Returning to The Channel Islands


About 7 years ago, Rick and I took a trip to the Channel Islands. We were only able to go over for the day but loved it so much we vowed to come back and camp one day so we could have more time to explore. We were able to make this a reality and are happy to report the islands were just as magical as the first time.

It was a bit strange leaving the “luxuries” and conveniences of the camper behind, but after making our annual Cumberland Island trip for the last 3 years, we knew the drill when it came to island camping.

Liam helping to carry gear to the campsite

The kids loved the ferry ride over – we saw sea lions and the big surf made the boat ride feel like a roller coaster…Rick spent most of the trip hanging off the back, but he rallied quickly enough when we hit land.

We visited Santa Cruz, the largest of the 8 islands. In addition to housing unique species of plants and animals, and providing refuge to numerous marine animals, the Channel Islands have been home to the native Chumash people and various European immigrants who most recently used the islands for ranching.

We spent 4 days on the island exploring the trails. The scenery is very unique, the islands rise out of the sea from nothing, and the soft rolling hills are blanketed in long waving grass ornamented with clusters of wildflowers. It reminds me of places I went as a kid in the U.K.

If you chance to visit, our two favorite trails were Smugglers Cover and Scorpion Canyon. We were incredibly proud of Liam who hiked the 7.5 and 4.5 mile trails all by himself. Smugglers takes you across the island to a long rocky beach where we sat and watched huge turquoise waves crashing into the shore. We picked our way across the rocks to a tidal pool where brightly colored sea anemone and mussels were clinging to rocks. I half expected to see a mermaid perched on top of one of the craggy rocks protruding from the surf, belting out a tune from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Island Fox hunting for dinner

In addition to the magical scenery, a successful conservation effort has brought back the Island Fox – a subspecies of the grey fox found only on the Channel Islands. The foxes are now so common they were frequent visitors to our campsite, particularly around meal time. Lefty – the one-eyed fox and Frank, were always close at hand when food was present. Numerous times they scared me as I had my head in the “Fox Box” and came out to find their furry faces next to mine!

As with all the parks, camping in them gives you a different perspective that you can’t get through just a day trip. The Channel Islands are not heavily traveled, but you have the island completely to yourself at 4pm everyday when the last ferry leaves. After putting the kids to bed, Rick and I enjoyed evening strolls to the cove where we could watch the sun set and were usually treated to a sea lion or two frolicking in the surf while the pelicans cruised down over the cliffs above to skim the waves.

Island camping is truly magically and one of the few times you can really feel like you are removed from the hustle and bustle of life. We are glad we were able to fulfill our wish to visit the Channel Islands again, but hope this won’t be our last trip as we still have only scratched the surface.

To Zion


Our trip to Zion marked 4 weeks in Utah and 8 in the desert. We were nearing our limit in the land without water, especially with the prospect of California beaches on the horizon. Despite our dwindling interest in this arid landscape, we were immediately captivated with Zion’s unique beauty.

The night we pulled in, the campground was full, so we boondocked in an empty parking lot nearby. The next morning – at 6AM to be exact – Rick drove the camper around to get in line for a campsite. I stayed in the rig to make sure the kids didn’t fall out of their bunks, since we didn’t bother to wake them up. Our eagerness paid off, and by 9am we were settled in our campsite with The Watchman towering above us and the Virgin River a short stroll away for afternoon dips.


Zion’s appearance differed from previous Utah parks we had visited – Arches and Canyonlands. The red rocks were there, but craggier and mountain-like than what we’d seen. And while still arid desert, there were more trees and plants to provide contrasting colors to the tall cliffs.

Zion was the busiest park we had visited so far. Luckily, since we were camping, we didn’t have to deal with the parking situation within the park, but we quickly learned that the shuttle buses that ferried visitors throughout the park filled up fast.

We filled our week with hikes on the numerous trails around the park. One of our favorites was Canyon Overlook trail where we saw bighorn sheep and breathtaking views of the valley. I will say, if you aren’t a fan of heights, this Zion may not be for you. I was constantly on edge (literally and figuratively) worrying one of the kids would tumble off the edge of the trail.


An additional highlight to our time in Zion was meeting up with our friends Michelle and John, whom we met at Guadalupe Mountains. Michelle treated us to another round of her world-class strawberry margaritas and (on a separate occasion) minded the kids for a morning so Rick and I could enjoy a more strenuous hike on our own. Of course Rick picked the most dangerous and hair raising hike, Angel’s Landing. I hiked about 90% and let him finish the peak by himself while I white knuckled a nearby juniper tree and tried not to look down.

We spent multiple evenings at Michelle and John’s campsite and were grateful for their fellowship and hospitality. Being on the road full-time we often miss our friends and family back home, they made us feel a little less homesick.

In addition to the vertigo inducing hikes, we enjoyed the Virgin River which has helped shape and bring life to the canyon. We swam in it daily and even hiked part-way into the Narrows with the kids (for those that don’t know about the Narrows, this is another famous Zion hike in which the trail IS the river bed). Without the river so close by to provide easy entertainment for the kids and cool us off, I’m not sure we would have enjoyed the park as much as we did.


