City of Rocks National Reserve

Our second destination in Idaho was the mountainous high desert reserve known as the “City of Rocks”. As the name implies, this landscape is filled with granite peaks and unique rock formations. Naturally, this park is a hot spot for world class rock climbing. We spent three nights parked on some BLM land just outside the park. Having already been in southern Idaho, we were aware of how surprisingly hot it was here so we did our best to stay in the shade (nothing two Texans couldn’t handle though).

Loop Trail Hike

Having researched AllTrails, we found a 7 mile loop comprised of multiple trails within the park. After eating breakfast, we headed for the trailhead stopping for a scenic overlook along the way. The trail started near a formation called “Parking Lot Rock” and there were already many climbers scaling its large walls. The loop led us through the unique rock formations then we climbed to a ridge that overlooked the bulk of the park. Along the way we mistook a cow laying down for a bear that gave a moment of fright then a good laugh.

Although the trail was relatively short, we took our time, stopping for overlooks and to catch our breath along the way. That evening we returned to our dispersed site, showered, ate dinner, then bedded down for the night.

Large Pockets Formed in Granite

Bouldering

Given this area is a “climbing mecca” and I was itching to break in our new crash pad, we spent our second day at the park hopping from boulder to boulder with the help of Mountain Project, an online climbing guide. We had a great time hanging out near to boulder attempting previously established “problems” (bouldering routes) and making up some of our own.

Takeaways

This was an awesome location we would like to return to with improved rock-climbing ability. We would also most likely plan our trip during a cooler season having now experienced the surprisingly warm southern Idaho summer. See you later!

-Alan

Craters of the Moon National Preserve

We had an amazing time in Wyoming and were excited to see what Idaho has to offer over the next couple of weeks. Our first stop in Idaho was Craters of the Moon National Preserve. After a morning hike at Grand Teton, we headed towards Idaho Falls to resupply then stopped at a BLM called “Hell’s Half Acre” which is made up volcanic rock similar to Craters of the Moon. We did not realize how warm the high desert of southern Idaho would be and it was a sudden change from the mountains of Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

Scenic Loop Road

On our first day at the park, we stopped at the visitor’s center to get a park map and discuss current park conditions with the park rangers. To our dismay, we found out that due to some recent seismic activity in the area, the caves were closed to visitors.

Lava Flow

The road through the park took us on a scenic loop past many of the main features. Along the drive we saw huge lava flows, cinder cones, and volcanic craters. We decided to leave the park for the day so we could take advantage of a free campsite on some BLM land near the park.

Volcanic Crater

Tree Molds Trail

The next morning we re-entered the park to hike out to a feature called the “Tree Molds”. These impressions of tree trunks were formed when lava flowed around trees then solidified. The trail is a 2 mile round trip and was a nice morning walk.

Tree Mold

Takeaways

This park taught us a lot about volcanoes and the formations created when they occur. We were especially intrigued to find out that most of the volcanic activity took place only 2,000 years ago and that Native American tribes from the area have records of peoples that witnessed eruptions. This is definitely a cool quick stop that should not be missed by anyone traveling through the area.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Carrizo Plain national monument is located near Bakersfield, CA and belongs to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The monument is mountainous prairie land with a valley the center containing a lake. One of the monuments main attractions are the large amounts of wildflowers that typically bloom in the spring and summer. Ashby was especially excited about seeing the wildflowers so we made this a priority stop. We spent 4 days parked up a hillside overlooking the valley below.

Wildflowers

While this park is known for its vibrant “superblooms” of wildflowers, the blooms depend heavily on the amount of precipitation that occurs during the winter. Unfortunately, the monument did not see the much rain this winter so, we missed out on a “superbloom” but still saw some unique wildflowers. We will have to visit again when the rains are better.

Purple Owl’s-Clover and Fiddleneck

San Andreas Fault

The division between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates runs up the length of the monument appearing to be no more than a drainage ditch. It is a unique experience when you are standing on this immense geological boundary. I decided to go into the fault line and on my way down heard a rattle and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. My immediate reaction was to jump and run the opposite direction. I quickly surmised that I had just narrowly escaped being stuck by a rattlesnake! We then stood above the fault line and observed the rattlesnake slither back under some rocks all while it continued to rattle at us. This day happened to be our 3 year wedding anniversary and Ashby was glad we didn’t end up in the hospital.

San Andreas Fault

Takeaways

This is a remote mountainous prairie that in some ways reminded us of the vast prairies back home in Texas. We hope to return again following a good rain season to witness one of the wildflower superblooms this area is famous for. Until next time!

Click here for more photos…

Visit to Carrizo Plain National Monument

Vanlife on Pause

Let it be known that due to Covid-19, we have returned home and are sheltering in place with family in Texas. We have been home for about a month now and are keeping an eye on the status of parks and public lands with hopes of being back on the road soon.

When the virus first broke out in the United States, we felt safe living in our van in remote areas far away from the general public and cities. We consider ourselves to be flexible and can easily adapt to most situations. When gyms started closing we purchased a solar shower so that we could stay remote on the road without having to go into towns for workouts and showers.

Solar shower!

When the shelter in place orders started we isolated in Death Valley for two weeks. However, we eventually had to come out of hiding to do laundry, grocery shop and fill up our water tanks. After isolating in Death Valley, we decided to pick a new remote area to hunker down in Mojave National Preserve. Unfortunately, with the closure of most national parks on our intended itinerary and diminished to access public lands we felt the responsible thing to was to come home and wait for Covid-19 to blow over.

Social distancing near Death Valley National Park

We hope to be on the road soon but, in the mean time we are updating our blog to bring you more reports of our adventures to this date.

Stay tuned for more posts soon!

Thanks!

Alan & Ashby

Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

The first stop on our journey through the west was Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces, NM. This area belongs to the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and offers many outdoor activities such as hiking, climbing, and camping. Dispersed camping is also available at multiple locations just outside the park borders.

Free Parking!

During our stay, we parked in an area found via freecampsites.net near the Sierra Vista trail head off Dripping Springs road. This location has about 8 campsites and offers great vistas of the desert peaks. Camping for up to 14 days is allowed at this location.

Hiking Baylor Peak

Baylor peak is a 7,721 ft summit at the north end of the Organ Peaks range. Ashby and I hiked to the summit via the Baylor Pass trail we found using AllTrails. We found the first part of the hike from the trail head to Baylor Pass not too difficult and it is was the portion from Baylor Pass to the Baylor Peak Summit where things got harder. Rapid elevation gain, high winds, and scrambling definitely turned the difficulty level up a few notches but, after a break for lunch near the top, we pushed through and made it to the summit.

Takeaways

With stunning views of mountain peaks & formations, surrounding desert valleys, and outstanding trails, we found Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument to be an awesome piece of the southwestern landscape. We hope to return again someday in the future.

Want more?

For more photos of our visit to Organ Mountains National Monument click this link to our photo blog.