Oregon: Camping, Hot Springs, Wedding in the Alvord Desert

by Gabrielle Antonette

Sometimes your friends decide to get married in the middle of nowhere and all you know going into it is that you'll be camping, it'll be cold, and there won't be bathrooms, so after driving 13 hours you think that these friends are sadistic and that you've made a series of horrible decisions. Just then, though, there's a bend in the road and the landscape changes suddenly and drastically from rolling green hills to miles of blinding bright white. Whatever folk song you're playing too loudly feels too real, a tear rolls down your face, and you know, you fall in love with everything all over again. I promise this is how it works. Last spring, Sarah and Sage invited some special people from all around the country to southeastern Oregon's Alvord Desert. It's a dry lake bed that they discovered on one of their many romantic motorcycle camping trips (see Sage's photography here). It's BLM land, so it's cool to camp there but there are zero facilities. More tragedy unfolded (i.e. multiple cars got stuck in mud due to uncharacteristic rainfall, tents blew away due to intense winds*), but the magic and love only grew. 

The Alvord Desert is a gorgeous 13-hour drive from LA, but you have options. It's about 3.5 hours from Boise, Idaho and about 7 hours from Portland, Oregon. It can be added to lots of trips to Oregon, Northern Nevada, or even Northern California. *You can normally drive and camp on the lake bed, but if it has rained recently (which it almost never does), don't do that. When dry, by all means, ghost ride the whip on the lake (as shown below). Make sure you have strong, long stakes for your tent. Bring spirits and supplies to make a fire and s'mores. Bring everything you need, as you won't find much nearby. You'll be limited to fully operational hot springs and a tiny gas station that sells huge milkshakes. Heaven.

Saguaro National Park, AZ

by Carrie Nusbaum

I spent a weekend in Tucson, AZ recently for a family event, but—in classic Weekend Babes fashion—I managed to squeeze in a quick detour to check out the local national park. Saguaro National Park is actually composed of two separate districts: one to the east of Tucson, and one to the West. Since I stopped by on my way home, I only had time to check out the western part of the park, otherwise known as the Tucson Mountain District. 

As far as I can tell, mid-April is a great time to be there. The whole desert was glowing yellow speckled with the blooming Palo Verde trees and cactus flowers (heads up to the allergy-prone). It was definitely getting hot (mid 90s-ish), so appropriate shade and lots of water would be recommended for any longer hikes. In just the hour or so I spent there, I saw some of the most statuesque saguaros, a few little quails, and the most precious desert cottontail (i.e., a bunny). If you've never spent time in the Sonoran desert, Saguaro NP is probably the best place to observe its unique beauty—stop by if you're ever in the area! If going straight from LA, the drive is 7-8 hours.

Posted on April 29, 2015 .

Wild Horses / The Rockies

by Gabrielle Antonette and Carrie Nusbaum

Alright, almost a year ago (oops!) we met up in Salt Lake City, and drove north to Jackson, WY. We told you a little bit about our time in SLC, we told you about the parks we went to visit (Yellowstone, and Grand Teton), but we didn't tell you about all of the things we did in between. So here is that. There are some good stories! But I'll try to be brief. 

It's a 4.5 hour drive between the two cities, depending on how you go and how often you stop. On the way there, we went up and crossed through the southeast corner of Idaho. Just before that we made an emergency pit stop at the Quick-N Tasty in Garden City, UT to try the purportedly famous raspberry shakes.  It turns out that a lot of places in Garden City claim to have famous shakes,  and who is to say which is the best, really? The one we tried was definitely delicious, and very much worth stopping for. After that, we drove alongside Bear Lake for long enough to get us wondering if it was one of the biggest lakes in the country (it's not, we checked). 

It seems like maybe the theme of this particular leg of the trip is "fame." We also had to stop in Montpelier, ID because it is so distinctly old (it was a stop on the Oregon Trail, and then later developed as a railroad town), and also seemingly predominantly unoccupied. We were just wandering around when we were waved into a storefront by a kind man who wanted to tell us all about the famous grizzly bear that walked into town one day many years ago (there's a statue to prove it). It turns out that this store was actually a RadioShack, although it seemed to mostly be selling horse and farm-related goods. 

