Sedona

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Free Camping in Sedona - We park and camp at the same spot every time we come to Sedona. There are no free camping areas inside Sedona, but there are some scattered just outside, with a stay allowance of 14 days. There is free camping on Schnebily Hill, but I’ve heard that it is difficult to get to, but worth the views. The Free Dispersed Camping just off Arizona SR 89A and Forest 525 road is the only one I can speak for. Apparently this is an alternate launch site for a Sedona balloon tour company, so breakfast views sometimes come with some nearby balloon landings.  

Be prepared to share this site. The first couple pull offs are usually occupied by quite a bit of trailers and motor homes every time we come. You can drive further down the road for quieter more solo sites, we’ve done that for tent camping. And when we were sick of camping with the cavemen and their loud ass generators, we went as far as we could down Forest Road 525. The views get better the further down 525 you go. Some spots are right up in the red hills below Bear Mountain and they are totally secluded and actually feels like camping or quiet off the grid living. 

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Biking in Sedona - In the morning after you’ve cooked up a breakfast, head in towards Sedona for some mountain biking or hiking. There are heaps of trails just off Dry Creek Rd. 

We hoped on the 7.6 mile Chuck Wagon loop. It is a hike/bike trail. For us, it was walk-a-bike in a few sections, but it was an overall really fun ride. There was enough flow-y, fun, and technical sections to make you forget any bumpy technical climb you may have just endured. It is definitely one of my favorite trails. The views are all time. 

We took in the views from our pull off parking spot and snacked in the van. Since we had not been around wi-fi, we headed into the restaurant area to find a Starbucks or some place with free wifi. We hung outside of a pizza place to send some emails and make contact with the outside world. 

Once we were up to speed and wi-fi’d out, we headed back towards Forest 525 Road to cook some food and catch some z’s. 

Aeire Trail/Cockscomb trail - After being pumped about the Chuck Wagon trail, we wanted to try some others, although we were really tempted to do it again. 

We decided to try the Aeire Trail linked with the Cockscomb trail, it does a 5.4 mile loop around around Doe Mountain. It was pretty chunky, but makes a nice short loop if you are short on time or if you are a eager beginner that wants a trail with some rewarding reviews. We saw people doing this trail with bike lamps at night. They were flying thru there.  Made me want to get some bright ass lights and try some night biking!

After the loop around Doe Mountain, we made some food in the van and looked for a hiking trail to cap off the afternoon. We checked out our REI Hiking app and saw two nearby that looked interesting: Bear Mountain and Boyton Canyon. They were both about 2.4-2.6 miles, one-way. Since the Boyton Canyon hike seemed to just hike gradually up thru the canyon, instead of straight up a mountain, we decided to do that one, since we weren’t really mentally prepared or ready to hike down a crumbly mountain in the dark. We would leave that hike for the next day.

Boyton Canyon Hike - Boyton Canyon was beautiful. At the beginning of the trail, it looked like you were hiking into a secret city. There were mind blowing houses and vacation properties, with stucco to match the hill sides they were so efficiently nestled into. There were views of the canyons for about the first 1.5 miles, then the tree canopy kind of takes away the views of the hill sides pretty much until you reach the End of Trail sign. The hike was more like a stroll, and where the “end of trail” sign is, it kind of invites you to find your own view. If you follow a little goat path to the right of that sign, it leads you up to a ledge where you can over look the canyon valley you just hiked thru. You return the same way you came in. 

Twin Buttes Loop - At this point our stoke level is high with Sedona, we want to do everything. So we figure we need to get on our bikes to see things faster. Even if we have to walk-a-bike in sections, if we can ride partial parts of the trail, we are into it. So we hoped on the Twin Buttes loop. This was a hike/bike trail. It was pretty epic, like every part of it was up until Chicken Point. Then, it was just alright. Parts of the trail go thru neighborhoods on the pavement. It is just kind of bizarre that it is part of the same loop as the first couple epic miles of Broken Arrow. 

The only lame part about this loop was all the pink jeeps EVERYWHERE, at every single vista. I found them to be very annoying. I didn’t mind the Duck tours in Seattle or other big cities, because it was chaos everywhere in cities and when one of those things comes squawking by with their obnoxious blab pointing out stuff, it just blended in with all the city noise, but bloody hell, they are just obnoxious out in nature. 

They would come one right after the other. As soon as you thought, “oh this is the time I can go and sneak a picture before anyone else is around,” or just take a breath and enjoy the silence I was trying to escape to, here comes another over-enthusiastic dude romping over some hillside to turn his jeep around, precisely where you are standing. Even when the Pink Jeep tours weren’t around giving tours, they were giving instruction to new members of the team. Letting them practice on the obstacles before they bring paying customers aboard. I wonder if this bothers the hell out of the locals. I really can’t imagine this place during busy season, if that is the way it is in February. 

All my personal annoyances aside, the views are worth the hike, bike, or hike-a-bike. When we were done with the loop, we cooked some food, strapped on our hiking boots, grabbed some head torches and hiked the Broken Arrow section again. That is how awesome the views were. This time, we had it all to ourselves, as we saw the last Pink Jeep Roll out past the mostly empty parking lot. It was so quiet, I felt I could hear the static of silence. 

Bear Mountain -On this day, we got a late start. We couldn’t decide if we wanted to take the day off or go enjoy Sedona before the weekend hit and the Phoenix weekend warriors come up. We decided we better get out there. So we cooked a nice brunch, packed up camp, and parked up at the Bear Mountain trail head. We got on the trail about 2:45pm, just enough time to chill, see the sunset and probably hike the last part out in the dark. 

