California Condors by Lilya Blue

Hello, Cedar and Silver fans and followers!

I’m excited to tell you everything about the Gymnogyps Californinus. The name Gymnogyps Californinus is Greek. Gymnogyps means “bare vulture,” and Californinus or California is the first place where people saw them. We will call the Gymnogyps Californinus by its commonly known name, which is the California Condor.

Think of this New World Vulture as a pre-historic airplane. Not only is their size significant, but their personalities are unmistakable. Peregrine Fund’s biologist, Jeff Grayum, says that the first thing that made him love condors was their individual and never repeated character. For example, when a condor comes to a gut pile, all the other birds know that one of the condors is the alfa and will back off.

Why I Love California Condors

In my opinion, California Condors are uniquely beautiful. Around spring, these condors have brilliantly colored heads. They are a mixture of reds, blues, yellows, pinks, and oranges. Although the adults have this coloring, the juveniles have dark brown or black heads. They have black plumage, and their fingertip feathers are about 2 1/2 feet. California Condors weigh about 25 pounds, and their wingspan can reach nearly 10 feet. Their feet are gray unless you catch them on a warm day. Whenever it is warm outside, they pee on their feet, which cools them off and gives their legs a white coloring.

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I think California Condors are the neatest birds. Don’t get me wrong; I love every bird. First, what captivated me was that the male and female bond for life. Plenty of other birds bond for life, but I didn’t know that at the time. Next, their history made my heart implode with inspiration. I’m sure it will do the same with yours.

Condors Need Our Help

In 1982, there were only 22 California Condors left in the world. They were mostly killed off by lead poisoning, egg collecting, poaching, and things of this nature. Of the many reasons, lead poisoning is the most significant contributor. Condors are scavengers, so they eat meat that other creatures killed or that died naturally. One of their primary sources of food is by hunters leaving their gut piles. Here’s a question. How many of those hunters used lead bullets? A bunch did and still do. The core of the bullets explode when they hit tissue, organs, or the bone of the animal, leading to lead fragmenting inside the animal, and lead can even make its way into the meat. Then the condor eats from that gut pile, along with the lead. A condor can get sick and even die from as little as one fragment in a single carcass. This is where many organizations step in to help.

These companies inform hunters around the California Condors habitats that this is killing off birds. Some also give out a package of copper bullets to each group of hunters. Most often, they don’t even go through a whole box in their life. This education works well because when you are informing as opposed to making a law or rule, you get better results. You can read more at www.huntingwithnonlead.org and www.nonleadpartnership.org

Condors only lay one egg every other year. If the egg dies or something takes it, the male and female will propagate once more. This process is called “double clutching.” Biologists used to take advantage of this by making them double clutch. They took eggs and raised the chicks with a puppet that looked like an adult California Condor. I wouldn’t say it is precisely like a condor, but I guess the condor chicks don’t see that. Organizations have stopped doing this; because that is the last resort. There are now enough birds in captivity that they can usually be raised by actual condors, which of course, is better.

Is It A California Condor?

Here are some tips for finding a condor. California Condor habitat ranges from parts of Baja, California, Northern Arizona, and Southern Utah. Condors are non-migratory, but they do however, have seasonal movements within their range, so they hop from place to place. Spotting the condors can be quite tricky unless you know what you are looking for. California Condors usually have tags, but a few don’t. California Condors also have white triangular patches under their wings. If you are lucky, they have a red spot on their chest called the “crop.” Condors store food in the crop to help feed their families.

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California Condor territory currently is in the west. The historic range for the California Condor is thought to be west of the Rockies except for two areas in NY and FL where fossil remains have been found. I believe the condors want to roam free, not be in one spot, but they must not spread their ranges, because their numbers are still pretty low. Currently, they are critically endangered.

California Condor Release

I have had one of the most insane experiences ever, at least, in my opinion. I watched the release of Condor 601 (Tag #01, if you meet him) from a site where they take California Condors that got hurt. First, Tim Hauck from the Peregrine Fund took us (me, Mom, Dad, and two volunteers, Alan and Michelle Clampitt) up a long bumpy road to the release site. Next, we toured the tiny cabin that the biologists stay in to observe the birds. I think it would be a cozy place to stay. It is about the size of our Airstream and holds a bed, a fireplace, a cabinet, a sink, and a few other things. Behind the cabin, there is a “shower” and a solar-powered toilet that Mr. Clampitt made (he is an engineer). There is an amusing picture of a condor’s rear in the bathroom.

We went to the place where the condor was. It looked like a big dog pen with a roof, a tree, a nest, and a cow for food. Mr. Hauck and Josh Young, another one of Peregrine Fund’s biologists, caught the condor some way or another and took a sample of his blood. They took the sample from the condor’s foot. Mr. Hauck handed it to me, and Mrs. Clampitt helped me put it into a test tube-like vessel. After that, I felt a little dizzy, and that is why I cannot and will not be a doctor.

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Next, Mr. Hauck took off the condor’s tag and replaced it with a new one. He gave me the old one. The only thing that could have made me happier was if I had an ice cream cone in my other hand. Mr. Hauck and Mr. Young put newly tagged condor #01 in a big dog crate. All the windows were blocked off, so the condor couldn’t see out. We walked down to a rock and Mr. Young opened the door of the kennel. All of us stood there, holding our breath as we waited for the condor to come out. A minute later, out came #01. He stood there for a moment as if to say, “Am I supposed to fly? Why am I not getting free food anymore? I want to stay, man!”

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After that, he took off. The other condors circling above us started flying after him, checking if he didn’t tell all of their secrets. Soon, they understood that he didn’t spill the beans, and they let him in. You couldn’t tell which condor he was out of the ten or so condors.

We went to a large boulder to eat our lunch. I had just gobbled down my sandwich when a condor swooped by. He was the oldest living California Condor in the southwest flock. I bet he had plenty of secrets to tell. He had secrets of life and death. Secrets of love and hate, of happiness and sadness, but most importantly, secrets of why we are all here.

Shout-outs: I just wanted to thank The Peregrine Fund and all of their awesome biologists for letting me have the experience of a lifetime! You folks are so kind and have inspired me much!

Resources: Wikipedia and The Peregrine Fund

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From Newbie to 6 Months as a Full-Time Airstreamer

We recently passed our 6-month mark of living full-time on the road in an Airstream. While I still feel the excitement we had when we made the leap to embrace an alternate life on the road, I also vividly remember having so many questions about how it would all work. As we were coming up on this milestone, I posted on Facebook and Instagram opening a forum for questions from newbies and tips from other full-time travelers. We had a tremendous response that took me a while to put together, resulting in a lengthy, but hopefully informative post. I’ve broken everything up by topic so you can find the points most relevant to you.  Almost all of our responses came from Instagram so all of the user names can be found there. I encourage you to connect with these accounts if you are looking for a great travel community.


@wiebkecrew asked about our process from decision to launch.

