A day at Tassajara

May 27th, 2019 by becky

For our last full day of vacation, we decided we wanted to spoil ourselves. Becky really wanted to spend a day at a spa or something. We were driving up the California coast past Big Sur, so she looked up “hot springs”. The first one she looked up involved a 10-mile hike and was closed due to flood damage from a couple years ago. The 10-mile hike was a no-go anyways. Then she saw Tassajara – a Zen Monastery that allows summer day visitors and has Japanese style hot springs baths. Sounded pretty ideal. She called and made a reservation for the following day (Friday). When she called, she was warned of a 14-mile dirt road with steep downhill and 4-wheel drive recommendation. That hasn’t stopped us from trying before so it wasn’t about to stop us trying this time.

Then we set our GPS to navigate us there only to discover that in order to get there we had to drive all the way to Caramel and then loop back, because it was accessed by the upper portion of Big Sur State Park . Scott used our trusty Ultimate Campgrounds app and discovered a couple of forestry campgrounds along the road to Tassajara, so we planned on camping on one of them the night before – that would put us closer and allow us to spend more time at Tassajara, and let us leave early enough to avoid driving the dirt road in the dark. We spend a nice night at White Oaks campground in an not exactly flat space (we were on quite an angle, even after using levellers). A bit pricy given the amenities or lack thereof, but well worth it.  What struck us most was the sound of the birds when we woke up in the morning. It was blissful.

White Oaks Campground, California

We had been warned about the road but decided to give it a try. We figured that if it became too problematic we could decide to turn around, but so far, the road was in quite good shape. In some ways it was worth it just for the drive. As we climbed higher into the mountains the views were incredible.

View at about the half way point on the road.

The road itself got a little narrow in places, but our experience at Overland Expo meant that we were more confident in our abilities with van. Becky was even calm as the passenger.

The beginning of the 4-mile downhill segment into Tassajara Hot Springs.

The road was a little rough and narrow, but nothing that our van could not handle. 

When we arrived, we saw the immediate beauty of the place. Our first order of business (after checking in) was to go on a short hike. Since we decided to be without electronics (with the exception of cameras), we cannot tell you how long our hike was, but we took about 45-minutes exploring. We climbed one of the hills to check out the “helicopter pad” (which was just a cleared patch on the ridge of a mountain).

One of the creeks we crossed on our hike.

The view looking down towards Tassajara. You cannot see it, but it is at the bottom of the valley.

We even had some fun at the helicopter pad taking panoramics.

After our hike we enjoyed a hearty lunch – soup, salad, bread, and dessert. Becky skipped the bread part, but was happy that she could still partake in the soup, salad, and dessert.

We then decided to check out the swimming pool before heading to the baths. Becky found the pool to be a nice length for swimming laps and wished she had her swim snorkel with her (and earplugs to keep the water out of her ears).

After a short swim it was time for the baths. The baths are segregated. They are listed as clothing optional, but really it was more like you were odd if you were wearing anything. They had two hot tubs at different temperatures, and a steam room. Plus, if you wanted to cool down, you could take a walk down to the creak and cool off in its cold flowing water. It was truly delightful until the biting insects came out (some kind of fly).

We had enough time to also enjoy the 1 hour orientation to zazen in the Zendo. It was interesting to learn about the rituals that were used in their particular form of Zen meditation practice. It is done in community and yet it is such an individual thing. You spend most of the time sitting facing a wall, so that you are not distracted by anyone else in the room.

We found ourselves considering a longer visit in the future. Over the summer, if they have rooms available you can rent them. We are thinking of looking into a two or three night stay sometime mid-week. There is no internet, so it would need to be time when we could both be away from work. We both felt like we could spend days exploring the different hiking trails, eating the wonderful food, meditating, and just being one with the space. The thought is so peaceful.

Until next time …

What a great way to end a vacation.

Thanksgiving in the desert

December 15th, 2018 by becky

After weeks of smoke, we wanted to get away from the bay area for Thanksgiving. We had planned on going to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon, however, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving it snowed 8-10 inches. With a forecast of more snow, we decided to head somewhere in California where it was not raining – which brought us towards Joshua Tree and the Mohave Desert (north of Joshua Tree).

In looking at the Ultimate Campground Guide, we discovered a small campground in a beautiful valley just north of Barstow. The campground is called Owl Canyon Campground which is located in the Rainbow Basin.

The view from our campsite was spectacular.