Most people don’t like hiking in the dark, but we find it to be a great trade-off to have the spot to yourself. We leave enough time for the easiest part of the walk to be mostly in the dark. The hike estimated time is 4.5 hours. It took us 1:35 to get to the top and about the same to get down. If we didn’t stop to take pictures every 5 steps, we may have been able to do it faster. 

The hike starts out pretty easy as it slowly starts to get crumblier. Then, you start to climb to get up top of that plateau, and then climb, dip down and then climb some more. It flattens out enough after each hard climb to catch your breath before the next climb. Sometimes you have to use your hands to pull yourself over some sections. It is exactly 2.4 miles from entry to end of trail sign. 

At the top, we hung out and tried to place where we were from our usual campsite. We spotted many RVs and campers so close to the rocks, we were curious as to what road they were parked, because those spots looked epic, secluded, and so far from those noisy ass generators we had been camping next to. From up on Bear Mountain, we realized you could take that same road all the way to the end and we would hit Forest Road 525, the road you can camp on for up to 14 days, free. So we started our hike down, with plans on finding our own secluded campsite. Although we found our spot in the dark, we woke up to a pretty epic views. 

Because you are hiking with your back to most of the views as you are climbing the trail, the entire way down is so picturesque. We literally stopped so often, just to take in the views. The view from any summit is rewarding, when you make the effort to get to the top, but I felt like the summit views weren’t as amazing as the rest of the hikes views. I am only mentioning this because if you were tired, and didn’t feel like you could finish the entire hike then, any of the vistas that you pass on the trail will make up for not making it to the top. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make it to the top. Just take in the views.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

I set off with very talented videographer Benton Inscoe to capture footage from around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for his piece "A Day in the Bay"  just outside of San Francisco.  This is footage all shot in San Francisco and the Golden Gate NRA.  From secluded beaches, amazing headlands, redwood forest, and the amazing views of San Francisco I can see why this is one of the most used public spaces in the country. 

My top 5  favorite spots in this area are

  1. Marin Headlands
  2. Bolinas Beach
  3. Palomarin Trails
  4. Muir Woods
  5. Mount Tamalpais 
 Photo taken from Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate NRA

Photo taken from Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate NRA

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Albuquerque International Balloon FIesta

Early October every year the International Balloon Fiesta goes down with a bang in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  This event is pretty amazing and should be something on the bucket list.  The event runs for 8 days and is the biggest event that happens in Abq all year so the whole town shows up.  You can even pull up your van and camp starting at $35 a night.  

The two easiest and cheapest ways to get to the park are by bus via the Park and Ride or Bike.  The Park and Ride is a good deal it's $15 per person, they get you there quick and you don't have to pay to park which is around $10.  If you go this route get there early before the crowds.  Biking is my favorite way to get to the FIesta.  Hit the street early in the morning and catch the sunrise at the park watching hundreds of Balloons take flight.  Your best bet for the goods at the Fiesta are on the Special Shapes Rodeo days

There is also a night glow event with fireworks.  I'm personally more of a fan of the Morning event but it's something worth checking out.  Don't forget your camera they claim this is one of the most photographed events in the world. 

Although I've never done it.  I bet the best way to experience this event is from the air in a balloon.  I'm sure in town there are plenty of outfitters.  There's more on balloon rides here on their website.  

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park Washington La Push Beach

Back when we were living in Seattle we we're able to head out to the Olympic Peninsula a few times and get out of town and enjoy the lush forest of the Pacific Northwest.  I made this edit with my good friend Rod on a camping trip.  We packed up the Subaru and hopped on the ferry for an epic getaway.  

Seattle Time Lapse Footage

I have been sitting on this footage for quite a while and had just recently had enough time to sit down and get serious about finishing a few projects.  Living on the road and working out of your vehicle makes it a bit difficult to buckle down and work on your passion projects.  

Some of my favorite spots in Seattle for photography are

 Space Needle and Seattle from Kerry Park

Space Needle and Seattle from Kerry Park

  1. Kerry Park
  2. Jose Rizal Bridge 
  3. Seward Park
  4. West Seattle
  5. All along the Puget Sound
  6. Pikes Place Market
  7. Gas Works Park  
  8. Downtown
  9. The Waterfront
  10. University of Washington

Albuquerque Mountain Biking

Albuquerque Mountain Biking

Hills - The Sandia Mountain foothills and the Cibola National Forest extend down through Albuquerque, giving the city some incredible open space.  There are plenty of options for riding in both the north and south foothills.  We found that our personal favorite tails are all found in Placitas and the Elena Gallegos Open Space.  We usually like to start at the “free” Bear Canyon  parking lot and ride the Elena Gallegos Main Loop up to the trailhead of the Pino Trail.  The trail system here is pretty extensive bikes are allowed on all the trails in the open space but not in the National Forest Trails.  I highly recommend the REI MTB Project app for this area, as it will really help you stay on course for the loop.  There’s is endless ways you can ride here and the majority of the riding is intermediate with some technical chunky sections along 230A which we most times skip for a faster smoother downhill.  

Just a short drive from Abq on I-25 is the small town of Placitas.  This is home to our favorite bike trail in the area.  The Bobsled is a 2 mile downhill section with jumps, bumps, and burms it's really the only trail in the Abq area with multiple small built features throughout.  There are other trails in the Placitas area but we just prefer to lap the Bobsled a few times.  If your rig can handle a little bit of off roading you can drive the Forest Road 445 and park here and begin the Bobsled descent or you can head to the Piedra Lisa Canyon trail head for some serenity at the end of FR445.  Take into account in the warm months that you can. and will come encounter Rattlesnakes we've seen our fair share out here and for some reason they love to be in the middle of the trail.  So ride and hike with caution especially in the cooler parts of the day. 

