The Journal Vol.2
Here it is, the second instalment of the monthly Journal. I hope you are all ready for it. We travelled far and wide this month, definitely covering most of our ground yet. We took a 3-week trip starting in Big Sur, turning it east to the Sierra (again), heading further east to the Canyonlands, before heading back west to San Francisco to recoup. This has been by far the most we've seen yet, covering almost 4,000 miles in the van. It's been an incredibly eye-opening time, seeing the wild west and a new portion of the United States. Honestly this place is so underrated. I urge people to come here, hike and explore as much as you can. To view in book format, download the pdf version of The Journal - Volume 2.
- Welcome, Again
- Big Sur & Highway 1
- Having No Plans & What That Feels Like
- Mount Whitney, Eastern Sierras
- Campsite Of The Month
- The Grand Canyon
- Cumulus GORE-TEX® Rain Jackets
- Gear Item Of The Month: Escape Hike 30L Day Pack
- Southwest Gallery
- Backpacking Sequoia National Park
- Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Hi all. For those of you who read the first Journal in July, thank you! I'm glad you're back for the August edition. It's still stupidly hot here in the States. Summer has shown no sign of giving up, especially out in the desert where we've spent most of our time. I'm not complaining though. Before we know it, the temperature's going to drop and it'll be thermal and jacket weather. Unfortunately, this month we didn't backpack as much due to the ridiculous temperatures, but we did see more than we ever have before.
If you're new to reading this, The Journal is a place where we share all of our adventures from the road. We're hoping you're liking the images and the stories that go with them. We met up with some great people over here this month in Carmel and Yosemite. Definitely check these talented photographers out.
Big Sur & Highway 1
With no real schedule or places to be, we hit the road to see where it would take us. Over the next month, we would meet some amazing people and see some incredible places. We started our next odyssey of travels on the California coast, Big Sur. Everyone has heard of Big Sur. If you haven't, definitely google it. A mythical landscape of rugged headlands plunging into an impossibly blue ocean. Artist Francis McComas once called it the greatest meeting of land and sea and I can see exactly what he meant. Driving Highway 1 is almost dangerous because of the beautiful scenery and its distraction. You know, it's summer and with summer on the coast comes coastal fog, mainly in morning and evening. With fog ruining the views at sea level and with the plenty of busy and built-up spots along the coast, we opted to head for the hills, taking the quieter option driving up an old dirt forestry road. It's sounds cliched but some of my most fond adventures have come from driving unknown dirt roads.
The Big Sur offered up a breathtaking mix of landscapes, from rugged headlands welcoming the metronomic stroke of blue waves, to sweeping hills atop a carpet of clouds.
Our favourite afternoon was spent above the clouds. We ventured out into the hills above Highway 1 to find a spot for the afternoon, with the hope of seeing a 'Big Sur Sunset'. We found it, a beautiful little swing and with a picturesque view and no one else around. We sat for hours reading and swinging before witnessing one of the most beautiful inversions followed by the longest-lasting sunset and afterglow. Our perfect afternoon.
One perfect afternoon on the Californian coast, spent above the clouds.
Have you ever seen a more incredible swing setting?
Having No Plans & What That Feels Like
Being able to roam freely, I am forever grateful for. Home or abroad. This trip is an incredible opportunity to see the world and make memories. Buying a van instead of hiring one was the best decision we ever made. We're also really spontaneous people (me more so) so this lifestyle is sort of fitting. For the last two months, we've made many last-minute calls to travel to a location or to meet someone, often hundreds of miles away. This lifestyle isn't glamorous. Often living out of a cluttered mess, struggling to find things, and having to search for water and public showers, it's a grind but I'm in it for the long run, if our car agrees with us. We have already put a crazy number of miles on it. Almost 10K.
There are plenty of pros to road life, don't get me wrong, but there's plenty of cons too that would not attract the average person. Let me share. Firstly, it's a struggle to find water and to shower. We are averaging a shower once every 4-5 days. Secondly, we're confined night and day to the car, and it's a crammed, often-smelly space. Sometimes fresh air is needed and rolling back into bed at night in the car, just sucks, haha! Thirdly, we lose stuff all the time, like utensils, batteries, cables, undies and socks. They all seem to grow legs and wander off somewhere to be found later.
But if there's one thing that outweighs all of these negatives, it's the freedom. We're free to roam and drive wherever we want. That feeling of not knowing where we'll be for the night can be daunting and tiring but at the same time, inspiring and exciting. From Walmart parking lots to completely free National Forest dispersed campsites, we've seen and experienced so much. We've only booked an Airbnb once because it was too hot at night. I'm excited to see how my perspective on freedom changes the further we travel and the deeper we head into this lifestyle. For now, I'm eternally grateful for these opportunities.
Opting to take up life on the road has brought sponatenity and freedom to our adventures, as well as the occasional cramped moment!
