has these huge rock piles surrounded by Joshua trees. For size reference, the trees are typically 20 – 40 feet high so those rocks are huge.
After the Hall of Horror I drove up to Keys View. The vista was pretty but there wasn’t much to do. I left and headed back down the hill/mountain.
Next stop was the Cap Rock Nature Trail. This is a super easy trail with an explanation of the flora and fauna along the trail. I took a picture of my 4Runner and an outhouse with the trees and rocks to share a little size perspective. Since I was solo there are no people in any of my photos so this is it.
At this point it was around lunch time and I wanted to go to the town of Joshua Tree. I stopped at the ranger station to buy a few things and a local cafe where I found a piece of peanut butter chocolate cheesecake (gluten free and vegan!) which I saved for later.
I had read that the Black Rock area was supposed to be the best in the park and that they have some of the largest Joshua trees. This area is not connected to the main part of the park and you access it from the town of Yucca Valley (right next to the town of Joshua Tree). The area was not what I was expecting. There were lots of Joshua trees but I found the ones in the larger park to be more scenic. The campground was also a little rundown looking.
I decided I didn’t want to explore any further and headed back to the main park. Once again, I could have used a navigator. I wasn’t using my GPS because I thought I knew where I was but I was wrong. After taking several wrong turns, I finally pulled over and started the GPS.
Pro tip: the Joshua Tree entrance seems to be the most popular and can get super backed up. Most importantly, they have the park sign blocked off so you cannot get a picture with it. Gasp! I know. Fortunately, I came in through the Cottonwood entrance and already had a sign picture but if you too are a sign picture junkie, make sure to visit one of the other entrances.
By this point in the day, all the stress from the previous day was gone and I was loving life and my solo adventure. The next road I drove by said there was a trail so I took the left. This was my new plan. Just turn when prompted. The trail was the Barker Dam Nature Trail. JT has quite a few nature trails and they are all awesome and a great way to learn about the park. The first half of the trail takes you along rocks and eventually on rocks to the Barker Dam. Ranchers dammed the area years ago to collect water for their cattle. There was no water when I visited in mid-April but supposedly the area fills after rainstorms.
As you leave the dam area you enter a more traditional JT walk; through huge boulder fields and Joshua trees. It’s stunning, really. Towards the end of the trail there is a short side trail to some petroglyphs. This hike is listed as easy but there are a few areas around the dammed area where you are walking on rocks and down rock steps.
At this point in the day it was mid-afternoon so I kept telling myself after *this* stop I’m going back to camp to read and relax. And then I’d see another pullout and be drawn in. The next one was the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. A narrow gap in the rocks opens to a valley where a cowboy gang used to hide their illicit cattle. They’d rebrand them and sell them off in other states. The area is a big bowl surrounded by towering rocks. It’s a popular rock climbing area and I was able to watch a guy climb. I couldn’t see a rope so I thought he was free soloing (I watched Free Solo and am pretending like I know the lingo) which I was in awe of. Now that I’m home though I can see his rope. His climb was still incredible nonetheless.
This trail is listed as easy but that’s not true. The trail is just over a mile and there’s not much elevation change but there are so many rocks to navigate. On several occasions I though I was lost but someone had used spray paint to mark the trail. Not sure if that was legal or illegal but either way I’m grateful. I would not attempt this trail if you have any mobility issues. It’s a beautiful hike though.
And because it’s 2021 and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, I took a selfie with my mask. Because why not. The trails were much more crowded in the afternoon and most people were good about mask wearing when passing.
My book was finally calling me and I was ready to sit down. I took a few more pictures along the way, stopped at a few road side signs, and made my way back to camp. Once back at camp, I moved my chair into the shade, put up my feet and opened my book. Life. Is. Good.
There was a trail near the campground to Skull Rock. It’s a “famous” rock formation in the park. I figured since I was so close I couldn’t not see it. I put the book down, grabbed my backpack and hiked another 1.7 miles to see Skull Rock. I would say it’s the most overrated formation in the park. It’s hard to get a picture of it because there are rocks in front of it and there are people everywhere. It’s not too far off the road but I wouldn’t go out of the way to see it.
