Our Vanlife Experience – Month #2

Howdy family and friends! Our last four weeks in the van have come and gone! We started off our second month of vanlife exploring the Channel Islands on the coast of California. We hiked through the woods of Los Padres National Forest, sunk our feet in the desert sands of Mojave National Preserve, then, worked our way East, stopping in Nevada for a visit to  Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead in Nevada before meeting  our family for spring break in the Grand Canyon. Fortunately, we were able to enjoy spring break with our family right before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. We are happy to report that we are safe, healthy and currently hiding out in the stunning desert mountains near Death Valley.

Sunset view at our Death Valley campsite

Now more than ever, we are grateful to have a home on wheels and that Alan has a job so he can continue to work remotely.  We are also thankful for our friends and family that continue to check in on us. Currently, we do not have any plans to cut our adventure short and will continue to travel the western US as long as we can.

Since we are pretty much self-contained, the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected us a whole lot. We are a little bummed that COVID-19 has closed Yosemite National Park, all the Planet Fitness locations we were working out and showering at, and the Canadian border but we are choosing to focus on the good. There are still many parks and public lands we will be able to visit. We will also be challenging ourselves to do longer and more difficult hikes to avoid the crowds. We were also able to order a solar shower last week and it will arrive this week. This is the longest we have gone without a shower. Hurry up, Amazon! We were tentatively planning to visit Canada later this summer, so there is still a chance we may be able to explore Banff if the virus dissipates by then. Overall, we hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during this unprecedented pandemic.

A snapshot of our planning map

Aside from the pandemic, lots of good stuff has happened over the past month. We’ve had constant great weather, all the nature we can handle, and had some fun in the sun on the coast of California! We also enjoyed a week in Flagstaff with our family and hope to plan more trips with family soon.

Torrey Pines State Preserve in California

How about the budget you ask? Don’t ask, we blew it again. Not as bad as month #1 but still not where we would like to be. I guess you could say the silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we will likely make our budget goal on month #3 since we are not eating out and staying as far away from public facilities as possible.

I suppose we could try eating less pizza…

Favorites of the month

Ashby’s favorite destination of the month: Grand Canyon National Park. Total WOW factor and seriously jaw dropping! No picture will EVER do it justice, you must see it for yourself. Alan and I had a backpacking trip planned so we could hike into the canyon but unfortunately snowy weather and COVID-19 got in the way. We look forward to making our way back to this magical place.

The Grand Canyon

Alan’s favorite destination of the month: Mojave National Preserve. The vast desert landscape containing many unique features and formations evokes feelings of isolation and solitude.

Kelso Dunes

See ya!

We hope everyone continues to stay home and healthy so that we can get back to normal soon! Thanks for reading!

Los Padres National Forest

After leaving Channel Islands we headed to Los Padres National Forest. This forest is just North of Ventura, California. The forest is split into four ranger districts. We visited only the Santa Barbara Ranger District. We camped at Cachuma Lake Recreation Area on the northeast side of the forest.

Lake Cachuma National Recreation Area

This park offers many utilities such as a grocery store, gas station, RV dumps, and more than 500 campsites. While at Lake Cachuma, Alan learned that there was two 18-hole disc golf courses. So our first day there, he played both courses while I stayed back at the campsite reading and blogging. Time apart comes rarely when you live in a van so it was nice to be able to do our own thing for a bit.

Tequepis Trail

On day 2, we hiked the Tequepis Trail. This trail is 7.8 miles in and out with an elevation gain of 2,437 feet. After parking the van, we had a little trouble finding the trailhead because we had to enter a summer camp campground, we had to hike up a dirt road past a swimming pool and bunkhouses to get to it. But alas, we made it.

The trail starts off in the shaded forest with views of a flowing creek. After about a mile into the hike the switchbacks begin and the incline gets a little steeper. As we hiked up, the views of the mountains and Lake Cachuma kept getting better and better.

