Elbow woes…mountain misery…

…and an old guy rant. I wasn’t sure about posting this piece, as it is not exactly the usual. I enjoy taking an upbeat and positive approach to OldPlaidCamper, because there are plenty of other places to find a downbeat and negative approach. I try to be an optimist, but was somewhat challenged to find the positive on a recent camping trip. Anyway, be warned, and read no further if you’re after regular PlaidCamper fare…

You work hard enough all week, in a job you enjoy, but when the weekend comes along you might be good and ready to clock off, and get out camping for the weekend. The previous couple of evenings have been spent dusting off the necessary gear, sorting provisions, and tracking down the bear and bug spray. It’s the first time out for camping this year, and the weather forecast says fine. Alright! Into the car, and off to the Elbow Valley in Kananaskis country.

DSCN5572There are a fair number of smallish campgrounds strung out along the valley, so getting a spot on a Friday by heading out early shouldn’t be an issue. First campground, full. OK, moving on. Sorry, full. Will we find a spot? Not looking good, but let’s go on just a little further. Yes! One walk in spot left, and we’ll take it, thank you very much!

Tent up – we remembered how – and coffee on, fire pit prepared, a cold beer for later, and everything is groovy. It’s only a small loop, all walk ins, and no loud music playing, so better than groovy. (I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Big Star and Neil Young recently. What can I say? Groovy!) Tall trees, light breeze, and the faint sound of the river not too far away. A mountain retreat, and peaceful pine delight. Oh yeah.

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Groovy
A little further up from our site, a couple joins another couple, loud welcomes, but why not? It’s the weekend and time to meet up with good friends. Then a group of four joins the first four, and more loud welcomes are exchanged. Gets a little louder, but hey, friends with friends, and on the weekend and all. You’d be pleased and excited, out in the sunshine. Then another couple arrives. And is that another couple? Hold on. An f-bomb is dropped. Ouch! Not necessary. Not cool. But maybe it was a one off, a bizarre ritual designed to establish maturity credentials…Beers are cracked, and why not have a cold one on a warm evening? We intend to. Another f-bomb, then another, and a few more beers. Oh dear. Bombs away.

Hey! Stop with the language! Thank you!

Well, that worked for a short while. After a few more beers, the volume of the conversation went up as the tone went down. On went the music. My earlier plea appeared to have fallen on deaf ears. Did I mention the two unleashed dogs? I’m not bothered if they’re well trained, but these were running all over, and dogs do like to chase squirrels if they can get away with it. They sure were getting away with it. It must be hard to keep an eye on your dog when you’re busy exchanging witty banter, using words that rhyme with itch, duck and hit. Heady stuff.

DSCF0118Writing this is sending my blood pressure up. Just a little. I’m no shrinking violet, and I scowled, glared and stomped my way about. Quiet time, according to the bulletin board, is between 11pm and 7am, so technically, too bad, PlaidCamper. Here are a few gems:

Sara, can you see my dick? (Huh? No. Is it very small?)

A butterfly. A f*#king butterfly. F*#king nature! (Huh?)

F*#king European tent! I hate f*#king European tents! (Huh? Just European tents?)

F*#k me? F*#k you! (I know, isn’t that a zinger?)

Bear bait, bear bait, bear bait! (This was chanted when trash was dropped. How I wished – sort of – for a bear, but that’s not fair on the bear…)

These were the good ones…I could go on, give you more details, but my heart isn’t in it. I’ll simply share the fact that quiet time meant nothing to this particular group. 2am and the jollity finally stopped.

Ok. I’ll be the old so and so, the miserable old fart who simply doesn’t get it. Whatever the it may be. Here I go:

Why? Why bother coming out to a beautiful forested campground located in a stunning river valley flanked by mountains, a place you’ll be sharing with other campers, if you don’t appreciate it? Is it actually a location screaming “get blind drunk and be obnoxious!”? Is it really possible for a group of human beings to be so out of touch with their surroundings? With their fellows? Is it a lack of self-confidence, an inability to express appreciation, or fear, that causes such inane behaviour? The witlessness and callous disregard for people and place was truly astonishing.