A whole blog post could be written just about the emotional process of choosing to live an unconventional life of full-time travel. I will not get into those details here but will offer some great advice from @tincanadventure. She says, “If you are even thinking about doing this, do it!” If you think about it too much, you will be overwhelmed and may scare yourself out of it. She goes on to say, “Don’t dig deep into planning or having everything figured out. It works out best to learn and figure it out as you go!”

It definitely takes work, especially if you have a house and a lot of stuff. We didn’t sell our home and everything in it. Once we started sharing our plans with friends, we were thrilled when a couple we knew asked to move into our house. We left it mostly furnished and moved a few things into storage.

We had a period from August to November, where we lived in a rental property that we decided to sell. We used that time to prep it for sale and we purposely never really “moved” in and kept everything to just the essentials. This was a valuable exercise in minimalism. Everyone’s situation is different, but we made a list using Trello of everything we needed to do. We set a date to move and worked that list with that date in mind trying to cross something off every day.


@shadowsandmountains and @campergroove asked about photography tips

This one is interesting to me. I’ve loved photography since high school with film and darkrooms. I’ve dabbled a little for years but only recently started to take it more seriously.

Sharing my photos used to seem pretty intimidating, especially when you see some of the insanely good imagery out there these days. I honestly love just wandering with my camera for hours and whatever comes out of that is what I share. I’ve stopped trying to take pictures for others but rather for myself, and that keeps it fun.

If you have a camera that shoots full manual, take a comprehensive photo class. I did this as a refresher when I started taking digital photos. I took a one day class with a local photography studio. After that, I subscribed to the Digital Photography School feed on Facebook. They share articles regularly that are quick reads on a variety of photography subjects. For more in-depth info, you could watch YouTube videos all day on just about anything related to photography, just be aware that the creator may be slanted by a product endorsement. I also recently picked up a great book on Astro Photography called Night Sky by Jennifer Wu and James Martin.

Beyond that, just get out and shoot! I’ve learned far more from doing than anything else.


@longdrives_withkids asked how we ensure our daughter has contact with other kids and makes genuine connections and friendships along the way or if we really focus on zeroing in as a family

If you have had the pleasure of meeting our daughter Lilya, you will first notice that she has no problems striking up a conversation with people. This includes kids and adults.

When we arrive in a campground, we all have jobs. Lenny and I back and set up camp and Lilya grabs a walkie talkie and takes the dog for a walk. Generally, within 20 minutes, she has chatted with several neighbors and has made friends with any kids her age in the park. We also keep rules around these engagements that must be followed.

If we are in a place for more than a few days, she has usually made a good connection, and then we exchange contact info. For friends back home, we do lots of calls and video chats and then make sure we plan time together during our stints back home. All of this takes work, and some friendships are short but still no less memorable. When we are in more remote places, we really zero in on family time.


@mattyadventure asked how we school our daughter

I know my limitations. Patience is not my strength, and neither is math! Heading out on the road and working full-time, we knew trying to homeschool wouldn’t be a good situation so we enrolled Lilya in an online academy and paid for the highest level of support we could get. She was attending a private school when we were home, so we were already budgeting tuition.

Lilya logs into her computer every morning, and her assignments are ready for her to start. She has a full-time teacher available to her whenever she needs help, and she also has a separate Spanish teacher. She has video calls with her class every week as well and has built a great bond with her teacher through calls and emails.

Even though we weren’t on the road yet, we started her school year in this program, so there was minimal adjustment once we went full-time. This also allowed us to work ahead a bit so that we had the flexibility to take time away from school when we wanted or if wifi was limited. She finished the year a couple of weeks early and with straight A’s!

Outside of her traditional schooling, she has learned a tremendous amount visiting parks and monuments. The experience on the road has also opened her eyes to many unique professions. She met a biologist studying California Condors near the Grand Canyon, a girl who is a visual effects artist working for Lucas Films, and a drummer playing in the middle of the desert for a photoshoot. She has watched Coast Guard service people rappel out of helicopters and chatted with tons of Park Rangers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs. I consider this to also be an excellent education only an experience like our journey could provide.


Also from @mattyadventure

We were already working remotely before we went on the road, so this was a pretty smooth transition. The things that changed had more to do with limited office space, internet connection, and managing different time zones.

Obviously, the biggest concern with working remotely has to do with having a good internet connection. We have two carrier plans so that we can generally get a good signal with at least one. We also use a booster to help intensify the signal. When we boondock, I’m watching my phone the whole time we are looking for a spot, so we don’t get all setup and find out that there is no reception. Surprisingly, some of the best signal we have had has been in some of the most remote places. I assume this is because fewer people are sucking up bandwidth. When we went to Big Bend Texas, we took vacation time because we knew cell coverage would be mostly non-existent. We did the same for Yosemite. I think for big parks like these it’s better to be disconnected anyway.

Libraries and coffee shops are fantastic for working. We haven’t needed them as much for the free wifi but more as just a place to get out of your tiny space. It’s excellent if your weather is beautiful and you can take a lunch break hike or work outside for a bit, but sometimes you are going to find yourself in lousy weather for a while and three people trying to work, and school in a tiny place will get real stir crazy pretty fast.  It may go without saying, but headphones are a must, especially for Lilya. We have found if she turns on some chill music, she can stay incredibly focused. Libraries are quiet, but a coffee shop can be distracting for an 11-year-old.  Additionally, the libraries we have been to have allowed us to get a free card, which is great for getting books and movies on the road. Many times, they also have fun activities for kids in the afternoon.

Another tip that is unique to digital nomads is working your home base time zone. I think we have a reasonably ideal set up since we are in central time zone, so we don’t have significant changes. We have spent all of the time so far one to two hours behind our home base. So if the workday starts at 8:30 in Kansas City, we are working by 6:30 in California. This is easy to do since all we need is a bite, a cup of coffee, and a quick shower – and with limited water, they are quick! We aren’t getting dressed up, we have no commute, and the kitchen is just a couple of steps from the bedroom! Also, because we start earlier, we finish our workday earlier, leaving us time to explore or move to the next destination. When you are moving around a lot and particularly areas of Arizona, the time zone changes can be hard to keep up with so I wear a watch with KC time.

Lastly, we have downsized our workspace and office supplies. We store most of our essential docs in the cloud but have a small plastic file box for papers. We don’t use a paper shredder anymore, we burn it in the fire, we have a small printer that folds up into the size of half a shoebox, and a stacking plastic bin with any other supplies we need.


@family_adventures_overlanding asked what we do for income

I would love to say that we are simply independently wealthy, but that is not the case. I own an IT recruiting and consulting firm and have worked remotely for almost 10 years. I’ve always had lots of face to face meetings around town, but with a solid client base, we were able to shift to a full virtual model. Lots of video calls but outside of that, most of it was already in place.

Lenny works for a fantastic non-profit that was a remote job to start. He still has several face-to-face meetings, but he tries to schedule them effectively, and we have both traveled back to our home base a couple of times. Fall is a busy time for Lenny with several meetings around the midwest, so we plan to tow the trailer back for those and just move as work necessitates.