Mount Whitney, Eastern Sierras
Leaving the Sierras (again) was definitely hard. I love the charm of the mountains here. Granite peaks have always had a special place in my heart. I'm not too sure why, but they look epic. We rolled into the Mount Whitney area before heading east to the desert and found one of our favourite campsites, and views. We've been using an app called iOverlander to find free camping areas throughout the whole country. The app shows coordinates, photos and details of sites, as well as shower areas, WIFI spots, laundromats and water refill stations. We couldn't do this road lifestyle without this app.
We pulled up here for the night and watched Mount Whitney, which is the highest mountain in the lower 48, from a distance. What's interesting about this area is the geological diversity, from desert plants and rocks to sub-alpine pine trees and into alpine rock and ice. You can see the changing layers in the photographs I took. So much colour and texture!
Road Life Tip: Recommended app - iOverlander - if you want to try living on the road in the US.
'The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration' - Claude Monet.
Campsite Of The Month
Rolling through the rugged Southwest, there's not many towns, gas stations or any phone reception. It's a pretty desolate place. Not the place you'd want a flat tyre. We'd just finished up cruising Monument Valley and were driving north-east towards Moab, Utah. 10 miles out of the town of Mexican Hat, a small road sign read 'Valley of the Gods' and I immediately said 'right, we're taking that road'. We whipped out our trusty app 'iOverlander' to check if it was free camp territory and fortunately it was. The light was getting good at this stage so I put my foot to the floor, going a bit too fast at times. Out on the horizon, roughly 15 miles away, I could see this epic section of Buttes and Mesas (rock formations) and it was then I decided that was our destination. We pulled up, shot some photos, flew the drone, and took some amazing images, before making dinner and falling asleep to the desert breeze after a really hot day. This was honestly one of my most memorable and favourite moments of my life so far. What makes a great moment? The feelings, the place, the sounds, the people? I think it's a combination of all of them at once. This moment summed up everything I dreamed about when considering life on the road.
A favourite campsite of ours. The Valley of the Gods. Free, Quiet, Inspiring.
The Grand Canyon
What else can I say but woah!? Even growing up in Queensland, Australia surrounded by wild desert and summer storms, I haven't come across dirt so red, rocks so rugged and desert vistas so incredibly vast and untouched. This is a special part of the United States.
Leaving the Sierra, we set off with the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Parks in mind. From a young age I've wanted to see them both. From looking in books to seeing them on TV and Instagram, seeing a place with your own eyes is an experience in itself. Just for some background info, Madison and I rarely travel with a plan or itinerary. You could perceive this as a good or a bad thing, but we see it as a good thing. Waking up and not knowing where we'll be for the night is exciting, often a little draining but in all honestly probably the best thing we've done. Our life at home was so structured and living on the road is teaching us to live simply and go with the flow. Living in the moment has become more important than ever.
The first time seeing this place is mind-blowing. The fact this place was carved solely by one river, the Colorado River, is astonishing in itself. I couldn't help but imagine what this area looked like before erosion and carving. Seeing these places opens your mind to think about the landscape in front of you. It's great to think differently, to appreciate, to respect the past and present. In the GC in summer, temperatures are extreme, so we couldn't really hike, especially not down into the valley from the rim. We took an afternoon hike from Shoshone Point to Yaki Point, roughly three miles each way. We had the entire trail to ourselves, meandering on the edge of the canyon, briefly looking down and feeling inspired by its size and quietness. We spotted turkey vultures, deer and even a coyote. This place is filled with wildlife and wildflowers. By about 6pm the sky had turned nasty and a summer monsoonal downpour was upon us. This is where our Mountain Designs Cumulus GORE-TEX® jackets were great to keep us dry.
Unknown Butte in Utah standing tall at last light.
Like pretty much all the National Parks we have visited, Bryce Canyon was filled with tourists, parking was a nightmare, and the trail was always packed. On our first morning, we decided to walk the Queens Garden trail to see the hoodoos (rock pillar formations that were formed by water and ice erosion). The hike started well, although it was hot. The scenery was breath-taking and we enjoyed listening to all the people we passed speaking in their languages (mostly German and French), we were struck by the sheer number of international tourists, this country really attracts people from every part of the world. The final stretch of the hike was through a slot canyon, which is exciting for a lot of people.
For us, standing at the bottom and looking up to the switchbacks filled with people, it was overwhelming. When we finally reached the top, past crowds of other people, we swore that we were going to find a trail with no one else on it for sunset. Lucky for us and my sanity, we stumbled across the Peekaboo Trail, which to our surprise was dead-quiet and 4-million times more epic. The light in the afternoon on this trail was so gorgeous, I couldn't stop shooting. We really took our time on this walk - we weren't in a rush and we just wanted to really take in the unique scenery and enjoy nature.