I’m perfectly happy to be labeled a miserable old so and so, out of touch or just not with it, but really, is there a need to be so self-absorbed, entitled, and, well…brattish, to the point where you cannot care for the planet you live on? Or the people around you? I don’t get it, this behaviour, and I’m hoping it isn’t a growing trend:

Poor behaviour at Yellowstone

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Witless, crass, moronic, inane, pathetic, depressing, sad, pointless, and why me? So sad this squirrel had to see and hear such poor behaviour… 
I do understand people have differing agendas and ideas about how the outdoors should be enjoyed, but surely it can’t be too hard to see what ought to be acceptable in our treasured natural spaces? There are far worse problems facing our world, but honestly, when you hope for a pleasant weekend, what a disappointment. I’m going to leave the negativity here, I think, and hope for happier camping trips ahead.

Time to get back to being positive. I love camping, and although I enjoy quiet, that isn’t an expectation at a shared campground. I’ve sat by the fire late at night many a time, nursing a beer and smiling in the dark as the flames from other campfires flicker through the trees. I like to imagine all these different campers by their fires, mostly strangers to each other, but, across Canada and the US, joined in a similar delight, connected by the experience of being outdoors on a warm weekend, and appreciating their good fortune. Now, that’s not too hard, or too much to expect, is it?

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At least the weekend ended on a positive note…
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a (happier?) story or leave a comment – it’s always appreciated – and have a wonderful weekend!

 

Spirited away

I gave myself a little homework to do this week, researching our destination from last week, Lake Minnewanka. A quick visit to ParksCanada uncovered a few interesting facts about this beautiful lake.

The Stoney Nakoda called it “Minn-Waki” which translates as “lake of the spirits” and our brief time there convinced me this is a pretty apt name. Early Europeans named it “Devil’s Lake” and again, if you can imagine arriving the hard way, or catching a tough spring season, perhaps also a reasonable name. Place names are often given for good reasons…Easy to forget you are in wild territory when the modern conveniences of Banff are mere minutes away by car.

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Wild, challenging, chilly

Archaeological evidence uncovered at Minnewanka suggests human activity here as far back as 10 000 years. It is easy to see why. Mountain environments are challenging, but at Minnewanka, in milder seasons, there would be the everyday means to survive. Timber, fish, animals to hunt, and berries and roots to gather would have enabled earlier, knowledgeable, and hardy people to maintain their existence.

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Minn-Waki

Lake of the spirits. I love that! I’m somewhat ignorant when it comes to beliefs held by First Nations peoples, but have some understanding and no end of respect for the spiritual connection many have with the natural world. Given the unpredictable nature of mountain weather, and the size of the lake – it is over 25km long and 2km wide – sudden changes in the weather, particularly if you’re on the water, would have you considering spirits. Is it really so hard to believe that the natural world is teaching us something, whether in fury or on more benign days? We treat the planet as we do, and perhaps the planet responds in kind. Is that simply my imagination?

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The last of the blue skies that day

The day we visited was a cold one, the wind rushing across the ice and freeze-burning exposed faces. The morning had started fine, with blue skies and sunshine, but soon enough clouds were scudding over and amassing, and it was clear a change was coming. Undeterred (but well wrapped up), we opted to follow the shoreline trail at least as far as Stewart Canyon, where the Cascade River feeds the lake. We set off in high spirits that only soared further as the trailside trees afforded some protection from the wind, and the views delighted with each turn in the trail.

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The path itself was extremely icy, and we slipped and slid along, hugging trees because we like to, and because they helped us prevent a fall over the edge. Even with ice cleats, the going was interesting.

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An interesting trail…(this section above the lake was quite forgiving!)

Blinking away tears – must have been the keen wind – it was wonderful to see witch’s hair (or beard?) hanging in abundance from branches. A positive indicator of clean air,  and I can only hope nature’s witches continue to display spirited green defiance and resilience.

