Thanksgiving Day … a day to give thanks for what we have in our daily life. Thanks for the people we share our life with on a daily basis, our friends and family members near and far, our health, and our safe home.
We have much to be grateful for in the USA and I hope there can be a pause to acknowledge just that! Thank you to everyone in my life; I am forever grateful! Let’s be like a living turkey today … thankful to be alive with another day to enjoy life! Happy Thanksgiving and wishing all more days of good health and happiness!
Another national park I had never been to; however, I also had no idea where the park is located! Pinnacles National Park is a small 26,000 acres of land with caves and rock formations east of Monterey, in central California. It is nestled between the U.S. 101 Highway and Interstate 5, thus many of us were unaware of this national park as we drove those major highways!
Pinnacles National Park actually has two entrances because you cannot drive through the park from one side to another. We started on the east side where the campground is located so we could stay in a tent cabin. During the day we hiked the Moses Spring Trail through the Bear Gulch Cave to Bear Gulch Reservoir. The squirrels at the reservoir, where we hoped to enjoy our lunch, were obnoxious. It was obvious others fed or left food around for these critters who then expected the same from the next hikers to the area.
There are more trails to hike on the east side of the park. This park has an interesting geology which explains the mountainous areas, the pinnacles, between both sides of the park. They are more beautiful to see on the west side. If camping on the east side at the park’s campground, you do need to drive to the west entrance about 1.5 hours away (or you could hike about 3 miles from one side of the park to the other). There are less trails on the west side; however, there is an interesting Balconies Cave trail to hike through. Sometimes the bat caves are closed mid-May to mid-July for the Townsend’s big-eared bats to raise their young.
These caves are talus caves. They are openings formed between boulders piled up on a mountain slope. Prepare: have a flashlight per person, another layer of clothing as the temperature does drop when deep in the cave, be aware there are some very narrow spaces to squeeze through. The trails are not long, but a light is absolutely needed and we discovered some people were unable to fit through the narrow spaces. We also discovered hiking poles can get in the way, so we did not use them the next day where we would hike through another cave trail.
A recommendation we received which we thought very good on the western side of this park: hike the Cliff Trail to the Balconies Cave Trail, a clockwise direction. We agree. This was an enjoyable way to approach the trails. Another thought: it gets cold at night! It was 25 degrees Fahrenheit in October, so plan accordingly if you are staying in the tent cabins. This park is open year-round. Yes, California condors are here! Look high on the mountains in early morning or just before dusk and don’t confuse them with turkey vultures also here. I did add a new bird to my list: yellow-billed magpie.
Finally, if you travel from one side of the park to another you’ll pass by the town of King City. Food recommendation … tamales, breakfast burrito, pupusas, empanadas, and bread pudding were all delicious at Castro’s Bakery and Deli. I can understand why this place is so busy … loved every meal eaten here.
Technology …. While on the road I often spend hours downloading photos and my daily eBird checklist. However, when home the time on technology seems to ramp up. There’s good and not so good to this. I’m pretty good limiting my cyber time, but to zoom with friends and wine club activities … that’s a “yes”!
It’s time to enjoy an apertivo, wine and to make a margherita pizza. All this to happen at home connected with our wineries and Truffle Shuffle by zoom! Ah yes, the world of technology! The apertivo included Romano cheese, Marcona almonds (just recently introduced to me by my Idaho friends … Marcona almonds are sold at Trader Joes) and marinated olives. I swallow a bite of cheese, almonds and olives with some wine. Yes, I realize this is not camp food; I am home!
Our homework for this activity: watch a YouTube presentation and make the pizza dough the day before the activity. Of course we did that, thanks again to the world of technology, YouTube. (Remember it was YouTube presentations where I learned how to make sliding draws in my van, and other things.) Anyway, while enjoying our apertivo, we punched down the pizza dough again and were ready to make our pizza!
The wineries: Benziger Family Winery and Imagery Estate Winery are in Glen Ellen, California. We first visited Benziger’s certified biodynamic estate years ago for a tour and wine-tasting. Then drove across the road to Imagery for a wine-tasting there. Their wine bottle labels are quite interesting because as many as 35 artists create possible future Imagery wine labels. The only requirement is to have the winery’s signature: a likeness of the Parthenon replica found on the Benziger Estate. Finding the Parthenon in the artwork is a challenge on some labels, but it is there!