Utah – Canyonlands, Arches and most importantly MOAB


Our first stop in Utah was Canyonlands NP, which while beautiful, wasn’t our best stop so far. On the advice of a fellow traveler, we headed to the remote Needles District of the park, thinking we’d be able to stay in a quieter area without all the crowds. Unfortunately, we found the reason it was quieter was because it offered little for families with young kids and was 1.5 hours from civilization – not great when I work on the road. We struggled to find a campsite, but ultimately settled on a picturesque spot in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property just outside the park entrance. The campground was packed with rock climbers who all seemed to know each other, it was quintessential Utah.

After spending a few days in Canyonlands, exploring the handful of family-friendly trails, we headed back into Moab to figure out what our next step would be…what we didn’t realize was that we were about to fall in love.

Moab has been our favorite town so far on this trip. It is a small town located along the Colorado River in between Arches NP and Canyonlands NP. The town is full of outdoorsy people and tourists. It has one main street running through it, cute shops, plenty of restaurants and a great rec center/playground which we utilized to the fullest – and by that, I mean we camped there, showered there, took our kids to their daycare, swam, and worked out there. It was our second home.

After camping one night at the town park and rec center, we stumbled on an awesome BLM campground along the Colorado River. We hunkered down here for a week thanks to it’s convenience to town, proximity to outdoor activities, and overall beauty. If you’re planning a trip to Utah, I strongly suggest checking out Moab as a central location to all kinds of fun trips. Here’s a short list of what we did:

  • Multiple paddles down the Colorado River, covering about 20 miles, including a whitewater section. We had to dump the canoe once and bail water several times, but otherwise successfully navigated this beautiful and exciting portion of the Colorado with the kids in tow.
  • Family bike rides on a bike trail that followed the Colorado River.
  • Gorgeous hike along a crystal-clear stream through red rocks and canyons.
  • Visit to Arches National Park to see the famous Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch and others.
  • Family movie night at the library – next to the Moab Rec Center the Moab library was probably our favorite spot. We went to story time on CJ’s birthday and met Charlotte an amazingly kind librarian who gave the children several books to keep and loaned us some audiobooks to listen to on our car rides. We are almost done reading Charlotte’s Web together which has been a real treat.
  • Old school roller skating at the Moab’s Family Roller Skating Night, with the La Sal Mountains as our backdrop as we skidded and tumbled around their outdoor rink.

We also celebrated CJ’s and my birthday in Moab. Cora Jean requested a “Simba cake” so I worked with the kind bakery manager at the Moab grocery to track down some safari animals we could decorate the cake with. It was a little weird not being with family and friends and throwing a big birthday party, but we had fun eating cake in one of the Moab parks, unwrapping a few gifts and climbing on boulders after the festivities (totally Utah).

Mesa Verde: Memories From the Past


Having fond memories of my mom throwing a banana peel at the mule deer who muscled its way into our campsite back in the 1990’s – I was excited to bring my own family to Mesa Verde. We found the deer to be much more timid than my last visit, but the park equally magically.

Mesa Verde is both a National Park and a World Heritage Site. It’s home to 4,000 archeological sites built by the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the region from 550 A.D to 1300 A.D. In addition to beautiful hiking trails with striking vistas of the mesas and nearby mountain ranges, you are also able to tour a handful of amazingly well-preserved cliff dwellings. Climbing up steep ladders, crawling through stone passage ways and standing on cliff edges transports you back to the stone age to imagine what life might have been like.

We signed up for one of these ranger-led hikes which took us through Balcony House. Our guide, David Night Eagle (a member of the Sioux Lakota tribe), had a great sense of humor and even treated us to some traditional flute music at the end of the tour. Standing in the home of people who had lived here over 700 years ago and listening to his music was a special experience.

This park was a great mix of history and nature and I feel like I have a better understanding of the daily lives of early native people. Although at times it felt like the kids weren’t interested in the archeological sites, we’ve found them building “adobe houses” out of rocks at the subsequent campsites we’ve stayed at so something must have sunk in!

Cousins, Cousins, Cousins


After leaving Sante Fe we headed north to Los Alamos to visit my cousin David and his family. We arrived and were immediately struck by the roving mob of kids that were playing on their street. We parked and introduced ourselves to David’s wife, Jessie and their three children, Maren, Charlie, and Ollie. Within minutes, Liam and CJ had joined the gaggle of kids while we went inside for a drink.

Los Alamos is largely composed of scientists who work at the National Laboratory and is the kind of place where people don’t lock their doors. Accordingly, its citizens appear, in a throwback to an earlier time, to be more comfortable giving their children much more freedom than most modern parents. During our stay with David, our kids spent the majority of the time on their own playing at the neighboring park or at a neighbor’s house. After 3 months in close proximity, the separation was good for all of us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After spending a couple of days with David and Jessie at their home, we all decided to go camping in nearby Bandalier National Monument which was established in 1916 to preserve the ancient cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pubelo people. Liam and CJ really enjoyed exploring Bandalier with Maren and Charlie and we enjoyed sharing our lifestyle with David and Jessie who had recently purchased a camper van of their own.

