Backpacking for Beginners: The Windy Gap to Little Jimmy

by Gabrielle Antonette

Memorial day weekend is when the masses tend to get outside, of course, but to avoid the tailgating scene, we chose a campsite on top of a steep af mountain. We've been dabbling in backpacking lately, which is a nice hobby if buying a bunch of expensive stuff and carrying it all on your back is your thing.

This time we tackled the Windy Gap Trail to Little Jimmy Campground in Angeles National Forest. The trail starts at the Crystal Lake Campground, which is just over an hour away (driving) from central Los Angeles. The Windy Gap Trail is about 3 miles each way. This sounds easy, but it's almost 2,000 feet elevation gain, so it can be a healthy challenge with the extra weight of the backpack.

This Windy Gap/Little Jimmy combo offers a unique experience in that it's part of the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT is a classic backpacking trip from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border. At Little Jimmy, you'll meet these "thru-hikers" who have been on the trail for about a month, and who have several more months of hiking ahead of them. Spoiler: they're already exhausted at this point. It's pretty special to cross paths with this crowd, but with them can come crowdedness. You'll want to get to the campground fairly early to get a site, and pick a spot that's tucked away if you enjoy a bit of seclusion. This is a busy season for the PCT, so by nightfall, the campground may be overflowing. Just beware of sites without much shelter, because the wind can be intense. Site 7 offers notable views but also maybe the most wind. Despite the potential compromises, this is the best time of year to visit because wildflowers are in bloom, and the nighttime lows are reasonable/in the 40s-50s.

There's stream water if you have a filtration system or you can scrape by with 2-3 liters per person in your packs. At this elevation, be prepared for precipitation. There was, supposedly, a 0% chance for our trip but it ended up raining in short spurts about 3 times, meaning we frantically threw all our stuff in the tent 3 times but eventually were able to recoup the fire and get some s'more action going.

C.R.E.A.M.: Hearst Castle Edition

by Gabrielle Antonette

Hearst Castle wasn’t at the top of my to-go list. Even just sitting on the beach nearby all day would have appealed to me more. Alas, this was a family trip, and my parents still get to tell me what to do sometimes. I’m not going to say it wasn’t enjoyable. It’s actually a stunning piece of California coastal land covered in beautiful objects + zebras. It’s fun to take a tour and hear some stories about  William Randolph Hearst and his notable dinner guests, i.e. Charlie Chaplin, Clark GableCalvin CoolidgeFranklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. Ultimately, though, it’s a garish display of wealth. The story is that Hearst, a newspaper mogul, made tons of money in the late 1800s/early 1900s and bought all this stuff, donated it to the state, and now they charge people $25-$75 (depending on which parts of the estate you're interested in) to look at it. It would be like people paying to walk into Mark Zuckerberg's house 100 years from now, which they probably will. Some of my discontent with this tourist attraction may be rooted in jealousy, sure. I’d love to have those pools, or any pool. Bottom line: take your family and you'll all have a nice time because you're probably less bitter than I am about the wealth gap. It's about a 4 hour drive from Los Angeles, and can easily be added on to a trip to San Luis Obispo, Cambria, or Cayucos.

Posted on January 10, 2016 .

Tijuana, Te Quiero

by Gabrielle Antonette and Carrie Nusbaum

Considering how close (20 minutes from downtown San Diego), huge (1.7 million people in the city proper), and cool (see: pics) Tijuana is...it took an embarrassingly long time for us to get it together and explore it for the first time. We spent a day in TJ--mostly on foot--and just around the parts of the city closest to the border. We’re definitely no experts, but we had a pretty good time and were surprisingly successful at navigating without cell service, which admittedly felt like more of an achievement than it probably was.