Rattlesnake mountain bike ride

On another note both areas are great areas to post up in the van for the day while in Albuquerque.  Elena G is the only place that you have to pay but it's only $1 on weekdays and $2 on weekends for entry.  There are BBQs and picnic areas throughout and the views of the Sandia Mountains are a nice treat.  There are tons of hiking trails in the open spaces and in the National Forest that neighbors them.  I recommend Domingo Baca Canyon or the Pino Trail for a nice day hike from Elena G.  In our opinion this is your best bet for biking, hiking, and a good place to post up for the day in Albuquerque, I’m not sure what would happen if they locked your car in overnight but the space does close at dusk.  

Van Life Albuquerque

Mountains - Just a short drive up Interstate 40 will bring you to more advanced riding.  There are a few options but in my mind there’s really only two.  The Sandia Ski Area trails or the Cedro Peak trails.  On some summers the ski area does run the lift for downhill mountain biking but I would check before heading up.  If the lifts are not running you can do a challenging climb up the King of the Mountain Trail and enjoy a well earned fast and flowy descent down Golden Eagle.  On south side of I-40 is the the Cedro Peak trails which are  closer to Albuquerque than heading to the Ski Area, but they are not our favorite trails.  This is a very chunky and bumpy area and the descents to me aren’t very exciting.  I’ve ridden a few trails out here and the best is Otero Canyon, but it is short and sweet.  If you are looking for a work out try the West Figure 8.  We aren’t the best bikers and we like to stay in the intermediate realm and some of the trails here were a bit too challenging and chunky for our hardtails.  

Albuquerque Mountain Biking

River - The Rio Grande Bosque is another anice open space in Albuquerque along the Rio Grande River.  However off road trails in this area are not the best.  There is a good amount of short flat single tracks through here, but nothing to write home about.  In my opinion this area is very underdeveloped and I wished the city of Abq would develop a nice open space park like the Valmont Bikepark in Boulder here in this area.  The trails in the Bosque are sandy and not my first option or my last.  These trails are more for family rides with kids on the paved Bosque bike trail.  There are some fast flowy sections but they don't last too long.  Hopefully in the future this area will be developed better for outdoor recreation.  

North Shore Hawaii

In January 2014 Benton Inscoe and I had the chance to go out and film with Kadin and Brogie Panesi on Oahu's North Shore. It was an epic time, to say the least.  The waves were absolutely pumping. We shot more people getting blown out of perfect pipeline tubes than we could have ever hoped for.

Upon arrival, we got tossed straight into the scene at Jimbo's, aka "Hail Yeah's," compound.  Jimbo is one of the North Shore's unsung heroes.  Originally from Texas, he abandoned a promising baseball career to become a surfer, and has been on the North Shore ever since. The scene at Jimbo's is so classic. It's basically an underground surf hostel, hosting big wave addicts from all over the globe.

 Jimbo's spot, AKA "Tha Dog Pound" has probably  about 60 surf boards inside of it, most of which were shaped by him.  Today, Jimbo is the only person in the world still shaping hollow boards out of solid Koa wood.  These boards are beautiful pieces of art and we were fortunate to witness a small part of the process. The finished products are purchased for up to $20,000 by surfing enthusiasts (or wannabe enthusiasts) from all over the world (including the Prince of Morocco).  We filmed a few clips of Jimbo working on his boards and included them in the edit.

It was a pretty surreal experience to finally experience the North Shore after so many years of it only being an abstract idea in our heads. We were blown away by the hospitality of Jimbo and the other guys we met at the Dog Pound. This was our first trip to Hawaii and definitely won't be our last.  We made some great friends, found new inspiration, and made some great connections that will hopefully lead to some more fun projects.

Santa Fe's Aspen Vista

If you are able to be in Santa Fe in the autumn then you are in for a treat.  The Santa Fe National Forest has one of the largest Aspen Tree arrays in the Southwest.  Grab your camera and head up Hwy 475.  There are plenty of roadside stopovers and trails.  I recommend the Tesuque Creek Trail right above the Aspen Vista Picnic Area.  

5 Days in Boulder

Rocky Mountain National Park

After shooting the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail.  We headed down to Boulder for a visit with one of our best friends.  We just had a few days and really wanted to get after it while we were in Colorado.  

Bear Peak, Boulder Colorado, Hiking

Day 1 - We wanted to get used to the altitude and get in better hiking shape before we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park later in the week.  We went with Bear Peak a 7.7 mile out and back hike to the highest point in the Flat Irons.  This hike is rated difficult and is a climb all the way to the top, and was a great warm up to the high country and getting adjusted to the altitude.  

Mountain Biking, Boulder Colorado.

Day 2 - We discovered the Valmout Mountain Bikepark on this day and fell in love.  We went in the morning before the summer camps showed up.  This is an amazing place for beginners, and advanced riders to develop skills we rode about 5 miles in the park alone.  Later we headed out to ride a few trails out near Lyons.  We rode the Antelope Trail and connected with Nelson Loop for some flowy single track with amazing views.  This was a fun ride with some big climbs and descents.  

Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder

Day 3 - We woke up feeling a bit sore but it was a great day to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park.  It’s a short scenic cruise from Boulder.  Since it was summer the was very busy.  We didn’t want to deal with the crowds plus the day before the NPS was saying that all the parking was full and they weren't letting people in the park.  Knowing this we headed to the lesser used and free (if you don't have a parks pass) Longs Peak Trailhead, near Estes Park.  Earlier in the week we were considering Longs Peak but we decided to do a more mellow hike.  We went with the Chasm Lake Trail.  This is a 8.2 mile out and back trail that is rated moderate to difficult.  We really enjoyed this trail and this was the highlight of the trip.  After we finished the hike we headed down for a night in the Subaru.  I would tell you where but it was so  out there I don't even know where it was.  With this being said there is plenty of camping available on Forest Roads in the area.  

