The American Road Trip: A Quick Look Back

“The roaring bonfire kept the mosquitoes away. A new moon peeked down through the pine boughs. We rolled out our sleeping bags and went to bed early. Bone weary.” – Jack Kerouac, The  Dharma Bums

Sitting next to the creek that rushed through our campsite somewhere in Colorado, we stared into the campfire and realized the lull that we were in. We had traveled across the US in a little Toyota Corolla, visited breath-taking places, and now we were on our way home.

But weren’t we home then? We had no idea where we really were, but we had a pitched tent, a roaring fire, and each other. We weren’t lost. Lost must be a feeling, a state of mind, just like the concept of home.

So I picked my guitar, she read her book, the river continued to loudly run, drowning out the notes I played. My eyes stuck on the dancing flames of our fire, my mind occupied itself with the summation of all the things we’ve seen on this road trip.

We drove through endless fields of dirt and sod,

Slept among the alien-like hills of Badlands,

Stood in the middle of the Great Salt Lake and its surrounding snow-capped giants,

Suffered together in the beautiful torture of the Mojave Desert,

And caught a glimpse of Utah’s National Parks that we’ll remember forever.

And there we sat, silently listening to the chorus of water crashing over river rocks, in the eddy of our exciting road trip. We rested for this moment before having to continue.

Soon, we felt our exhaustion. We rolled into our tent as we realized the entire campsite was lain with loose gravel. I lay down, small rocks digging into my back and sides, and dozed off to the lullaby of the river.

It was the best night’s sleep I ever had.

Stay Lost,

Tom

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Arches National Park

Arches is yet another National Park in Utah that we had to blitz-hike…

Overlooking North Window and South Window

Arches National Park was Liz’s main destination of the trip, and it was our last National Park visit on this journey, so we were hyped about getting in.

Unfortunately, we do what we do best and arrive at a destination in the late afternoon when all forms of lodging are filled. We probably should have also realized that finding a place to stay in Moab on Memorial Day weekend wasn’t likely anyway, regardless of arrival time.

From Under Turret Arch

Nevertheless, we did what we do even better and found pretty much the very last vacant room in the whole town, and at a discount! We went to bed looking forward to our last major destination on the road trip, and reflected on the countless miles of experiences that lay behind us.

I closed my eyes and saw snow-capped mountains towering over Joshua trees among painted hills and endless green fields, and buff little lizards doing push-ups on stones. Everywhere we had been seemed to merge into one single surreal place. And so I dreamt of the American country.

Turret Arch

The next morning we set out to wait in the long line for Arches. Luckily, we were able to see all we wanted to see in just a few short hours.

Delicate Arch from Upper Viewpoint

Ancient currents pushed out boulders from undersea walls, leaving behind an outer cement structure, which we now know as the arches. Standing on the floor of an evaporated ocean and looking up at what it left behind makes you wonder what the world was like all those countless years ago.

Double Arch

The great thing about Arches, is that most of the sights worth seeing are on short hikes just off of the road. This makes it a perfect National Park for families with small children.

For us, it made for a great National Park finale. Short hikes that lead up to these ancient arches served us bone-tired travelers well. Sore, wind-beaten, and thirsty, we made our way back to the car, out of Moab, and out of Utah for the last time.

 

Stay Lost,
Tom

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Zion National Park: Emerald Pools

It’s truly unbelievable how much Utah has to offer.

If you love hiking and you end up in Utah on a cross-country road trip like us, be sure to make it to Zion National Park. The park has lots of trails to offer for every skill level, and I’m sure they’re all beautiful, but we only had time to pick one before continuing on our journey.

Zion contains many hikes that have daunting drop-offs at high elevations, which I absolutely love. Liz, on the other hand, being deathly afraid of heights, advised against these trails.

After browsing the map and trail guide for a few minutes we decided that the Emerald Pools hiking trail would be best to explore before hitting the road again. A relatively short hike, the three-mile, out-and-back Emerald Pools trail winds up through just a few hundred feet of elevation gain.

Just as the name suggests, you are blessed with three different small pools that are, in fact, emerald in color.
Reaching the lower pool, you are met by a thin waterfall running down over the cliffs that tower above, a greeting which I embraced with literal open arms.

A bit further down the trail that circles the pool is another small waterfall and a ledge from which many tourists will snap photos of the emerald pool below. I would recommend hitting this trail early since it is extremely popular.

The second pool is much smaller, more of a large puddle really, but still very pretty. It lies on the edge of the cliff that hovers over the lower pool below, and actually feeds into it via that aforementioned waterfall.

