Best Beginner Rock Climbing Zones at Smith Rock

Smith Rock Oregon Rock Climbing

First off Smith Rock is a must do if you are in Central Oregon it is an incredible landscape and great for exploring if you aren't into rock climbing.  We have only been climbing for a few months now when ever we get the chance.

Our Smith Rock climbing adventures all began at the Skull Hollow Campground just a few miles NE of the State Park entrance.  We were lucky enough to meet the @vanningaintnojoke crew at Descend on Bend and they were nice enough to take us climbing with them.  

Hint - If you want to get into climbing for cheap all you need is shoes, harness, and a belay device and the right camping site to beg other climbers to take you with them.

Rope De Dope Block 

This is the best place to start if you have no lead climbing experience because you can set a top rope for all these climbs.  This was great news for the Kookz.  Luckily we were with an amazing climber and he set up about 5 ropes for us to get comfortable on and learn how to belay each other.  Our two favorite climb were the Rope De Dope Crack (5.8) which is an awesome crack to get some experience on.   We also really enjoyed Shamu (5.9) and Mini Bender (5.9) to challenge us a bit.  We found the climbs on the East face a bit to easy so we stuck to something to keep the Kookz struggling.   Rope De Dope also has picnic tables and shade all day so we came back to this block twice its a great place to spend the day climbing there’s enough routes to keep you busy all day and it was great to lean belaying and rappelling at this block.

The Dihedrals

This was our first stop at Smith Rock we had a large crew so we headed to The Dihedrals.  Here you will need to lead climb to set the route.  The scenery from the Dihedrals was the best we had on climbs in the park we started on Ginger Snap (5.8) and did Rodney’s Chocolate Frosted Love Donut (5.8) and a few other lower level climbs on the slabs.  There’s a lot of climbs here for all levels so everyone was stoked.

Morning Glory Wall

5 Gallon Buckets at Smith Rock

Easily our favorite climbs of the trip was 5 Gallon Buckets (5.8) on the Morning Glory Wall.  We strolled up late afternoon and jumped right on to one of the parks most popular climbs.  These climbs were easily the tallest outdoor climbs we have ever done.  we also test our luck on Outsiders (5.9) and struggled a bit but the climbs was fun it has amazing holds so it made for a great experience.  The Morning Glory Wall was by far our favorite climbs we did all trip in the park.  

We got into rock climbing through vanlife and have been lucky enough to meet other van lifers who are willing to take us out onto the rocks.  Hell, if you hang out at Skull Hollow campground enough you’ll find a crew to take you out.  That’s what we did!  Few (Budget Friendly) Items we recommend to get into rock climbing are below.

4 Family Friendly Activities to do at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley Family Hikes

Traveling can connect you with all walks of life.  While we were traveling in San Diego we met @lifeofkuhl a Canadian family of 5 traveling the Western US and Baja, Mexico, while homeshchooloing the 3 children.  We me them at he SoCal van gathering and had traveled with them all the way to Vail, Colorado before we parted ways.  

One of our stops with the Kuhl’s along our epic road trip was in Yosemite National Park in May.  This was a great time to visit the park it was just before school was out and before busy holiday weekends, and most importantly fire season so it was clear and the crowds weren't too hectic. If you’re heading to Yosemite here are a few family friendly activities that the kids will love.   

Glacier Point 

We came in from Kings Canyon so our first stop was Glacier Point in my mind a mandatory Yosemite stop for sunset this is a family friendly activity the view are amazing (some of the best on earth) and there is little hiking involved (0.5 mile) to get them. There is plenty here to keep the kids busy and entertained.  If you are looking for more head to the Sentinel Dome trail (2.6 Miles Moderate) for something to really get the kids tired. 

Biking

Yosemite Valley has a 17 mile bike trail (Valley Loop Trail) that goes around the entire valley.  While you don't have to ride the 17 mile ride you can bike to a few places for the kids to hang out.  You could make a short bike ride from Half Dome Village to the Merced River to cool off or bike to Yosemite Falls this trail will let you access plenty of family friendly hikes and places to enjoy the valley views. 

Hiking

There are plenty of easy but entertaining trails in the valley for the whole family to enjoy.  While with the Kuhl's we hikes a number of trails.  We started the day off with shuttle ride from Half Dome Village to Lower Yosemite Falls (1.0 Mile Easy) There were plenty of boulders and side trails that the kids enjoyed.  We then headed across the valley to Mirror Lake Trail (4 miles easy) here were hung out set up hammock and the kids found a rock to jump off and swim in the lake.  After that that was enough to get the adults and kids pretty tired.  