There are so many options out there for remote work, but you have to look. Google remote work positions in your field or search on LinkedIn. If you have a job that could be done remotely, sometimes it just takes asking. If you are a valuable employee and make a good case, your employer may surprise you. Remote work is a privilege, so if you land something, give extra every day and go the extra mile to stay connected with your employer.


@hollywood_dave_presents asked about how to plan or adjust when a park is sold out

Resources, and lots of them. We have been on the coast a lot, and I can tell you, the premium campsites are reserved MONTHS in advance. I spend more time than I would like searching for places to stay, but in general, I’m always trying to get us as close to something as amazing as possible.

Our membership with Harvest Hosts has really helped to fill in the gaps.  If you aren’t familiar with this program, it is a network of wineries, breweries, farms, and more that allow you to visit and stay for free.  There is a small annual fee to access the network, but our Harvest Host link offers a 15% discount.

@theycomefromavandownunder also suggest Boondockers Welcome which we haven’t tried yet but plan to. Outside of that, you sometimes just have to show up and hope for the best and at the worst be willing to move around a bit.  We have found that there are almost always last-minute cancelations at state and national parks that can be had if you show up mid-week and early. I would not recommend trying this on the weekend.

Some campgrounds also have first come first serve sites.  We didn’t have reservations anywhere for Independence Day but went to a great park right on the coast in Oregon that still had some open spots.  Another note – the sign from the highway said full, but we drove in to check anyway since there is no way for them to really know when someone might decide to leave.

If you can’t get in or have to move, don’t be afraid to ask the people working the campground where they suggest. We decided to stay longer in Yosemite but couldn’t find extra nights available in the Yosemite campground.  We lucked out with a place right outside the park that was free. We were not able to find that spot on any app, it was only by asking the park ranger at the reservation office. If you are friendly, more often than not, they will be helpful.

So far, the few times we have stayed in a parking lot somewhere have been purposely en route to a destination where we just needed a place to pull over and sleep.


@wandering.america asked for any, and all tips on finding boondocking spots (especially on the East Coast) and @the_elks asked about resource management for 5+ days of boondocking. We are talking 💩, 💦, and ⚡️

For the places we have visited, the Campendium website and app is our go-to for boondocking.  There are usually pictures, and what I really love is that people report how many bars they get for each cellular carrier. We also find that some of the lesser reviewed areas can be amazing, but before we commit to something too unknown, we will drop the trailer and scope it out first to make sure we don’t get ourselves in a pickle.

Another site I’ve used on occasion is freecampsites.net and I also just purchased the AllStays app which seems to also have a lot of useful info. If you are in a pinch and need an overnight on the way to another destination, there is always WalMart, Cracker Barrel, Bass Pro, and others. The rest is just word of mouth.

Some states just don’t have as many boondocking spots as others but our friends who have spent more time out on the East Coast have suggested Harvest Hosts.  A quick search on the Harvest Host network shows hundreds of locations up and down the East Coast including Canada!

Regarding the 💩, 💦, and ⚡️. We have 180w of solar mounted on the roof and assuming the sun is out for a decent part of the day, we have managed to charge all of our devices, and keep all things running. We don’t have TV’s on (we are outside people!), and we can’t run the microwave/convection oven off our inverter, but we grill a lot if we don’t have shore power. I also just bought an Instant Pot Lux Mini that only uses 700watts. I have tried it just off the battery, and so far it has worked great and cooks fast.

Sometimes we need more power, or the sun just isn’t out. We do have a generator that covers those instances, but we try to use it as little as possible. One note with generators – please be respectful of those around you. Spend the money on a quiet one, point it away from your neighbors, run it as little as possible and during reasonable hours.  Also, we lock ours to our trailer as we have heard lots of stories of them growing legs.

Water and waste are personal to not just you, but also your rig. Whatever your setup, go test it out somewhere before you go off-grid. Fill your tanks, then shower and wash at the level you are comfortable and see how long you can go. For me personally, I need a shower daily just to wake up. My hairdresser says I shouldn’t wash my hair every day anyway, so that helps. We installed a better shower head that only uses 1.8 gallons per minute and has a pause switch. This gives us great water pressure and also saves us during lathering while keeping the water warm. For dishes, we try to let them build a little, so we aren’t filling the sink multiple times each day.  We also use bottled water that we refill for drinking.  With really good water conservation habits, the three of us had made it 5 days before we needed to hit the dump.  We have met some people that employ other tactics that extend that time significantly, but for three of us, 5 days works great.


@skoobasteph asked for internet connectivity tips and safety on the road

As I mentioned, we use a cell signal booster that is mounted to the top of our trailer. That, along with two different carriers and great data plans, has kept us well connected. Also, checking Campendium before you go for carrier reviews has kept us out of dead spots in some insanely remote places.

With being remote, also comes the question about safety and security. I’ve traveled around a bit, and I think the biggest key is to know your surroundings, keep yourself out of bad situations, away from questionable people, don’t be flashy, and always lock everything up tight. If an area concerns you, ask the locals. When we boondocked near Ajo, AZ, signs were warning of illegal immigration and trafficking. We asked one of the park rangers if we should be concerned and they told us that those people are working hard to not be noticed and thus staying well away from where people are camping. We are a family, but I think the same rules apply for solo travelers. As a woman, if I were traveling solo, I might tend to try and boondock with friends or in better-populated areas.


@momijhung had a question about pantry space for longer trips

Everyone should play hours of Tetris in preparation for living full time in an RV. We have found you really need to break it down to the basics. In a previous house, we had a pantry probably close to the size of our entire Airstream. When we moved from that house, I couldn’t believe how many items we had that were never or rarely used. Airstream pantry space is limited for sure, but we have all of our dry goods in just a few cabinets above the stove and in the small pantry space to the left.

What we found worked well (and this applies to everything in a tiny area) is to buy stackable storage. No, you will not open our pantry and find everything perfectly aligned and labeled for a Pinterest post, but you will find a lot of stackable cubes arranged in a way that fits. We have mostly cans and spices over the stove, the next space is vitamins and shake stuff, after that a coffee and tea cabinet, and then everything else finds a spot in the small shelved cabinet. We also have several magnetized spice containers on the side of the range hood. If it isn’t something we use at least once a month or tiny, we don’t have it.

Beyond just the kitchen, this is the most essential organizing tip we can share. Our Airstream came with several large plastic bins for things. We used those to store the bedding and pillows that came from the factory and left them in Missouri! It’s excellent that Airstream provides them, but big bins will not serve you as well as smaller bins that each serve a purpose. Go to your store of choice, Target, Walmart, Container Store, whatever… buy as many fabric storage cubes, small organizers for the bathroom and kitchen, stackable bins, shoe boxes, command hooks, and strips, etc. in AS MANY SIZES as you can find. Spend at least a weekend, lining all your drawers with some type of non-skid shelf liner and packing all of your household items. In the bathroom, we even have bins within bins to keep things neat. Each of us has a small container for our personal essentials (hairbrush, deodorant, toothbrush, etc. that sits inside of a larger bin to keep them from flying around in the bathroom cabinet when we are towing. Keep the extra containers because once you are out on the road, you will find a need for something you hadn’t thought of while parked in the driveway. Then, return whatever you don’t use after a couple of weeks. Tetris my friends, Tetris!