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I’m planning a return to Lake Minnewanka when the weather warms up and the ice has melted. There are a number of backcountry campgrounds reachable by canoe, and I would love to paddle up the lake and share a night or two with the spirits. Parts of the trail and campground locations are closed in high summer because this is the prime time for mama grizzlies and cubs to feed on buffalo berries. (Even though I’ve been living out this way for close to a decade, I can’t describe how much of a kick I get from writing phrases along the lines of mama grizzlies and cubs feeding on buffalo berries – isn’t the world great?!) I don’t need to see the bears, and certainly wouldn’t want to disturb their habitat – knowing they are out and about is enough – but a camping and canoe trip before they move into the area is high on my hope list…

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Downstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

We only hiked a few minutes more past Stewart Canyon, enough to get partial views of the lake below. By then the day really had shifted from benign to more malign, with the increasingly gusty wind throwing sharp crystals in our chapped but happy faces. We listened, took the hint, retraced our steps and were warmed on the inside by our delightful introduction to this spirited lake.

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Upstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share a story or leave a comment – it is always appreciated. Have a great weekend! I’m having one of these:

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Yesterday!

Rocky Mountain Small Fall (and a little Canadian Thanksgiving…)

This won’t be the most thematically coherent post I’ve written (why change things now, PlaidCamper?), it’s more an attempt to link what can be overlooked with being thankful (be warned – it might get a little saccharine, or even maple syrupy…)

The small things...
The small things…
There’s always so much to be thankful for, and it isn’t always the big things. Maybe it is about being thankful and grateful for the small things, and realizing that the truth is these little items are what really matter. They are the big things!

The big things...
The big things…
Before we went off on our lengthy Taylor Lake hike last time out, we had a shortish hike along the Bow River, a few steps from our tent, and walking downstream away from the busy Lake Louise townsite. I enjoy Louise, but as I’ve mentioned before, it is worth getting to certain places early and enjoying them before the crowds arrive. So we didn’t bother heading up to the famed lake, choosing instead to take a wander along the riverbank. I’m so happy we did! We got to enjoy the season in small ways, uncovering little delights instead of the usual – always appreciated – large scale grandeur.

Little delights!
Little delights!
The views were up and downstream, and to be fair, still rate as pretty spectacular, even on a grey and overcast day.

Bow River
Bow River
The autumnal delights were fine in their own more modest way, splashes of muted colour made brighter by the dark background and low light.

Splashes of colour
Splashes of colour
Finding patches of beauty, items to marvel at in their own right, instead of being distracted by the epic and sometimes overwhelming landscape, was really quite delightful, and rather restful. Being outdoors in mountain regions is always good for recharging and recalibration, never unwelcome, but the afternoon ramble wasn’t about the monumental, and was restorative for being lower key. We were more than thankful for that.

Low key beauty
Low key beauty
The second Monday in October is when Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated, and it’s a special time for us – this was when we arrived in Canada! We were excited to arrive, bemusing friends we left behind in sunny SW France, having chosen to switch long summers for long winters. We stayed in a pleasant downtown hotel amid the towering skyscrapers, thrilling to how different it was from the tiny hamlet we’d left behind. Difference is often exciting. We wandered out to explore, and were mystified by how quiet it was – nothing like a big city at all! Where were all the people? Quieter than a French village on a Sunday?! We didn’t know it was Thanksgiving weekend, and that many people had gone away to be with family, or were at home with family.

Peaceful
Peaceful
We’ll be away ourselves this Canadian Thanksgiving, staying in a little cabin in Yoho. Quiet places, shared with special people, hidden retreats that are reachable from the city, well, these can be added to a long and wonderful list of what we can be thankful for. Family, friends, the students we teach, and colleagues we learn from. A warm and welcoming country, where diversity and multiculturalism is generally celebrated, a mostly successful mosaic spread across a rugged land and in a challenging climate. The little/big things that can all too easily be taken for granted when you have them.

Muted colours along the Bow
Muted colours along the Bow
So, if you’re in Canada, from Canada, wishing you could be in Canada (if for only a little while), or have Canadian friends, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend! And if none of the previous applies, no worries, have a wonderful weekend anyway (and maybe add a little maple syrup!)

Enjoy your weekend!
Enjoy your weekend!
Thanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story (another small thing to be thankful for – the warm, witty and creative people to be found here), and keep your guy ropes secure.