During busy season head to Tuolumne Meadows on the east side of the park. Lembert Dome Trail (2.3 Miles Moderate) is a great hike for families and has a major pay off at the end. This is a uphill climb but it is worth every step the kids will love the wide open granate surfaces to scramble on.

Float the Merced

Images along the merced river Yosemite national park

This was something that we weren't prepared enough for but now we are after purchasing our Intex Challenger K1’s.  The Kuhl’s had two stand up paddle-boards and inflatable rafts (their Canadian) but we didn't and the price to rent was out of our budget.  However knowing this we are passing the information on to you to be prepared with rafts or SUPs if you are there in late spring the river looked amazing.  You will also need to arrange a pick up vehicle since they charge you on the shuttle so plan ahead.  I believe the start is near Half Dome Village and ends at Swinging Bridge.  

Few Items we use to shoot our adventures

Three Activities to do in and Around Bend, Oregon

Bend has endless activities, but if you are struggling to narrow some down. Here are three activities to do in and around Bend area that won’t break the bank while keeping the stoke level high.

Mountain biking phil's trail camping phil's trailhead

Phil’s Trail Head

If you mountain bike, this is area is a haven for endless flow and fun system of smooth trails right outside you van, car or RV. 

If you are just visiting for a day ride, you can park at the main parking lot, where most of the trails start and finish. 

There is a sweet little pump track to the right of the trailhead sign. Be sure to check it out, it was pretty fun. 

If you are trying to have an epic mountain bike camp out, then you will want to park off 4610 in free dispersed camping. You will be near the upper parts of most of the trail complex. We were able to connect on to Ben’s to the top, then we connected that with upper whoops, Phil’s, then Kent’s back to our campsite off 4610. 

Mountain Biking Phils Trailhead

Upper whoops was our favorite. There were jumps, berms and down hill flow. It was so much fun. We had to go back and do it again! It really is a central Oregon gem.  

Standing Wave at McKay River Park

bend water park surfing

McKay River Park is pretty awesome. It is a man-built white water rafting course. There is a beginner side with mellow white water “drops.” And then, down the center, is where all the experienced white water rafters send it.
Further down the second section, in the middle, is the standing wave. You really can’t miss it. There are river rats surfing there from sunrise till sunset. 

Bend Rock Climbing Gym

Bend Rock Climbing

This place was awesome on the one rainy day we had in Bend. 

There are showers, a nearby food truck, and if you get there before noon or on a Thursday, you can climb for $16, which is $2 cheaper. There are about 9 Auto Belay’s in just one of the rooms. With difficulties ranging from 5.7 to 5.12-, there was something for everyone to climb on in the same room, including heaps of bouldering from V0-V9. There was also a weight lifting area in there as well. 

In the front room, there was about 7 tall-wall auto-belay’s and the rest of the room was lead belay climbing and the rest was bouldering. 

If you buy a day pass, it also gives you access to the Yoga classes. So be sure to check that out.

Visiting Crater Lake National Park 

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the 9th deepest lake in the world.

Crater Lake  (1 of 1).jpg

The lake is contained within a Caldera created by a volcano that erupted and then collapsed in on it self. The lake is not a typical lake, filled by rivers or streams. All the water that is inside the lake came from rain, snow, or snow melt, which makes it one of the cleanest large bodies of water in the world. I always knew this fact, but it wasn’t until I got there that I found out that you could actually hike down to the water, touch it, and even swim in it if you wanted, via Cleetwood Cove trail. But beware, Cleetwood Cove trail is known to be steep and strenuous. The hike back to the top is equivalent to climbing 65 flights of stairs, so it is marked for hikers that are pretty physically fit. This trail is open mid-June to October. There are vault bathrooms at the start and bottom of the trail. 

While there are over 90 miles of hiking trails in the Crater Lake National Park, you can also chose to drive the rim of the crater, if hiking isn’t your thing. There are plenty of easy trails and or look outs along the East and West Rim Drive. Plaikni Falls seems like a pretty chill walk thru an old growth forrest to a waterfall that is also fed by snowmelt, not Crater Lake, as one would expect. 