Lastly, an anonymous question about how we maintain intimacy in our marriage traveling in a tiny space with our daughter. This one came from someone with several kids to whom I might ask, how do you maintain intimacy now with so many kids!

First, cue the song, “Up All Night to Get Lucky” by Daft Punk.

I envision that Lilya may read this post one day, so I’ll keep the details to a minimum. When we were selecting trailers, a key factor was some distance between rooms. Our model has a rear bunk with a front master, so we all have our own rooms and privacy. Additionally, Lilya is a hard sleeper and has always gone to bed with some type of ambient music. Right now, she loves this album we found with whale music.

As far as everyday affection, we have never hidden that. We believe it is healthy for kids to grow up and see their parents playfully sharing their love, hugging, and kissing. Yes, we hear a few “ewww”s here and there, but I remind her how lucky she is two have parents with a strong love for each other. So much better than seeing her parents fight with one another!

So, get yourself a little space, early bedtime, whale moaning music…haha! Or just like you did before kids, get creative. 😍


If you aren’t already, give these folks a follow! We have been fortunate to meet a few of these fine people and hope to meet the rest someday on the road.

@wandering_america – Super cool couple we met at a park just minutes from our home base of all places.

They suggest using Google Maps to zoom in on campgrounds before making reservations. Such a great tip! You can get a feel for the vibe of a place and the general neighborhood using this one little trick. I have avoided several RV Parks “by the sea” that turned out to be just glorified parking lots by a noisy road, only by using this one tip.

@wandering_america also likes to keep their yelling to a quiet roar using walkie talkies while backing into spots. If you think you will just use your phone, you might find you have poor reception in some places. Walkies are also a great way to let your kids roam the park a little while being able to keep dibs on them. Beware though…. We have picked up a few exciting conversations so keep in mind, what you say could be picked up by others.

I also like the phrase, “Sorry for what I said while we were backing.” This is interchangeable with “before coffee” and “when I was hangry” as well.

@shadowsandmountains – We boondocked with these great folks in Sedona! Check out the interior of her beautiful Airstream. She has created a fantastic area for cooking!

She suggests “always having a stocked pantry and or freezer with things to make a meal. You never know when you might get stuck or be so remote that grocery stores are out of the question.”

This is so true. Travel requires some planning so if you know you will be going a long distance, or going off the grid, take the time to get all your provisions in order first. This includes food, propane, fresh water, clean tanks, toiletries, wood, etc. Nothing is worse than setting up camp and realizing you don’t have something you need and it is an hour to the nearest store that probably isn’t even open.

@pourmoreandexplore – The other half of @shadowsandmountains and the one with all the great drinks!

One of the most intimidating aspects of pulling a trailer with all of your belongings is backing it. @pourmoreandexplore suggests the ‘scoop method’ described by @longlonghoneymoon’s short YouTube video. He goes on to suggest for “campgrounds that have narrow roads or cars along the side of their rig, making it difficult to do the ‘scoop’ to try this instead” if you have a back-up camera.
1) When possible, back into the site on the driver side for better visibility,
2) drive along the side closest to your site as you pass it,
3) once your back-up camera has passed, start to drive further away but toward the opposite side (to the right) of the site to get a better angle of attack, and the right approach for your camera once you back up,
4) lastly, and most important, turn your camera back to the left which will turn the travel trailer more toward the site, giving your approach more of a 45-degree angle vs. 90-degree,
5) begin your easy approach into the site.

@thelonglongtrailer – Another full-time family with two kids who look like a lot of fun!

They say that “RV life = huge learning curve.” I like their style because their biggest tip is not to over-plan things. They say, “Yes, it is a good idea to have a general idea of where you’re going, but if it’s too rigid you might miss out on opportunities to see things that weren’t on your radar or to hang out longer with new friends.” Great advice!!

On a similar note, @the_nomadams, a young couple in their 20’s tell us to “be flexible!”

“There are tons of things that can make plans change on a daily basis in this lifestyle. If you’re unable to adjust, you’ll probably end up as a ball of stress laying in the fetal position.” #truth

@retireewannabes – fulltime couple with two dogs who spend part of their time stationary and then travel during the winter.

They say “all of the cliche tips that you hear all over the RV community are true. 1) it’s about the journey, not the destination! 2) slow down! How ever long you think you’ll want to stay in a place, go ahead and double that.”

@theycomefromavandownunder – can you guess where they are from?

They recommend a national gym membership for “solo workout time and extra showers that are long and hot!” They also suggest Boondockers Welcome “as a way to keep camping costs down and meet lovely locals.” Lastly, they tell us their “best investment is a two-person inflatable kayak that they just tuck away underneath.”

@Mrsamy.pease – We met her and her awesome family at Doheny State Beach.  They aren’t full-timers, but they should be!

She has one of the best tips for meeting other RV’ers. “Always forget your wine bottle opener when camping. Forgetting it gives you a reason to meet incredible people.” This is how we met @mrsamy.pease and her family on the beach in Doheny, and they were kind enough to share some of their wine! GO CHIEFS!! (They are Raiders fans but yet somehow wine brings people together.)

@tincanadventure is a solo female Airstreamer.  This is my go-to this account for all my ‘you got this’ inspiration.

She has one of the best tips, as mentioned above. “If you are even thinking about doing this, do it!”


Follow and connect with other RV’er, both full-time and not.  They really are the absolute, kindest people you will ever meet!! Invite them over for a fire, ask what works for them and what they have learned. Hands down, the best way to learn to live this life is to jump in completely! Get off the grid, listen to the old-timers, take a fresh perspective from the younger generation, and just find what works for you. If this is the life for you, just like everything you have done thus far, you WILL figure it out, and it isn’t as scary as you think it is. Complacency makes us scared. Get out there, and you will find that the thrill of this lifestyle will help you overcome any and all obstacles in your way.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park in 3 days!

We have covered some serious miles recently. We went from being stuck in Summerland, British Columbia with a broken truck to Kansas City, down to Eureka Springs, AR and back to KC in just a week and a half! That is about 2400 miles (not including all the miles we drove in the parks) and 37 hours of drive time according to google maps. If you have ever towed a trailer, you know that 37 hours according to google maps is closer to 42 hours of towing. I did the driving for almost every mile so that Lenny could work in the car. I listened to hours of podcasts and now have a level of confidence towing the Airstream that I couldn’t imagine 4 months ago. AND, in between all of that, we certified three scuba students (Lilya included) and visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks! Needless to say, we are excited to sit still for a bit. Now that I have some time and I’m not driving like a trucker, I thought it would be good to get some updates out.

