New Year’s in Saline Valley

My boyfriend, Bryce, and his friends have a tradition of camping in Saline Valley for New Year’s. This was my first year going with them.

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It was getting dark as we headed into the desert, and the view of the joshua trees against the sunset and the mountains rising up in the distance was beautiful. Saline Valley is surrounded by mountains, both from the Sierra Nevada Range and the Inyo Mountains. As we drove in over washes that made the road almost impassable (completely impassable to 2-wheel drive vehicles), I was told that when it gets cold, the three passes into the valley can become snowed in and visitors can be trapped in Saline Valley for up to a week while they wait for the snow to melt. We lost phone service almost immediately after leaving Lone Pine, the last town before the valley, so a week trapped in Saline means a week with no way to contact the outside world.

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As we drove through the mountains via South Pass, Bryce and his cousin George talked about hearing about a car that had flipped on the way in, as well as a Jeep Cherokee that had caught fire and been abandoned. When we arrived at our campsite, Bryce’s cousin Doug and his wife Dana told us they had heard about a car flipping on North Pass as well. The car that had flipped on South Pass was gone by the time we drove in, but we passed the burnt out Cherokee. It was still there when we left four days later.

Saline Valley has historically been home to nomadic communities. The original inhabitants were the Timbisha Shoshone and their ancestors. Petroglyphs from these ancient peoples can still be found in parts of the Valley. Some of our group had hiked to find some of these petroglyphs before and Bryce’s cousin Doug was able to show us where they were. It was amazing standing in a place and knowing that thousands of years before, other people had stood in that place and made these markings on the rocks.

Salt mining began in the valley in the early 1900s. Bryce had pointed out some salt flats as we drove into the desert. Most of Saline Valley is a dry lake, part of which is still a salt marsh. A tram had been built to carry the salt from the valley over the Inyo Mountains to the Owens Valley on the other side of the mountains. The remains of this tram, the steepest ever constructed in the United States, is still in the valley along with other remnants of the salt mining operation.

Much of the salt flat is solid enough to walk on if you’re careful. If you step wrong, it’s easy to punch through the salt to fall into the water and mud beneath. Bryce and I had fun finding salt crystals in the footprints of people who had stepped through the salt. As the salt forms into crystals, other minerals are drawn out, giving the crystals layers of colors beneath the white salt.

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In more modern times, the hot springs in the valley drew hippies who built the tubs at the campground we were headed to. Water is piped from the sources of the springs to the four tubs for visitors to soak in.

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The upper springs at the north end of the campground has the Volcano Pool and the Wizard Pool. Wizard Pool is named after Wizard, who was camp host, a permanent resident and caretaker of the valley, until his death. I heard the pool was named after him because he once spent an entire day soaking in it and drinking beers without ever getting out.

The lower springs at the south end of the campground has the Sunrise Pool and the Crystal Pool, the spout of which is surrounded by crystals found nearby. There’s also a grassy area next to the lower springs, along with a koi pond and another small tub.

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I was the only first-time visitor from our group, so I was shown where the showers are to rinse off in and where the footbath to rinse your feet at each pool is. I had been told that most of the visitors to the springs were old timers who had been coming for years, but they clearly weren’t the secret oasis they once were. There were more young people than old timers and many seemed not to know the rules about showering and rinsing your feet to keep the hotpots clean for everyone.

The spirit of the original builders of the oasis prevails in the modern day and most people soak nude in the hotpots, though there are still many who choose to wear swimsuits.

Though secrecy of the hot springs’ location is encouraged to protect them from an influx of tourists and people who won’t respect the communal atmosphere, I heard plenty of rumors of famous visitors through the years. The most legendary of these was Charles Manson, who several people told me had visited with some of his followers.

Most of Saline Valley became part of Death Valley National Park in 1994, which brought new regulations to the springs. While before there had been many people who were permanent or semi-permanent residents, now there is a 30 day per year limit on how long visitors can stay. The exceptions are camp hosts, like Wizard. The current camp host is Lizard Lee, who oversees the care and cleanliness of the springs.