Moraine Lake, early morning – a perfect start to the weekend?

Maybe! It really was rather early, certainly earlier than intended. We’d dashed out to Lake Louise after work last Friday, with fingers crossed that the forecast for Friday evening and Saturday was accurate – sunshine and warm for September temperatures.

Quick, before Fall arrives!
Quick, before Fall arrives!

A chance to have a pleasant night or two in the tent before the chillier Fall nights arrive. The weekend following Labour Day has always been pretty quiet, so we didn’t bother with reservations…Hmm. We should have! Only one night was available, despite our pleading. (Memo to self – always make a reservation, even after Labour Day – and particularly if that has been a rainy holiday – because everyone appears to have the same plan).

Only one night? Oh well...
Only one night? Oh well…

We had hoped to have a lazy Saturday morning, nothing more strenuous than coffee by the fire, followed by a shortish PM hike up to the Lake Agnes tea house. Then get up early on Sunday to paddle on Moraine Lake before heading home. The tea house hike had to be abandoned for another day, and we started early on Saturday, packing up the tent and into the car before the sun had hit the campground. Might as well get to Moraine a little ahead of the bus parties…

Get here early!
Get here early!

Well. No buses, but when we arrived at the parking lot, it was over half full, and before 8am. Huh? High summer, maybe, but into September after the long weekend? This was not good! You can’t rent a canoe before 10am, so we strolled along the lakeshore trail, soon leaving most people back at the lot and near the cafe and store. The relative quiet restored me back to my usual chipper self (it can be hard to tell when I’m chipper, in truth) as we enjoyed the cool autumnal air in the shade of the trees, and marvelled at the clear reflections in the water.

It'll warm up shortly...
It’ll warm up shortly…
Upside down?
Upside down?
Right way up?
Right way up?

It is such a beautiful part of the Canadian Rockies, and well worth getting up early for. Arriving to see the sun come over the top of the peaks is quite wonderful. (Ma PlaidCamper experienced the sun up there a few years ago. She loved it, but has never quite forgotten how cold it was, even on a bright July day. She bought mittens and a toque from the gift store, wore them for an hour or two, and reminds me she hasn’t worn them since returning to the UK. A lovely souvenir, I like to think).

Cold, but clear!
Cold, but clear! You might need mittens…

Being later in the year, we didn’t see the sun crest the peaks in the early morning from the shore, but from our canoe, just after 10am. Pretty much the first canoe onto the water, and away we paddled, back down to where we’d been strolling earlier, but this time in glorious new sunshine, the rays bouncing off the water.

View from a canoe - aim for the sunny patch!
View from a canoe – aim for the sunny patch!

From chilly to warm in scant minutes, and it more than made up for a crowded campground, only one night, and an earlier than planned start to the day. A sunny morning in a canoe makes for a sunny PlaidCamper. A few hours of Canadian outdoor delight to start the weekend – probably the perfect start to a Saturday – and so we have our fingers crossed we can get out there for another weekend or two before the snow flies.

imageThanks for reading. Please feel free to write a comment or share a story about a perfect weekend start, real or imagined, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Saturday mornings should be like this!
Saturday mornings should be like this!

Little Bear…

…cabin! I know, last week it was teddy bear cholla, this week, Little Bear cabin, so next week? Goldilocks?

Three bears would love to live here
Three bears would love to live here

It won’t be about bears, real or otherwise, I promise. But back to this week! Little Bear cabin is where we stayed recently on the return leg of our road trip. Just outside Bozeman, Montana, this cabin has to be about the most perfect cabin imaginable. Or at least, in my imagination. Original, yet in a good state of repair? Yup! Isolated, but not too hard to get to? Certainly! Wonderful views on all sides? Definitely! Less than $35 a night to rent it? Unbelievably, yes!