Yellowstone wasn’t really on our list this year, but we knew we would be close on our drive back, the weather would be pretty good, we had an extra day off over Labor Day, so why not just pop in and check it out? Funny enough, until we started talking about Yellowstone with others, Grand Teton wasn’t even on our radar, and we didn’t realize how close the two are. The very first thing I will tell you is that we certainly plan to go back. 3 days is not anywhere close to enough time to explore these remarkable places. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide but rather a way to share what we experienced and also help you maximize the time you do have if you decide to visit.

First Things First

When you visit any National Park, the very first thing you should do is to go to the visitors center and tell them what you like to do. Do you just want to see the highlights, drive through the park, picnic, camp, hike, photograph, etc.? Park Rangers are the best resources hands down for making the most of the time you have.

Our next best resource for National Parks is the Just Ahead app. We discovered this app when we went to Big Bend during the government shut down, and there were no Park Rangers or resources to guide us. The app works like a local guide. As you drive through the park, it will point out areas of interest, give you history, tell you how long drives and hikes will take, and let you know when there is a highly recommended stop.

Day One

We opted to use Gardiner, MT as our base into the park, which is near the North entrance. We stayed at Eagle Creek National Forest Campground which is high on a bluff overlooking Gardiner and about a 10 min drive to the park entrance. We arrived on Saturday afternoon and were able to get the last spot available. We quickly unhitched and headed into the park to the Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth Hot Springs and got the highlights from the Park Ranger. Mammoth Hot Springs is like a little village in the park that I think is mostly inhabited by elk. Elk were absolutely everywhere, and not shy to the cars and people walking the streets at all. Clearly, they felt quite protected. With only a few hours left in the day, we headed over to see the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. We walked the boardwalk and enjoyed the beautiful travertine terraces then headed back into Gardiner to grab dinner and make a plan for the next day.

Day Two

If you have looked at a map of the roads running through Yellowstone, you realize the main roads make a figure 8 through the park. We planned to drive the full figure eight on Sunday and try to hit as many of the highlights as possible. We started out from the North entrance and headed toward Tower Junction. From Tower Junction, we headed south toward Yellowstone Lake. This was a beautifully scenic area, and we drove through most of this side of the park, stopping at a few places recommended by the app. Some notable areas included Tower Fall, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Dunraven Pass, and Hayden Valley.

Yellowstone is clearly known for its geysers, but the East side of the park should not be missed. Tower Fall is a quick stop and easy walk to an overlook of the fall and its unusual rock columns. Dunraven Pass is a beautiful alpine area including the highest point of over 10,000 ft at Mount Washburn. Lots of high winding turns, but the view makes it all worth it.

View near pull out for Mount Washburn hike

Hayden Valley was a vast expanse where we encountered hundreds of wild bison. When bison decide to stand in the middle of the road, you figure out quickly that you are a visitor to their land and you are on their time, so we pulled over and enjoyed watching them, from a distance of course!

Bison enjoying the summer in Hayden Valley

Probably my favorite place in the park though was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We hiked the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail which is a short distance down to an overlook where Lower Falls spills into the canyon.

Lower Falls Trail overlook

The hike back up is steep, but the view on this hike far outweighs the effort. You can also see Upper Falls further up the river on this hike. 

Double Rainbow in the breathtaking Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Heading further South, we stopped near Grant Village, grabbed some food and drinks from the store, and sat on the edge of Yellowstone Lake for a picnic. It’s a pretty drive through this area of the park, but if I were short on time, I would skip the southeastern loop of the park. 

After filling our bellies, we headed toward the southwest loop and wrapped up our day with the classic visit to Old Faithful. Even though this is not the most impressive geyser in the park, it is a must-see. As the name implies, it faithfully goes off several times a day and is reliably +/- 10 mins of its predicted time. We arrived for a 7:30pm eruption which I thought was perfect. The crowd was not too large, and the sun was beginning its descent, providing subtle warm lighting and an ideal way to wrap up our day.

Old Faithful getting ready to blow!

Day Three

Sunrise looking toward Lamar Valley

We heard that there was a pack of wolves that had been feeding on a dead bison in Lamar Valley. Lamar Valley is coined the American Serengeti, and the Yellowstone wolfpack is apparently a pretty rare treat. Knowing that the best time to catch wildlife is near dusk and dawn, we left our campsite at 5:30 am to reach Lamar Valley by sunrise. There were lots of people along the side of the road looking through spotting scopes and with enviable camera lens apparently enjoying a viewing of the wolves. I think we expected we would be able to see them closer, but we were ill-equipped so if this is on your list be sure to bring your scope/binoculars/telephoto equipment. Even though we didn’t see the wolves, the drive was incredible at sunrise, and we did see elk, pronghorn, and again hundreds of bison right by the road so no regrets or complaints from anyone about the super early wake-up!

Bison jam during our morning commute

Starting out so early also gave us an advantage over crowds as we headed back toward the west side of the park from the North. We didn’t stop much along the North West side of the loop since we had already been to Mammoth Hot Springs and there was quite a bit of construction on that side. Our first stop where we got out of the car was at the Norris Geyser Basin area where we hiked around the Porcelain and Back Basins.


This area is one of the most geothermally active regions in the world. It is full of color, noises, smells, and erupting hot water everywhere! Many of the cars in the parking lot have protective coverings over them because Steamboat Geyser, the worlds tallest active geyser was expected to erupt. This clearly must be a spectacular show because there was a large group of people who brought lawn chairs and appeared that they may have been camped out at this geyser for several hours, if not days.

We really wanted to see Grand Prismatic Spring, but the parking lots were completely full, so we opted to continue our drive south, stopping at the Old Faithful Visitors Center for a park ranger talk where Lilya finished up her Jr. Park Ranger badge and we had another opportunity to see Old Faithful erupt.

At this point, we decided to head south into Grand Teton National Park. With limited time, we stopped at Colter Bay Visitor Center, attended a Ranger-led talk and then drove south to Jenny Lake. We took a short hike around Jenny Lake, where the views of the Tetons over the water are simply breathtaking. It was in this part of the park that we decided we absolutely must come back to explore again. I can only describe it as what I envision is summer in the Swiss Alps with jagged peaks towering over serene lake settings where visitors frolic along the shore.

Grand Teton-9653
Summer on the shores of Jenny Lake

We drove back North, stopping at the visitor center so Lilya could be sworn in yet again as a National Park Jr. Ranger, her second in one day. On our way out of the park, we went to a great pizzeria at Leeks Marina.

Grand Teton-9666
Wrapped up our visit at Leeks Marina

We had a lovely relaxing dinner on the porch overlooking the water and then hopped back in the car for the long drive back to Gardiner. It was an incredibly long day but well worth it. I would not recommend this pace for most, but I do think we saw most of the highlights and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to go. My biggest regret is missing Grand Prismatic Spring, not getting to dip in the hot springs, and not having the chance to see any of the wolves but we will make sure we add those to our return visit.