The annexation into Death Valley National Park created a controversy for the springs. The improvements of creating the hotpots with water piped from the sources and the green space and pond would not have been allowed had it happened as part of a national park. However, these improvements were created and became a beloved part of the valley before annexation. There have been suggestions of dismantling the hotpots and green spaces and returning the springs to their natural state, but for now it seems those plans are on hold.

I’m lucky that plans for dismantling the hotpots have not yet been put into action. Spending the new year surrounded by friends and strangers all brought together by a sense of community and a love for the desert and the springs was an amazing experience. I can’t wait to see what new adventures lie in store for me this year that will lead me back to Saline Valley.

Thanks to George and Bryce for contributing photos to this post.

Traveling the Northwoods

This weekend my boyfriend, Bryce, and I are going Up North. My family’s cabin is in one of the towns just north of Minocqua, WI, so we will be doing plenty out on the lake. Unfortunately, it’s getting cold early this year, so we probably won’t be doing much swimming.

Kayaking is one of my favorite things to do at the cabin, so I’m sure we’ll take plenty of trips around the lake. There’s so much wildlife to see no matter the time of year. At the beginning of the summer there were some loons nesting on the lake. There are also beavers and sometimes otters who live on the lake and eagles who next in the trees on the shore.

The woods are great for hiking, even with all the mosquitos. Northern Wisconsin is home to white deer. If we’re lucky, we’ll catch a glimpse of one. The white deer are just regular white tail deer with a genetic trait that makes them all white instead of brown.

On Friday we will probably head a few towns over to Manitowish Waters to eat at Little Bohemia Lodge, where John Dillinger had a shootout with the FBI in 1934.

There is so much to do in the Northwoods and it’s a beautiful place to visit. Every lake is different and it’s so fun to explore them all. If you ever get a chance to spend a weekend Up North, I encourage you to do so.

Planning a Dream Roadtrip: The Glass Beach

A very long time ago I saw a picture of a glass beach. It was so beautiful, with red, green, blue, yellow, brown and clear glass pebbles spilling out of the ocean. The glass beach is in MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg, California. Ever since I’ve learned about it, it’s been my dream to go visit it.

There are three glass beaches in Fort Bragg. The sites were used as dumps from the 1900s to the 1960s. When the dumps were closed, the metal trash was removed and the biodegradable trash broke down. The broken glass was tumbled in the water until it became smooth and pebble-like. The water deposited it back on the beach along with other sand and rocks to create the glass beach.

I’m hoping to visit the glass beach during my trip to California this fall, while it still exists. The beach is slowly disappearing because of people taking the glass as souvenirs. Taking glass from the beach is not only ruining the park for others, it’s also illegal Since the glass beach is in MacKerricher State Park, everything in the park is protected and it’s against the law to remove anything, including the glass.

The glass beach is what began my goal of taking a roadtrip down the west coast and it’s the most important stop to me. I’m excited about finally being able to visit it after dreaming about it for years. It may not be part of a roadtrip this visit, but in a few years when I do drive down the coast, visiting the glass beach will be essential. I only hope that it will still be there.

Hiking Roche-A-Cri State Park

If you follow my YouTube channel, you know that I hate the Wisconsin DNR website. A lot of the hiking areas on the site don’t have maps or information about what kinds of plants and animals are in the state parks.

They did a little bit better with Roche-A-Cri State Park in Friendship, Wisconsin. There’s even a map of the park showing all the trails.

The first stop I’m going to make on my trip to Roche-A-Cri is at Ship Rock. Ship Rock isn’t in the park, but it’s a wayside on Highway 21 just east of the park. There isn’t much to see there, but I’ve driven past Ship Rock several times and I’ve always wanted to stop to get some pictures.