Isolated yet reachable
Isolated yet reachable

For less than many a campground fee, you can stay in a pretty as a picture cabin. Keep warm by the fire pit in decent evening weather, or remain warm by the wood stove inside during less friendly weather. Does it have modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and wifi? Nope! But if you’re ok with an outhouse, and can make do with a solar shower, and don’t mind your beer being a little warmer towards the end of your stay, then you’ll do just fine up at Little Bear. When we got back, I sent my brother a couple of pictures, and an invite to join us next time. I do understand that places like these aren’t for everybody…

The
The “shower” tree (be honest, isn’t that better than an indoor bathroom? In summertime anyway)

If you’re more like my brother, you might find it a struggle. His definition of outdoors is being more than 30 minutes from pizza delivery, and he’d prefer his bathrooms to be attached to the main building. And for the building to have more than one room, and appliances that require a remote. (I’ve tried several times to get him along on a camping trip, but to no avail. I’d even let him bring a remote or two as a comforter, so he can adjust gently…)

You could easily reheat a pizza
You could easily reheat a pizza

To be fair, he did join me for a few nights in a cabin some years back. We were visiting another brother in WV, and I may have oversold how comfortable the cabin was. It did have an indoor bathroom and a rudimentary kitchen – with a real fridge. Luxury! But I might have skipped over the heat, humidity, bugs and mice part. He was flying in from the UK, so the look on his face when he arrived was priceless. As was the squealing and shoe throwing and interesting vocabulary throughout that first night when he confronted the mouse. And the second night. And third. Happy memories…He’s a really good sport, but has a long memory, and, as brothers should, he holds a grudge. So camping likely won’t be happening any time soon, or a trip to Little Bear. Oh well!

A wood shed is way better than a television!
A wood shed is way better than a television!

We weren’t plagued by mice, the bug count was low, and the beer remained tolerably cool. The days drifted by delightfully – daydreaming, have a beer, reading, have a beer, writing, have a beer, dozing, and daydreaming some more. Maybe even have a beer. Idle and not so idle chit chat; a wonderful chance to while away some time free of any outside influences or concerns.

Maybe even have a beer
Maybe even have a beer

Thank you Little Bear – I honestly do believe that we all should have a Little Bear in our lives, with the chance to truly unwind and breathe deeply. It doesn’t have to be on top of a mountain in Montana, but if it is, well, so much the better!

imageThanks for reading! As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Chlorophyll camping in the rain at Green Point…

Summertime camping in a rainforest on the coast of the Canadian Pacific Northwest sounds exactly what it is – simply delightful – but what this old PlaidCamper really didn’t think about when reserving the campground many months ago, was the rain part of rainforest. Green Point campground, situated beautifully on a steep rise overlooking the Pacific, is also nestled in the fringes of a lush green forest – rainforest! 

It’s a rainforest!  

In recent years, most of our summertime camping has been in the deserts of SW USA, and our spring and fall camping at sites on the eastern side of the Rockies in Alberta. Generally, these locations are dry, often hot, and in the case of the Rockies, only an hour or two from home if heavy rain threatens to wash away the tent. (We did once abandon the campground at Lake Louise in early September, when the promised light rain showers became hours and hours of torrential deluge – small rivers were flowing past the tent, and if the grizzlies are paddling two by two, you know it’s time to go home). 

Don’t go home…

When we were approaching Green Point and the first few drops spattered the windshield, we weren’t too concerned. Our stay in the area had been dry and warm up to that point, and a little drizzle wasn’t going to be a problem…(we should have paid attention to the information at the botanical gardens, something along the lines of “autumn is wet, winter very wet, springtime it rains, and summers aren’t dry.” Annually, Tofino gets over three meters of rain! On some measures, two meters annually qualifies for rainforest, so Clayoquot has a super rainforest!) 

Moisture

We weren’t really that unprepared for camping in the rain, it’s just usually rain is a cue for us to not go camping. So the rain that started as we put up the tent, continued as we rigged up a tarp shelter, and did not stop that afternoon when we hiked along the beach, was outside our usual comfort zone. Still, with the tarp, decent waterproof gear in the backpack and a natty new toque, we managed just fine. Although wet, being summer it was not too cold, especially when hiking. 

Overlooking the Pacific (honest)

The trees collect the mist that drifts over from the beach, and all the moisture slowly drips and drops to the forest floor. Your camping soundtrack of rain pattering on the tarp and tent roof is soothing – and it sounds far wetter than it really is, with the dripping continuing long after any actual rainfall. Stepping out from under the tarp, we were surprised again and again by it not raining – or barely raining – when we thought it was! 