Pizza creating time: we received all the ingredients to make this pizza. Flour, yeast and warm water did their magic 24 hours before! Dough was set on a pan while we added Nonna’s Truffle tomato sauce, sliced heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and parmesan cheese. We learned how to chiffonade basil. Simply lay basil leaves individually on top of each other, roll them like a burrito, slice at an angle. Then sprinkle Balinese Truffle Salt on top. This salt is from Bali, blended with French truffles and a touch of mushroom powder. The pizza goes into a pre-heated oven for 25 minutes.
Time for more technology … 65 zoom participants interacted with the family/staff of the 2 wineries, who explained the different wines in this meal. The Truffle Shuffle chef explained how to prepare the pizza and answered other cooking questions. When the pizza was done, the chiffonade of basil and more Balinese Truffle salt were added to the pizza. “Mangia”, time to eat! And drink some wine! Technology brought this experience to us. With a delivery of fresh delicious ingredients and wine, we produced and eventually consumed one heck of a good meal! Grazie to all!
Once again I joined a photography tour while visiting the Navajo Tribal Park at Monument Valley, Arizona. The advantage of such a tour is the ability to walk and spend time with a guide looking for the best places to capture an impressive photograph. The guide knows the area, especially off the beaten tourist path, and where the best light falls on specific rock formations. While we may only stop at six locations, we have three hours to capture the angle of the sun where we wish, before it sets, and can talk about our camera settings. I loved this tour, learned much from the guide, and met 3 other very nice people also on the tour.
Nature at work. Rain, thunder, lightning and hail … good morning, another day on the road begins! I was in no rush to start my day in that weather, so I read my book, ate breakfast and organized things in the van since I was leaving Devils Canyon and eventually off to Monument Valley. I checked weather reports, sunshine was south of me, so off I went.
One can enter Bears Ears National Monument from many different entrances. Beautiful cottonwood trees were turning colors as I drove a paved, then gravel road into the South Cottonwood area. I decided not to make my coffee and tea here since I was unsure of the deer hunting season. A posted sign alerted me to the fact that deer hunters have a permitted limit, but no dates were posted.
Butler Wash Interpretive Trail was the perfect place to make my coffee and tea, then to hike the trail. The short hike was on slick rock, reminding me of fun days mountain biking on it in Moab years ago with my partner. The trail led to an overlook where across the canyon one can see ruins. I was surprised to see people at one area of the ruins! I discover in conversation with a local, on the trail too, that the individuals took an old trail.
This new trail allows visitors to see the ruins at a distance. I also discussed my thought of driving the 20 mile dirt Butler Wash road. After hearing details of the road, I decided a jeep would be better especially after the recent rain and the fact that many people do not travel it. No problem. Another stop, Mule Canyon was a very short walk to its ruin. An opportunity again to see the double-walled structures.
The other day after driving the Valley of the Gods 17 mile dirt road, a left turn took me on the Moki Dugway. It is gravel, steep, very winding road. It is the only way off Cedar Mesa if you are traveling south through Bears Ears. If you were not here and driving south, you would have been driving the main highway through Bluff.
On this day though, I had time to drive the 5 mile unpaved road to Muley’s Point. It would have been best at sunset, but 2- 3pm was what it would be as I still had miles to go to Monument Valley. The first 4 miles of dirt road was okay with some washboard. The last mile was rough with rocks and unevenness; slow and steady, I arrived at the point!
Oh my gosh! I loved it and was with only one man at the point. I walked a huge circle around him so as not to disturb his wilderness experience. One looks out to the horizon seeing Monument Valley way off in the distance. Look down to see the land at the bottom of the Moki Dugway road. I walked the slick rock. Sat on the slick rock. Meditated while here. And left before anyone else arrived. A couple of other vehicles were headed toward me when I was at least a half mile away from the point. Perfect timing!
While driving down the Moki Dugway, now my second time, I had a greater appreciation for what I was seeing. Off in the distance I could see Muley’s Point, where I had just come from. Wow, glad I took the time to drive the 5 miles.