Regardless of the time of night or day:

We hiked up through the canyon:

Until the “waterfalls” became higher than we wanted to scramble over:

We then turned around and took a different side trail, climbing up a steep slope of loose scree:

Until we reached the top of the ridge and were rewarded with great views of the valley on the other side:

We took the requisite selfie with a joshua tree. Note that the flaps of our hats are up and Becky clearly has her chinstrap on. It was very windy up there.

At some point I decided it was too windy for my hat (note the campground in the background):

Rather than turn back, we followed the ridge line, overlooking the campground:

We had seen other people up on the ridge earlier in the day so we were pretty sure we could get back by following the trail along the ridge. It did get a little steep at times.

You can see the concentration (that is terror) in Becky’s face, as the wind was blowing and the trail followed a narrow ridge:

Eventually, Becky told Scott to stop taking pictures (note that you can see a tiny van in the background). You can see why they call the colour sand:

Scott had some fun taking van sunset and sunrise photos:

The next day we decided to explore another area – Black Rock Canyon. We somehow missed that the sign warned of areas of “soft sand”.

The road was bumpy at times:

Scott got to demonstrate how the recovery boards worked – we did eventually get out, but Becky stopped recording before the successful final try.

Although the area was pretty, it had a lot of ATV traffic and the campsite was too exposed. We decided to head back to Owl Canyon Campground for a second night. This gave us a chance to watch another sunset and enjoy the view from a different angle.

Overall, it was a great few days away – exactly what we needed.

NorCal Springer Meetup 2018

November 9th, 2018 by becky

On the weekend of October 19th, we decided to head up to Lake Concow Campground in Northern California for a meet up of people who are doing van builds. This was specifically a Sprinter van meet up, but they invited “similar” vehicles to join the crow. I’m glad they did, as it was a great chance to try out the van again. Scott has done a lot more work on it. Plus we got to meet a lot of people, several of whom Scott had corresponded with regarding van building. And we got to check out what various people had down with their vans, while also showing off ours 🙂

The van now has a kitchen sink with a water pump and grey water disposal, and a working toilet – in addition to the bed and kitchen counters. Oh ya, and a new electrical system that gives us enough power to be off grid for several days without recharging (although we are hoping to have solar up soon, so that charging will be passive and happen whenever there is enough sunlight).

On Saturday afternoon, a bunch of us packed up and drove down the road to Belden for lunch. I was struct by how beautiful that part of Northern California is. There is a familiarity in these mountains, as they have somewhat the same feel as the Coastal Mountains up in Northern BC. Except, it is exceptionally dry at this time of year.

At one point, we followed another van through a tunnel.

On the way back to the campsite, we stopped and took some pictures of the river. Again, it reminded me of the glacier fed rivers and creeks in Northern BC.

On Saturday night, Dale, the campout organizer, arranged for a local blue grass band to entertain us. Seeing the band on stage, with the sunset in the background was gorgeous. I was struck by the beauty of the scenery, but also really enjoyed dancing to the music surrounded by trees and under the stars.

The sad part of this post is that the meetup was at the Lake Concow Campground, which burned to the ground last night. In addition, the “Camp Fire” (that is the name CalFire has given this fire), burned through Concow town and the town of Paradise. The winds are still high and everything is tinder dry so the fire is spreading at an alarming rate and we are getting poor air quality down in San Jose, over 200 miles away. Outside here, the light is odd, as there is a layer of smoke between us and the sun, creating weird orange tinted shadows, and it smells like campfire. I cannot image how horrible it must be further north, closer to the fire.

Happy New Year – Santa Clara County Parks

January 2nd, 2018 by becky

This year, we spend the New Year’s Eve camping at Mount Madonna County Park – a nice small campground surrounded by ‘young’ redwoods.

It was our first night using our new van.

First order of business was to check out how comfortable the chairs are:

And getting the bed and table setup:

Scott goes outside and makes sure everything is setup for the night:

We managed to not take any pictures of making dinner inside the van using the induction stovetop to boil water. We definitely need to figure out counters, as cooking on the floor is hard on the back.

After dinner, I lay down and read a book.

In the morning, we test out the new camp stove with breakfast on the picnic table. With the morning light we could also get a decent picture of the van in all its glory.

After breakfast, we packed up and went for a nice hike (6.5 kms).

Washington and the Oregon Coast – Aug 25-29, 2017

October 2nd, 2017 by becky

We popped over to Washington State to check out a state park – Cape Disappointment. It being the weekend, we figured we would take a look then go find a place to camp someplace off-grid. As we drove through the park, we decided to pop into the campground and see if by chance there were any spots. As luck would have it, just before we entered someone chose to leave early and their spot opened up. We jumped on it, and found ourselves in a lovely spot right next to the beach.

