Since I have a "real" job now, most of our traveling is limited to weekend excursions. We had initially planned on heading to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, but since it was President's Day Weekend, I heard the entrance lines were crazy long. Looking at the trusty atlas, we decided on Mojave National Preserve, just another 1hr 45 min farther down I-15.
We arrived at the exit for Mojave about 2am, and spent another hour driving in the dark down Joshua tree lined roads looking for a turnout that wasn't already occupied. While there are designated pay camping spots in the interior of the preserve, there is also roadside camping. As long as the spots are already cleared and have a fire ring, you are welcome to pitch a tent (or sleep in your car like we did). We got lucky with our spot. Once we woke up to the foggy sunrise, we realized we had probably found the most beautiful spot of all.
After a couple breakfast beers and vodka shots (something had to keep us awake after 3 hours of "sleep"), we were off to hike Teutonia Peak. This 4 mile RT takes you through the densest Joshua Tree forest in the world. There was SO much plant life and some awesome rock formations. The fog was so heavy that we couldn't really see anything once we ascended the peak. The best part about this hike was starting it early (like 6:45am) and being the only people out there. We passed by the trailhead a little later in the day and it was packed.
After a stop to the visitor center - which is in an old train station - we decided to head to Kelso Dunes. It was one of three more hikes we wanted to do that day, but two were going to be impossible with Buddy. If you don't take your dog, I would recommend checking out the lava tube hike (it descends down a metal ladder) and the Hole in the Wall Rings Trail which literally involves climbing on metal rings.
The Kelso Dunes trail it 3-4 mile RT give or take, depending on what path you choose. After walking in the sand for what seems like forever, you finally will start to ascend 700 ft. Straight up. In sand. If you go at 1pm like we did, you will be in full sun. 55 degrees felt more like a solid 100, and we both got sunburnt. We did give all our our water to Buddy because I felt bad making a predominantly black dog hike up sand in full sun. There is no established trail once you start up the dunes, just pick what looks most gradual. We spent some time at the top of the tallest dune before venturing on to the smaller dunes. The views from the dunes are incredible.
Tips for visiting the Mojave:
And now for 1 million photos of plants!
Before we visited the Redwoods, I had been religiously pinning things to see and do in Humboldt County. Fern Canyon was on the top of my list. It looked like something prehistoric, which is probably why Steven Spielberg chose it as a location for Jurassic Park 2. I'll show you how to enjoy this unique treasure hidden in the Redwoods.
Once you are inside the Redwood National Park, follow US101 until you reach Elk Meadow. Follow this all the way through til a dirt road and proceed 6 more miles. When you reach Gold Bluff Beach kiosk, you'll be asked to show an interagency pass or pay $8. The road goes about 3 more mile until you reach a parking lot. From here you can venture down to the beach, but the real prize is Fern Canyon. There are vault restrooms here as well.
It was very rainy the day we decided to visit, but I imagine it most always is. Starting on the trail, you walk for about a quarter mile until you reach the actual mouth of the canyon.
There are 5 different types of fern that live here, plus tons of moss and moisture loving plants. The canyon walls, which vary in height from 50-80 ft, and covered in these lucious green plants. We even found some interesting places where faux waterfalls were streaming down the canyon side.
There weren't many dry places to step, despite the fact that there were boards placed as bridges. We did have to climb over and under some fallen trees. This seemed to deter a lot of people from continuing on. Be careful because moss becomes extremely slick when wet.
By the time we returned to the car, we were soaked from head to toe. Tips: bring dry clothes to change into. You won't regret it.
Okay, so this spot might not be totally secret. After we arrived in North Tahoe, we intended on doing some paddleboarding, but nowhere was renting them out due to high winds. I instead looked up some hikes with picturesque views and came upon this 2.7 mile hike to Skunk Harbor.
The trailhead starts at an old green pipe gate on Highway 20. We parked on the side of the road and began the descent down. This trail follows an old road and you can still see the railroad grade from the late 1800s. The descent is a super easy downhill hike with views of the lake down below.
Once you make it to the shores of Lake Tahoe, you'll see the remains of a family's summer home. I could only imagine the life of luxury they must've led to have a home built in such a secluded place.
