Joshua Tree National Park

Wow, such a stark contrast from Vegas, the drive through the Mojave Desert was desolate and somehow still scenic, with lots of Joshua Trees all over the place. After camping at another primitive site right outside Joshua Tree National Park, we headed off to hike to one of the few oasis’ located in the park, 49 Palms Oasis.

Along the way we saw lots of different sized and colored cacti.

It was only a 3 miles hike, but extremely hot and dry the entire way. After hiking for almost an hour through the dry and hot desert we reached the oasis which is a spring the the desert where palm trees offer shade and the local wildlife can go to rest and drink water. It was a relief to sit in the shade of the palms for a while before returning back to the van.

After the hike, we visited the visitor center, which is also located near an oasis, ate a quick lunch and drove through the park. We stopped for an hour or so for Ben to do some climbing on a few of the HUGE boulders they have throughout the park. Look close and you’ll see him on the rock in the pictures below.

The Joshua Trees are funny looking things, like they came from a Dr. Seuss book, each of them has their own personality.

After taking a few hours to drive through the park, we headed to San Diego. When we were about halfway there the transmission started jolting in and out of Overdrive a few times, we weren’t sure if we would make it, but we were determined to get to the West Coast or break down trying… more on that in the next post

We made it to Vegas where all our dreams came true. Haha…just kidding. Maybe I should say where all the stereotypes came true.

Since we’ve had to spend our fun money on the van and all its health problems, we had to stay at Hostel Cat, a hostel that was featured in The Hangover and located beside a strip club and across the street from a wedding chapel. Of course.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the hostel experience, but in Vegas I just wasn’t feeling it. The Bellagio would’ve been my hotel of choice.

We had a good time playing penny slots, seeing the lights and the sights (including a Dale Chihuly installation), but definitely wished our friends could have flown in for this.

Ben finally found a poker tournament at 2 a.m. that wasn’t a $1000 buy-in, but I couldn’t stay awake anymore since poker tournaments can last hours. I hate to say it, but I made him call it a night. If only his poker buddies could have been there.

If we ever have a chance to go back, we’d love to see a Vegas show and Ben would like to actually play some poker. I doubt we’ll ever go back though. We don’t feel in our element there. This feeling was especially true at the end of the night when we got back to the hostel and saw creepy half-dressed mannequins moving on an electronic bull in front of the strip club. Kind of wish we had a picture of this. Kind of glad we don’t.

Our next destination took us through the Mojave Desert and we loved this part of the road trip…back to nature and a slower pace.

Angels Landing is not recommended for anyone afraid of heights. Six people have died on this hike. For the first 2 miles, you wonder why. The trail is wide and well maintained – even paved in a lot of parts – with a slow incline. And there are fun little slots and caves to explore. But Angels Landing is actually only the last 1/2 mile of the hike. And that’s when you get it.

We thought this was it, but see the narrow ridge off to the left? Yeaaahh.

After a series of 21 tight and steep switchbacks, you start to see it. And right before the actual Angels Landing started is where we bumped into our friend Brooks that we had met at our campsite the day before.

We stopped and took pictures of the monolith ahead and the valley below and found out a little more about Brooks.

He’s a great guy with a big heart and a very cool job. He’s a fundraiser for National Camps for the Blind. He gets to be apart of camps that take blind children down zip-lines, tubing behind boats and other adventures they might normally never experience. He has to do some traveling and is sure to drop in a hike or two here and there.

As we continue on, the ridge narrows into a sort of rock fin with drop-offs on both sides. There are parts that are only 12-18 inches wide.

It gets so steep that chains are bolted in to help you climb to the top. Eek!

We saw a woman come down from the landing who must have not known she was afraid of heights. Her body almost shut down not able to move on her own. She went down really slowly with people assisting her. This is not what you want to see at this point. You just keep telling yourself that your fine so you’ll remain calm.

But then you get to the top with a great feeling of accomplishment and see spectacular views.

After a long day, we settled in for a deep night’s sleep.

After hiking Hidden Canyon, the next day we hiked The Narrows – “one of the best, if not the best, hike in the National Park System,” according to Zion National Park and we completely agree. Seriously a magical experience.

This 16-mile river hike (I thought it was 9 miles) takes you through ankle to chest high waters as you weave under towering canyon walls and over and around boulders. It’s strenuous due to the length, swift waters and slippery rocks but to be honest, because of the popularity of this hike from mid-June through mid-September, the rocks weren’t slippery at all.

We couldn’t get enough of the views. Hanging gardens everywhere, moss-covered rock, waterfalls trickling down into the Virgin River (not the Virginia River like we mistakeningly called it before) and the feeling of being a tiny little creature in this great big world.

We didn’t realize how freezing cold we’d be on this hike in July, but we were. The hike up to the riverbed is a mile long, so we suggest starting it at 10 or 10:30 in the morning (we got a later start) so that the sun will be directly overhead by the time you get to the cold waters. Hope you guys get to do this hike in your lifetime!

Tunes by Jenny & Tyler.

Since our first big stop at The Petrified Forest, our trip was starting to get better and better. Either that or our adventure adrenaline was pumping more, because every new stop seemed to top the one before.

The Grand Canyon was amazing for its grandeur, Lake Powell for being able to swim inside canyon walls, Bryce Canyon for its crazy hoodoo formations, etc.,etc.

But, Zion National Park may be our favorite park so far. This is the place where we talked about taking our kids one day and imagined taking them on hikes guided by treasure maps, which is the way Ben proposed to me by the way.