We chose to do the Garfield Peak trail. It is a 3.6 mile (round trip) rocky hike to the top of Garfield Peak where you will have panoramic views, above the crater, at summit. Most of the hike gets more and more scenic, the higher you go on the trail. We are moderately fast hikers and it took us 31 minutes to summit and 40 minutes to get down. The hike recommends allowing yourself 2-3 hours for the entire hike.  

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Difficulty of this hike:

It is marked as “Strenuous,” which, I think, keeps most people off of the trail. We saw maybe 10 people on the trail, which is a stark difference from the groups of tourists we saw getting off buses near the Crater Lake Lodge and Gift Shop. 

While this hike climbs 1,010 feet in elevation over 1.7 miles, I didn’t think it was too strenuous. Maybe it was my racing the sun attitude, as we decided to jump on this trail pretty late in the afternoon, as soon as we spotted Garfield Peak. However hard it was, the reward at the top, seclusion along the trail, and the views all along the trail definitely made any difficulty or struggle worth it. If that sounds good to you and you are still worried about the “strenuous” label, there are plenty of pull offs, with rock benches to sit on and take in the view and catch your breath. 

Free Camping Near Crater Lake:

There are no free campsites inside the National Park, but the Sno-park’s on the North and South and South entrance of the the boundary are free camping in the Summer months. There are vault toilets at each spot. 

We camped at the North Crater Lake Trail Head Sno-Park, which is also apparently a PCT parking lot. There are vault toilets here and picnic tables. There are no views as it is amongst the trees off HWY-138, but it is so quiet. We were there with two other vans, but you could hardly tell as we all had our own little tree coves to pull into. 

We checked out the Annie Creek Sno-Park, the South Entrance free camping, off of the 62, going into Crater Lake National Park. There were a couple 5th wheels and tents at the end of the huge parking lot. It looked to have views, if we were headed back south, we would have stayed here for the views. 







San Diego Vanlife: 5 Best Daytime Van Spots around San Diego 

San Diego Van Life Parking Spots

We spent about 2 and a half months in our van in San Diego. It really brought us back to our early days in the van, beach bummin’ around Australia. The good vibes were high in San Diego it was a hard place to peel our selves away from. Here are five of our favorite spots to hang out in the van during the day. 

#1 - Law Street Beach, PB

Law Street Beach Van Parking overnight

Law Street in Pacific Beach, if you were looking for us, you could probably find us here. We would get up at 5 am to get our choice of the perfect parking spot here. Why was this our favorite spot?

The Beach is at your doorstep, yoga is at your door step, the Tuesday Farmers Market is right down the boardwalk away, you have your choice of two laundry mats that are both a walk away (so you don’t have to lose your parking spot). Too many reasons to name why this place is awesome.  

  • Surf at Law Street BeachOne of which is that Law street Beach has Parallel Waterfront Parking for about 15-20 cars. So, get there early. This is a local surf spot. So people come here all throughout the day to surf and check the surf. Neighbors will arrive by golf cart when it is looking good to squeeze in parking anywhere. If you don’t know how to surf, there is the San Diego Surf School that gives lessons if you are into learning to surf. 

  • Yoga on the Cliff with @namasteveyoga

If you do get one of those parking spots on Tuesday’s, Thursdays (@10am), Saturday, and Sunday’s (9am) @namasteveyoga puts on a “by-donation only” Yoga session on the grass overlooking the water down below. It is probably my all time favorite yoga class I have ever been to! He says things like, “Yoga poses are simulated stressful events, if we can learn to breathe in stressful poses, here, we can learn to breathe in stressful situations in life. This is a practice.” 

  • Pacific Beach Tuesday Farmer’s Market

On Tuesday’s, on Bayard St between Garnet and Grand, from 2pm-7pm, year-round, rain-or-shine, Farmer’s Market goes down with some yummy local delicacies. 

  • Laundry

Laundry is a thing that we van lifers do during the day so why not make it near a cool beach where you park your car next to your other van friends, right? Well this one is about a 8-10 minute walk from Law Street. There are two laundry mats, one next to the Little Caesar’s and Cass Cleaners, on the corner of Cass St and Loring St. That one has the best wifi chill area and their Laundry machines take debit and credit cards! No more scrounging for change in the van! 

The other laundry mat, across from Java Earth Cafe, next to the 7/11, there’s that one, but it is a standard laundry mat, change nothing special to say about it other than it is close to your Law street parking. Change only. 