Greenery

All the moisture contributes to the creation of absolutely beautiful forests. The shades of green are numerous, and even the humid air seems to have a greenish tint. The air tastes and smells a verdant green, if that doesn’t sound too strange. Chlorophyll! Moss cloaks and hangs from the trees, and lichens cling to trunks. Small bushes, broad leaved plants and fern fronds crowd the forest floor, which itself is a rich decaying mulch, satisfyingly springy underfoot. Water, water, water, and growth, growth, growth in a delicate and unique ecosystem. 

Delicate and intricate

I’ve had to rethink my general dislike of rain, at least in settings as spectacular as the Clayoquot biosphere. At the information level of thinking, it is easy to understand that rain is important, but experiencing the natural wonder, by camping in a rainforest for a few days, has made me appreciate this precious resource in a far more vivid and tangible way. Knowing something is not the same as experiencing and then knowing it a little better. Funny how I sometimes forget the obvious from the comfort and distance of my modern life. Maybe we should all have a rainforest experience – go so far as to insist it is a mandatory part of a child’s education – then serious and real conservation efforts might be mainstream rather than marginal…Enough of that, school’s out and I’m on vacation.

Did I already say “green”?

It didn’t rain the entire time we were camping, and in fact our final day was a beauty – blue skies and an empty beach to wander along just a few minutes from the tent. 

Overlooking the Pacific!

I probably still wouldn’t go camping locally if the forecast calls for rain, but I would certainly camp in a NW rainforest again! 

Rainforest cooled…

Are you a happy camper in the rain – or would it take a rainforest to entice you?! Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

The desert is beckoning and we just can’t resist…

I’m generally an undemonstrative OldPlaidCamper – I say that I’m smiling on the inside – but I will confess to being and even appearing rather excited this week. Why? We have arranged to visit Joshua Tree this coming summer! I love this place! We met up with old friends there a couple of summers ago, and will be meeting them again in August. Why do I love this particular desert so much? Is it because the scenery is amazing?

We’d seen Joshua trees in pictures (and on album covers…) but those images did not prepare us for how strangely unique they are. Each one is so very different; they have an almost alien beauty. They grow in a desert full of rocky outcrops and sandy stretches, with mountains in the far distance – these are landscapes you just don’t see every day.

 Quite remarkable…

I will confess that we weren’t camping on our last stay. We’d been on the road for about a month, a trip from Alberta, zigzagging down to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and over to Joshua Tree, mixing up a few nights in a tent with a few nights in a cabin. A campground owner took pity on us in Needles, renting us a cabin that had a hardworking air conditioning unit. If you’ve ever been through Needles, CA in the summer, you’ll forgive us the air con unit…hottest place I’ve never camped! Anyway, no tent for us in Joshua Tree, rather this lovely little house perched on a rise above the town and overlooking the desert:

 Mrs PlaidCamper always finds great vacation rentals!

 Lovely vacation home!

Our jobs mean we take our vacations in the summer, a time of year that is off-season down in the desert. The high temperatures were fine provided we stayed in the shade, kept hydrated, moved slowly, and used sunblock. The National Park and town were pretty quiet in terms of other visitors, and when we headed up into the park, either early in the morning or towards dusk, there were few people about. I’m not an artist or photographer, but these times of day were really special in terms of the quality of light, and it was easy to see why the area attracts artists. Scenery plus light equals spectacular!Pretty shades

Intense shades

I am so excited to be returning here. Maybe it was the heat, but we really slowed down and relaxed thoroughly, soaking up this amazing place. At night, the lack of light pollution afforded us tremendous views of the Milky Way – this August, maybe I’ll try taking a photo…

Next time, I’ll write a little more about our trip to Joshua Tree, and how it was almost a wilderness too far upon our arrival. (Don’t wait up, it’s not as exciting as it sounds). I know, it’s the header picture again. But this place, love it, love it, love it!

 It isn’t on fire or smouldering, just looks that way!

Have you visited Joshua Tree? Where’s the hottest place you almost camped? (I’m such a boy!) Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.