Once back at camp, I read until dinner time when I made another backpacking meal and drank some more wine. Dinner was not doing it for me but that might be because the cheesecake was calling my name. I decided to get the cheesecake from the cooler as a reward for when I finished dinner. I started with just one bite and planned to go back to my dinner but threw in the towel and ate cheesecake for dinner. It was heavenly and exactly what a girl should have for dinner on her 40th birthday. I even sang myself happy birthday in my head. 🙂
I alternated between reading, eating cheesecake, drinking wine and watching the sun set. This exact scenario is now what my dreams are made of.
Eventually it got too cold and I retreated to the warmth of my bed where I stayed awake until my book was finished. I read the Lost Apothecary and it was so good! One of the main characters is named Caroline so that was fun.
FRIDAY: Fortunately, there was no wind that night so I slept like a baby and woke up at 4:50am. A little earlier than I would have preferred but it worked. As I laid in bed waiting for the sun to rise, I listened to what sounded like two owls hooting. Maybe it was just one but the sound was alternating locations. And at one point the coyotes chimed in. This went on for a while. I finally got up when it was light out and made some coffee and took a few pictures of the sun rising. The campsites are close together so I was trying to wait a little bit longer before making too much noise. Around 6am I decided it was late enough and packed up.
The drive out of the park was breathtaking. I was driving east as the sun was rising so all the plants were glowing and the mountains were in layers. Once again I took way too many pictures. I stopped at the cholla cactus garden again and took a few (or 100) more pictures, stopped at the ocotillo garden, and made my way to the Cottonwood Spring Oasis.
This landscape is so cool. It’s barren desert and then all of a sudden there’s a grouping of palm and cottonwood trees. Apparently this is the result of a crack in the earths crust.
I took a few pictures, walked around, and sat on a bench and listened to the birds chirping. There was a bird that was standing on top of a hill that had its wings spread open. It was the strangest thing. It was like it was warming its wings or showing off. I sat there for a few minutes expecting him to take off but instead he kept spinning in circles.
At that point it was time for me to leave. Someone was coming over at 4pm so I had to get back home. I stopped at the nearest gas station to get coffee for the drive home. Gas station coffee is hit or miss and this was totally a miss. It tasted like dirty water but that’s how it goes some days. And with that I was on the road home.
It’s taken me a few days to really digest my trip. I am so glad that I went and so grateful to everyone who encouraged me even when I started to doubt myself. This is the exact trip I envisioned when I wanted my 40th to stand out. I’m not sure if solo trips will be a regular thing in the future but I loved every moment of this one.
A couple things to note regarding Joshua Tree National Park. There is no cell service in the park. Like none. Pretty much as soon as I passed the entrance sign my phone stopped working. I do appreciate a forced break from the connected world so while this can be a little unnerving, it’s also always so lovely. There is also no water in the park. Make sure you take all you need plus a little extra.
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/IMG_3085.jpeg10801440Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2021-04-23 06:19:512021-04-24 01:48:43A Solo Camping Trip in Joshua Tree National Park
Do you ever go somewhere and not totally enjoy it and then look back and realize you had an incredible time? That’s how I feel about our time in San Francisco. There were so many people and so many cars and so much waiting and so many traffic jams that I was ready to get outta dodge. But now that I’m looking though my pictures, I am reminded that we had a good time. We saw so many neat things and added memories to the memory bank.
The reason we were in San Francisco in the first place is because Little Mister wanted to go to Alcatraz. It was a really cool experience and I’d recommend it if you are in SF. I had the great idea to book 9am tickets thinking the island would be less crowded. While that was the case, I didn’t realize we would be headed into San Francisco during morning rush hour. Doh. We had to leave the campground ridiculously early but we didn’t get caught in rush hour and we made our ferry with plenty of time to spare.
Alcatraz Island is gorgeous. Not only is the architecture cool, the flora is stunning, and the views are to die for. There are even good views from inside the prison.
You absolutely must get the headphones for the Cellhouse Audio Tour. Get off the boat and walk to the very top of the island to get your headphones. The audio tour walks you though the prison and the grounds and gives so much history. You can go at your own pace so there’s time to see everything.
I did not realize that American Indians occupied Alcatraz Island for 18 months after the prison closed. They were attempting the claim the land for the tribes of North America but were unsuccessful in the end. Evidence from their time there is all over the island.
There are incredible views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge around the backside of the island so be sure to go outside. If you’re listening to the audio tour it will take you out there.
The hills at Alcatraz are no joke but if you have mobility issues there is a tram that will take you to the top of the island where the main prison is. Once at the top, the prison is easy to get around so as long as you can get on and off the ferry and can walk (ride or roll) around on flat surfaces you can enjoy Alcatraz.
