Tag Archives: camping

Death Valley Pretty-Good Bloom

Death Valley Pretty-Good Bloom

The word “chill” is not the first term that would usually come to mind when thinking of “Death Valley” but it definitely captures my experience there. In most national parks, erosion caused by hikers is a real concern, and there are signs everywhere imploring people to stay on the developed paths. Not in Death Valley! In fact, there are only two developed trails in the entire park, and rangers explicitly encourage you to find your own way. It was refreshing to see people following their hearts’ desires as they sought out the ideal picnic spot, or went looking for the perfect photo op.

Not that they’d have to go far for either… You could have taken a picture of the view from any window in my car at any moment in time and have captured a spectacular vista.

Golden Canyon from Zabriskie Point

Now, I seem to love the desert more than the average person, but I think most people would be hard-pressed to say that a view like that is anything but gorgeous. Technically I was visiting for the Super Bloom, but since we were pretty late in the season most of the flowers were already gone. It was still a Nice Bloom though. A Pretty Good Bloom, even.

Since we arrived late at night (10:30pm on Friday night), we chose Stovepipe Wells as our first campsite. Arriving was confusing, because there is no little “tent camping” sign like there usually is for tent-friendly spots. Well, it turns out that this site barely qualifies as a campsite. It’s more like a parking lot that you put a tent in.

Stovepipe Wells Camparking lot

Not my favorite option, but still acceptable as a place to sleep. And at $12 bucks (payable by credit card via a kiosk that’s available 24 hrs a day!), and a loosely-enforced 126 spots, you’re guaranteed some place to stay, which is always a load off my mind. The “campsite” is also directly across the street from the charming Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel, which is very conveniently open 24 hours a day.

There are lots of other camping choices in the park, and you can camp anywhere as long as you’re 2 miles away from the road. Emigrant was directly next to a road with cars zipping by at 65 miles an hour. Furnace Creek, Sunset, and Texas Springs were all of the “parking lot” variety. Thorndike and Mahogany Flat are only accessible by 4×4, high-clearance vehicles, so I don’t know what they’re like. The second night we stayed at Wildrose, which was much smaller and nicer. Looking West:

Wildrose Camping Site

Views in both direction were incredible. Looking East:

View of the mountains from Wildrose Campsite

We put our tent up on the hillside, overlooking the entire campsite. It was lovely!

Wandering around the first day we hit a few incredible spots. Early in the morning, we stopped at the Mesquite Sand Dunes, hoping the morning sun would make it more bearable. The temperature showed about 62 degrees, but the sun still felt scorching hot.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

Even though everyone pictures sand dunes when they think of the desert, this was actually the only spot we saw in the park that was like this (there are other sand dunes, but they’re much farther away). The majority of the park was low shrubs and variegated hillsides with incredible rock formations.

After that, and a quick stop at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, we drove up to Zabriskie Point, stopping to walk up the gentle, paved slope to the breathtaking view over the canyons. Continuing on, we eventually made it to Dante’s View. This spot provides an amazing vista over the Badwater region.

From Dante's View

After seeing the salt flats from ~5,000 feet up, we decided it would definitely be worth heading down into the valley to see the salt flats up close. I’m so glad we did…not only was it beautiful and informative, but the salt tasted delicious!


On the way out, we did the drive down Artist’s Palette. Somehow I didn’t take any pictures, but it was one of the most colorful regions of the park. The colors were incredibly rich and varied. Next we stopped and hiked a bit up into Golden Canyon.

Golden Canyon

We ended the first day with this hike. The whole day was basically little short hikes separated by time in the air-conditioned car. The park is so huge, and the sun so intense that it’s nice to take breaks from the great outdoors. The second day we drove up to Ubehebe Crater.

Ubehebe Crater

Another mindblowingly beautiful spot. Walking up along the crater rim the path gets pretty narrow. Might not be comfortable for those who are afraid of heights!