At Roche-A-Cri Park, I plan on hiking the Mound Trail, which is 0.3 miles. There are stairs up to an observation deck on top of Roche-A-Cri Mound. Since the mound is a State Natural Area, you can’t leave the stairway and observation deck in order to preserve the area for everyone to enjoy.

After the Mound Trail, I’m going to take Chickadee Rock Nature Trail, which is another 0.3 miles. This trail is also handicap accessible.

At Chickadee Rock, I’m going to go right on the Acorn Trail and go back around the mound to see some petroglyphs. The Acorn Trail is 3.55 miles, but I won’t hike the whole thing.

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Hiking Devil’s Lake

Devil’s Lake State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Wisconsin. It’s known for the beautiful pink quartzite bluffs that overlook the lake as well as all the activities the park has to offer. Camping and swimming are some of the most popular activities. The park also has 29 miles of hiking trails, including sections of the Ice Age Trail, and the bluffs make Devil’s Lake one of the best rock climbing areas in the midwest.

My boyfriend, Bryce, and I are planning a day trip to Devil’s Lake this sunday. We’ll just be hiking and maybe swimming, since rock climbing isn’t my thing.

The last time I was at Devil’s Lake was last October, when I hiked the Balanced Rock Trail with a group of other hikers. The fall colors were out in force in October, so I’m excited to get some sunnier pictures this trip.

 

This time I want to do the Potholes Trail, which is extremely difficult and steep, but has amazing rock formations, making the hard climb worth it. The trail is only .3 miles, but the difficulty of it means it should take about two hours to hike.

Planning a hike at Effigy Mounds National Monument

My boyfriend has a friend visiting from California this week, so we’re planning to take her hiking at Effigy Mounds National Monument.

An effigy mound is an indian mound shaped like an animal. Most of the ones at Effigy Mounds National Monument are shaped like bears and birds, as well as a few that are just rectangles or circles grouped together to make patterns. The effigy mounds were built by various peoples collectively known as the Mound Builders during the Late Woodland Period.

Bryce and I had taken Rascal and Moky there a few weeks ago. We hiked in the North Unit of the park, out to Twin Views and back around the loop to Fire Point and Eagle Rock, which is just over three miles. This time we plan to go all the way to Hanging Rock at the end of the trail, which is a seven mile hike.

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It’s free to enter the park and dogs are allowed on the trails, but not in the visitor’s center. I recommend looking around the visitor’s center before hiking in the park. There is a lot of historical information and information about the animals and plants in the park that will give you a better understanding of what you’re seeing.

The mounds themselves are too big to capture in one photograph, at least from the ground. The trails are well maintained, so it’s clear what areas you should walk on. The grass on the mounds is left longer so it’s clear where they begin and end.

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All of the overlooks have beautiful views of the Mississippi, so if you stop for a few minutes, you can watch the boat traffic go by.

There’s a lot of wildlife to see in the park. Bryce and Rascal and Moky saw a turkey bumbling through the brush while I was distracted by a dragonfly, but I’ll have a better eye out this time.

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Getting all the way out to Hanging Rock is going to be tiring, and we’ll be leaving really early in the morning, so I plan on taking some RuckPack energy shots. They’re healthier than normal energy drinks and energy shots because they use natural ingredients and rely on nootropics instead of lots of caffeine to keep you going. Use coupon code BB026 to get 20% off your order here.

This is a sponsored post.

Visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

My boyfriend, Bryce, has a friend visiting this week, so we’ve been trying to find things for her to do in the La Crosse, Wisconsin area.

One place that he and his parents have been before is the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe just south of La Crosse. I was excited to go since I have never been there before.

The various parts of the shrine were built and dedicated throughout the 2000s and 2010s. It’s extremely beautiful and peaceful. I don’t know very much about Catholocism, but there are plenty of plaques and people working at the shrine to explain things.

We started the day at the Pilgrim Center where we had breakfast in the Culina Mariana Café. After breakfast, we walked up the Meditation trail. Our first stop was the Votive Candle Chapel, which looks amazing both on the inside and the outside.