Subaru Camping

Day 4 - We woke up and took it easy ate breakfast and enjoyed the sunshine for a bit before heading back down to boulder.  We just took it easy this day visited a few dispensaries and rode the Valmont Bikepark again that evening.  We later biked over to Avery Brewery for a few of the local selections before calling it a night.

Day 5 - We spent a majority of this day on our bikes.  We headed over to the bikepark, in the morning.  Then spent the rest of the day checking out boulder and its large array of bike trails and headed up to the top of the Boulder Creek Trail.  If we were more prepared and had known we would have brought our tubes and wetsuits for what looked like a wild tube ride down the Boulder Creek.  Later that night we headed to Fresh Thymes for some vegan cuisine.  

Boulder is an incredible little town that has a lot to offer.  We will definitely be back. 

Southern New Mexico Road Trip

We are both native New Mexicans, but we have not been back for quite some time. And on our inaugural trip in the new van we wanted to stay close to home and explore before we blasted off from New Mexico again. There were a lot of really awesome places in New Mexico that we may have overlooked when we were young, but we were ready to see them and experience them now. 

Socorro: First stop leaving Albuquerque, we headed for the Very Large Array, just outside of Socorro, New Mexico. This is apparently the largest array of satellites. We originally wanted to get some time lapse footage of them moving, but we arrived late and weren’t able to scope out the place and plan our shots. There was a security guard that came over to us and told us that the visitor center and area was closed. So, we packed it up and planned on coming back after we scoped out the distance we would need to walk from the side of the road parking lot to the closest array. We definitely plan on coming back when the moon isn’t stealing the show anyways. 

We camped on some National Forest Service land about 10 miles away from the array. The description on freecampsites.net said “True Boondocking” so we headed towards it and were the only on around for miles. 

TorC: In the morning, we headed towards I-25 and over to Truth or Consequences to photo a couple properties but to also check out their hot springs. We’ve never really explored TorC, but once we realized this little town really revolves around the various hot springs in the area. There are Air BnB’s with hot springs in their back yard or with in walking distance. We opted to check out the Riverbank Hot Spring resort. It is $12 for one hour for showers and there are 8 different pools with an entrance to the Rio Grande river as well. We went at night and there were heaps of laser lights shining into the pool and across the other side of the river bank. It really made for an awesome experience. Whispers were appreciated as it was a spa and hotel. There are private pools for $14 per hour, but you only get the one pool. With the $12 pass, you can go from their hottest 109 degree pools to their 104 degree pools. 

Gila National Forest: After soaking in the TorC hot tubs, it reminded me that there was a cute little campsite near the Gila National Forests with hot springs. So we headed in that direction. I believe the campsite is called Gila Hot Springs Campground. There are three hot tubs steps from the campsite, potable cold and hot water, composting drop toilets, fire pits with plenty of wood, and about 10 secluded campsites. It is $5 to soak or $8 to camp (camping includes soaking). 

The hot spring tubs and campsites are right on the river and behind some farms, homes and other properties. When you turn off the road, you head thru some goat farms, follow the signs for the campsite. I believe you turn left on west fork lane, which goes along the river and the back side of the private property. Then, you got thru a gate to the right. If it is closed, you can still go in. You just need to pay your fees at the little hut near the first hot tub. The owners are a lovely couple. They come by every morning and night. They check the envelopes and say hello to everyone. So don’t go trying to skip your honesty box dues. They will not hesitate to make you pay. But at $8, this site is a bargain. I don’t know if you read the amenities and secluded campsites part, but I hope I had you at 3 hot springs steps away from your campsite to convince you that this is well worth every penny. If this were in New Zealand, it would be $40+. But, it is in New Mexico, so it’s a bargain at $8 per person. We stayed here twice. We didn’t plan on it, so we were a bit short money wise on second night, but the lady remembered us from the first night and let us slide and was glad we enjoyed it so much as to come back for a second night.  

This campsite is about a 10-15 minute drive to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. There is no way that you should miss this place if you are in the area. It is mind blowing. Apparently they are the best preserved dwellings in the US. They are 80% original preserved dwellings, with only 20% minor restorations. A lot of dwellings are reconstructions. This one is original. 

Apparently, back in the 90s this place was much less regulated, and you could camp anywhere inside or near them. When we went, there seemed to be more rangers than visitors, but they all were able to answer any questions we had checking out different areas inside the caves. The dwellings hike is about a 1 mile loop. 

City of Rocks State Park: After a late start at the campsite, we headed towards the City of Rocks. It was a half way point in-between Gila NF and Las Cruces, it was a place I had never heard of and it looked super cool from the pictures. 

Camping is $10 per site. There are trash cans and picnic tables at each site. It really looked like a little mini city of rocks; like Joshua tree or Alabama Hills type of random boulders, which made for some cool secluded campsites. There are both powered and unpowered sites. 

A lot of people were wandering thru the different walk ways the random rock piles seemed to create. Or climbing on the boulders. In the morning, we went out on a bike ride around the campsite and up the mountain. It was an 8 mile loop. It was gravely where it was easy and where it was more technical and hard, it was chunky and questionable if it was really a bike trail. Maybe one day I will be that good :)

Las Cruces/ Organ Mountains National Monument- Sierra Vista: After we cooked up some lunch, we headed towards Las Cruces to grab some groceries at the co-op and gas-up. Then, we set the GPS towards the BLM land just outside of Cruces, near the Organ Mountains National Monument,  Sierra Visa Trail head parking. There are hikes and biking that are reminiscent of Elena Gallegos or Bear Canyon on the foothills of the Sandia’s in Albuquerque.  

There are about 4-5 spots and they are usually taken. At the very end there is a larger parking area and a lot for about 3 medium size rigs parked efficiently down below. This is where the overflow late arrivers usually park up. 