The only part of the park I would have wanted to visit and didn’t get a chance to was the Racetrack, with the mysterious sailing stones. It’s something I’ve dreamed about visiting since childhood, but the 27 miles of rough road would have been too much for my little Prius.

Speaking of the drive, within the park there were only a few spots that were unpaved road, and all of those were well-marked on the map you can get at any visitor center. To get to the park from San Diego, we took the 395 through Trona, turning left to avoid Panamint Springs. Next time I’d probably try taking the Eastern route around the park, since you might avoid the LA traffic/construction issue.

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Posted by on Monday, March 21, 2016 in fractally weird


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Cedar Springs Trailhead

Hiking in Southern California isn’t always easy. It’s mostly desert, which means very few trees. That can make for some very hot hikes. Fortunately, it can also make for some gorgeous vistas if you can get up high enough.

This is a beautiful hike that takes you up on a ridge in the Santa Rosa mountains. At the top, you can look down towards the West, and see over Highway 74 to Thomas Mountain, or down towards the East, over Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. It’s a very comfortable 2.2 miles one-way, but more than half of that is on the side of the mountain with little shade. Still, if you have enough water and sun protection, you can make it to the beautifully windy ridge at the top for some lovely views.

View from the ridge

We checked out the maps in the Idyllwild ranger’s station, and spotted this beautiful little squiggle on our way home. The trailhead is marked “Cedar Springs”
Map of the area.

Right at the trailhead, there’s nowhere to park. We drove a little further down the road to where the gravel shoulder widened out a bit and left our car there. Here’s the first gate:

The first half mile is directly in the baking sun, but the next ~1.2 miles wander through tall brush and trees that shade the trail nicely. The trail goes through 4 gates and past one more. Here’s the first gate you go through:
First gate

A bit later you’ll pass by this sign. We were very curious about who would use those picnic tables!

This lower part of the trail went past a stream bed, winding through trees and meadows. It was very pleasant. We passed a group of deer that bolted at our presence, and a little tub of water they were probably drinking from. This gate was held closed by barbed wire:
Another gate

1.5 miles to go! Not pictured: The sign warning about hazardous conditions beyond this point.
Actual trailhead

Maybe .25 miles beyond that sign, we went up a steep section of the trail and emerged into the direct sunlight. It was very hot from this point on with almost no chances of shade.
Desert hiking

The remaining stretch to the top was just endless switch-backs heading up the mountain. Even though we were in direct sunlight the whole time, the constantly-improving views and deliciously cool breezes made for a lovely hike.
Switchback #32

There’s a shady tree right at the top, with a little makeshift bench under it. We sat there for a few minutes, reapplying sunscreen before continuing a few 100 yards south on the PCT to find a spot for lunch. Looking south and slightly East. We could see Salton Sea in that direction:

The PCT continues South along this ridge:

And North along this one, but this section has been closed for a while recovering from a forest fire:

When we got back to the car, we discovered that our Adventure Pass hangtag had melted in the sun!
Melted adventure pass

We estimated that our total hike had been around 5 miles round trip. I drank 3 liters of water, and none of us got sunburned! All in all a lovely hike. I highly recommend it!

Two panoramic views:

Quick facts
Length: ~4.4 miles round-trip to the shady tree at the top. Hikers could continue on down the PCT to the South, but the other trails (to Cedar Springs or North on the PCT) are closed to recover from a forest fire.
Difficulty: Easy trailwise, but challenging conditions, so better for more experienced hikers.
Views: 4/5

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Posted by on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 in fractally weird


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Stone Creek Campground in San Jacinto State Park

Camping camping camping!

We went to the ReserveAmerica site and just searched for open tent-friendly sites in the San Jacinto wilderness. There were a few in Stone Creek, and a few in Idyllwild. It took us a while to understand what was available. The ReserveAmerica site says this:

“Stone Creek and Idyllwild are separate campgrounds. Idyllwild is within walking distance of the town of Idyllwild, and Stone Creek is 6 miles north on Hwy 243.”

