Splendors of La France

K and I took a glorious early summer trip to France: half in the Alps and half on the shores of the Mediterranean.

We hiked up snowy mountains, descended cliffs into turquoise waters, made unfamiliar dishes like poulet noir in unfamiliar convection ovens, and lived the high life watching the sun set over Marseille. We also shared a baguette and a pain au chocolat every day with our “expresso.” First things first.

Our trip took us to Paris, Chamonix, Nice, La Ciotat, and Marseille. We went with a budget, taking only a small backpack each and cooking most of our meals. I even got to refresh my manual driving skills! Hello, tiny alleys with many cars! My personal favorite? Les îles du Frioul, a short ferry from Marseille, with many beautiful inlets (calanques) for swimming in the teal limestone waters. Just beware the seagulls.

2nd Visit to the Carrizo Plain

Back at it! This time seeking flowers! K and I returned to Carrizo Plain in late March 2016, after hearing that the blooms were in session. We got to explore more spots around the plain, including the bed of Soda Lake:

It was so squishy and fun to walk around. Like memory foam!

Wikipedia calls Soda Lake a “shallow, ephemeral, alkali endorheic lake.” Endorheic means that it does not drain into any other bodies of water. When there is water (if there is water), it only evaporates or seeps into the ground.

After that, we did some hardcore chilling by this field of yellows. The yellows were overwhelming, and this photo does not do them justice.

Next up was climbing the western hills to look out over the plain:We were not done with our search for wildflowers, so we took a side trip to Shell Creek Road in Santa Margarita, where there was rumored to be prime viewing. Instead, we found a very entertaining troupe of cows, that slowly, silently, and surreptitiously came closer and closer to the car…until they were suddenly all there, staring…



Hiking Tour of SLO

Given that there are so many shorter trails in San Luis Obispo, I thought it would be a great idea to have a local adventure linking multiple trails! I booked a campsite in Montaña de Oro for me and K, and then we started our micro-adventure bright and early after campsite coffee.

The first, shown above, is the view from Valencia Peak, 1,347 feet. The trail is 4.5 miles R/T with oh-so-lovely ocean. And poppies!

Also from Valencia Peak. You can see all the trails of MDO snaking around. This looks out on Morro Bay.

Next on the list was Black Hill, which is one of the morros! It’s just 661 feet and has a 0.6-mile R/T trail. A great spot for PB&J!

View of Morro Rock from Black Hill!

Looking back from whence we came! View of Montaña de Oro from Black Hill.

Finally, we hit Cerro Alto, an awesome 4.7-mile R/T trail. Unfortunately, this site now charges $10 for parking, so we may not hit it again in the near future. It’s too bad, since this trail is beautiful! The peak is at 2,624 feet, so almost double our first spot, Valencia Peak!

We love the fog rolling in to the valleys… a common occurrence in this area!

In summary:

  1. Valencia Peak Trail (4.5 mi)
  2. Black Hill (0.6 mi)
  3. Cerro Alto (4.7 mi)

A great 9.8 mile day of local exploration!

First Visit to the Carrizo Plain

Carrizo Plain is a National Monument located about 1:45 from San Luis Obispo. Every 12 years or so, it has a glorious superbloom that paints all the hills purple and orange and yellow in great swaths. 2017 was one of those years. February 2016, our first visit to the Carrizo, was not [though we would return later that year for some flowers].

I read the rumors of elk — Tule Elk — roaming the plain, but so far have not caught a glimpse. What Carrizo does have is Soda Lake, a typically dry lake bed that was mined for soda ash, and the San Andreas Fault, which runs along the eastern side of the plain, before the Temblor Range, pictured above.

Carrizo is kind of like a big playground. It’s a huge space, with huge sky, and you can roam where you wish. You can see lizards and snakes and birds and plants and soils and tumbleweeds, sunrises and sunsets. And we would!

Grand Canyon by Helicopter?! [Part 3]

Ok, final set :)

I really tried to soak in every moment of the ride back to Las Vegas. That end-of-day light brought out all the colors of the terrain and draped a sense of calm over the landscape.

There are so many striations, rivulets, grooves, nooks, crannies, and gorges here.

And colorful mineral deposits. It’s very possible that this is somewhere near the Mount Wilson wilderness area, since we took the southern route back (the northern route passing over the Hoover Dam).

What a day. Not so often that a single day gets a 3-part Quelle series!


Grand Canyon by Helicopter?! [Part 2]

Here it is! THE GC!As we are coming from Las Vegas, this is the West Rim, home of the Skywalk. The Skywalk is a glass walkway hanging 4,000 above the floor of the GC. It will definitely get your heart going! Although, I was probably more nervous in the helicopter:

Clench those hands tight!

The helicopter traced the CO River, with the steep canyon walls on either side. I recently learned that the deepest canyon in the USA is not the Grand Canyon (but OH MY GOODNESS). Hells Canyon in Idaho is the deepest river gorge: 7,993 feet. And Kings Canyon in CA has a depth of 8,200 feet (winner!). The difference? Kings Canyon is a glacial valley. The depth of the GC is 6,093 feet.

Leaving the GC at the end of the day!


Grand Canyon by Helicopter?! [Part 1]

My beloved college roommate got married last year, and her bachelorette party involved —-a helicopter ride to and through the Grand Canyon—- (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

It’s the most visually overwhelming thing I’ve ever done. It felt so unreal the entire time. I can’t imagine being a helicopter pilot and seeing it day in and day out.

We took off from Las Vegas, and it was 30 minutes one-way.

Here we are passing the Hoover Dam:

Lake Mead, looking low

Sooooo much wild landscape!

Next up…Reaching the GC!

Bishop Peak

Bishop Peak is the quintessential SLO hike. It’s the highest of the morros at 1,559 feet, and the trail is 3.7 miles out and back. A quick jaunt! There’s a less official steep back way up too–for some extra ooomph.

At the very top are great big boulders to scramble up for the best views. It can be windy!

John Muir had this to say on the subject:

The trail brings the traveler suddenly in sight of Bishop Peak… The town is fairly encircled with beautiful hills…the one just named being most conspicuous.

Wow, what a review! Haha. A nice claim to fame nonetheless.

It surely is nice and green in these photos – definitely a winter thing! This is in January 2016.

Tequepis Trail

This is a surprisingly lush hike in Los Padres National Forest, near Santy B! It goes up the backside (north side, non-ocean side) of the Santa Ynez Mountains and looks down on Lake Cachuma. The trail is about 8 miles out and back, gaining 2,300 feet.

Whereas most trails on the Central Coast are dry and sandy/rocky, this one has MUD!

At one point (pictured below), we felt like we could be hiking in Hawaii!

At the top, you can see the Channel Islands:

There’s a peak a little further up (Broadcast Peak, so named for a bunch of radio towers), and as K and I were enjoying our view at our summit, a motor bike appeared and sped up Broadcast. Too disruptive for our tastes :) Other than that, we didn’t see much of anyone along the trail. Made for a nice humid hiking escape!

Islay Hill

One of the coolest things about SLO is the morros! Morros are volcanic plugs, essentially the tough necks of old volcanoes that remain when the rest of the volcano erodes away. Islay Hill is one of the morros K and I hit up all the time! It rises to 780′ and is a quick mile to the top.

You can actually make this a loop trail! With the bottom portion heading down through a park and bike path. Both sides have beautiful views of rolling hills.

It looks pretty green here, but this is January 2016. The colors change dramatically as the seasons pass on the Central Coast.

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