Golden Gate Bridge
Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge is so cool and totally worth the $7 toll. At least once. We also stopped near the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center to get a closer view. We were hoping to grab some of the rentable bikes to ride across the bridge but they were all in use.
Muir Woods National Monument
I was surprised to find that Muir Woods National Monument is basically in the middle of the city. They have limited parking so if you want to park on site you have to make a reservation. The other option is to take a shuttle into the park. We made parking reservations for first thing in the morning and I’m glad we did. There were few people in the park and it was still very peaceful.
The canopy is dense and it was chilly! Be sure to bring warm clothes. One kid was in shorts and sandals so we didn’t stay terribly long. We walked the trails that bordered the stream and it made for a lovely morning walk. I would loved to have taken one of the trails that takes you above the tree line. Next time.
Point Reyes National Seashore
After leaving Muir Woods we headed up the Pacific Coast Highway/Highway 1 to visit Point Reyes National Seashore. This was my first time on the PCH and holy moly is it narrow and windy. There are some great spots to stop and take pictures though.
There is a lot to do in Point Reyes but it’s pretty spread out. At the advice of a ranger we headed to Drakes Beach. Wowza…it is gorgeous.
There is a small gift shop that sells food and coffee and we were so thankful. It was cold and windy so we grabbed warm drinks before heading to the shore.
We spent sometime walking along the beach looking at all the neat rocks, shells and crabs.
We stopped at the Cypress Tree Tunnel on our way out of the park to take a walk through the trees. It was a beautiful walk, albeit people were illegally flying drones through the tunnel.
We stopped by the Inverness Store to buy peanut butter because we left our jar at the campground. The store is rather pricey so I would advise not leaving your lunch at the campground. Since we were there we took the short walk behind the store to see the shipwreck.
San Francisco North KOA
We stayed at the San Francisco North KOA and it is one of the better campgrounds we’ve stayed at. First of all, and most importantly, they have an awesome game room! We had a blast playing air hockey, teaching the kids to play pool, and setting high scores on the arcade games.
The park is huge and there is tons to do, particularly if you have kids. Every evening they had a train or wagon ride go though the park around dusk. They were bumping kids music and everyone looked to be having a ball. We had a back-in spot in the Redwood Grove Area and it was awesome. I would definitely stay in this spot and campground again.
Tips for Visiting San Francisco
Have a big ‘ole dose of patience with you. I am not use to big city driving which includes leaving extra, extra early to account for the seemingly never ending traffic jams. I have friends from the Bay Area and they know how to get around this so maybe next time I will go with one of them.
Make reservations in advance for all the activities you are interested in to avoid missing out. For us that included booking ferry tickets to Alcatraz and a parking pass for Muir Woods. There really is so much to do and is was neat to see some of the iconic San Francisco destinations.
After San Francisco we made our way back to Arizona but not before stopping at my favorite bakery in L.A., Erin McKenna’s.
If you missed the other posts from this trip check out:
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/fullsizeoutput_224b.jpeg21683252Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2019-09-02 18:44:132019-09-02 18:44:19San Francisco
I have been waiting to ride the Rainbow Rim Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for years. We finally made it happen and had the best time. The Husband and I left the kids at home and headed north for a long weekend. It was just the two of us, the camper, and our bikes. ❤️
The Rainbow Rim Trail is a 22.6 mile trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The trail is not in the national park but rather on Forest Service land right next to the park. The trail is open to hikers, horses and bikes but I think it sees bike traffic the most.
The Kaibab Plateau, where the North Rim is located, had a wet winter and it was still snowing the week before we arrived. I was freaking out a little bit because the trail is 20 miles down a dirt road and the ranger station was unsure of the road and trail conditions even the day before we arrived. They told us to stop by the station on our way to the trail and they would hopefully be able to give us a better report. When we stopped at the ranger station, as they told us to do, they referred us to the North Rim Country Store because they know the trail conditions better. Um, what? The Country Store is right across the street from the turn off to the Rainbow Rim so it wasn’t out of the way and it ended up being a great stop. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly and did indeed know the road conditions. One of the employees pulled out a big map, showed us a few things, and answered all the questions the ranger station was not able to. It still seems strange that the ranger station was less knowledgeable but whatever. The Country Store also has a coffee trailer and they make the best latte’s. Seriously. If you are headed to the North Rim be sure to stop in the North Rim Country Store and give them some love. They’re good people.