There were so many squirrels and chipmunks on this track so watching them scavenge and then dart across the tracks was another thing we enjoyed. Some other nature we got to 'enjoy' was our first encounter with a rattlesnake. If you know me, you know I'm petrified of snakes. The little guy was sitting right on the edge of the trail - we either had to turn back or carefully get around him. We chose the latter, which was lucky because the light got even better and I got so many nice shots just around the corner.
So far this has been one of our 'top 5' hikes. Sometimes the shorter stints have the biggest bang for your buck. We've learnt to never expect too much from a location. A lot of the time, it can be disappointing, so going into it with an open mind and no prior research can make the experience a whole lot better. Often, we'll stumble across a trail or view we've never seen before or even planned on doing, and what's cool about that is most of the time it's even better than the other spots.
Madison weaving her way through Bryce Canyon hoodoos.
Cumulus GORE-TEX® Rain Jackets
We got caught in a summer monsoonal downpour right after sunset in the Grand Canyon. We were parked three miles away. It was either make a dash for it down the highway or hike the three miles on the rim, and risk slipping or lightning strikes. We chose to hike the road and did so confidently in our Mountain Designs Cumulus GORE-TEX® jackets. These have a great feature that came in handy in this rainy and potentially dangerous situation - reflective strips on the hood, back and front. We didn't even know! That being said, the waterproofing worked exceptionally well too, and they dried quickly once we got back into the car.
Gear Item Of The Month: Escape Hike 30L Day Pack
The Escape Hike 30L day pack has been an all-round great bag for our adventures. It's come on almost all of our day hikes through the Sierra, Utah and Arizona. I can't say enough good things about it. It's so light, so comfy, and holds a ton of gear. The adjustable padded mesh straps are contoured and feel super comfortable on the shoulders. The padded hip belt features two zippered pockets where I can put small things like camera batteries and hand sanitiser. Additionally, the top zipper is a great compartment for sunscreen, a powerbank or other items. It's even been used as a pillow for reading.
Our Mountain Designs gear has been unreal - pictured here is our Cumulus GORE-TEX® rain jackets as a monsoonal downpour closes out our trip to the Grand Canyon, and our Escape Hike 30L pack, which has come on almost all of our day hikes through the Sierra, Utah and Arizona.
Backpacking Sequoia National Park
It had been about three weeks between backpacking trips. You could say we were itching to be back on the trail and in my tent. After Big Sur we knew the time had come to head east towards the desert, but we made a pit stop first in the Sequoia National Park. We arrived in the afternoon and headed to giant trees. This park has since become one of our favourites with its gorgeous sequoia trees and accessible wilderness areas. The first afternoon we took it easy, and went for a leisurely walk around some sequoias, stopping to read all the signs and learning a little about them.
Backpacking through Sequoia National Park.
The next day we headed to the ranger station to get a permit for an overnight back country hike. We chose the Alta Meadow Trail as we were told that there were some beautiful mountain views at the end. Soon after, we packed our bags, grabbed our poles and headed for the trail. Though there weren't any sequoia trees to admire on the track, we did encounter a pair of bears. Luckily, they were just off the trail and didn't seem to be bothered by us. Even still, it definitely spiked our heart rates! A few hours later, with tired feet, we came to a beautiful view and set up our Mountain Designs Expedition 2-Person tent and ate our dinner with a view. Another successful and stunning hike for the books!
The Alta Meadow Trail lead to a magic evening view for camp.
Sequoia NP is home to the biggest tree in the world, a sequoia named the General Sherman (measured by volume), with a base circumference of a whopping 31.1 metres. It also weighs 6,157 tones. Imagine 6,000 small cars. Huge scale. These trees thrive on fire and they actually depend on wildfires to grow and reproduce. They are incredibly resistant to fire damage. It's honestly humbling and completely awe-inspiring to walk beneath them, looking up at over 3,000 years of history. Oh, the things these trees would have seen!
The sheer size of the sequoia trees gives you a hard and fast reality check of your place in this amazing world!
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
To see a slot canyon is on my bucket list. Especially one that you don't need to pay to hike through. We took a 4-hour round drive over the bumpiest road of our lives to get here. After this 92km round journey over corrugated washboard road, we arrived in the Grand Staircase Escalante - a true desert wilderness area. Signs all around warned us of dehydration and flash flooding warnings, emphasising that a hike through the slot canyons is a lot more strenuous than expected. I'll keep this slot canyon's name anonymous to help keep it wild. We learned that hiking through in the middle of summer with 40-degree temperatures and only one bottle of water was not the greatest idea. I got lightheaded, nauseous and needed to start heading back ASAP to avoid dehydration. Fortunately, some local legends gave us a 2-mile ride in the back of their truck, back to our car at the trailhead. Be safe out there everyone - listen to the warnings!
Slot canyoning in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.