But their map looks like this:

If they’re separate, why are they on the same map? And there are a few sites that look like they’re right on the border…which campground are those in?

I don’t know why they’re on the same map, but I *can* tell you that the sites on the border are all sites in Stone Creek Campground. Here’s a better map:
That's better.

We never did find the Idyllwild campground, so I can’t talk about that. But Stone Creek was pretty nice! We picked spot #23:


We were lucky with our spot. It’s right on the edge, so slightly more private than a lot of the interior sites. Also, no one was at spot 22, which would have made things MUCH less private. Some of the sites (#17, #19) are nestled in manzanita shrubs, which lends both privacy and shade.

There’s also a bathroom that’s not on the map between sites 16, 46, 14 and 44. Walking to it felt like you were walking through other people’s campsites, so if you can use a different bathroom that would be better.

This whole area felt very ADA accessible! The parking near the nature trail was poured concrete, and the trail itself felt doable in a wheelchair.

We wanted to hike, so the next morning after we woke up we headed off to Devil’s Slide! We knew you needed a permit, and luckily* the campground host had some that she gave to us. Driving to the trailhead was surprisingly tricky. This was the map we wished we’d had (it was only posted at the trailhead, not at the campground):
Yeah, this would have helped.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any pictures from the TOP of Devil’s Slide, because we got kicked off the mountain by a ranger! It turns out that our campground host had given us the incorrect permit.

If you want to do the Devil’s Slide hike, be sure to get the *correct* permit. The safest route is to get the permit from the Idyllwild Ranger Station.

It was still a beautiful day, though:
Just lovely.



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Posted by on Sunday, August 9, 2015 in fractally weird


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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Culp Valley Campground

Quick info:
Campground: Culp Valley Campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Date: 20 June 2015
Temperature: 95 (daytime) ~58 (nighttime)
Distance walked: ~5.5 miles
Cost: $0
Water consumed: 4.5 liters
# of times peed: 8

Recommendations: It makes more sense to put up your tent where it’ll be shaded from the sunrise in the East and then get up to the ridge where you can feel a breeze. Even in this unseasonably warm weather it got plenty cool at night.

After reading this excellent post from, I decided to head to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a night of star-gazing and maybe even some light hiking. According to everyone, it’s free to camp there, but no fires are allowed unless you have a “metal container”.

I called ahead to the ranger station, where they told me it was unseasonably warm, and there was an “extreme heart warning” in the region. She said “if you can camp anywhere else, do it.”

Never one to shy away from a challenge, or think carefully through the consequences of my choices, I decided to go anyway. Culp Valley Campground is actually 3,000 feet higher than the town of Borrego Springs, so I thought it might be a little cooler up there. (I was right).

Here’s the approximate route I took:

It was a very easy drive. Only one part of the 67 has some treacherous curves (and signs reminding drivers to keep their headlights on at all times, and stay under 55 mph) but for the most part it is very relaxing. It goes through some lovely country as well.

The campground is very primitive. I’m used to marked spots for tents, but at Culp Valley you just throw down wherever you find a flat enough patch of ground. That’s not hard: there’s plenty of clear, flat ground. The area is scrub brush scattered through bare sand. I chose to put my tent behind a bush, because when I arrived in the evening that’s where the shade was. Turns out the shade made almost no difference at that point: it was WAY too hot to be down in the valley. I put up my tent and almost immediately climbed up to the ridge where a breeze was blowing.

The views of the desert are amazing.

You can see the town of Borrego Springs down there. This view came from following Trip #8 from the San Ysidro Mountain section of Afoot & Afield in San Diego and following the signs for the Vista Point. If you, like me, can’t see any signs on the trail, just keep walking up and out towards the edge of the mountains. Follow your heart. You’ll get there.

Finally the sun began to set, and I ate dinner on the ridge in the cooling breeze.

