Boondocking, and the Beauty of Living Off the Grid

In this year of living without in the National Parks, one goal was to learn how to boondock  (aka dry camp) and live off the grid in the Whale.  Our trials and tribulations with bad RV batteries and dodgy dish-washing techniques I’ll share later, but the reward of conservation and minimizing your resource usage is oh-so-amazing.  Because this, my friends, is what dry camping can be like.

Big Bend, Chiso Basin in the background

There’s nothing quite as amazing as waking up to this view, and feeling a little naughty (and a little guilty) that, for the time being at least, this vast awesomeness is your backyard.

When S and I were envisioning a place of peace to help us detox after years in China’s crowds and pollution, and a land of beauty to reinvigorate our souls, I believe this kind of magical stillness was exactly what I was dreaming of.

Petrified Forest Rocks

Being only 2ish hours from the Grand Canyon must be pretty intimidating as another National Park. How can one compete with that grandeur? That vastness? The fame of being one of the world’s 7 natural wonders?

A long log of petrified wood

The Petrified Forest, though only a few hours east of the Grand Canyon, need not fear being overshadowed – it delighted me because it offered up a whole other type of experience. It’s a smallish NP (the road through it only runs about 20ish miles), and while 229 square miles is not tiny, it feels quite intimate upon exploration as the points of interest are scattered and unique. I liken it to a huge outdoor museum with varied exhibits to stimulate you, rather than one singular Focal Point of Wonder (for example, a certain enormous hole to the West designed to make you stand, mouth agape, with wonder). Here, there is a slice of the Painted Desert up north, petrified quartz trees scattered in the south, a blue Smurf village in between… Continue reading “Petrified Forest Rocks”

Why Peace? Why Parks?

North Kaibab Trail on the Grand Canyon. Does the path to peace go through here?

Peace has been hard to come by, of late.

When J and I began making plans to spend a year in the national parks, it was in part because we needed a respite from the work we had been doing in Asia. Our partners were justice-minded lawyers, non-profits, and academics who have been under incredible, intensifying pressure, as countries around the world have begun to reject the international human rights framework or, at least, any role for foreign governments, non-profits, and other do-gooders in it.

We needed to get out of the haze in Beijing, literally, and reassess the way we had been doing our work, and perhaps living our lives.

Continue reading “Why Peace? Why Parks?”

Death Valley: Hottest, Driest, Lowest?

Not in our case. Death Valley is famous as the hottest place in the world with a record temperature of 134F, and driest and lowest in North America with an average of less than 2 inches of rain a year and Badwater being 282ft below sea level. In our week there, temperatures were chilly and we got an inch of rain. So instead of the hottest, driest place in America, we saw storms and clouds and the power of water. (Don’t worry, it’s still the lowest point in America.)

Water in the desert is a powerful thing.  A day of rain in a mountain valley devoid of trees and roots to hold down earth, and without soil to absorb the excess water means that all that water is washed down the hillside in a river of gravel and mud.  It creates rivers where roads had been and shut down almost all of the side roads in Death Valley with the gravel and debris. 
Continue reading “Death Valley: Hottest, Driest, Lowest?”

Joshua Tree: You say Mojave, I say Sonoran

The most iconic part of Joshua Tree National Park are, of course, the Joshua Trees.  These distinctive trees are the lifeblood of the Mojave desert, providing food and shelter for many animals and early native Americans. These trees thrive in the Mojave desert – and Joshua Tree lays half in the Mojave… but the remote, southern half climbs over a mountain ridge, drops suddenly in elevation, and we have the Sonoran desert.  Who knew?

Teddy bear cholla. So fuzzy you want to hug them.

Continue reading “Joshua Tree: You say Mojave, I say Sonoran”

Joshua Tree: Unexpected Stories of Desert Living and Dying

One thing I found interesting about Joshua Tree National Park was its proximity to cities, its associations with people. Driving up to the gates, there are communities and houses right up to the National Park boundary.  I started this year thinking of the NPs as wilderness sanctuaries where humans play fourth fiddle as visitors who are not to disturb the wilderness… but the parks also have their own stories of how they came to be protected, and that story inevitably involves people who fell in love with the land and fought for its designation as a NP.In the case of Joshua Tree, its first champion was a wealthy socialite who lost her husband and son, and found solace and peace in the desert – creating in her a strong advocate for the preservation of this place as a sanctuary for us all.  But part of Joshua Tree’s human story – and a longer part of its history – are the people who lived and worked in this desert, at a time when this land was farmed and mined, a source for human livelihood not a temple. Continue reading “Joshua Tree: Unexpected Stories of Desert Living and Dying”

Vanilla Ponderosas and bum laptops

In a sunny hike today swathed in the brilliance of Sedona’s red rocks, I smelled my first Ponderosa pine. It smelled of a rich vanilla, and in the warmth of today’s sunshine I was so happy to be in the beauty of these woods I just about hugged these gorgeous old pines. They age for over a hundred years before they shed their black outer bark, and the warm yellows smell of vanilla, cinnamon, butterscotch… basically all the best smells in the kitchen surfacing in the old forests. Continue reading “Vanilla Ponderosas and bum laptops”