Votive candle chapel

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There were several devotional areas along the Meditation Trail. My favorite was the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Devotional Area. The map we had gotten from the Votive Candle Chapel told us that Saint Kateri was the first Native American to be blessed. Someone had left rosary beads next to Saint Kateri’s right knee.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

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We arrived at the Shrine Church right as a Mass was starting, so we didn’t have the chance to look around much, but it was very beautiful. The fresco and chandeliers in the entryway were amazing.

Fresco and chandelier inside the Shrine Church

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Be sure to walk around to the back of the Shrine Church during your visit. The architecture is amazing from both the front and back.

Shrine Church from behind

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Our next stop was the Memorial of the Unborn, which is very moving. The Memorial includes a mausoleum in which children who were not brought to full term are interred. The Mother of the Unborn Devotional Area has a statue of Our Lady of Guadelupe, who is the Mother of the Unborn, holding three babies.

View of the Memorial to the Unborn from the Rosary Walk

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We walked the loop that showed the Stations of the Cross and Bryce told us what each of the Stations was.

The Rosary Walk led us to the end of the Meditation Trail. There are several arcs with artwork to help you pray the Rosary during the walk.

Rosary Walk

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How to Prevent and Remove a Tick

Ticks are gross, but they are a fact of life if you spend any amount of time in the woods. Knowing how to remove them is super important.

There are three kinds of ticks found in Wisconsin. The Deer Tick and Wood Tick are very common and the Lone Star Tick is very rare, but is sometimes seen in the southern part of the state.

The most common concern for a tick bite is the risk of contracting Lyme Disease. My mom and both of my dogs have Lyme Disease and it’s very common in my area to get it.

Lyme Disease is carried by Deer Ticks. Other types of ticks carry other diseases, but with any type of tick, if you remove it right away (within 24 hours is what I’ve always heard), you’re usually fine. If you develop flu symptoms, go to a doctor right away.

Tick Prevention

Ticks don’t usually jump, so the most common way to get one on you is by brushing a plant that it’s crawling on. Avoiding trees and tall grass is a great way to avoid ticks.

Wearing clothing that provides full coverage is also a great way to prevent ticks. My mom tucks her pants legs into her socks when she goes hiking or does work on her farm to avoid having ticks get on her ankles and crawl up her pant legs. Wearing yoga pants or any other type of clothing too tight for ticks to crawl under is another way to prevent ticks from getting on you. If they can’t get to your skin, they can’t bite you.

If you do get one on you, they don’t always bite you right away, so if you feel one crawling on you, you can just pick it off and kill it or throw it away if it hasn’t bitten you yet.

Removing Ticks

To remove a tick, use a tweezers and grab it as close to your skin as possible to make sure to get its head. I like to use pointy tweezers for this. The Revlon Mini Tweezer Set is great for sticking in your backpack and using to remove ticks. It’s also super cheap on Amazon.

 

The pointy ends make it super easy to get as close as possible to the skin to make sure you’ve gotten as much of the tick as possible.

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Remove it gently so you don’t hurt yourself or accidentally leave parts of it in your skin.

Wash the wound and your hands (and the tweezer!) with soap and water and use alcohol to help prevent getting an infection.

I’ll update this post with more pictures if (when?) I get bitten again or find a tick on Rascal or Moky or Kreacher that hasn’t gotten engorged yet.

#FashionFriday: What I wear for a summer day hike

If you subscribe to my YouTube channel or follow me on Instagram, you know that I do day hikes because I’m not a fan of sleeping on the ground and not properly showering or washing my hands. Hand sanitizer is great for a little while, but I like to end my day with actual soap and water.

Even casual hikers need proper gear, though. I’m a strong believer that the deer care how you look, so I try to seek out gear that’s cute as well as functional. Here’s my standard outfit for a summer day hike.

The Outfit

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Obviously the first thing you need to look good on the trail is the right outfit. Rascal and Moky are always effortlessly dapper in their tuxedos, but we can’t all look that good.