The city feels distinctly different from the US as soon as you cross the border: the urban density, colors, architectural styles, prevalence of farmacias, delicately pruned trees, the busy-roundabouts... There’s a lot going on and a lot of details to appreciate. Going with someone familiar with the area would probably be the best way to go, but it’s definitely possible to see some cool things, eat delicious food, and have a good time as a couple of relatively unaware turistas (or however you choose to identify). Here are some details about our trip:

Parking + walking across the border: 

If you follow I-5 south, you’ll eventually see a sign that says “LAST USA EXIT PARKING” (a.k.a. exit 1A, Camino de la Plaza). Get off there. There are several lots that charge between $7-15 dollars a day to park. We chose the $7 next to the Jack in the Box. Once you park, you can pretty much just follow the flow of pedestrian traffic. The sign for the border crossing is just behind/south of the trolley station and to the left if you’re facing the border. It used to be even easier to walk across, but just recently they’ve changed the process. Now non-mexican nationals have to stop at customs on the way into Mexico. The process is still pretty straight forward. You can also check the border crossing wait times if you’re in a rush or, you know, just curious. The only downside to walking is that you can't bring home, or it would be excessively annoying to bring home, a human-sized bag of cheese puffs. After crossing the border, we headed to Zona Centro/Avenida Revolucion on foot. You just have to cross the highway, then cross the river, head toward the big arch (el arco), and soon you’ll find yourself at Avenida Revolucion--the main tourist center of the city.

Wandering + eating:  

  • Avenida Revolucion. We pretty much just walked through here on our way through town...wandering on and off the main strip as we pleased. You’ll see the sad Tijuana Zebras, probably a mariachi band or two, and if you look like tourists, you’ll get called at a lot by the many street vendors. Anywhere off of the main street is either busy with regular people running errands, or relatively quiet with your standard bodegas and cafes on every block.

  • Mercado Hidalgo. We walked through to this big market, indulged in some fresh fruits/coconut juice, and perused the many other local snacks/curiosities (pinatas, kitchenware, etc.).

  • Cecut. There happened to be a book fair with food stands when we were there. We had the best quesadilla of all time, some artisanal veggie tacos, some vegan empanadas...because why hold back? Everything was delicious and CHEAP. There are usually some movies playing, free cultural exhibits, and a little garden out back. The distinct dome also serves as a helpful landmark as you wander.

  • Distrito Gastronomico. We weren’t super hungry when we got there. We pretty much just walked around the hilly residential parts, peeking at the multicolored homes, but this is supposedly where TJ’s best food scene is.

  • Misión 19. This was one of the most popularly reviewed restaurants as far as we could tell. After wandering for the afternoon, we were feeling kind of lazy and decided to go for it. We got there in the late afternoon--no reservations--and had no problem getting seated. The food and drink were top notch, so beautiful and delicious, and compared to anything of comparable quality in the US…cheap.

Getting back to the border: 

We got wifi at Misión 19 and called an Uber to take us to the border crossing. It was easy and only about $2. The wait to get back into the US varies pretty widely depending on day, time of day, and weather. Pro-tip: try not to get caught in the rain! We've gotten across in a mere 30 minutes, but of course the time it was raining, it took 2 hours. 

More tips:

  • Dress modestly and watch your stuff. It’s hard to say how safe it is exactly--we had no trouble, and haven’t heard any horror stories lately, but better safe than sorry, right?

  • Go hungry. The food is arguably the best part.

  • Download an offline map app, if you’d rather not rely on your sense of direction. We’ve used Maps.me, which lets you add bookmarks before you go, which is definitely nice to have as a backup plan.

Algodones Dunes / Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, CA

by Carrie Nusbaum

Experiencing the Algodones Sand Dunes for the first time, driving east to Arizona on I-8, I was almost entirely focused on the destination (family, large cacti, etc.), and was foolishly not expecting too much magic in the form of conspicuous geographic masses in between. When the swaths of impossibly homogenous golden-orange sand appeared out the window they seemed familiar, definitely picturesque, but in reference to a place I always assumed was in northern Africa, and not, say, a couple hours east of San Diego.

They’re probably not that special compared to the infinite sands of the Sahara, or even Great Sand Dunes National Park, but for the unassuming lady on a desert road trip, they are a sight to behold. Getting out, hiking up, and feeling small is recommended, even if it's just for a few minutes. Watch out for ATVs, dirt bikes, etc, if you happen to be in an area where their use isn’t banned.

People definitely make a whole trip out of this, but alternately, it can be added to a road trip to Salvation Mountain, Salton Sea, or Arizona.

Posted on September 28, 2015 .