After this pool the crowd begins to thin out a bit just because of the steep incline, and you can look out from a couple of overlooks that are breathtaking. The grade really isn’t all that difficult, but for older folks and small children it can be kind of challenging, especially in the summer heat.

But once you reach the upper pool that struggle is worth it. This last pool is fairly large and surrounded by more ominously beautiful sedimentary cliffs. We scrambled up the low boulders that gather around the water and perched ourselves at the top, winded and amazed at the beauty of this path through the cliffs of Zion.

 

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for long, Arches National Park was our next destination and we had to make it to Moab before nightfall not knowing where we were going to stay that night.
I do know this: one day we will return to Zion and explore more of the park, and I’ll maybe even get Liz to go on one of those steep trails.

What better way of facing your fears than head on?

Stay Lost,
Tom

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5 Camping/Hiking Tips to Keep You From Going Crazy in the Desert

1. DRINK MORE WATER!

This one should go without saying, but dehydration is still very common especially in the desert. You need to always be drinking water, never rationing it.

In the desert, your body loses much more water than it does in wooded areas, especially when hiking. A good rule of thumb when hiking in the desert: when the water’s half gone, it’s time to head back.

When we camped in Joshua Tree, my girlfriend became dehydrated almost to the point of heat stroke, and only at the campsite! I made her get into the car and we blasted the A/C until she finished a bottle of water. I recommend doing this for anyone severely dehydrated if possible.

Always play it safe. Dehydration can be extremely dangerous.

2. Head Out Early

Hiking in the desert is obviously hot, and temperature changes can be pretty drastic. In the Mojave, the temperature can easily change 20°-30°F between day and night during peak tourist season (May-June).

Take advantage of the cooler mornings and wake up nice and early to beat the heat on those longer hikes. Hiking in the middle of the day is quite unpleasant and also easier to become dehydrated. (Don’t forget about that water!)

3. Have All Firewood Beforehand

If you’re going to light a fire in the desert, you need to bring ALL of your own firewood, and that includes kindling. This is especially true if you camp in a National Park such as Joshua Tree, where the burning of anything in the park is prohibited. It’s frustrating when you don’t have all that you need to get a s’mores-worthy fire roaring.

Make sure to buy quarter logs at a firewood stand or grocery store that is in the area since transporting firewood across state borders is illegal in many places, and just shouldn’t be done anyway. Transporting firewood across the border into a different state risks the spread of invasive diseases and bugs that can easily be avoided.

Specific state regulations and suggestions can also be found on www.dontmovefirewood.org

4. Keep All Food in Hard Containers

This is easy if you are keeping food refrigerated in a cooler, but even things like granola bars and fruits that don’t necessarily need to be refrigerated should go in a hard plastic container. We have had little visitors come and nibble through our plastic bags and eat all of our bananas after leaving them unattended for just minutes.

Small wildlife such as squirrels and even lizards can easily find their way into your food if you’re not careful. It’s a bummer for you, and it’s unhealthy for them, so try to keep all food locked away nice and tight.

5. Keep Your Tent Cool

If you can, try to set up your tent in a shady area. However, this can be tricky since the desert is notorious for having very little shade.

You may find that having a bigger tent than you need is better. A bigger tent provides more airflow, keeping you from overheating. You can also keep the rain cover off during the day if you’re certain it won’t rain. This provides for a little extra airflow while you sleep.

Stay cool, stay hydrated, and stay safe in the desert.

Stay Lost,

Tom

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Joshua Tree National Park After Dark

Joshua Tree’s True Colors Show at Night

After the sun sets, Joshua Tree turns into something wildly different. Half of the park’s beauty lies in the night sky.

As day turns to dusk at Jumbo Rocks, the rocks themselves begin to look like the heads of men turned upward, foreshadowing the coming stars that will soon light up the canvass of the night. We took a walk down the narrow road by our campsite, noticing these granite faces, eager to lay out on the rocks and look up ourselves.

Jumbo Rocks Campground Is a Perfect Platform To Watch the Night Sky

Before the sun disappeared completely, we found a suitable boulder for stargazing. The rock still giving off a bit of stale warmth from the day. We watched each star appear as the light slowly dimmed, trying to find the brightest one when even brighter stars began to shine through by the second.

When the sun completely gave way to night, the stars took the role of lighting up the sky. One of the greatest things about the desert is that there is no light pollution. Everything that is meant to be seen above earth can be seen, and I’m sure I will never witness as many stars as I did lying on that rock in Joshua Tree. Countless pinholes in an ethereal blanket pulled over the earth and tucked around the edges.