The boots

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I got my Hi-Tec boots at a store in Mildura during my study abroad in Australia in 2014 (check out the Edge of the Outback program if you like photography). Mine are the Meridien WP Women’s in size 8.5. It looks like Hi-Tec discontinued this particular style, because the only place I found it was this out-of-stock one on Amazon. The accent color on the Amazon one is purple, but mine are light blue. I love that they’re mostly brown/beige because it’s so much easier to put together an outfit without having to worry if my boots will clash.

I’m normally a 7.5, so I went a size up to compensate for the thick socks I usually wear when I’m hiking. I’ve had these boots for a few years and I’ve never had any issues with them in any terrain. I’ve hiked through thick woods, mountainous and bluff regions, lava fields and more and these boots are easily keeping up with me. They’re also waterproof, which is great since the Midwest gets plenty of storms during the summer and even when the weather is nice, there are a lot of streams and puddles to wade through.

One thing to remember is that shoes need to be broken in and blisters are a fact of life. Whenever you get new hiking boots, wear them around for a while so your feet know the boots and the boots know your feet.

The socks

Thick socks help cushion your feet when you’re hiking. There are a lot of brands that are pretty comparable. I have some Fits socks that I really like. Most socks designed for hiking incorporate Merino wool, which is great for wicking away moisture to keep you from drowning in your own sweat.

I personally don’t like the crew style that most hiking socks come in. You can get high-end brands like Fits in a quarter height, but I actually like a brand called SeoulStory7 that I found on Amazon better. SeoulStory7 socks are much cheaper than high-end brands sold at specialty stores like Erehwon or REI and there’s a reason for that. They aren’t made with wool and they’re thinner than socks from more recognizable brands. I would only wear them in summer because they aren’t anywhere near warm enough for a fall or spring day in the Midwest, but I like them enough that I’ve purchased multiple pairs.

The pants

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I think most pants designed for hiking are super ugly, but jeans aren’t really comfortable to hike in and leggings and yoga pants don’t provide much protection against brambles and can snag easily.

The pants I wear are sold by a company called Angel Cola on Amazon, but are actually made by a company called Komont, which appears to be Korean. I personally think these pants fit really well and I love that they come in so many fun colors, but a lot of the reviews on Amazon complain about issues with quality and fit. I’m very thin, so women with an average or heavier build may not like these pants as much as I do.

The lightweight pants that I wear in summer are very thin and some colors can be see-through, which I found out the hard way. To avoid showing off a little too much in see-through clothes, find underwear or a bra in a color as close to your skin tone as possible. White underwear and bras can still be seen through thin clothing, even if you’re as pale as me.

The best thing about these pants is that they’re super durable. Again, many reviewers on Amazon had a different experience than I did and have complained about these pants ripping at the seams, but I’ve found that I can charge straight through the woods without worrying about getting cuts and scrapes from twigs and brambles.

The top

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I’m not really a t-shirt kind of girl, so I usually wear tanktops on hikes. I got this one from Old Navy several years ago. I tend to cut the tags off my clothes, so I don’t actually know the fabric content of this top, but it’s super comfortable.

The sports bra I’m wearing underneath the top is also really comfortable. It’s from Fruit of the Loom and is 95% cotton and 5% lycra. Cotton is a great fabric for hiking and other outdoor activities because it’s breathable, so it doesn’t trap your body heat or sweat (super important on hot days). It also doesn’t retain smells as much as other fabrics, so if you’ve been sweating all day or sitting by the campfire all night, you won’t smell it as much when you’re still wearing your shirt and the smells will come out easier when you wash it.

I do keep heavier outer layers and waterproof layers in my backpack as well. In the midwest it’s important to have all kinds of clothing because you can’t trust the weather.

If you like the scenery in these pictures or just want to see more of Moky and Rascal, check out my video of our trip to Wildcat Mountain State Park in Wisconsin here.