We especially loved hiking Hidden Canyon our first day there.

The things we liked most about Zion was the mile-long, pitch-black tunnel you get to travel through to get inside the park, all the hanging gardens (plants that grow upside down out of rock walls), the fact that a town is in the middle of the park (complete with a movie theater, grocery store and buses that run to local coffee bars and restaurants), the size of the park…big enough to feel amazing, but still conquerable, the Virgin River and our campsite, which had great views and was located by the river.

Our first impression of Zion (or “Mount Zion” as Ben kept accidentally calling it) was “We don’t wanna leave.”

On our last full day at Bryce Canyon, we decided to try a hike with the best views.

We discovered the “Figure 8,” which puts 3 different trails together.

There are no signs that say “Figure 8″. We’re thinking this route has become popular among hikers and to find it, go online or ask a ranger.

Bryce’s unique hoodoo formations are a MILLION times better seen from inside the canyon. They tower over you like huge sand creatures like this praying lady (her praying hands just recently fell off from erosion) and lion (or dog) in front of her.

The perspective is amazing.

The “Figure 8″ is also cool for the little tunnels you get to walk through.

And as Napoleon Dynamite’s brother would say about our hiking experience, “I guess you could say that we’re getting pretty serious.” :)

Well, after being “Crazy for Cocoa Puffs” or should I say “Cocoa Cool,” I got started on laundry and Ben got started with a 10 mile hike of Fairyland Loop. (Confused? Watch the video below and “Cocoa Cool” will make sense.)

He got to experience more of these so-called hoodoos and I got to clean and work. Haha…as bad as it sounds, I actually wanted to clean and work. We had so much laundry piling up that it was stressing me out.

Speaking of laundry, did you know that you actually need sun for them to dry on a line? (This sunny picture is from the next day.) It wasn’t a sunny day, but I thought the water would just evaporate. Nope. Then, it actually started drizzling and I waited…and then it started raining so I took all the clothes off the line…then it stopped and the sun came out.

Strangely though, it was a little therapeutic handwashing our clothes, even a little nostalgic hanging them up to dry like my mother use to do when I was a kid.

In the end, my hands were a little raw and I don’t know how clean I actually got everything. They smelled like detergent though so that’s good enough for me. But oh how much more I appreciate the convenience of a washer and dryer.

As for work, well, it’s more like fun work. I’m rebranding Sara Parker Photography and I can’t wait to show you the finished look of her business.

Ben, on the other hand, spent the day hiking, exploring and taking pictures.

He really enjoyed hiking alone. I think a day away from each other was good for us. Not that we’ve been fighting on this trip or anything. Heavens no! :)

Sidenote: It’s my besties’ birthday today. Happy Birthday Suz! Wish we could spend the day with you and J! So blessed to know you.

We arrived at Bryce after feeling so lucky that Buddy made it.

We got there close to dinner time so only got to catch a glimpse of the famous hoodoo formations before heading to a campsite to make dinner.

Mitra, do you think I could get a job as an anchor for CNN? Bahaha.

The next day, after the 4th of July, we headed to Bryce Canyon, but not before we (and by we, I mean Ben) spent 3 hours fixing our van. Luckily, it was something that turned out to need a $9 part (for that particular problem). Oh dear Buddy, keep hanging in there.

Thankfully he did and we made it to Utah.

Utah is filled with amazing national parks…other states should be jealous.

Can’t wait to show you how unique Bryce is. Here’s a sneak peak.

We interrupt our regular programming for a special report. This just in…

On the way to San Diego yesterday, Buddy’s transmission almost died (jolting between gears, not going into overdrive and losing 1st gear). What are the odds of the engine and transmission blowing within a month?

You might ask, “Did you guys have it checked out before you left?” The answer would be yes. I guess life just gives you some surprises sometimes.

Luckily we made it to San Diego and we’re crazy happy to be staying with some friends (who are the most hospitable people ever…they even offered to let Ben drive their motorcycle for transportation. He passed.)

Being stuck in San Diego is a MILLION times better than being stuck in Mt. Pleasant, Texas so we’re living it up – prepared to sell the van, rent a car or see if it can’t be salvaged – in any case, we’re determined to have lots of fun and count our blessings.

So far, we’ve been able to see/explore/experience:

The Petrified Forest/Painted Deserts
Sedona National Forest/Oak Creek Canyon/Coconino National Forest
Lake Powell/Glen Canyon
Antelope Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park*
Zion National Park*
Las Vegas* National Park…haha…just kidding
Joshua Tree National Park*

We’ve seen hoodoos in Utah, climbed to the tallest peak in Arizona, explored slot canyons, witnessed an oasis in the Mojave desert, played slots in Vegas, jet skied on a lake inside canyon walls, found a hike we want to take our kids on one day, watched sunsets off a cliff at the Grand Canyon, and seen Joshua trees.

We’ve also eaten every meal together, laughed, cried (over Buddy), thought about the next steps of our lives and, even through our fights, grown more in love.

I’d say the memories we’ve made on our trip are priceless and if it has to end early, it’s okay with me.

Here are our thoughts as of now:
We’d like to see if Buddy can make it home (if we get him back, we’ll be able to fix him up slowly over time and sell him or keep him).
If not, we’ll sell him here and rent a car.
At LEAST we’re at the beach with friends and have the opportunity to ride waves, go to art shows, ride bikes, explore caves, see seals and have a relaxing time.

We’ll let you know what happens.

*Posts coming soon.