Loving life in Death Valley

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Daniel and I recently returned from an awesome Christmas-time trip to Death Valley National Park.

I highly recommend making a winter trek to the desert. It’s amazing! If you go, here are some recommendations:

It’s a six-hour trip from Fresno to Death Valley, so enjoy the journey. Take the time to appreciate Red Rock Canyon State Park and to stop by the quirky jerky shack in Olancha.

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Take a hike! We were wowed by Mosaic Canyon. I’m no geologist, but I’d choose to spend Christmas surrounded by rocks, instead of eating Chinese food and seeing movie, any year!

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Wander a desert ghost town. We visited Rhyolite, and checked out some weird desert art nearby.

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If you visit Scotty’s Castle (and we don’t really recommend you do) then be sure to also check out the Ubehebe Crater nearby. Amazing!

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People say Death Valley has great sunrises and sunsets. I glimpsed my favorite sunrise when I stepped out of our tent at the Texas Springs Campground.

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We visited Badwater Basin, the lowest spot in the country, on Christmas morning. We had the salt flats all to ourselves.

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Then visit one of the higher spots in Death Valley – Dante’s View – for a majestic sight. Or, meditate there.

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Play a round in the Devil’s Golf Course. Or, meditate there.

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Death Valley is huge, so you’ll spend a lot of time in the car. Don’t hesitate to pull over (safely, of course) and get a good picture.

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But don’t spend all your time in the car. Sip some mate, and make plans.

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If you have a couple of days in Death Valley, check out the Amargosa Opera House. If you’re lucky, the receptionist at the decrepit hotel nearby will give you the keys to the opera house, so you can check out the theater’s murals on your own.

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Savor the local flavor! We sipped cream soda from Indian Wells Brewing Company while we ate peanut butter and prickly pear jam sandwiches.

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On the drive back, appreciate California’s splendor and diversity. You can drive through the desert, while gazing into the snow-covered Sierras.

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‘Sweet’ adventures in Kings Canyon

 

“I want to go on an adventure!” Nacho Bear thought to himself when he woke up last Sunday morning.

He called his friends Moby Bear and Zooey Bear and they agreed to join him on the adventure. Moby Bear packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, salami, cheese, and Sour Patch Kids into a backpack, and the trio set off for Kings Canyon National Park, where they intended to hike the popular Mist Falls Trail.

“On second thought, Bears, let’s make this a multi-sport adventure,” Nacho Bear said, as he drove from Fresno to the park, bobbing his head to the new Grizzly Bear album that streamed through the stereo. His paws began to sweat with excitement as he drove past the park’s tall trees, gushing rivers, and granite slabs, and imagined all the fun they would have that day.

They hit the trail, and began the 8.4-mile hike with enthusiasm and energy, powered by the sticky Sour Patch Kids in their pockets. But then Nacho Bear careened to a halt: He had found the perfect rock to climb.

“Bears, will you spot me? I’m just going to boulder this rock,” he said. “Sweet!” said Zooey Bear.

Once Nacho Bear flashed the route, they continued along their hike. Until, that is, Zooey Bear spotted the perfect place to wade into the river. It was secluded enough that the Bears could peel off their sweaty hiking clothes and jump – naked – into the cold water.

“The cold water feels so refreshing on my fur!” Zooey Bear exclaimed, as she begged Moby Bear to join them.

Finally, Nacho Bear, Zooey Bear and Moby Bear made it to the top of Mist Falls. From their vantage point, they could see the cascading water falls, leafy trees, and many mountains beyond.

“I could be eaten now, and I would be happy,” said Moby Bear, as he sighed, took Zooey Bear’s hand, and gazed out to the horizon.

The Bears agreed to pose with Daniel at “the end of their adventure”… or, before he ate them.

 

4 reporters, 2 lawyers, a scientist and an engineer walk into a campsite…

What happens when four journalists, two lawyers, a scientist and an engineer spend a weekend camping at Edison Lake?

They begin their days with coffee and the best hotcakes.

They hike to the Devil’s Bathtub, in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and to Corbett Lake, in the John Muir Wilderness.

They swim in water so cold, and so life-affirming, that they have to sunbathe, lizard-like, to warm up again.

They debate the merits of the First Generation and Second Generation homemade granola bars.

They act goofy.

They feast on post-hike pie and beer. Then they feast on wine and charcuterie, and then couscous and roasted vegetables.

 

They pass around flasks and bottles of bourbon by the campfire, and express their gratitude for old friends and new ones.

They pack up the cars, and head over the Kaiser Pass, happy, sun-burned, and bug-bitten.

4 reasons to attend a Girls on Granite weekend in Yosemite

 

This past weekend, four of us gals joined the Girls on Granite women’s rock climbing workshop in Yosemite. Here are four reasons you should consider signing up for this workshop.

 

1. Learn the outdoor climbing skills you’ve wanted to acquire.

During the two-day workshop, our awesome Yosemite Mountaineering School guides Hope and Lyra helped us gain the important outdoor climbing skills that we could never master in the gym. They taught us the essentials of climbing on granite and in cracks, and offered awesome tips on foot position, hand jams, and body weight shifts. They also did a great job of teaching us the specific skills we wanted to learn – which, for us, meant building anchors and placing gear for trad climbing.