Please stay on the roads or designated/ all ready established areas. Since the popularity of freecampsites.net, the rangers that maintain this area have really had to make this spot a priority. We had a really funny and pleasant conversation with one of the rangers calling the site, “camp free anywhere .com or something” he said that they have to come buy many times throughout the day, early in the morning,  later in the afternoon to make sure people are not creating more spaces. He said it is BLM land and you are allowed to camp over night, but you can not create your own campsite anywhere, which is what people are doing when they pull up and see that there are no spots. They figure if no one is there to tell them no, then why can’t they. This type of unchecked behavior is what will threaten these awesome places for overnight stays. Which means, gate closing times for spaces like this. 

There are no facilities at this spot. Please come prepared as a self contained or a shovel and a ziplock bag for your pee paper. No one likes to see where you marked your spot. 

White Sands National Monument:  There are 10 backcountry permits available to campout at White Sands. It is $6 per person and the campsites are first come, first served. If you have a National Parks pass, you only have to pay $3 per person for camping. 

It is awesome to camp out and share the park with about 10-20 other campers once the park closes down. You get to see the sunset, moons, stars, and sunrise. And all four of those are some of the most magical parts of White Sands. Cotton candy magic hour skies and pearl white sand dunes all to yourself. The harsh white light during the day is usually short lived by visitors unless they have kids playing in the sand. Usually about the time White Sands turns on the magic, it is time to go home for day visitors. 

The temperatures at night drastically change; bring warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag. If there is no moon, it is very dark; so, bring a head torch. We went during the super, blue, full moon and it was as bright as dusk the entire night. The moonlight was lighting up the inside of our tent. We really didn’t even need a head torch at all. 

This place is pretty awesome. If you are taking a southern route thru New Mexico, you don’t want to miss White Sands, it is pretty mind blowing. 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: If you are in Southern New Mexico, this is something you don’t want to miss, as well, equally mind blowing. Make sure you do the walk down and through the caverns. It takes a while to walk the entire system of caverns. So, make sure you go to the bathroom. I seem to remember there was on at the beginning and one at the elevator, at the end. (Just a little tip for all you guys that try to stay hydrated, but end up peeing all day, like we do.)  If you are there when the bats are there (Mid Summer to late October), make sure you stay for the bats exit of the cave in the afternoon. The bats are how they found Carlsbad Caverns. Apparently, like clockwork, these free-tailed bats, would fly out together every summer afternoon. And, because they are somewhat blind, they stick closer together. When one dips, they all dip together, looking like smoke rising in the air. The original people that found Carlsbad Cavern’s thought it was a fire every night. So, they finally went to it and realized the smoke was hundreds of thousands of bats exiting an enormous underground cave. 

From the Ranger’s Intro talk before the bat’s exit the cave, they first told us they had a strict ban on electronic devices during the bat flight program. No cameras, video, phones… everything emitting a signal must be turned off. They are super sensitive to electronic devices.

It is really a crazy experience from start to end. 

ABQ to Burningman Road Trip

Mono Lake Camping

After getting the Subaru all rigged up for the road with a fold out bed and other accessories (Check it out here), we took it out to Black Rock City for our annual pilgrimage to Burning Man.  We don’t stay in the Subaru at Burning Man. We build a hexayurt, although we have tried the car and it was miserable.  (More info on hexayurts here)  We’ve only traveled to BM from California and Washington, so coming from New Mexico was going to be a mission. We figured we would break it up into a road trip.  So all you New Mexico burners out there, we found a pretty awesome and fun route with multiple stopovers on your way to BRC.

Sedona Devils Bridge

Sedona - Our first stop was a five hour cruise over to Sedona. Being our first time in Sedona, we had no idea what to do. So, we headed to the Dry Creek Area for some exploration.  We wanted to see Devil’s Bridge, but we knew it would be swarmed with people since it is one of the top hikes and easiest in Sedona. Plus, it has jeep trail access. So you already know the Pink Jeeps are blowing this spot up.  So, we explored the surrounding exotic red rock territory until sunset and then headed up to Devils Bridge after sunset.  Per usual, on our way up everyone was heading down, we got to the bridge and had it to ourselves once the stars were coming out.  We shot a few photos, watched the stars, and had a drink.  We were getting very comfortable until we saw a few scorpions, so we decided to head down.  We drove to Forest Road 525, off  HW-89, for some free camping.  We drove past the first few occupied pull offs and found our own exclusive spot and set up for the night.  We woke up, cooked breakfast, and headed out towards our next destination. 

Trona Pinnacles - We made the long haul from Sedona to the Trona Pinnacles in Death Valley.  It’s best to arrive at the Trona Pinnacles later in the day, around sunset, because the late summer daytime temperatures are boiling.  It was about 102 degrees at 7pm, when we pulled up.  We braved the heat and shot some magic hour photos and set up the rig for another night.  Thankfully, for us, it cooled down at night and we slept without the rainfly to have an amazing star show that night.  If you’ve never heard of the Trona Pinnacles, it's a pretty cool place to stop over for a night of camping in Death Valley.  We woke up and headed for HWY 385 that heads up the heart of the Sierra Nevada.  

Highway CA 385 - This is some of my favorite stretches of highway, for life on the road.  There are so many amazing and scenic spots throughout this area.  We stopped in Lone Pine for some supplies. If you have extra time, you must camp at Alabama Hills, outside of Lone Pine, it’s one of our all time favorite campsites.  We headed up the 395 for some hot spring action.  There are plenty of hot springs out here, you just have to find them and it’s not very hard. Whitmore Springs area is just one area with multiple hotsprings, some you can camp near. After soaking in three different tubs in the area, we found a campsite around June Lake. We stayed at a free site that wasn't anything special, but it was free and in route!  The next morning and headed towards Yosemite. 