#2 - Ocean Beach, San Diego

Ocean Beach San Diego Van Parking Overnight
  • Dog Beach in OB

If you own a pup and live in your van, this place is great! There is a dog beach where all the dogs can run wild, dig holes, chase balls, hump other bigger dogs, show em who’s boss, you know dog things. They can do them all here, just remember to pick up after your dogs, unless they bury it! I’ve seen that and I’m alright with that catlike behavior ;)

  • Volleyball

There are heaps of sand volleyball courts here. I don’t play volleyball, but there were heaps of people out playing for fun on a weekend day. 

  • Cafes and Shops: 

There is a Apple Tree Supermarket on Newport. If you need re-stock on some food items and don’t want to lose your parking spot, you can hit this place up. This OB area is also one of those places where if you get a spot, and good one, keep it. You can walk, bike, skate anywhere you need. There are heaps of cool little beach shops and vibey little shops along Newport, as well as some great bars for Live music. 

  • Farmers Market Wednesdays

If I am in the San Diego area and I am not at this Farmers Market, I am either blowing it or I am at the Carlsbad Farmers Market, another one of our favorites. But, OB Wednesday night farmers market has heaps of endless samples for your Vanlife empty belly. There is live music and at the end of Newport, on the grass before the beach, there is a drum circle that goes until 10pm. There are fire spinners, hula hoopers, dancing children, slack liners, anything and everything self expression. This is probably one of my favorite things to do on a Wednesday in San Diego. So many things going on in OB on a Wednesday. There is usually a live music Show at Winston’s after the drum circle is broken up, if you want to keep the party going!

  •  Sunset Cliffs Natural Park 

If you want to go a little farther past OB, there is awesome area called Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. There are little parking lots off to the west side of Sunset Cliffs Blvd. Many people chose this area for quick awesome weddings. We’ve seen a few. While you are there, check out Sunset Cliff Cave and Cabrillo National Monument!

  • Mission Bay- Slack-lining, waterfront Van chillin, community fire pits, and Van Meetups! 

Mission Bay this place was another place we chilled at a lot. Bonita Cove, Mariner’s Point Park, Mission Beach, Fiesta Island. There were really too many places to name where we felt like home. 

Some of the highlights in this area include: Slack Lining, Waterfront Chillin’ with plenty of nearby public restrooms, Fiesta Island Van Meet up.

In Bonita Cove, there is a pretty legit sand pit with poles for rigging up some slack lining. Lots of really talented people slacking it up. 

If you are a van lifer or interested in Vanlife, there is a sweet meet up that happens every other month, on the last Saturday of the month at Fiesta Island. It is put on by @theladiesvan, from Instagram, and tons of people show up! Fiesta Island is also an amazing place to pull up on to mission may beachside and chill all day and cap off the day with a fire pit chill session. 

Almost every beach in Mission Bay has a community fire pit. If you are trying to stay warm outside of your van, there are plenty of welcoming people you can share a fire with or make your own!

#3 - Carlsbad, CA

Carlsbad California Camping

We love us some Carlsbad chillin. We usually park on Carlsbad Blvd overlooking the water and again, walk every where that we want to go. 

One place in particular we always want to go is the Carlsbad Wednesday Farmers Market on State Street, from 3-7pm. There is live music, great samples, and local yummy foods. 

Don’t forget to hit up the Choice Juice Container! That place has amazing raw food, smoothies, and smoothie bowls. 

#4 - Swami’s Sunday Drum Circle in Encinitas,

San Diego Car Camping Swamis

So if you went to the Farmers Market In OB and enjoyed the Drum Circle, there is another Drum Circle at Swami’s in Encinitas. Smaller more intimate drum circle than the Ocean Beach Drum Circle. Jump in, dance, hula, juggle, self express!

Swami’s is also a notorious local surf break. So bring your wetty and board and be ready to hit some all time waves with awesome coastal views. 

#5 - Blacks Beach, San Diego

Blacks Beach Overnight Van Camping

Blacks Beach is a great place to Surf (not exactly for the beginner tho), watch the sunset, or  watch paragliders taking off and flying around like kites in the air. When we were at this particular beach for the first time, there happened to be some music and vendors in the Park. There were people twirling ribbons, dancing and having fun until the sun went down. 