Liam and Maren regularly disappeared from the campsite, exploring the woods or playing games on their own, while CJ and Charlie enjoyed listening to CJ’s library of audio books snuggled in bed together. Maggie thoroughly enjoyed bedtime when the four older kids piled into bed with her for storybook time.

On our final day in Bandalier we did one last hike and began the four hour drive to Durango, CO. About an hour or so into the drive we came across a random, but idyllic picnic table on the side of Hwy 84 and decided to pull over for a rest. The kids were asleep so Maggie and I decided to enjoy a glass of wine and rare quiet moment. A bottle of wine later, we decided to spend the night. On a totally unrelated note, I woke up at 6am with a pounding headache. Unable to sleep, I decided to clean up the area surrounding the pull off which was littered with an obscene amount of trash. I was able to get everything picked up except the big screen TV that was lying in the pastureland (Maggie refused to help me lift it over the barbed wire).


The Top of Texas – Guadalupe Mountains


After Big Bend we had a short stop in Alpine, Texas, home of Sul Ross University and the fighting Lobos. We arrived in Alpine after dark and looked for a quite place to boondock. We thought we found one next to the university’s track and soccer field, but unfortunately, we did not see the train tracks that were located about 40 feet from our camper. No less than 8 trains passed in the night. After a sleepless night, we woke up and made the most of our stay with a morning track work out and mooching off the university library’s free wifi to catch up on some emails.

After leaving Alpine we traveled north towards New Mexico. Prior to this trip, I’d never heard of Guadalupe National Park which is located on the TX/NM border and we almost decided to skip it. That would have been a big mistake as it ended up being one of our favorite stops thus far. Similar to Big Bend, we arrived late in the afternoon only to find the park’s only campground was full. We decided to boondock nearby and hope that a spot would open the next day. Our boondocking spot turned out to be a wonderful place to watch the sun set behind the 8,000+ foot Guadalupe Mountains. There was also a nearby trailhead and one of the park’s few water sources (the park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert). We took an evening hike and spotted several cottontails, mule deer, and a pack of javelinas.

The next day we woke up early and were able to snag a spot at the park’s campground. Initially, we didn’t think much of the campground as it was really just a small parking lot, but it was located at the foot of the Guadalupe Mountains which provided a beautiful backdrop and access to several trails. The small campground and tight spaces were very conducive to meeting your neighbors. We had dinner with John and Ashli from Utah, who were also full-timing with their two kids; strawberry margaritas with John and Michelle who were from Long Island, NY; and we met Analeise who was traveling alone from St. Augustine with a bike and a kayak in the back of her pickup truck. If I have half of her spirit and adventurousness when I am her age, I’ll be ecstatic.

We did several hikes as a family and Liam was able to walk every step of the way, including a moderately difficult 5-mile hike through McKitttrick Canyon. If Liam gets accepted to Harvard later in life, I’m not sure I’ll be prouder. On the way out of the park, Maggie and Ceej got me a hat from the visitor’s center that only a middle-aged dad would wear: it’s army green with an embroidered javelina on it. I’ve worn it every day since.

Nearby Carlsbad Caverns gets all the hype, but if you ever find yourself in the area, I strongly encourage you to visit Guadalupe Mountains NP. It has a lot of history, plenty of beauty, and 80 miles of trails to keep you spry.

*(Boondocking – dry camping somewhere that’s not a regular campsite.)

Desert Life: Big Bend

The “Window” at Chisos Basin in Big Bend


From Austin, we began making the daunting drive west across Texas to Big Bend National Park. I’ve never spent time in the desert and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from what, at first glance, seems like a lifeless and desolate landscape. I quickly fell in love with this unique environment which is actually teaming with life and beauty despite its harsh exterior. I have become absolutely smitten with desert plants, particularly the ocotillo, which each of the kids easily identifies now as, “that’s Mommy’s plant!”

IMG_4774Our trip wasn’t without a few hiccups. The morning we were planning on heading into Big Bend, we woke to a flat tire. Despite Rick’s skill at changing the trailer’s tire, we were significantly delayed and arrived at the park only to find all the sites booked up.

Not to be deterred, we found luck finally on our side, a last-minute cancellation in the full hook-up campsite meant we had a place to sleep for the night. The next morning, we were able to slip over to the main campground bright and early and snag a primo spot with privacy and easy access to the nearby trail – where we spent each morning and evening watching herons, snakes, nutria, and the most gorgeous star-studded sky we have ever seen.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We spent the week in the park exploring trails, meeting new friends, paddling the Rio Grande, and visiting our neighbor to the south. Liam earned not only his ranger badge, but two patches for hiking a rugged 3-mile trail and testing out his own botany skills identifying the various desert plants.

Despite the low water levels, we managed to paddle the Rio Grande twice, on an easy run from the Hot Springs to our campsite about a 3 mile trip with some sharp turns and a few shoals to make it interesting. We got to see swallows darting in and out of their nests on the cliffs and watched goats and burros graze on the Mexican bank.

Our last day we forged the river to visit the nearby Mexican town of Boquillas, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of enchiladas, goat tacos, tamales and of course margaritas (literally everything on the menu).

Continue reading “Desert Life: Big Bend”