Yosemite - We’ve been to Yosemite many times, but we've never been to Yosemite from the East Entrance.  We thought it would be a better to head to Tuolumne Meadows during peak season since the Valley is a nightmare in late August.  Unfortunately for us, there was some serious smoke from a forest fire and we had to bail on hiking Clouds Rest.  So, we headed to the info center to get some tips on where to find something that would have better visibility.  We debated an overnight, but decided with all the smoke we should just hit a day hike and get out of the smoked out valley.  We chose Lambert Dome which ended up being a great hike considering the conditions and it was relatively short and easy for the awesome reward. We were actually really stoked on Tuolumne Meadows, on the backside of Yosemite. It’s really nice with half the crowds and you are able to get an amazing perspective of the Yosemite Valley from fairly easy hikes, and roadside pullovers .  

Jeffery Pine - We headed out and talked with someone at the visitor center in Lee Vining that recommended Jeffery Pine Forest for a nice overnight camping stop over.  After about and hour + of adventuring around this area on the dirt roads, thank god we were in the Subaru,  we finally stumbled across one of our best campsites of the trip.  We were able to get lucky and find a pretty rough road along a ridge to our own little hilltop camping spot.  We set up and enjoyed a smoked out sunset cooked and slept in the car that night because it was a bit cold still in the high country.

Mono Lake - After our camp at Jeffery Pine, we headed down to Mono Lake to see the famous Tufa formations in the morning before a bunch of people showed up. There were some kayakers on the water, but there was no one walking around yet. If you have not been to Mono Lake, this place is crazy. It's actually hard to explain, but it is worthy of taking 30-45 mins to pull over and check out how crazy the earth is. Although we missed both magic hour's at this spot, I am sure that Mono Lake would be pure magic for sunrise and sunset.

Pranum Crater -  After Mono Lake, we stopped at Pranum Crater, after seeing signs for it exiting the South Tufa area of Mono Lake. So, we decided to take the dirt road and check it out. The trail head starts out on a rough pumice trail that leads to the rim.  0.2 miles of further hiking will take you to the spectacular obsidian core of the volcano that erupted over 600 years ago. Fun fact we learned on the trail, dependent on how rapid the cooling process is, lava becomes Pumice or Obsidian. It is crazy the cooling process can change the look and feel of a rock so significantly! 

Camp Happy Hour Burningman

Tahoe - BRC We headed out that morning to soak in the Travertine Hot Springs.  After a nice mud soak, we headed out to the Tahoe area to meet up with a good friend of ours.  We had great timing, as we arrived he was at an art car fundraiser for Burning Man, so we got to get in the groove and even got our first gift at the event.  From here, you could head to Reno and skip Tahoe however, we had to begin the prep for our camp “Camp Happy Hour” based in Auburn, California. So we headed out to Auburn to begin the prep and the final haul to the Playa.  

Jemez to Taos, Hot Springs and Mountain Bike Tour

Jemez New Mexico Hot Springs

We packed up the newly remodeled road-trip-ready Subaru and headed out for a northern New Mexican adventure.  Our first stop was Jemez, just about an hour and thirty minute drive from Albuquerque.  If the weather was cooler and it wasn't the peak of summer, I recommend stopping at White Mesa (photos below) for a very unique mountain bike experience. 

Our first stop in Jemez was Spence Hot Springs, while we waited for a friend.  The pools at Spence aren’t incredibly warm, but they are worth the short hike and they have an amazing view from the pool.  Our next stop was San Antonio Hot Springs, off of Highway 126.  We arrived to a closed gate and had to walk over five miles, one way to the hot springs, but it was well worth the walk.  These are some of the best hot springs I’ve been to in New Mexico.  It consists of about 5 pools with a high pressure source pumping out into the top pool.  We left in the late afternoon and were soaked on the hike out and slept in the Jemez Falls parking lot that night.  

The next day, we drove highway 4, easily one of the New Mexico’s most scenic roads, passing through the Valles Caldera and then through Los Alamos, where there is more mountain biking.  The next stop was Taos Ski Valley to ride the Northside Trails.  With a climb of over 2,100 feet, this trail is a big climb and the only alpine riding in New Mexico.  The Climb is worth the effort and the views of the Carson National Forest are epic.  Get ready for a steep ride down.  I don't know if you've ever been to TSV, but they say Taos is a four letter word for steep.  

After the ride we had a beer and snack at the Stray Dog Cantina and headed down the valley to Taos Mesa Brewery.  We stayed a few days out on the mesa with a good friend and relaxed and explored Manby and John Dunn hot springs in the Rio Grande Gorge.  One afternoon we headed back up to TSV to hike to Willams Lake. The lake sits below New Mexico’s tallest point, Wheeler Peak.  Later that week, we rode Horse Thief Mesa and the Rift Valley Trail before heading back to Albuquerque.  Before arriving to Albuquerque, we stopped at our favorite trail, Bobsled, in Palcitias.  Upon Arrival, we were really stoked with our spur of the moment trip and another trip in the Subaru.  

The Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Nestled on the western side of the 14,000 ft peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains lies the Great Sand Dunes National Park.  These sand dunes are the tallest sand dunes in North America, at 750 feet high.  We decided to stop by the dunes on the way up to Vail for an overnight stop, on the way up HWY 285.  

The Dunes are about an hour detour from Alamosa, off highway 285, and it is worth every minute.  Upon arrival, the dunes are much more larger than I expected.  We made our first stop at the first empty picnic area and prepared a quick diner before venturing off on the dunes for sunset.  There are no hiking trails on the dunes so you can basically go wherever you want.  It’s an incredible place for photography.  It's a very surreal place walking around in what seems like the Sahara Desert surrounded by 14,000ft peaks all around.  