Lake Cachuma as we ascended

We also saw this slug on the way up. We think it’s a banana slug based on our google search. If there are any slug experts out there, let us know what it is called!

Banana Slug (maybe?)

Once we made it to the top, we were able to see the Pacific Ocean on one side of the mountain and Lake Cachuma on the other. Pretty incredible! We ate a quick snack and hurried down because it was super windy and we were both getting a little cold.

The Pacific Ocean from the top of Tequepis Trail

Takeaways

Our visit to Los Padres National Forest was short but so sweet! The forest has multiple hot springs and we wished we would have stay a day longer to take a refreshing dip.

Lake Cachuma as we descended from the top

Want more?

For more photos of our visit to Los Padres National Forest, click here!

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park is a group of five islands off the coast of California near Ventura. The national park consists of the islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. During our visit we spent a day each on Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island.

Hiking on Anacapa Island

Getting There

The islands are accessible via commercial boat, private boat, or plane (Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands only). The cruise company Island Packers is the only boating operation affiliated with the national park. We used Island Packers during our visit and really enjoyed both trips we took to the islands.

We’re on a boat

Marine Life Spotting

On both days during our trip across the Santa Barbara Channel, we saw a variety of marine life that inhabits the area. The Island Packers boat crew scans the horizon for sea creatures during the trip to the islands and slows the boat when a sighting is made so that passengers can view the wildlife. During our trips to and from, we saw thousands of Common Dolphin, hundreds of California Sea Lions, a Grey Whale, and a Sunfish. The Dolphin sightings were especially exciting because we came across multiple “Megapods” each consisting of more the 5,000 Common Dolphin.

Dophin megapod on the way to Santa Cruz Island

Anacapa Island

While Anacapa Island is the second smallest within the Channel Island group (737 acres), it certainly does not lack in natural beauty. It is truly every Instagrammers’ dream! Wonderful ocean views, unique rock formations, and inspiring island mountain ranges made our visit majestic. The boat we took to the island was the only one visiting that day so the crew and passengers were the only people on the island.

 Aside from the landing dock and a few buildings, the island is undeveloped and preserved for the plants and wildlife that call it home. This place is truly “for the birds” as approximately 10,000 Western Gulls call this place home.

Google “Look at all those chickens original” if you don’t know what we are talking about!

The island has about 2 miles of hiking trails which we hiked 2 times over during our 4 hour stay. Our favorite point of interest was “Inspiration Point” located on the western end island. This point offers breathtaking views of the rest of the middle and western portions of Anacapa Island and was a great spot to stop for lunch. There was a group that brought a full on picnic and booze to sit by Inspiration Point, we were very much envious and wish we would have done the same!

Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz is the largest of the five islands at and is also the largest island off the California coast with an area of 61,972 acres. It is mostly undeveloped and more than 50% of the island belongs to a nature conservancy. We landed at Prisoners Harbor in the middle of the northern side of the island.

Hiking Navy Road on Santa Cruz Island

From Prisoners Harbor we hiked up the Navy Road toward the backcountry campground climbing from sea-level to an elevation of 1,250 feet. Throughout the hike we were rewarded with awesome views of the island mountains set in the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. From the campground we hiked back towards the harbor via the Del Norte trail. Our hike totaled about 8 miles and we found it easily doable within the 4 hours allotted before we had to return to the boat. We were the only people that chose this hike so it was nice to have the trail and views to ourselves. During our hike we came across various  wildlife including the Island Scrub Jay and the Island Fox.

Two Island Foxes

Takeaways

Our visit to Channel Islands National Park was a unique experience because we were able to feel like we were on the other side of the world but were only an hour and a half boat ride from the California coast. The amount of wildlife and beautiful landscapes we saw over only a two day span of time makes this place very special indeed. Our only regret is that we did not plan an overnight backpacking trip on one the islands to have more time to experience the island isolation. 

Lupine on Santa Cruz Island

Want more?

For more photos from our visit to Channel Islands National Park, click here!