The ground cover behind the campsites was an interesting moss covered sand.

We did the short hike,

past a small beach,

to a lighthouse, that is still an active Coast Guard maintained lighthouse.

That evening we decided to head over to the beach, which was cool and windy —

so windy that you could see the sand moving like a river —

to catch the sunset.

The next day, we went back over the long bridge

to do some laundry and have some gluten-free fish and chips!

Before leaving Cape Disappointment, we enjoyed the longer hiking trail which felt like a giant tropical garden,

and led to another lighthouse, which was under renovations so we could see inside,

and where it was very windy,

and the view was amazing.

Cape Disappointment did not disappoint, however, with the weekend over we needed to start making our way south towards home. Our next stop ended up being Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park. Upon arriving, we followed a path through an enchanted forest

to a long beach

where we walked until we came to the cliff at the end.

Scott continued up a hiking trail to see the beach from above.

We learned that several people at the campsite were there to escape the smoke in the central valley. It is one of the few campgrounds that does not take reservations, so things were not already completely reserved/full. It is also why we were able to find a campsite.

As evening approached we decided to check out the lighthouse

at sunset.

After two nights at Washburne we headed south again, making our way along the Oregon coast to California.


Oregon Part 1 – Aug 22-24, 2017

October 1st, 2017 by becky

Wishing to avoid traffic, we hung around Ochoco National Forest for an additional night. Scott enjoyed sleeping in the hammock, with an elaborate setup to ensure he didn’t become dinner for any mosquitoes.

Since we were close by, we stopped by the painted hills.

Originally, we had hoped to spend more time in central Oregon (e.g. Crater Lake), but the entire area was socked in with smoke. We learned that you could not even see across the lake at Crater Lake. With horrible air quality, we decided to head north in hopes of avoiding the smoke.

We found a campground on the northern slope of Mount Hood at a place called Lost Lake. We didn’t manage to take any pictures of the lake, but we did manage to go swimming in it a couple of times. Our first swim was the evening we arrived, and our second swim was after a hike up the Lost Lake Butte.

The views of Mount Hood from the top made the hike worthwhile. You will notice the haze in all our photos, this is smoke from the various forest fires.

Our second night at Lost Lake, Becky decided to sleep in the tent (rather than the van) while Scott opted to sleep in his bivvy. However, when morning came, there was a fine misting of rain, which made Scott sneak over and stick his head under one of the tent vestibules.

From Lost Lake we decided to head towards the coast via the Mount Hood Timberline Lodge and ski area, and yes, there were people skiing up there!

The Pacific Crest Trail crosses just above the lodge (I recall it from the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed).

We didn’t quite make it to the coast that night … so one last stop before the coast.


September 3rd, 2017 by becky

They say that seeing a partial solar eclipse is nothing like seeing totality. xkcd sums it up nicely in this image:

CC-A-NC – retrieved from https://xkcd.com/1880/

This was the start of our vacation. We had a crazy rush drive north to ensure we made it into the path of totality. We took a few pictures before totality, but when it happened, we spent the entire time (about 2 minutes) just staring up in awe of what we were seeing. We figured the professionals would do a much better job photographing and we didn’t want to waste precious time mucking with our cameras.

In addition to the true amazement of the moon completely covering the sun, we also noticed that our shadows were more defined. The edges were much sharper. The light was interesting and different. Then there were the birds. We were in a National Forest, and we noticed just before the eclipse we could hear all the night birds but also all the day birds at the same time. The forest got loud with the sound of the birds (but although we could not see other people, we could hear them as they were in awe of the eclipse).

Here is a gallery of some of our best images (in order):

Fortunately, we were on vacation and could wait an extra day where we were camping, so we avoided all the crazy traffic after the eclipse. We sat around at our campsite, relaxing, reading, and taking in the nature all around us.

Bay area hikes – Mount Madonna – Tie camp loop

July 31st, 2017 by becky

In order to keep myself motivated and to get out hiking more, I purchased a Santa Clara County annual pass. When I mentioned that I wanted to hike in all of the Santa Clara County parks where hiking makes sense, she mentioned to me the PixInParks challenge. That was enough to keep me moving.

Hiking with Scott on the weekend, it occurred to me that I could use this space to blog about the different trails and share some pictures.

Mount Madonna Tie Camp loop was my favourite hike so far. I was struck by how many different ecosystems we passed through. It is hard to believe that all these pictures were taken on the same trail.