This is a very light used national park so you won't have to worry about hoards of people everywhere.  After the visit, I read that this is one of the quietest parks in the US.  However the night we were there, the Pinon Flats campground was completely full.  So we ended up sleeping in the car in the lower parking lot and had no trouble.  We woke up for sunrise and continued the journey to Vail.  

Besides hiking around and photographing, we discovered that there are also a few hike in camp sites at Buck Creek and Escape Dunes.  Also, you can receive overnight camping permits and camp on the dunes.  There is also a 4x4 track that leads to Little Medano Campground.  

The GSDNP is a great place to spend multiple days at or just a few hours.  It’s a great park with some incredible scenery.  

Southwest Desert Roadtrip

We arrived in LAX after our trip abroad and were ready to get back on the road.  We were fortunate enough that our good friend Omar was in need of an adventure.  We joined forces and decided that we should tour the Desert SW back to our hometown Albuquerque, NM.  It was late April, so we figured the weather wouldn't be too hot.  We crammed all our gear in to Omar's Jeep Cherokee and began our to be 1,600+ mile road trip with 0 plans, but to have fun and explore new countryside.  We left the first port city of Venice, CA, after some amazing surf and headed towards our first desert alien landscape.  

Camping at Joshua Tree NP

We entered the Joshua Tree orbit around noon.  The first thing I would highly advise is buying the $80 America the Beautiful pass. It worked at almost every planet we landed on.  We bought our pass headed to Big Rocks Campground ($15 per site).  J-Tree is a mix of exotic granite rock formations and awkward Joshua Trees scattered throughout this bizarre landscape as far as the eye can see.  This is a great place for rock climbing and Scrambling around.  We explored and climbed around at the Hall of Horrors and Hidden Valley. We would definitely recommend these two spots.  There is amazing rock climbing, scrambling, and photo options at these spots.   

That night we stayed up a bit for star gazing and photography, but were shut down by a thin as cloud layer.  We woke up and cruised for a while on the Geology Tour Road to check out the park more, explore, and take some pictures.  After about an hour or driving, we left J Tree’s orbit and blasted off to another dimension.

Camping rock climbing hiking Alabama Hills BLM

The Alabama Hills BLM land outside of Lone Pine, CA, is camping heaven.  Upon surveillance, this alien landscape seemed to be something out of another galaxy.  Amidst the enormous rock fields, stands Mt. Whitney, at 14,505ft, looming down on the valley below.  ‘Bama Hills is on BLM land where dispersed camping is allowed.  However, it is on you to clean up after yourself. There are no toilets. So, come prepared.  

After our first night of camping, we woke up and did the very short loop hike to the Mobius Arch.  We then headed up to the Mount Whitney Portal to check out some hikes.  After a heavy snow season, we were shut down pretty quick on the trails up at the Whitney Portal.  We did learn that permits for hiking Whitney in the summer are required. So, look into obtaining one before you head up. 

After some 4x4 and beers, at an old cowboy bar in Lone Pine, we arrived at a very wind destroyed campsite.  After getting camp set back up, we settled in for what was one of our windiest nights of the trip.  We woke up the next day had breakfast and hit the road for a long haul to Nevada. 

Death Valley National Park

We exited the Alabama Hills solar system and hit hyperdrive and time warped to a new desert planet. Death Valley is a drive through park, meaning a majority of the experience is driving through the park, at least in the summer.  I could imagine some amazing activities in the other seasons. 

We stopped and made lunch at one of the first outpost we saw.  It was already heating up and I couldn't imagine this place in the midst of summer.  We set down our landing gear on the Beatty Sand Dunes and walked until the footprints started to subside it was already 96 degrees in late May.  Down the road a bit is Zabriskie Point, which is an amazing overlook over the Zabriskie Badlands.  There looks to be an amazing hike, if you were around in the fall/winter and it was cooler, but the heat was too much. So, we just took a few pictures and explored for a bit before we headed on. 

Red Rocks State Park Nevada

A few miles outside the bright lights of The Las Vegas Spaceport lies a gem known as Red Rock Canyon.  The mars like terrain will have you feeling as if you were actually on the red planet.  If you want to score a campsite at the Red Rock Canyon Campsite ($10 Per Site) you better be there early.  We showed up and it was completely full.  We ended up having some fellow travelers allow us to stay with them since they were just crashing in their amazing van.  We got in set up camp cooked and had a good chat with our neighbors.  We woke up the next day and headed into Red Rocks Canyon.  We hiked around Calico Basin for about 3 hours climbing and scrambling around and getting lost in dark red slot canyons.  We cruised around the park took in the views and started our auto pilot for Las Vegas.  

Valley of Fire Las Vegas Nevada

After indulging in provisions in the wild space port Las Vegas, it was time to set our sights on a new frontier.  We set out for St. George, but as most vessels leaving Vegas, we had a very delayed take off.  We headed toward Lake Mead and our radar picked up the Valley of Fire State Park.  We decide to veer off track and check it out.  We arrived late and the gates were open.  Driving through this park seems like something out of the Martian.  There seems to be lots of hiking activities in the park.  Its even amazing just driving though it if it’s a blistering hot summer day.  After little or no trip research, we headed straight to the Fire Wave.  It takes about 20 minutes to walk to this rock formation with amazing rock coloring.  We shot pictures until it was too dark and headed on.  That night we slept in the middle of nowhere, where a dirt road ended, definitely the worst campsite of the trip, but it was free.  

Zion National PArk Angels Landing

Zion is an amazing place!  I had no idea the size of this park before arriving.  Massive sandstone peaks with names like The Great White Throne, and The Alter of Sacrifice tower over a thousand feet above the valley floor.  Per usual, we were very unprepared for the busy National Park and had no reservations or any clue what we were going to do inside the park.  We got very lucky scoring a spot in the Zion South Campsite later in the day, (We literally just asked someone if they would share with us because of course the site was full.)