On another particular time, we were at Blacks Beach and we saw some Bio-luminescence in the water at night. Needless to say Black’s Beach hasn’t let us down and has been quite manageable!

Hiking the Narrows, Spring vs Summer

Hiking Zion Narrows Spring summer what to bring

The Narrows,  in Zion National Park, is one of the most well known and visited slot canyon hikes in ZNP. 

The Narrows starts at the last stop on the Park shuttle bus, the Temple of Sinawava. You will get off the bus and follow the river walk trail for about a mile to where the side walk ends. 

Then, as the trail continues, it is basically up the Virgin River. So plan on getting wet, very wet. Sometimes you are up to your ankles and sometimes you are up to your waist wading through water, zig zagging from high shorelines to low shorelines. 

You may go as far up the river as you feel comfortable. Then, you will turn around and retrace your steps down river, making the hike as strenuous as you wish to make it.

Is this hike seasonal?

This hike is mostly seasonal and ultimately dependent on water levels. The beginning of the hiking season is dependent on runoff and water levels if they are low enough to send hikers through. For instance, you typically don’t need a backcountry permit to hike the Narrows, but if the water levels are above 120 cfs, the Narrows will be closed to hikers. 

If it is over 150 cfs, the wilderness desk will probably be issuing kayaking permits for the Narrows, not hiking permits. Even with open hiking allowed with a water flow of 100 cubic feet per second, it is still pretty difficult and dangerous. While a flow of around 50 cubic feet per second, this indicates a relatively easier and safer hike.

Typically, the Narrows hiking seasons are Summer and Fall, where the water levels are pretty low and the water temperatures are pretty warm. We have hiked in both the spring and mid-summer and there are some huge differences we wanted to talk about here. 

Hiking the Narrows in the Spring 

Hiking the Narrows in the spring

We have visited Zion in Spring two different years 2017 and 2018. Water levels and run off levels were dramatically different.

May 2017, they were issuing the last of the Kayaking permits for the Narrows. So we didn’t even think of hiking those rapids. 

March 2018, earlier in the year and a couple days before the Spring Break madness, the water levels were actually low enough to allow hikers and there was no rain in the forecast.  So, we jumped on the opportunity. 

The water temperatures in late March were cold. There were less hikers than we saw in the summer, but there still a lot of hikers. About 98% of them were in rented Dry Suits and the Adidas waterproof Ankle supporting boots. 

Being thrifty vanlifers and having everything we need all the time, we avoided spending $55 on drysuits, as we threw on our  5/4 winter wetsuits, 5ml booties, and hiking poles. We were warm. It was perfect. To be honest, our foot and ankle muscles got quite the work out tho! If you have weak ankles, I would not recommend the booties, as the rocks are slippery and covered in algae and the booties offer no ankle support. Wear some hiking boots that offer ankle support. 

Others that are in our group did not have wetsuits and were not interested in paying $55 in rental gear to hike the Narrows. So they layered up and wore wool clothing items, hoping the wool would keep them warm even when wet. 

They toughed out the cold water temps for as long as possible, but we ended up turning around a little before Wall Street. Feeling like we didn’t “finish” the hike from turning around early, we needed to go back!

Hiking the Narrows in the Summer

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In late May 2018, we crossed Utah again and made the mandatory Zion detour. We needed to hike the Narrows as far as we could go.

This time it was a completely different experience. It was summer. There were heaps of people all along the river bank swimming, playing, picnicking, not just hiking. This is the spot to be in this park on a Hot summer day. The shadows created by the tall canyon walls keeps the canyon pretty mild. It is a great escape from the heat. 

This time around, we hiked in shorts, tank top, and hiking boots. We were sure to bring extra layers, because being wet and in the shadows can be pretty chilly no matter how hot of a day it is outside that canyon.

What was the main difference?

narrows hiking in summer what to bring  rentals equipment (1 of 1).jpg

The main difference between the two times of year was the air and water temperature. 

In the Spring, mostly the prepared and dry suit equipped braved the cold air and water temperatures. If we didn’t have a wetsuit, we would have been in a lot of layers, like our friends, just to stay warm from being soggy in the cooler air temps. 

In the Summer, it was a shady oasis for all looking to escape the heat. It was a very busy hike up stream with the groves of other tourists that varied in skill levels and ages. 