Final Thoughts

All of Yellowstone is incredible, but for us, the Northwest (minus Mammoth Hot Springs) and Southeast are pretty drive but have the least amount of attractions so if you have limited time, save these until the end. If I were to return, I would trade more time in Grand Teton over those sections of Yellowstone, but of course, we may have missed something. Also, starting at the Northwest or North entrance may provide the easiest route to cover these areas since you could primarily just cover half of the figure eight on your way into Grand Teton.

If you have questions, or if you know of areas we missed that are on the top of your list, please post in the comments below.

Texas is YUGE – Part Two

Big-Bend-National-Park-Texas-56.jpgBig Bend National Park

Big Bend is a land of extremes. Highs and lows, hot and cold, dark and light.   After traveling from Fort Worth and enjoying several stops along the way, we arrived at Big Bend National Park the day the government shutdown was announced. 

Government Shutdown
Notification during Government Shutdown in Big Bend National Park

We weren’t sure what to expect, but luckily the park was open all four days we were there.  We heard they shut it down after we left, so we felt quite fortunate to have been able to freely explore the whole park.  Without any park services, the visitor center was closed, but we found an app called Just Ahead that turned out to be incredibly useful for our visit.  You need to download the app and the park program before you lose service, but once you have it on your phone, it uses your GPS signal to guide you to all the points of interest in the park along your drive.  There were many scenic areas we would have missed without this app and I’m sure I will download the guides for other parks we visit.

We stayed in Study Butte which we found to be an ideal launch point for both the park and some evening visits to Terlingua.  Our four-day itinerary at Big Bend consisted of the following.

Day One

  • Maxwell Scenic Drive – This is a winding drive that runs from the park entrance near Study Butte all the way down to Santa Elena Canyon.  We spent our first day just driving and getting out of our car to hike several trails and view the various stops along the way.
    Pink Cactus
    Pink Cactus overlooking Mexico from Big Bend National Park

    We arrived at Santa Elena near sunset but really wanted to explore the canyon further so decided it would be an excellent place to catch the sunrise and start the next day.  We headed back to our campsite and went into Terlingua for dinner.

  • Starlight Theatre – a local in the area suggested we check out Starlight Theatre in Terlingua.  Terlingua itself is a pretty funky little town.  It feels quite authentic and seems to exemplify the extreme in your face vibe of Big Bend.  Starlight Theater is one of those places where you sit and think if only the walls could talk.  We enjoyed a nice dinner, spicy margaritas, and live music.

Day Two

  • Back to Santa Elena Canyon – We headed out at dark to watch the sunrise at Santa Elena Canyon.  I had planned to photograph from the entry to the canyon as a full moon would set almost directly between Mexico and the US, sparkling on the Rio Grande.  Unfortunately, we miscalculated how long it would take to get there, so we ended up watching the sunrise from a point just overlooking the Rio Grande facing Mexico directly.  The park at dawn is eerily quiet.  From where we were sitting I could see a small house with goats just over the river in Mexico. At times the goats sounded like a crying baby.  After sunrise, we explored the Homestead Ruins and then hiked by the Rio Grande into the canyon.  This is a must see and if you go, my recommendation is to go early.  Since we were there for sunrise, we had the whole place to ourselves for quite a while but on our hike back, the crowds were definitely increasing.
    Border Wall
    Inside the Santa Elena Canyon along the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park

    Window to Chisos
    Looking through the window of an abandoned homestead in Big Bend National Park
  • Old Maverick Road – Maxwell Scenic Drive is the smoothest road to and from Santa Elena but since we opted to take Old Maverick Road back toward the park entrance.  Old Maverick Road is not paved and while it is a much shorter distance, it takes almost a long as the paved road.  I would recommend you have 4wd before heading out on Old Maverick Rd.  We saw a Prius pass us by but I suspect they either got stuck or turned around.  It’s definitely a different view than the paved roads so if you are inclined to offload, by all means, take this route but be prepared for a long bumpy ride.

    It's a Jeep Thing
    A Jeep Rubicon at the base of the Chisos Mountains
  • Boquillas Crossing – After covering most of the west side of the park, we decided to head east.  After you pass the entrance to the Chisos Mountains, the landscape becomes much flatter and open.  It’s a bit of a drive to go from one end of the park to the other but there is a lot to see along the way.  Near the southeast end of the park, you can find a small general store at the campground.  This is the only campground in the park that has hookups for RV’s.  We grabbed a couple of sandwiches for lunch and then headed to the border crossing.  We had our passports and planned to cross the border and visit the small town of Boquillas.  The crossing is only open Wednesday through Sunday during the winter.  Unfortunately, there was no way to know but even though it was during that window, the crossing was also closed due to the government shutdown.  So instead we hiked the other the Rio Grande on the other side of the park at the Boquillas Canyon trail. From there we were able to see the town of Boquillas along with the locals hanging out having a picnic near the river.

Day Three – Christmas Eve

  • Lost Mine Trail – If you plan to hike and have limited time, this is the one trail I would recommend.  It’s a substantial hike close to 5 miles climbing over 1000ft but there are several stops with incredible views along the way.  Once you reach the peak, you will be well rewarded with some of the most amazing views within the park.  The parking lot for the trailhead is small so arrive early to get a spot.  Take lots of water and some snacks to enjoy once you reach the peak, sit for a while then enjoy the downhill hike back to the trailhead.  If you have built up an appetite, stop in at the Chisos Mountain Lodge for some lunch.

    Lost Mine Trail
    The view from the summit at Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park
  • Balanced Rock – After lunch, we headed out for another hike at Balanced Rock. You will need to drive on an unpaved road to reach the trailhead. 
    Chisos Starburst
    Sun rewarding a winter hiker in Big Bend National Park

    This is an easy hike with a bit of mild bouldering toward the end and then an impressive view and some unique formations.

  • La Kiva – After a day of good hiking, we were ready for a nice dinner out for Christmas Eve.  La Kiva is a little subterranean restaurant in Terlingua.  The entrance is a large counter-weighted mine-shaft door.  After going down a set of stairs, you will enter a small cavern with tables and an area set up for a band and a smaller room to the side with various games and a sofa.  Along one of the walls, you will see some pictures of Glen Felts who had taken over the bar from his uncle.  We were told a story of a night of drinking gone wrong ending in the brutal murder of Glen Felts outside of this local hangout that shook the town.  

Day Four – Christmas

  • Christmas morning  This is our second year we have spent Christmas in a National Park and both times we have found it to be incredibly memorable.  This year, Lilya was insistent that we get up and have a Christmas morning breakfast before opening any presents.  I love that she is focused first on the meaning of Christmas and the time we spend together rather than just tearing through the wrapping paper to get to the ‘goods’.  Since we have moved into a tiny space, we think about gifts differently.  Our tree was small and our gifts were focused around experiences.  Things like binoculars for birdwatching, headlamps for exploring at night, upgraded geocache app, and rocks for painting and hiding.  After a relaxed morning, it was time to set out to enjoy our final day in the park.
  • The Window – This hike is almost tied with Lost Mine Trail for me.  Instead of starting on an incline, you descend between vertical rock walls ending at a waterfall that spills into the Chihuahuan desert below.  The last part of the trail is a little trickier to navigate.  When we were there, we were able to get very close to the edge of the waterfall right in the middle of the window.  The view is spectacular, but I wouldn’t suggest going too far as the rocks can be slippery.  The return is uphill but we were able to make it back in half the time we hiked down.