We set up a quick camp and set out for the Hidden Canyon Trail.  The Zion Canyon Road is only accessible via a shuttle system but it’s fast and effective.  We took the Shuttle to the Weeping Rock Stop.  The hike up to the Hidden Canyon is an awesome track that exposes you to trails along huge cliff faces.  It is a climb to access the Hidden Canyon, but it’s not anything too difficult.  We went up and back in about 3 hours.  If we had more daylight we would have done the trail to Observation Point, which is supposed to be on of Zion’s best overlooks.  

We woke up the next day, ate breakfast and prepared snacks and provisions for Narrows and Angels Landing.  Unfortunately for us, The Narrows were closed due to high water levels.  We didn't want to hike Angels Landing in the middle of the day due to crowds. So, we hung out in the valley for a bit and headed to Angels Landing around 4pm. 

The trail to Angels Landing is 2.4 miles.  It begins at the Grotto drop off point.  The hike up to Angels Landing isn't too difficult it is all uphill, but it’s paved and it's a really nice trail.  On the Angels Landing Trail, after you head up Walter’s Wiggles, if you have a fear of heights, you may struggle in points.  You basically hike along a knife ridge, with the valley 1,400 feet below you, with only chains to hold onto.  After a half mile of high risk hiking, you reach the 5,790 feet summit of Angels Landing and you will be glad you did this hike.  The views from Angels Landing across the valley of the Great White Throne towering overhead are amazing.  You will literally feel like an ant on top of this rock formation.  It’s a hike you will definitely want to do while in Zion.  We headed down and luckily caught the last shuttle back to the campsite.  

Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

We left Planet Zion late as expected with our Crew and set auto pilot for Bryce Canyon.  We set up camp right outside of the park off of forest road 1173 where we saw other people camping.  We set up camp rested a bit then drove into the park.  

We once again flashed our America the Beautiful card, that we already made our money back on, and headed towards Sunset Point.  We started with the Navajo Loop trail that takes you down to the Valley Floor and up through Wall Street canyon, named for obvious reasons. 

We hoped in our lunar rover and headed to the Bryce Overlook viewpoint for sunset.  Bryce Canyon is the Grand Canyon’s younger smaller hippie brother.  This place has some of the most interesting and trippy hoodoo rock formations in the US.  Bryce Canyon would be an amazing place to do some backcountry camping and we wished we were more prepared with permits and such to partake in what must be an incredible experience.  

Burr Trail Escalante Staircase National Monument

From Bryce, we originally set sights on the Grand Canyon North Rim, but the park wasn't open yet. So, we decided to go off a hot tip from another traveler and check out a road less traveled.   The Burr Trail is in the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument and is a road that access some amazing opportunity for freedom camping in areas. 

The strips of pastel pinks, whites, and, reds confirmed that we were in Jupiter’s orbit.  We were sucked straight into the this landscape as if we were imbedded into a transcendentalistpainting.  We first headed to Kiva Koffeehouse before we headed to Calf Creek Falls.  We highly recommend checking out this little gem of a cafe with amazing views of the Escalante River Valley.  The trail to Calf Creek Falls is easy and along the valley.  It’s an awesome little hike and the waterfall is like an oasis in the desert.  We camped in the BLM land along the Burr Trail overlooking Long Canyon.  The next day we headed out on one of the more scenic drives of the trip along the Burr Trail.  We stopped along the way to witness thunderstorms sweep across the desert landscape.  Originally, as we set out that day, we felt like going deep into the belly of the desert.  We set out for a pin on the map to put the Jeeps 4x4 to the test.  We set out for Moody Canyon with a stop at the Wolverine Petrified Forest.  

The journey out to Moody Canyon is a long one and you could possibly go a few days without seeing anyone in certain times of the year.  With the being said, I would advise to have emergency food/water and a back up batter charger or way to jump your car if you needed to.  We found an amazing campsite overlooking Moody Canyon.  The road was easily manageable in the Jeep, but wouldn't be possible in a camper van.  We were isolated out on the desert and it felt amazing. We cooked and enjoyed a moonlit campsite. 

Capitol Reef National Park Utah

We jetted out early in the morning so we could enjoy a few activities in the Capitol Reef National Park before we headed toward the Utah/Colorado border for the night.  The drive through Capital Reef is pretty spectacular on its own.  We wished we had planned better and spent some more time in this area.  We randomly stopped and did the hike as far as we could up Surprise Canyon.  I would recommend this to anyone looking for a quick day activity while heading down south along the Burr Trail.  

We made breakfast in the parking lot at Surprise Canyon and headed out to catch out ferry across Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which we our America the Beautiful pass worked for!  We enjoyed a quick swim at Stanton Creek, near Bullfrog before we caught our ferry which was a reasonable $20.  

Muley Point and the goose necks

Thanks to a mixture of freecampsites.net and WIkiCamps, we found the most incredible campsite at Muley Point overlooking the San Juan Goose Necks.  We watched a massive lightning storm roll through Monument Valley with enough charge to make all the hair on our heads stick straight up into the air.  We got in late had inclement weather.  So, we set up camp and fell asleep.  

Muley Point San Juan Goosenecks

Durango 

From Muley Point, you can head through Monument Valley which is only 20 miles away and head down into Arizona or you can head into Colorado and one of my favorite mountain towns Durango.  Dani and I have family in Durango. So, we enjoyed relaxing and catching up.  Omar got sick. So we returned to Albuquerque, after a year and a half of being abroad.  Our original plan included one more stop at Bisti Badlands for a few nights but we lost our captain to a stomach bug.