The water in Tahoe is amazingly blue. There were large boulders to climb out on and really take in the beauty of this place. We stayed for a little over an hour as the sun was starting to disappear. We were the only people on the trail, and we never saw another person while at Skunk Harbor. So while it might not be completely secret, you have a pretty good chance of spending some alone time there.
Lake Tahoe is definitely somewhere we want to go back and explore. What's your favorite thing to while in Tahoe? Do you prefer the North or South shore? If you're interested in staying in Tahoe, check out AirBnB for great deals on amazing lake front homes. Click here to get $35 off your first trip with AirBnb!
Since moving out west, I have been itching to visit California Wine Country. Even though Napa is a 10 hour drive from Salt Lake City, I still decided it was doable for a few days. We have family in Reno (about 3 hours from Napa) so we broke the trip up by visiting and staying the first night there.
We left Monday morning from Reno heading straight for the Napa Valley Visitor Center. This is a MUST! The visitor center is staffed by volunteers that are there to help guide you to tastings and tour based on your budget, time, and interests. The very knowledgeable man that assisted us highlighted a few wineries worth checking out on our one day time constraint. He provided us with a map of the area, a few Napa/Sonoma publications, and best of all-> 2-for-1 tasting coupons.
The 2-for-1 tasting coupons are crucial to staying on budget in Napa. The wineries we tasted at ranged from $15-$30 a person, so it’s obvious how this can add up.
Our first stop was Sequoia Grove, a beautiful tasting room held in a barn with sequoia redwoods growing on the property. The tasting here was $20 per person for 4 of their current release wines. We had a 2-for1- coupon bringing our total to only $20! Our “winetender” suggested we each try 4 different wines, and taste from each other’s glasses. By doing this, we got to taste 8 of their current release wines. I can honestly say that there wasn’t a wine I didn’t like at Sequoia Grove. They were are smooth, delicious, and exactly as described. We left with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc after exploring their beautiful grounds.
Our next stop was V. Sattui, and boy this place was busy! We had another 2-for-1 tasting coupon, and after finding a place at their crowded tasting bar, we got to choose 6 wines each. Tastings here were only $15 per person, so between the two of us with the coupon, we tasted 12 wines for $15 flat. They had a very extensive selection of wine and it was all fabulous. Feeling a little buzzed at this point we skipped buying a bottle of wine and instead bought a picnic lunch. They have a sandwich shop in the tasting room, but we decided on a package of sliced salami, truffle brie, and a loaf of French bread. The grounds at V. Satuii are beautiful & there is plenty of space to find a picnic spot with a fantastic view.
Our last tasting of the day at Beringer wasn’t as budget friendly. Even though we had a 2-for-1 tasting coupon, we chose to take the cave tour. Unfortunately, it was $30 a person, but after venturing into the caves it was well worth it. You do get to taste 3 wines on this 30 minute tour while exploring tunnels and wine caves. Our guide was wonderful, knowledgeable, and funny. He described the wine making process and what how the caves were built/used. I highly recommend this tour. You can buy wine by the glass here to walk around the property with. We left with a bottle of wine and the cutest hot air balloon (which I have no clue where I am going to hang it).
Hotels and resorts in the Napa Valley can get expensive. We knew we wanted a pool in whatever hotel we stayed the night in. I jumped on Expedia and found this great hotel, Sonoma Dry Creek Inn, in the Sonoma Valley (Healdsburg) for $129! I couldn’t believe it. Comparable options were over $200. You would never guess this place was a Best Western. My theory is that it was once a privately owned resort/spa and Best Western bought it out. While checking in we asked if they had any upgrades (it never hurts to ask) and lucky for us, we were upgraded to a suite (Villa Toscana California King) for free! The suites were in an entirely separate building with its only private pool, two Jacuzzis, a steam room, sauna, and a firepit area. There were many water features in the suite house as well. Our room had a private balcony, king size bed, fireplace, and whirlpool tub. All in all this was for sure the best hotel deal I have ever gotten for under $150.
After a day in the sun, all that wine, and a swim in the pool, we were too tired to actually go out for dinner. Instead we ordered to-go gourmet hotdogs from Wurst. Ah-mazing.
Napa may seem like it is a vacation destination for the wealthy, but with a little luck it can be totally affordable!