The rock became cold as we exhausted its leftover heat. With Liz beginning to shiver by my side, it was time to walk back to the tent and turn in for the night. And so we did, with our heads tilted up towards the stars still, content with our place in the desert on earth for the moment. We crawled into our tent and lay on our backs to fall asleep. The faces in the boulders remain eternally with upward posture, timelessly watching the sky not bounded by the need to sleep.

Stay Lost,

Tom

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Joshua Tree National Park

The desert of Joshua Tree is a terrible and beautiful place.

Joshua Tree National Park lies on the border of the Mojave and Colorado Desert, where Whiptail lizards, Cholla cacti, and of course, Joshua Trees thrive. These life forms have adapted to survive in the intense heat and dryness of the desert. We have not.

 

Trying to find a camp site in Joshua Tree is only done in vain after seven in the evening. After searching for about an hour or so within the park itself, we decided to try the advertised camping areas in the 29 Palms area.

Everything was filled. Campsites, hotels, and even cheap-looking motels and inns that didn’t seem to have much aesthetic quality had their “No Vacancy” signs proudly lit up in mocking neon. We finally walked into a Marriott after ten o’clock with low spirits, asking desperately if there was any vacancy.

To our unbelievable luck, there was one single room available. A trucker broke down on the highway and had to cancel just five minutes before we arrived at the hotel. We went to bed in a king sized room feeling relieved and truly blessed.

Jumbo Rocks Campground

Jumbo Rocks Campground

In the morning we drove straight to the park and were able to find a campsite within minutes. Almost immediately after stepping out of the car my lips became chapped. I could already taste the sourness of my dry throat. The first day’s temperature was mild enough. We managed a short hike to Skull Rock from our campsite at Jumbo Rocks.

Skull Rock

Along every trail, an occasional lizard would run out from under a bush to cross our path, stopping to do little push-ups in the sand. When two or more of these lizards meet, they size each other up in a frantic push-up contest in order to display their dominance.

Cholla Gardens

We didn’t want to overdo ourselves on our first full day in the desert, so after our little hike we made a day out of driving to different sights worth seeing rather than doing much more walking. Along the roads throughout the park Joshua trees pose with their ragged trunks and sprawled branches, each of which topped with pointed leaves characteristic of these overgrown Yucca.

Cholla Garden Sunset

One of our first stops in the park was at the Cholla gardens, a serene field filled with Cholla cacti almost directly on the Mojave and Colorado Desert border. At sunset the cacti bathe in the golden light cast from behind the mountains in the west, begging to be looked at, but not touched.

Stay Lost,

Tom

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The Great Salt Lake

As someone who lives in southern New England, where we rely on the changing of the seasons to be usually punctual and somewhat drastic, it’s certainly off-putting driving in the snow through Utah in the middle of May!

Photo by Liz Trombino IG: liz.trombino

The weather in the Park City and Salt Lake City areas started off just a bit dismal, but this made for its own unique experience. Driving into Salt Lake City, we saw a layer of clouds shrouding the mountains behind it, keeping them hidden from us foreign onlookers.

When suddenly, the sun shone through the snow clouds and the veil was lifted, revealing snow-capped giants that encompass the city. Mountains so big that you have to stick your head out the car window to actually see it in its entirety.

Photo by Liz Trombino IG: liz.trombino

After spending the night in an Airbnb in the company of a very nice, outgoing artist and her extremely fluffy dogs, we set out for Antelope Island, which lies near the middle of the Great Salt Lake. Antelope Island is a beautiful spot to not only look out at the massive salt lake and the surrounding mountains, but also a perfect location to view the areas wildlife.

Photo by Liz Trombino IG: liz.trombino

Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted by two bison (which we observed happily from a safe distance in the car) grazing and shedding their thick winter coats. Unlike the ones we saw in Badlands these bison were near the road, and they look very big up close…

Photo by Liz Trombino IG: liz.trombino

On the island itself there are plenty of areas to pull off and walk up to a rocky overlook or even gaze out from the beach at the frosted mountains across the lake. Sometimes, when the wind is calm enough, the water settles to glass, reflecting the mountains with perfect detail. Snow-capped giants looking at themselves in the Great Salt Lake mirror. You can look in all directions and see sheer beauty.

Utah’s ethereal mountains have left me inspired.

Stay Lost,

Tom

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