6,435 Miles

We have come to the end of Chapter 1 in the Grand Adventure. It started on August 10th in Flagstaff and has ended up back in Flagstaff after a long 6,435 mile, 3-month loop around the Western United States. When we left it was hot and smoky and now we are deep into fall. Already it is hard to remember everything that we — it is amazing how quickly our memories fade. It is one of the big reasons I like to write travel blogs.

Don’t believe that mileage, it was a lot longer

After we left Aptos, we drove out to the Mojave Desert National Preserve for a couple days via Lake Isabella. We were going to stay out in the Carrizo Plains, but the weather looked a bit iffy so we diverted to Lake Isabella for the night.

This took us up through the Kern River canyon, which was a complete blast from the past. In college we used to go rafting on the Kern River all the time. It was a flood of memories as we drove up into the canyon. I had also forgotten just how narrow and windy the road was. It was a bit hairball hauling the trailer through there. Not Shelter Cove hairball, but hairball nonetheless.

Entering Kern River Canyon — a sober reminder

The lake was ridiculously low in water. The camp area was just on the shore of the lake, but you had to drive down quite far to get close to the lake. We found a spot and set up camp. The lake really looked pretty sad with all the mud and stumps sticking out. I don’t think you could even take a boat on it.

Sunrise at Lake Isabella

It rained a bit that night, but not so much that we had any trouble getting out of the camping spot. We headed out toward Mojave National Preserve, about a 4-hour drive. Our plan was to go to a boondock campsite we had seen when we were there in February freezing our butts off when we hiked up Teutonia peak. We got there and luckily nobody was around and we ended up in a really nice spot just on the slopes of Mt. Kessler. After setting up camp and walking Sadie, we settled in for a nice dinner and some wine. Sadly, we had forgotten to grab the left over pulled pork from the freezer in Aptos so we had to make do with carrot soup and cheese. It was yummy nonetheless.

There was a gigantic fire in this area a few years ago that wiped out a lot of Joshua trees. According to the National Park Service:

“The Dome Fire, in Mojave National Preserve, burned 43,000 acres and over a million Joshua trees in summer 2020. Will invasives take hold there as well, changing the ecosystem forever?”

It was very sad to see for sure. Luckily our campsite had a nice little patch of trees that had been spared by the fire.

Very sad to see all those Joshua trees burned to a crisp

I had wanted to climb up Mt. Kessler, which was right behind us, but after scoping it out, it did involve a cross-country scramble that was not going to be all the fun for Susanne. So, I looked for a different hike and ended deciding on Barber Peak Loop trail which was about 6 miles without too much climbing. It also was looking attractive because that is a part of the Preserve that we had never been to before.

We got up in the morning and had some coffee and lazed around for awhile. The day was gorgeous and the wind had died down. It was supposed to be a high of 65 degrees with no clouds….perfecto!

It was about an hour drive to get there with about half on dirt road. Overall, it was pretty easy drive as far as driving out in the Preserve goes. There were a few people in the campground, but mostly the place was quite empty. We set out around 10 am and did the 6 miles. Sadie was happy to be out and about in the desert. Well, except for the one place that had a boatload of cactus and she kept getting them stuck in her paws. Luckily our days in Phoenix had trained us to always carry tweezers when out in the desert. This was a hard learned lesson for me after the time I got a cholla ball stuck in my butt while mountain biking….but that’s a story for another day.

Humbling in its sparseness

I really like the Mojave desert. It is very different than the Sonoran desert which is much more lush and vibrant. The Mojave is very barren and made up mostly of creosote bushes with the occasional cactus. Many people don’t like it; they say it is boring. I don’t find it that way. I find it humbling and subtle. It is that kind of place that can kill you quickly if you are not careful. Not a place to go in the summer. But I like the sheer scale of it.

Things look quite close and then you try to walk to them and you realize how wrong your perception was about the distances. In grad school, I did a lot of field work out in the Mojave and really fell in love with it.

There was a little slot canyon that cut through a big volcanic flow that the park service had put some rings into to help people climb up through a few of the tricky sections. On the web, people acted like this was just the best hike ever. It was too tricky for Sadie so we walked around it. However, I did go back and check it out to see what all the fuss was about. I will say, it was pretty ho-hum. Way overrated in my book. But there you have it.

The heavily overrated Ring Loop trail
Ho-hum, whatever

We headed back to camp and sat outside enjoying the beautiful sunset with a nice glass of wine. It was a great day.

We got up in the morning and headed toward Flagstaff. We had one night in a hotel there before we were going to head out to Placitas New Mexico to visit our friend Bill and where we were going to leave the trailer for the winter. It felt a bit weird to be back in Flag after 3 months on the road. I thought it would be a lot harder than it was and overall we really had a great time fishing, hiking, biking and just generally living a simple life.

We dropped off Clark at Bill’s house, drank a lot of his great wine, and ate some good food. Next up, Flagstaff for a few days taking care of life things like doctors and booster shots. Then it is off to Santa Barbara followed by a 3-month house sitting gig in Ft. Collins. But for now we will just enjoy and remember what a wonderful chapter 1 we have had on the Grand Adventure.

And that concludes Chapter 1.

Our good buddy, Billy Mo
Clark hanging out in New Mexico for the winter
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