Monument Valley campground was full. The woman at the desk remembered me. She thought I was here just a month ago, yet it was more like 3 – 4 months ago. She told me she is full-blooded Navajo. The man, also full-blooded Navajo, who guides the horse tours told me numerous stories. My campground neighbors are 3 guys on motorcycles touring Utah for 9 days. One is from Texas, the other two from Colorado. On the other side of me is a young couple from Switzerland with 2 young girls about 2 and 4 years old. I helped them pitch their huge Walmart tent and fly. Even with the wind we had it up amazingly fast!
If you are in Utah and love the outdoors, southeast Utah is different from Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion … all beautiful too, so do visit them sometime. Skip Salt Lake City unless you want to start your family history/genealogy. At the temple, they are helpful with that. Also know, Southeast Utah does not have numerous places to eat and stay; plan your visit and enjoy.
If I had a 4 wheel drive vehicle, such as a Jeep, I would have been driving more remote areas. But if you do, let others know where you are. No services are available, such as cell service. Bring plenty of water and food. Know what you are capable of handling in the wilderness. Notify your contact person of where you will be. Also notify the person when you are out of the remote area so they do not worry and search for you. Nature dictates how your day will be; stay present; know how to live and love it!
So much land to see, so little time! As the Blanding, Utah visitor center woman said, “there’s at least a million acres just with Bears Ears National Monument”. I was here to visit and see as much as I could, so she directed me to the Five Kivas Ruins within the town of Blanding. I am sure most out-of-towners do not know about this place, only 1.5 miles off the main road.
Next stop: Fort Bluff. Amazing history of Mormon pioneers who were told by their religious leader to settle southeast Utah. As they were traveling from Escalante to what is now Bluff, scouts went north and south and returned thinking there was no good way. With great determination, they made their way, straight across … eastward. “I can do the hard thing”, was their mantra. Once you see the landscape in this part of Utah you would be more amazed at what they accomplished. I now also know more of the story regarding the Hole in the Crevice. They did what seemed impossible! They chipped away rock to widen a crevice, build a rocky one wagon lane road, and moved all supplies and 260 people through a spot thought impossible. They could do the hard things! They set up in Bluff, built cabins in a circle with no windows or doors facing outward and stayed. The historic site is worth visiting; it is free; has a very informative film; a delicious choice of cookies at the bakery.
Next stop: Onto a dirt road to visit the Valley of the Gods! Wow, some spots on the road I was unsure how my van would handle the rocky, steep uphills and downhills. I drove all 17 miles of this road in about 2 hours. Beautiful landscape and not sure the camera captures it all. You can camp out here since it is BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. I saw 5 different camper set-ups along the 17 miles. The dark sky at night must simply be amazing! If I didn’t have other places to visit, I could have spent more time here.
I stopped at Bears Ears Education Center to understand their mission. Enjoyed talking with the man there who is quite passionate in the protection of the national monument. He answered my questions about the northern section which seems to be more remote. Here is the history about Bears Ears National Monument. It was established by President Obama in December 2016 to protect about 1.3 million acres of land surrounding the Bears Ears, a pair of buttes. This monument was reduced to 200,000 acres by the next US president, then restored in October 2021 by the next US president. The monument is co-managed by the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service along with 5 local Native American tribes with ancestral ties to the land: Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray reservation, and Pueblo of Zuni. President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act of 1906 providing presidents the power “to create national monuments”. The act was to protect sites of historical or indigenous importance from looters taking and then selling items on illicit markets. The process to protect this area started in 2009 … We have 423 national park sites in the USA: national monuments such as Bears Ears, along with national preserves, historic sites and memorials, and these do not include any of the 63 national parks.
Hovenweep National Monument: What is 25 paved miles after 17 dirt miles? A breeze… This national monument was not on my radar. I was in the area and I still had daylight, so off I went! Fascinating that these ancestral pueblos were set up in an area where there seemed to be no water. The thought is they damned an intermittent stream to get their water. I walked the 1.5 mile hike to see each of the double-walled structures they built along the canyon’s edge. There was only a steep downhill into the canyon and then back out of the canyon, otherwise an easy hike.
Finally back at my campsite for a late dinner and enough time to plan the next day. There are some areas I would love to visit, yet they are remote. To visit those areas, I think the smarter thing would be to have at least one other person with me, along with all water, etc supplies … and to be clear to a contact/emergency person elsewhere where we happen to be driving in. Remote here truly means remote and safety first is important. So … off to visit other areas tomorrow not so remote.