Here is a map and the elevation profile (note that the numbers are in meters). The full hike distance was around 7.5km which we hiked in just over 2 hours.

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 7.32.10 PM
Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 7.33.03 PM


The terrain began as a well established trail under the shade of oaks.
Mount Madonna - Merry-go-round


When we came along the creek, we noticed that there were redwoods growing out creek.
Mount Madonna - Merry-Go-Round


We then left the Redwoods behind and continued along the trail to a clearing.

Mount Madonna
We were both fascinated by these plants – and enjoyed the view of the surrounding hills.
Mount Madonna


And then we turned a corner and were in the thick of a grove of Red Woods very reminiscent of the trails at Big Basin State Park.
Mount Madonna

Which yet again opened up with another change in surrounding vegetation.

Mount Madonna

And we mustn’t forget the required selfie from the Tie Camp trail.
Mount Madonna


Overall, a very pleasant hike – about an hour’s drive south west from our home.

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April 1st, 2016 by becky


Christmas in the deserts

December 29th, 2015 by becky

On our vacation adventure in the California deserts, we keep finding parallels to our bicycle travels through the Middle East. In part it is being travelers over the holidays – this is the first year since our bike trip we’re away from family over Christmas. We are also still in the Northern Hemisphere, so traveling over the shortest day of the year poses its own challenges.

Immediately, we were struck by how the deserts (the driest ones) have similar tumble weed to that in Jordan – the biggest different being that in Jordan the desert is littered with the ubiquitous black plastic bags that are used to contain produce and any manner of things found at the markets. In most places we have been, the desert is not obviously dirty – some of that may be the difference in population density.

As we hiked through the Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley, the marble walls reminded us of our exploration in Little Petra (Siq al-Barid) in Jordan. There were no beautiful carved facades, but the narrow gorge felt similar, and Scott couldn’t pass up the chance to climb up the gorge walls.

Our time up at Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree was reminiscent of our time in Capadoccia. The spectacular rock formations reminded us of the pillars and minarets of Goreme. They look similar, but the rock in Goreme is volcanic, so it’s very soft. The granites of Joshua Tree are much harder, and eroded over much longer timescales. No manner of searching through Jumbo Rocks is going to find ancient human dwellings and churches – that is something that makes Capadoccia extra special. Being there over Christmas also brought back memories of the kindness of our Turkish friends, who invited us to stay with their parents and celebrate Bayram with them. Bayram (the Muslim Sacrifice Festival), is celebrated in Turkey with family visits and feasting – other than the exchange of gifts this felt very much like Christmas to us. This year, we had our Christmas feast in Joshua Tree overlooking the weather sculpted rocks.

We can’t forget the cold, a not-so-pleasant reminder of cycling in the Middle East. We froze our first night in Antakya Turkey (quite literally – there was a thick layer of frost on the windows when we got up). Then we moved to a slightly more expensive hotel that had heat after dark. The cold also hit us on our bike ride from Antakya to Aleppo Syria. We were clearly ill-prepared to be biking in winter in a desert. Not sure why we thought it would be warm? We clearly didn’t learn our lesson as it has been abnormally cold our entire trip through Southern California deserts. This time we are glad to be traveling in a van that has a heater, although we haven’t been using it enough.

It was the constant cold that had us running south to Aqaba as quickly as we could, in search of warmth. This time, we went south to Borrego Springs. A night in the RV park there prove to be much warmer than our -10ish night up in Joshua Tree national park (the campgrounds are up at 4,400 feet, which makes it even colder than reported at Joshua Tree town). Our hikes up to the palm oases in Anza Borrego State Park reminded us of Palmyra in Syria, without the ancient Roman ruins from the days of the Silk Road. Sadly, many of the ruins have since been destroyed by Daesh.

Unfortunately that warmth didn’t last. Becky now has the beginnings of a cold, so we are going to try to spend a couple of nights in RV parks were we can plug in. We’ll also turn on the propane furnace in the van. On the lowest setting it keeps the van at a minimum temperature which is still comfortable for sleeping but also doesn’t allow the temperature to drop too much. Amusingly, the park we are currently in has mineral springs. This reminds us of the mineral springs we visited in Turkey, when Becky was attempting to recover from a cold back then. Hopefully these springs will be more effective!

We’re thinking that the next time we decide to go camping over the winter holidays that it should be done someplace a little warmer, like Hawaii!

Thanks for joining us on our trip down memory lane. Here are some of our pictures of our California vacation. More will be added to the gallery when we have faster Internet!