Things to remember

Flash floods can occur from storms miles away from the canyon, even if there is no rain predicted in the National Park. Make sure to check for potential weather in the area before you go hiking in any narrow canyon. Water levels can raise 12 feet within minutes, with no high ground to scramble to. Please take this seriously!

Bring some shoes with ankle support. And use a walking stick or hiking poles to give yourself more points of contact while hiking upstream. 

Bring a headlamp. It gets dark in those canyon as the sun sets. To be on the safe side, make sure you carry an emergency light source, it could help you from spending a dark and unintended cold night in the canyon.

If you don’t have a Dry Bag, this would be the time to get one for your electronics that you would like to bring that you do not want to get wet. 

Slot Canyons, Arches, and Waterfalls - 3 easy Escalante Day Hikes

Zebra Canyon Escalante Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a massive area that could take you a lifetime to explore.  It’s one of our favorite places for solitude, amazing geological formations, and night skies.  If you’re just passing through Escalante on a road trip, here are a few short day hikes we highly recommend. 

Lower Calf Creek Falls

Lower Calf Creek Falls

This is a relatively flat (5.8 miles) easy hike on sand and slick rock to Lower Calf Creek Falls (126 feet). Upon arrival to the falls, it seems as if you have reached a desert oasis. The air near the waterfall is crisp and cool, almost too cool for that dip we were talking about the whole hike. There is also camping, on site, which looks pretty awesome, but busy.  The hike is scenic with classic southern Utah rock formations and a refreshing creek to cool off in.  

Escalante Natural Bridge and Indian Ruins

Escalante Hiking

Just a short 4 mile round trip hike off HWY 12 will take you to the Escalante Natural Bridge.  This is a very easy hike, it’s more of a stroll along the river.  You will have to cross the river multiple times, but it is quite refreshing.  After about 5 river crossings you will come to the natural bridge.  This is a great place to relax in the river and cool off.  If you want to extend the hike, you can head about another mile to a natural arch where you will find a pretty awesome Anasazi cliff dwelling ruins. 

Hole in the Rock Road - Slot Canyons

Zebra Slot Canyon Escalante Utah

A long bumpy ride down Hole in the Rock road will lead you to the trail heads of both Zebra and Spooky Slot Canyons.  Note: Hole in the Rock Road is a very bumpy road our van almost rattled to death on the journey to and from these slot canyons.  The trails are short, but there is little or no shade. So, bring water and appropriate head wear and more water than usual. Zebra slot canyon is a longer hike at around 6 miles. There is also another canyon called Tunnel Canyon, this will add an additional 2 miles and some navigation skills.

Highway 395 Eastern Sierra - Hot Springs, Gems, and Rock Climbing

@lifeofkuhl Cruising Down HWY 395

The backside of the Sierra is littered with amazing scenery, hot springs, rock climbing, and everything an outdoor enthusiast needs. 

Hot Springs

Near Bridgeport, CA, are the Travertine Hot Springs. While they can be crowded, this place is beautiful.  The natural rock formations really make an amazing hot springs environment.  

Just south, on 395, near the Mammoth Airport is a green church. If you take that road, it will take you to the Whitmore Hot Springs Area. There is a high concentration of man made hot springs that vary from warm to hot.  While we haven't been to all the hot springs in this area, we have been to most.  Our favorites are the Rock Tub, for best views, and Shepard Hot Springs, for the perfect temp.  

Earth Treasures

395 Hot Springs Alabama Hills (2 of 16).jpg

A great short hike to a crater that was formed from a hotspot and is actually part of some of the youngest volcanic mountains in the US.  The Panum Crater is full of Obsidian and Pumice and is a great place to hunt for earth treasures.   

Rock Climbing in Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills Free Camping

This is some of the best BLM camping in California.  Alabama Hills are littered with rocks, climbing routes, a few bouldering spots, and plenty of scrambling. This place is vanlife heaven.  A great place for beginners to start climbing in Alabama hills is at Paul’s Backyard, for a variety of easier climbs. We actually camped at Paul’s Backyard and left our ropes up for a few days and climbed as we pleased.   If you are ready to step it up a few notches, the Shark Fin is a iconic climb in the area as well.  There are hundreds of routes at this world class climbing playground. 

Check out a video of us traveling through the area with @lifeofkuhl

5 Awesome Outdoor Activities to do in and Around Boulder, Colorado

South Arapaho Peak

This summer we were fortunate enough to spend some quality time in Boulder, Colorado, soaking up the sun and enjoying the Rocky Mountains.  The front range of the Rockies are plentiful with outdoor activities.  Here are some of our favorite things to do while in and around Boulder, Colorado.  