    The Window
    Valley view from the end of The Window trail in Big Bend National Park
  • Sunset at Sotol Overlook – We stumbled on this location our first day in the park and knew it would be a great place to watch the sunset.  Our view of the park during the day did not disappoint.  It’s a convenient location because you can just park your car and sit at the overlook vs. trying to hike back from somewhere in the dark.
    Sunset at Sotol
    Layered mountain sunset from Sotol Overlook in Big Bend National Park

    Ocotillo overlooking Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park
  • Stargazing – One of the most special things about Big Bend is the dark sky.  It is so remote and so large that you can see the headlights of cars driving on the road from about 20 miles away!  If someone were to stand across a peak in the park with a flashlight, you could easily spot them.  When we were there, the moon was full but the stars were still amazing and abundant.  We packed a dinner including egg nog and pecan pie and found a spot just off the road and sat on the tailgate of the truck eating under the bright starlit Texas sky.  It was the perfect way to celebrate and reflect on the meaning of Christmas.

    Night Drive
    Amazing sunset in Big Bend National Park

Marfa and Valentine

On our way west out of Big Bend, we decided to go through Marfa.  If you haven’t heard about Marfa, it’s a funky little town in the middle of nowhere that is a legitimate destination for foodies and art lovers.  Admittedly, we didn’t spend much time in Marfa and it feels a little like a place that is trying to hold on to its authenticity.  There are lots of people wandering the streets that are apparently looking to see and be seen. 

I was born in Laguna Beach, CA and as a teenager used to spend a lot of time north and south of Main Beach.  What I remember is a town that was home to artists and beach junkies and all the people in between.  Then along came a little show called ‘Laguna Beach’, and every time I go back home, I get the same vibe as I had in Marfa.  It’s great for local businesses but also a little sad to see the takeover.

Marfa Ghost Lights

It seems everyone that has been to Marfa will ask you if you have seen the Marfa Ghost Lights.  Right off the highway is an entire rest area dedicated to viewing them.  Of course, we couldn’t visit this town without at least giving the lights their due.  It was a frigid night, quite windy, but that didn’t stop tons of people from coming out for their chance to see the mysterious orbs that dance just outside of town.  Of course, I had to google what causes them, which immediately takes away from the folklore.  Either way, I think on a warmer night with a group of friends, it could be a fun place to chill and tell spooky stories.

Bourdain’s Parts Unknown

IMG_2893The first time I consciously recall hearing of Marfa was on an episode of Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain.  Lenny and I are huge fans of the show and always enjoyed Bourdain’s desire to go to any place the locals would hang out.  The Far West Texas episode was one of Bourdain’s last before his death so as our own little pilgrimage, we decided to pop into one of the local bars where Bourdain had a drink and visited with the owner.  It’s a typical small town bar, a couple of pool tables with torn felt, and not much distinction other than the large bright red neon sign reading ‘BEER’, and a parking lot paved entirely with beer bottle caps.

Prada Marfa

Type Marfa into Instagram and you will undoubtedly scroll through thousands of photos of the Marfa Prada art installation.  Strangely, it’s not really in Marfa but closer to Valentine.  It’s a little building right next to the two-lane highway complete with real Prada purses and shoes in the window.  Of course, you can’t shop there but people stop and take some pretty unique photos which are in themselves, their own forms of art.

Purple Prada
Prada Marfa art installation near Valentine Texas

Valentine and James Dean

A couple that we met in Terlingua suggested we drive a little further into the town of Valentine.  There is a small cafe off the road where a scene from the movie Giant starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson was filmed.  IMG_2874We were told we could stop in and have a bite there but when we arrived the owner was just leaving the building.  We quickly explained why we were traveling through and with amazing Texas hospitality she opened the doors to let us in and served us a nice hot cup of coffee.  Kami, who is a petite woman who looks like she got it a fist fight with the Texas wind and won, explained to us that she bought the cafe a while back after it had been closed with hopes of opening it back up.  What she didn’t account for was that she would have to get everything in the kitchen back up to code and for such an old building, that was going to be a massive undertaking, so she is now in the process of turning it into a little boutique.  Kami still has lots of old memorabilia in the shop and told us that the town is slowly being deserted and she picks up items around town in abandoned buildings.  Kami’s personality is as big as Texas and if anyone can make a go of a shop in the middle of nowhere, it is her.  We wished her luck and headed back to the Airstream for dinner.James-Dean-Giant-Mural-Valentine-Texas-64

On the drive back home, as the sun was going down, you could hear faint music blowing in the wind.  We pulled over and on the side of the road is a scene from the movie Giant with James Dean looming large over the mountains in the distance. 

On West

These were our last few stops in Texas on our way west.  We had hoped to continue on the Guadalupe National Park, Carlsbad Caverns, and then White Sands but heard they were all closed.  There was winter weather chasing our tails, so we continued on.  We will have to make the trip back through to complete that area of Texas some other time.

Next stop, sunny (or rainy) California!

Texas is YUGE – Part One

Texas is YUGE… and unexpected! 

The last several weeks have been incredibly busy with work and in our free time, we have been spending time with my brother and his family and my dad here in Southern California.  Lilya is loving hanging out with her California cousins!  I’ve been trying to carve out some time to get an update to the blog and share our adventures through Texas… but just like Texas, it is so big you really need to sit and take some time to give it justice.  So, here we go!

First of all, let me say that by no means does this even begin to cover Texas but I do think we covered a large amount of southwest Texas and hit some cool places off the beaten path that probably don’t get talked about much outside of Texas.

While you read this, you should hum the song Deep in the Heart of Texas

“The stars at night, are big and bright…. deep in the heart of Texas.

The prairie sky, is wide and high…. deep in the heart of Texas.”

I think I had this song in my head for a month!  Thank me later. 

Honestly, I originally thought Texas would be a pass-through on our journey.  I’ve visited Houston, Galveston, San Antonio, Lubbock, and a few other stops over the years and thought Texas was okay but it didn’t really make it to any kind of list of places I planned to explore.  Having grown up in California and explaining to people how varied the entire state is, I obviously shouldn’t have underestimate Texas either, but I did.  Boy, was I wrong and while we got to see some interesting things, we certainly came nowhere near covering everything and I can genuinely say, we plan to explore more.

Coming in from Arkansas, we traveled through to Fort Worth.  This was a great stop along the way to stop and visit with my son Cody.  He lives in downtown Fort Worth and took us to some great food and drink in the area.  A great stop that was recommended to us from a friend in KC was the Lonesome Dove Bistro.  We had a wonderful meal here with Cody and his friend.  Don’t get mad KC friends but this was as good as any steak I have had back home!