You may not know this: Idaho is a state you cannot drive from its northern area directly south through the state to its southern border. Really. No road goes through the central area of the state. Central Idaho has 4 different national forest areas with 2 American Indian reservations bordering them. This was always fascinating to me to know and especially since it necessitates driving through Montana to meet my Idaho friends. I met my friends at a restaurant in Island Park: The Last Chance Bar and Grill at Trouthunter. Good food and plenty of fishermen in the area along with tourists stopping in for a meal. I’d recommend the place and the bison burger on the menu!
I am very fortunate to have good friends in Idaho to visit. They own beautiful property in a rural area outside of Ashton. Seeing a beautiful sunset after a day with sunny weather was wonderful. I had been experiencing rain prior to my visit here. At night, the dark sky has sparkling stars and the nearby waterfall flow lulls me to sleep. In the morning, we sometimes saw a bald eagle or two and a number of common mergansers.
A Yellowstone National Park hike…
One day we took a long ride down a gravel road eventually into Yellowstone National Park. There we hiked a 1.3 mile path out and back along a couple of rivers to view Cave Falls and Bechler Falls. We walked among lodgepole pines, saw plenty of mushrooms and the last of some wildflowers. It was a nice hike and saw only 5 other people on the trail. It is definitely an area of the Yellowstone National Park few people visit, so I felt it was very special. We were fortunate to not see any grizzly or black bears. We did carry bear spray with us besides talking often enough to scare probably all wildlife away. And that was okay; we were safe.
I enjoyed my time with my friends relaxing and observing a number of birds right on their property. As a matter of fact, I got a good view of a sharp-tailed grouse after 2 unsuccessful views. That makes #436 in my eBird life list! That bird was not even on my radar, so extra special!
My friend’s home is a short drive from Yellowstone National Park and Teton National Park. Here are some photos from this area:
The next time I am in this area, or passing through, I should add Craters of the Moon National Monument to my itinerary. It would also be fun to stop by Pocatello where years ago a group of us met to start our 100 mile Middle Fork of the Salmon River rafting trip! That trip brings back memories … so good to have such memories… and now I created more with my friends on this trip. I am so appreciative of their hospitality and time to relax in a beautiful area of the world! USA has many wonderful places to visit. Don’t forget to step beyond your backyard and see what is out there! You may be pleasantly surprised!
Learning something new everyday actually does happen for me! I am always amazed and wonder if this is true for others. Let me know, as I am curious! Do you learn something new each day?
Anyway, my latest newly learned thing happened because I decided to paint a bird, the Greater roadrunner, on a postcard. I wanted to mail this watercolor painting to my mom. It dawned on me the paint would smudge with the least bit of moisture on it. Or even worse, if any part of the mail delivery process was in inclement weather then there would be a mess. Oh that would be awful!
My quick fix was to adhere clear packing tape to the front of the card, specifically on the bird. Once done, I realized something else must be available for situations like this! Being new to the entire acrylic, watercolor, sketching world, I decided to research the topic. Of course, I learned a varnish sprayed on it would work! Add it to a future shopping list, but also read the fine print as some varnishes are better than others. Some will yellow in time; others provide a matte versus glossy finish; some are simply not good on certain paints, charcoal or pastels.
I learned plenty today and now need to buy varnish and more postcards before I paint my next whatever! Did you learn anything today? I am curious; what have you learned? Share if you wish! (In the meantime, I’m hoping my postcard makes it without a smudge!)
Sometimes I feel like I am standing still. Other times I feel like time is running past me and I am not doing enough to get out and see the world … which is my goal, to see the world. Recently, I was organizing stuff and decided to compile my travel journals in a way I could find info more quickly, especially as I look for details from a trip. Once I had the box organized I realized I surely am not an armchair traveler!
Time soon for another adventure and then to plan for international travel in 2024! Yippee! See you somewhere in the world … I will be happy to meet you!
Macro photography is all about looking at something very close-up! Great fun viewing the cacti needles and fruit of the prickly pear cactus! Close to photo and safe enough to not get pricked by a thorn.
Will have to try macro photography on a few more plants and animals!