I actually woke up twice in the night from temperature changes: once because I suddenly got way too hot and once because I suddenly got way too cold. There was a gentle breeze almost all night. Right before I fell asleep I dragged my tent out from behind the bush so I’d get more of a breeze. The only downside was that headlights from any cars coming down the mountain would shine into my tent, but a) they were rare, and b) they were very far away so it didn’t seem like a big deal. I’d estimate the temperature got down in the upper 50s, though I can’t say for sure.

I woke up the next morning at around 5am because of the light and the sudden heat. I packed up my tent right away so I wouldn’t have to do it in direct sunlight after hiking. I was pretty shocked by how hot it felt so early in the morning. My car’s temperature gauge read 66, but there was a blazing hot breeze blowing through the valley. In fact, I started to do the hike to Pena Springs (also part of Trip #8) but I turned back before even reaching the springs because I could feel the heat starting to get to me.

Overall it was a LOVELY trip. I’m so glad I went.

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Posted by on Sunday, June 21, 2015 in fractally weird


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Swimming holes in Yosemite National Park

We left Berkeley at 4:30am on Saturday morning.  The drive out to Yosemite was quiet and beautiful – almost no cars on the road that early in the morning, so we made good time.  We arrived at the Big Oak Flat Information Center because we thought we had to in order to get a campsite.  We got there at 7:30am and since they don’t open until 8, we just sat around in line with a bunch of other folks waiting to get wilderness permits.  But, it turns out that if you’re aiming for a “first-come first-served” permit, you just head straight to the campground and look for someone packing up. Cut out the middle-man, so to speak.  It would have been nice if they’d had this information on the website, saving us those 30 minutes of uselessly hanging around.


Then we drove up to Tamarack Flat which was our first choice for a campground.  The rangers warned us that the last mile of road out to the campground was “pretty rough” but it was actually fine.  It had clearly been paved a few years ago, and while there are a few potholes, for the most part it’s actually totally fine – even for my low-slung Prius.  We drove into the campground, and I guess our lucky stars were already shining because the very first fellow we talked to was packing up and leaving from the best campsite in the whole park.  We quickly paid the $10 fee and went about setting up our tents as he was still packing up.  Unfortunately by this time (9am or so) it was raining pretty good so as soon as we got our tents set up we retired to the car for some card games.  Then we took a nap for 2.5 hours, hoping for the rain to clear.


Our friends arrived around 12noon, right as the sun started to come out and we loaded up our packs with picnic food and headed down the trail to the swimming hole.  I’m not going to tell the Internet-at-large where the hole is, because swimming holes are precious resources that should be protected/hoarded, but if you come visit me we can go there.



After swimming for about 3.5 hours we hiked back up the 2.5 miles to the campground.  It’s not terribly strenuous.  Just a bit of a climb up a hill, then way down to where the creek runs. The altitude adds a bit of a challenge – I think it was around 6000 feet. I took a quarter of a table of diamox because I tend to have problems with altitude, but everyone else seemed to be fine.  The scenery is gorgeous and there’s plenty of shade so we enjoyed it.  We didn’t see a single other person on the entire hike, which continues to amaze me.  Our entire experience of Yosemite was of empty hiking trails, beautiful and quiet campsites, and secluded swimming holes.


There’s no water at Tamarack Flat, so the next morning we packed up and headed up towards Yosemite Creek.  We stopped along the way at White Wolf, where they told us a bear had been hit by a car that very morning.  The 14th bear this year!  That’s very sad – if you go to Yosemite please drive slowly and watch out for wildlife.  After filling up with water and using their sinks (with soap!  Luxury!) we headed down the road a bit to the Yosemite Creek and Ten Lake Trails staging point for our second hike.  These lots were both full with plenty of backpackers and day-hikers in various states of arrival and departure.  But once we headed off down the trail, we quickly left everyone behind (except the highway, which unfortunately runs just parallel to the trail for about a quarter of a mile).  Again, we didn’t see a single other person for the entire hike in!  