We planned our trip for early June and due to scheduled kid activities and vacation days at work changing the dates was not possible. We had everything necessary to live off the grid for a few days, so we figured we’d make the best of it and see what happened. Fortunately, the weather was perfect, the roads were mostly dry, the trail was dry, and we had the best camping spot.
The trail winds up through the forest and back down along the rim. The rim views are gorgeous but you spend a lot of time in the forest. I actually enjoyed riding through the forest more than along the rim. The aspen trees were just getting their leaves, the pine trees were huge, and the wildflowers were just starting to bloom. It was absolutely gorgeous.
I was surprised by the size of the size of the trees in this area. There were a few times I felt like I was riding amongst the redwoods. This particular tree was so tall we couldn’t get the entire thing in a picture. Every time we rode by it we stopped to take in its grandeur. Our itty bitty bikes are at the bottom to help with the size reference.
The trail is not hard, but it is at 7,500 feet, there is some exposure, and the grade is a tad steep in some areas. The first day we rode I was questioning my life choices until I adjusted to the higher elevation. I may or may not have stomped off the trail on day 1 thanks to items 1 and 3 mentioned above. Fortunately, after taking a break and eating a snack I regained my sanity and got back on my bike. Days 2 and 3 were much more enjoyable.
The clouds were constantly rolling in and out and we were continually treated to incredible scenes.
Our first stop in the park was a coffee shop because it was cold and there is something wonderful about drinking coffee and staring at the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Lodge has a lovey patio with Adirondack chairs and high top tables perfectly positioned so you can relax and stare off into the canyon. There is also cell phone signal in this exact location so we able to check in with the family which was a bonus.
From this spot you can see Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim as well as the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. It’s pretty incredible.
After spending a few days basically by ourselves in the forest, all the people and tour buses at the North Rim were getting to us so we retreated for the car and headed back to our little slice of heaven in the forest.
One of the things I love about the Grand Canyon is that every time you look at it it looks different. Sunrise and sunset are particularly beautiful and we walked to the rim, which was 10 steps one direction and probably 50 in another, every chance we had.
I had the best tacos of my life on this trip. They weren’t anything different than what we eat at home but they tasted 1,000 times better. Mountain biking + high elevation + camping + gorgeous dinner views = amazing tacos.
We were gifted a very nice bottle of wine and brought it with us. We’ve been saving it for a special occasion and decided this fit the bill. And then we proceeded to drink it out of plastic cups. #classy
We had the best time camping and riding the Rainbow Rim. This trip definitely tops my list of favorite trips and we will be back. If you like mountain biking, camping, and gorgeous views I’d recommend adding the Rainbow Rim to your bucket list.
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/IMG_4679.jpg30244032Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2019-07-22 05:00:192019-07-22 05:00:26Rainbow Rim Trail
When I started this blog I wanted to give a voice to the less popular national parks and to write about family friendly activities. It’s easy to find information on the most popular parks but that’s not always the case for the smaller parks. I kept running into this issue when planning and decided to do my part to build out the content. What I did not expect is the joy I would get in looking back and reading about our trips. As time goes on memories fade. I am so glad I decided to start this blog to capture some of our memories in written form. Now, my blog is part for the world and part for me. This post, however, is all for me because I want to remember the last several days forever. (I wrote this post mid-October and never got around to hitting post. I’m not changing anything because I like the way it was written.) Read more
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/fullsizeoutput_1b14.jpeg23203093Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2018-01-14 05:13:232018-04-07 17:26:38Fall Break in Sedona
I am in love with Ouray, Colorado, affectionally known as the Switzerland of America. The only thing it doesn’t have is mountain bike trails. It’s probably best that way because if it did we might have to move. We spent three glorious days in Ouray and it’s exactly what we needed. We had fun in Durango (which was our first stop on our summer road trip) but our campground was too noisy and crowded so we didn’t get to enjoy the peace that should come with camping. We have come to realize that we are campground people; not so much RV park people. Fortunately, our next stop was Ouray where we got the peace and quiet we were looking for. Read more
https://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/IMG_2276.jpg30244032Carolinehttp://www.theroadwevetraveled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/RWT_Logo@3x-300x143.pngCaroline2017-08-05 22:15:422017-08-05 22:34:05Ouray, Colorado - The Switzerland of America