 

2. Gain a sense of place

Rock climbing is a relatively young sport, and a significant portion of its history is based in Yosemite. The guides passed on the stories behind the names of areas in the park – Manure Pile Buttress, for example, was once a very descriptive term for the crag just east of El Capitan – and shared tales about climbers coming together to preserve Camp 4, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its role in the development of the sport. (For more on the history of climbing in Yosemite, Hope recommended ‘Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber.’)

3. Have a pre-climbing soy latte and a post-climbing shower

The Girls on Granite package includes a two-night stay in Curry Village. Once we got over any illusions of a rustic weekend, we were happy to indulge in Curry Village’s amenities. We discovered that the Curry Village Coffee Corner brewed the best soy lattes, ever. And after a day of climbing, Curry Village’s bathhouse, complete with hot showers and towel service, were the perfect antidote for our sunscreen-sprayed, DEET-smeared bodies.

 

4. Girl time!

The only thing that could rival Sister Adventures are adventures with a sister, our friends, and new friends, all of whom are as passionate about climbing as we are.

The joys of biking to work

And sometimes you realize you have gone months without a good adventure.

There had been too many weekends in front of a computer, and too few weekends among the rocks and trees. There had been too much time logged at the steering wheel, and not enough time with an adventure pack on your back. There had been a lot of good food, but not enough peanut butter and banana sandwiches eaten in the sun.

A few weeks ago, I reached this realization.

I had driven 220 miles roundtrip to cover an event – on a Sunday – and couldn’t bear the thought of getting back in my car the next morning to drive to work. So that Monday, I hopped on my black-with-pink-letters used bike, and rode to work. I was at my desk by 7:30 a.m., and started writing on deadline, my heart still pumping vigorously from the ride.

That morning, I tweeted:

The joys of biking to work: Brainstorming stories to be written by 11 a.m. deadline. Waving to @KurtisInValley. Feeling ALIVE.#ibikefresno

Since that morning, I’ve biked to work maybe four more times. When the road was beginning to feel a little worn, my daily biking adventures have added a new spark to my step (or pedal?)

Do you bike to work? If so, do you shower at work – or just embrace the alive-smell? If you haven’t tried biking to work, what’s stopping you?

*Thanks to Jefferson for suggesting this blog post, and for reminding me that, “adventures can be in your own backyard.”

The Great Granola Bar Challenge

If you have heard one thing about our Epic Sister Trip to Joshua Tree, then you have probably heard about the homemade granola bars from Natural Sisters Cafe (pictured above.)

We ate our first Natural Sister granola bars – one was Mango Peptia, the other was Chocolate Blueberry – midway through our hike along Joshua Tree’s Lost Palms Oasis Trail. The first bites were life-affirming. The thick granola bars sparkled with sweetness, and bursted with creamy almond butter.

After that, we ate the granola bars almost everyday we were in Joshua Tree. We left Joshua Tree as a changed woman:  We realized we could no longer eat ordinary, packaged energy bars.

That’s when we kicked off the granola bar challenge. We became determined to re-create the Natural Sisters granola bar.

The first granola bars I made – following this recipe from Food52 – didn’t turn out so hot. They weren’t a disaster, but they didn’t hold their shape. In the end, the bars made for great granola.

Julie followed this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and said they turned out great. (Pictured above.)

Not to be discouraged, I next followed this Eating Well recipe for Almond Honey Protein Bars. Or, I tried to follow the recipe, but got distracted and forgot to add the cup of rice cereal. These bars turned out very dense, but I could tell I was on the right track.

I figured the third time would either be the charm, or I would strike out. I followed the Eating Well recipe again, correctly this time.

And they turned out awesome.

I’m already brainstorming my next flavor combinations.

Below is the recipe for Almond-Honey Protein Bars, directly from Eating Well:

INGREDIENTS

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon flaxseeds, preferably golden

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 cup unsweetened whole-grain puffed cereal (see Note)

1/3 cup currants

1/3 cup chopped dried apricots

1/3 cup chopped golden raisins

1/4 cup creamy almond butter

1/4 cup turbinado sugar

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

 DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch-square pan with cooking spray.
  2. Spread oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and sesame seeds on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the oats are lightly toasted and the nuts are fragrant, shaking the pan halfway through. I took the mixture out after 15 minutes, to avoid burning it.
  3. Transfer to a large bowl. Add cereal, currants, apricots and raisins; toss to combine.
  4. Combine almond butter, sugar, honey, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles lightly, 2 to 5 minutes.
  5. Immediately pour the almond butter mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon or spatula until no dry spots remain. Transfer to the prepared pan. Lightly coat your hands with cooking spray and press the mixture down firmly to make an even layer (wait until the mixture cools slightly if necessary).
  6. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes; cut into 8, according to Eating Well. Or, cut little pieces off all week, and then wonder where it all went🙂

Do you have a go-to homemade granola bar? Or do you have a favorite energy bar that tastes almost-homemade? Tell me about it!