Day Hike

Indian Peaks Wilderness Hikes Fourth of July

South Arapaho Peak - Less than an hour drive from Boulder is the 4th of July Campground, in the Indian Peaks National Forest.  From here, the Arapaho Pass trail will take you to a number of different destinations.  We have hiked quite a few of these trails and feel that it is safe to say that the South Arapaho Peak is the most bang for the buck.  The trail is 8.6 miles out and back and has 3,213 feet elevation gain to the summit at 13,356 feet.  The summit rewards you with views of the the Arapaho Glacier and the Rocky Mountains.  On a day with high visibility, you can even see Pikes Peak.  You’ll see plenty of Marmots and they might even try to take your lunch, so be on the lookout.  This hike offers amazing views, wildlife, wild flowers and lakes.  

Overnight Backpacking

Crater Lake Indian Peaks Wilderness

Crater Lake - Just on the other side of the 4th of July Campground is Monarch Lake unfortunately it’s a 2 hour and 30 minute drive from Boulder, but it’s worth it.  The trailhead for Crater Lake (Monarch Lake, and Cascade Trail) is located near the Monarch Lake parking lot. The hike isn’t a short hike either at just about 15 miles round trip and a little over 2,000 feet vertical. It’s a big hike for an overnighter, but 100% worth the effort.  The hike is packed with wildflowers, wildlife, and waterfalls.  You’ll want to set out for Mirror Lake the smaller lake before Crater Lake. Mirror Lake will be your best bet for views and photos of Lone Eagle Peak.  This was our first experience backpacking with a hammock and we loved it. This was one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been to in Colorado it was an amazing night of stargazing and hanging with new friends.  

Summer Fun

Boulder Creek Whitewater Course

Take a plunge down the Boulder Creek. You’ll need to head to McGuckin’s Hardware to grab a $11 River Rat tube or come prepared and order online. Once you have the tube, head over to Eben G. Fine and get ready to send it down the Creek.  This is one of my favorite activities to do on those sweltering Boulder days.  You’ll want to start about a half mile up the bike path from Even G. before the path curves to HWY 119, you’ll see a bunch of people hanging out around the launch spot.  From here, it’s a series of small rapid drops to pools and nothing is too extreme. I would say ages 10 and up can hang on this mellow course when the water is lower. The course is some some good ol’ fashion fun!  Remember to keep your butt up or you will slam a rock or two. 

Mountain Biking

Valmont Bike Park Boulder

We always talk about how great the Valmont Bike Park is in Boulder.  We came here at least twice a week it’s a great place to work on skills and progress for the trails, without the drive or having to ride 10+ miles with tons of uphill.  You can find tons of lines in this park. There is a 2 mile Hot Lap, to get the blood flowing, as well as, a slope stye course for all levels.  

Outside of Boulder, there are plenty of bike trials all around table mesa and in the front range.  A trail we really enjoyed and found at the end of our stay was the Betasso Preserve, a 7.4 mile loop that’s rated intermediate, but has some challenging technical sections that we struggled on. But over all, this was our favorite trail near Boulder.

Paddling

Gross Res Boulder Colorado

We just recently bought the Intex Challenger K1 for $50 on Amazon Prime Day and we love them.  While in Boulder, we went down the creek plenty of times on the K1’s as well as paddled at lakes and down rivers.  One of our favorite spots was the Gross Reservoir just an hour from Boulder.  This is a no wake lake and has calm glassy water and is great for paddling.  Another option that you can convert into a camping trip is heading to Lake Grandby on the other end of the Indian Peaks. 

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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Mountain 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 to creat the Aeire Loop, 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

We 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 we can see why this is one of the most used public spaces in the country. 

Our 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

We 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 our 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

Bear Peak, Boulder Colorado, Hiking

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.  

Valmont Bike Park and Antelope Trail

Mountain Biking, Boulder Colorado.

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.  

Chasm Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder

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.  

National Forest Camping

Subaru Camping

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.

On the last day 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 and the Very Large Array

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

Gila National Forest Cliff Dwellings

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 BLM Camping

Organ Mountains Las Cruces

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

White Sands New Mexico

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. 

Backpacking White Sands National Monument

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.