Texas Hill Country – Austin, Inks Lake and Longhorn Caverns

Inks Lake – Beautiful Glass Reflection

We intended to visit Austin next and found a great little campground at Inks Lake State Park.  This is really where I began to be pretty impressed with Texas.  Driving into the area, you immediately start to notice a change in the landscape.  Also, it seems cliche, but the sky really does seem bigger in Texas!  We went from a fairly flat landscape to a much rockier terrain with cactus and trees.  As they call it, Hill Country. 

Sunset Hike

When we first arrived at Inks Lake, it rained for three days straight.  As much as I love our Airstream when the weather isn’t nice outside, it can feel a little cramped pretty quick.  After the third day, we had to get out and find something to explore so we went to Longhorn Caverns State Park.  If you ever need some steady temps, go underground.  While damp, the caves are warm and the Hall of Marble is particularly beautiful.  During prohibition, they used to have big parties underground in the caves.

Texas-45  This image looks like one of the women still dancing in the hall.  I can only imagine what these underground cave dance parties back in the ’20s would have been like!

The rain finally broke and we did a lot of hiking around Inks Lake.  There is a beautiful waterfall that feeds into Devil’s Waterhole. 

Waterfall feeding into Devil’s Waterhole

It was a bit cold so we didn’t venture into this little grotto but I imagine in the heat of summer in Texas, this place must be an amazing waterhole for swimming surrounded by the huge rocks.  We also discovered geocaching in Hill Country.  I had heard of it before but really didn’t know much.  It’s essentially a scavenger using the GPS on your phone and a mobile app.  It will take you to some places you might not discover on your own and a great way to get out and explore.  Lilya loved geocaching so much we upgrade the app to the premium for a Christmas present since our focus for Christmas was experience and memories, not stuff.

Lilya also got to work on her Jr. Ranger badge at Inks Lake.  If you go with kids, definitely ask for one of the Jr. Ranger backpacks.  It is full of all kinds of great outdoor items including a compass, binoculars, bird identification guide and other activities.  We had many opportunities to use this backpack on the miles of beautiful hiking trails in the area.


The closest town to Inks Lake is Burnet, TX who the locals seem to pronounce as “burnit”.  For some great Texas hospitality and a great cup of joe, stop into Unshakeable Grounds coffee shop.  It’s here that we learned of one of the biggest events that take place in Burnet every year.  One of the local churches has set up a replica of the town of Bethlehem and volunteers dress up as townspeople creating a unique live experience of visiting the city of Bethlehem ending at the manger where Mary and Joseph are holding baby Jesus.  People come from all over and the line wraps several blocks around the town square. 

We chose Inks Lake as a great stop off point for visits to Austin.  We spent a weekend exploring the area.  One of Lenny’s coworkers Kevin Murphy and his wife Ruth were excellent hosts and invited us to their Church and then treated us to a wonderful brunch at a local cafe.  We really appreciated the welcoming and their hospitality.

We didn’t spend as much time in Austin as we expected but we enjoyed checking out the State Capitol which they state is the largest state capitol in the US.  It’s also seven feet taller than the nations capitol in Washington, D.C.  Everything is bigger in Texas right?IMG_2255 There are several statues on the grounds and you can walk straight from the capitol to some cool shops and restaurants.  We went geocaching in the area which lead us to the Moonlight Towers.  I don’t think I would have even noticed these landmarks if we didn’t geocache.  Moonlight Towers were used in cities as street lighting back the late 19th century using 6 carbon arc lamps to illuminate a circle of 3000 feet.  I had never heard of this lighting system before and Austin is now the only city where they still exist. 

And of course we have to keep the captain of the ship happy so a trip to Austin would not have been complete without checking out some local brew. 

Fringe stickering at Pinthouse in Austin!

On a recommendation from our friend Luke at home, we went to Pinthouse Pizza.  Great spot with excellent pizza and some seriously good beer.  Another great brewery that would be a must stop if visiting again is RedHorn Coffeehouse and Brewing Co.  We spent the bulk of a day working there while enjoying some fantastic coffee and then enjoyed a beer at the end of the workday.  The owners were super cool and sent us home with a bag of their coffee beans which were great for our morning pour over.  If it’s available, try the Submarine Shark of Darkness and the Hardwood Series Bourbon Barrel Aged Suburban Ninja w/vanilla.  Both are heavyweight beers so we were one and done but great sipping beer with tons of flavor.


Enchanted Rock

Another place to visit in hill country is Enchanted Rock State Park.  We spent a whole day here and hiked our tails off.  There is rock climbing for the adventurous or you can easily hike to the very top of this cool pink granite rock which is a great place to stop and enjoy some lunch.  Beware of the “devil squirrel”. A black squirrel on the top of the rock that has no fear and will come right up to you and try to steal your food!  This guy was bold and not easily deterred.  I was pretty sure he was going to walk right up Lenny’s leg and eat his sandwich right out of his hand.

While we didn’t get to go at night, Enchanted Rock is a designated dark space and would be an amazing place to camp for the night and practice some astrophotography.      The camping there is all tent camping, no facilities and you have to hike your gear in but the campsites have a great view of the rock. 

After a few weeks of hanging in the area, it was time to move on and start heading toward Big Bend for our Christmas break. Along the way, we stopped at San Angelo State Park where we saw our first Javalina, pronounce “hav-a-lean-ah” which looks like a pig but you will be quickly informed that they are NOT pigs.  San Angelo State Park is also home to the official State of Texas Longhorn Herd.  We spent an evening in town for Lenny’s birthday with, of course, you guessed it, a brewery visit to ZeroOne Brewery to celebrate wrapped up with a walk through a place called the Chicken Ranch to check out some local artists. 

Monahans Sandhills

Sunrise on the Sandhills

Next stop was Monahans State Park to check out the sand dunes.  For a couple of bucks, you can get a disk and sled on the sand. 

Lenny and Lilya searching for the biggest hill they can find!

We had a blast doing this, but of course the bigger the hill the bigger the climb!  The sand dunes were fun but there is nothing else to do nearby, restaurants are limited and honestly, opening the door to the not so sweet smell of petroleum every morning was a bit gross.

Walden peaking out from the sand

Texas-6If you haven’t figured it out yet, we spent a LOT of time in the state park system.  If you plan to spend much time in Texas, buy the State Parks Pass as it will save you a ton of money for camping fees because the campgrounds charge for camping and additional separate charges per person.  Depending on your situation, the pass will pay for itself in less than a week.

People get up pretty early to hike the hills

So we found a lot of unexpected places along the way that were really surprising, our main destination was Big Bend National Park.  Most people I’ve talked with have never heard of Big Bend and up until we started planning this trip, neither had I.  In my upcoming post, we will cover our four-day itinerary of Big Bend along with our stop in Marfa and Valentine.