On the way home, we took a little detour to Rock Springs, WY to achieve a lifelong dream (always worth it): to go find wild horses. On our way there, we had to do a u-turn when we saw a sign for ice cream proclaiming to be "Home of the Big Cone." Neither of us was particularly in the mood for ice cream, but sometimes you just have to commit. So we stopped in, and in the entryway there was a large plastic ice cream cone. So when we got up to ordering, we asked "What's the deal with the big cone? Is it the one in the entryway? Or is it something you can order?" ...To which the lady dryly replied, "There is no big cone, that's just the name of the place." We both ordered small ice creams, which turned out to be huge. So we're still unclear on the "big cone," but the cones were indeed big. 

The actual wild horse reserve was a little bit tricky. It's on BLM land, which means it's public, but not necessarily well-maintained. The road was long and rough. We definitely worried about getting a flat in the middle of nowhere (but luckily didn't). And we didn't see any wild horses for the longest time. We thought that we wouldn't ever find them, and basically came to terms with having driven several hours out of the way for nothing. But then, at last, we came upon a small band alongside the road. They were just grazing, and admittedly looked exactly like regular horses, just sans-fence. They weren't galloping freely or rearing up with the wind in their manes. But still! It was sweet to admire them for a while before we finally decided to wrap it up and head home. 

Posted on April 1, 2015 .

Kauai, HI Camp Life

by Gabrielle Antonette and Carrie Nusbaum

One day we ambitiously decided to do an extended backpacking trip on Vancouver Island, in Canada. We got pumped and researched pretty obsessively, but somewhere along the line re-worked that plan, and ended up spending two weeks on Kauai instead. We hadn't really considered camping on Hawaii before, but it turns out that it's definitely possible, and cheap, and all-in-all a pretty excellent way to extend your vacation without spending all of your money. 

There are a few campgrounds on Kauai that you can only get to by hiking or by boat--we didn't camp at those (maybe some day, sigh). There are two state parks that have campsites you can drive to: Koke'e State Park, and Polihale State Park. Both are located on the west side of the island, but are pretty different in terms of climate and scenery. 

Koke'e is high up on a ridge between the Na Pali coast, and Waimea canyon. Because of the altitude, it was actually pretty chilly there in August, getting into the 40s or 50s at night. Rumor has it that it even snowed there once (we trust Hawaiians to remember that kind of thing). We made it work with the few items of warm weather-wear we had with us, but we'd probably bring a bit more if we were to do it again. It was a neat place to stay though because of it's proximity to the canyon and the coast--we did a couple of short days hikes in both directions to check out the very beautiful scenery. The best (and not exactly secret) lookout over Kalalau valley is also just a few minutes up the road. There was no cell service at all, which was, you know, probably good for us. But we definitely drove down into town a few times to check our email and get some beach time in. The Lodge at Koke'e was also a highlight, and was conveniently just across a field from the campground. It's sort of like Hawaii's twist on the ski lodge, serving simple and (honestly pretty mediocre) comfort food to hungry (and cold) visitors like us.

Polihale was so different! Again on the west side, the campsites at Polihale are right on the beach. And by the beach, I mean the insanely long, white, often listed as "most beautiful beach in the world," Polihale state beach. A pretty special place, if you ask us...or pretty much anyone else. You actually need 4-wheel drive to get to the sandy campsites (it's strongly recommended, anyway, and we were happy to have it). It was pretty hot here during the day, but luckily our campsite had some shade--the waves were pretty big and breaking right on shore when we were there (right after a hurricane)--so the majority of the beach wasn't great for swimming. There is a shallow protected area called the Queen's Pond (not to be confused with Queen's Bath in Princeville), but it honestly didn't make for very enjoyable swimming. We were also lucky enough to camp near some friendly dudes who ended up sharing their beer on a hot afternoon, which was a welcome treat. The best part, though, was when some local friends we met earlier in the week came to stay for a night,  bringing with them the freshest and most delicious fish and fruit. That is really the way to go, if you can arrange it. 

Posted on March 14, 2015 .