We made it to another swimming hole, which was completely wonderful and perfect.  Swimming holes are my new favourite thing and I’ve got a list of about 20 more that I’d like to visit.  California seems to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to idyllic outdoors activities, and I’m looking forward to exploring more.



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Posted by on Monday, August 20, 2012 in camping, fractally weird


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Dipshit Camping

Dipshit Camping. What is it? Well, Dipshit is made up of the two Greek words “Di” meaning “Person”, and “pshit” meaning “who ends up camping on an unmaintained highway between two switchbacks of the Interstate, less than 200 yards away from their car.” If you’re a mere novice to this form, allow me to take your hand and lead you. No need for your compass – we don’t know how to read it. No need for maps – we don’t know how to read those either. And forget directions from Forest Service Ranger Shirley – they will only baffle. Don’t worry about where we’re going – we won’t get there anyway. We’re Dipshits!

The first rule of thumb for Dipshit Camping is this: Leave early the morning of the day you want to start your trip, but not so early that you would have enough time to find somewhere safe to park before dark in the event that you get lost (which you will). Since you packed the night before (in true Dipshit fashion) you’ll be slightly exhausted, and unable to make even trivial decisions.  What does your sleep-addled Dipshit brain do when the corner store is out of the sandwich you planned on having for breakfast? Should you buy the “Hot ‘n Fresh” Sausage wrap, or the mysterious hodge-podge of plastic-encased cheeses, salamis and crackers? Better agonize over it for another 15 minutes!

Another important thing to remember about Dipshit Camping is that you cannot trust anyone named Shirley. If Forest Service Ranger Shirley tells you that you need chains on your tires, you will be driving on pristine and dry roads. If Forest Service Ranger Shirley tells you to turn left after the Eco SnowPark, you will find the road to be blocked with a five foot wall of snow. If you decide to park overnight in the Eco SnowPark despite the ominous and prominent tow-away signs, Forest Service Ranger Shirley will dance naked on the roof of your car while singing “Nanananananannaaaaa.”

But let’s get down to business and talk about the brass tacks of Dipshit Camping. The best part about Dipshit Camping is that it is almost completely stress-free! Despite months of preparation and research, despite the hundreds of dollars you spent on equipment and camping books, absolutely nothing will go according to plan!  So you might as well not worry about it.

Leave all your preparation behind (along with something to purify water – oops!) and now you have arrived at what you think is the trailhead.  Don’t worry about the absence of all signage, or other hikers – it just means that if you die, you’ll die completely alone where no one can laugh over your Dipshit carcass.

Now you’re out in the cold wilderness with your fellow Dipshit. The stars are glistening overhead, the snow is crunching under your tent, and the soft roar of the highway is lulling you to sleep. Not only do you get to admire the starlight in the dark night, but you get to view the town from a mere 1 mile distance. Ahh – civilization. How far away it seems – a whole 15-minute car-ride. Who needs toilet paper?

Now that you’ve settled down in your tent, on your pad with your sleeping bag, you begin to gently drift into the tense, hyper-aware state of extreme nervousness that all campers live for.  This is the time – generally referred to as “night” – when a camper in the middle of the wilderness begins to notice sounds.

At first, these sounds might sound terrifying.  Your city-born ears hear an animal rushing up to your tent in the dead of night to riffle through your packs, chew up your extra sweaters with enormous gnashing jaws, and rip your camping cookware to shreds with its razor-sharp claws.  It’s a strange quirk of the outdoors, but that enormous creature menacing you at 4 a.m. somehow always leaves squirrel tracks in the snow. Perhaps it was a squirrel. Perhaps it was some other animal walking on squirrel-foot stilts. Who can say.  It’s important to not overstretch yourself reaching for a logical interpretation.  That’s not the Dipshit way!

The shining moment in any true Dipshit camping experience, of course, is when you wake up the next morning, and realize that you parked your car (illegally) 5 yards from the actual trailhead.

Congratulations!  You are a real Dipshit.

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Posted by on Saturday, November 12, 2011 in fractally weird


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