Thursday, July 31, 2014

Anniversary Trip Day 4

Our first anniversary! July 27, 2014
Letterboxing, Joshua Tree national park, and home.

Our alarm went off way too early this morning. The first thing I said: "Boxing!" …then, "oh, happy anniversary." ;) But seriously, where we were headed this morning was a letterboxer's dream! A quiet, isolated park that the park rangers really didn't know anything about, with several series of boxes all within feet of each other! Not only that, but all the carves were excellent and the clues were well written. All this makes for a perfect day for a letterboxer. :) 

The only thing we were concerned about was time. We knew there probably wasn't any way we could get all the boxes - we still had to drive 6 hours home that afternoon AND enjoy some of Joshua Tree national park. We were also worried about it getting too hot to enjoy being outside, just like it had been the day before. We hoped getting up early could give us a head start. However, as soon as we stepped outside, we knew today would be different - it was overcast, and the temperature was SIGNIFICANTLY lower! It was an immediate flashback to our wedding day and the perfect weather God had given us. And it lasted all morning! God is so good! :)

We headed out to the park and got started boxing. It doesn't matter what the situation is, boxing always takes longer than what it feels like, so we agreed that since there were so many boxes out here that we wouldn't spend so much time looking for ones that either didn't make sense to us, or ones that appeared to be missing. There was no way to tell for sure if they were gone or not, we just wouldn't stress to much for difficult boxes. Now we wish we could have been more thorough, but oh well - another day maybe! 

Panoramas of the area we were in. It was quiet and beautiful out here, with perfect weather to enjoy everything!

We were very happy with the boxes that we did find. A wide variety of carvers had obviously put in lots of time to create beautiful, detailed, and even funny stamps. We've almost exhausted our list of boxes left within a 50 mile radius of home, so to be in an area with so many boxes to find was so much fun. It might have been a taste of what it'd be like to live out East where there are thousands instead of hundreds of boxes - I imagine there are so many you just trip over them out there. Well, that's kind of what this was like. I finally made it over 700 finds this weekend - that alone was an awesome anniversary gift. ;)

We've been married for a whole year!! :) Also, I'm comparing wedding pictures to this one, and I'm thrilled with how tan we've gotten (naturally!) over the past year. :)

As I said before, boxing always takes longer than how it feels, and we were out there for about 4 hours! It was so worth it though. We went to Joshua Tree National Park after this and did a short driving tour, a little walking, and lots of picture taking. :)

Southern California is in the Mohave desert, as opposed to the Sonoran desert in Arizona. While we have the saguaro cactus, they have the joshua tree. The main difference between the two is that the Mohave desert is at a higher elevation than the Sonoran.

Here we are driving through the national park. The roads are all paved and there are several different roads and trails to explore. There is one that goes all the way through to the I-10, however it was under construction at this time and we were advised not to take it. Instead, we entered at the Joshua Tree, CA entrance and came out in Twentynine Palms, CA.

Just as Saguaros are all different, so are Joshua trees. The shorter, the taller, the wider, the narrower, the ones with many branches, the ones with hardly any, and some even seem to have a wacky personality! Driving through the park, we saw a huge variety of different Joshua trees. :)

We drove to Key View, which has an excellent view of the valley to the South of the park. It was obviously still overcast and foggy, and I loved the view of the mountains peaking over the top. This is the same mountain range that we were admiring before in Desert Hot Springs. I would love to do a hike like this that takes you through heavy clouds, but you can't really plan for something like this. :)

Panorama of the great view at Key View! We enjoyed the spot, however there were way too many visitors for our liking. ;)

Us, blocking the great view. :) At this point it was actually starting to heat up. It was also after noon, and while we would have loved to have more time to hike and explore, we were hungry and aware that we had a long drive ahead of us. Maybe someday we'll come back…not in the summer. :)

Driving back out of the park to Twentynine Palms. Here's more pictures of the variety of trees!

After exiting, we stopped at a small and delicious barbecue restaurant in Twentynine Palms before beginning the long drive home. We're happy to report there were no more car troubles for the remainder of this trip!

We took highway 62 East and 177 South to get to I-10, and we're pretty sure that this road is avoided by most. It was actually a pleasant drive, it rained a little, but it was a scenic road that took us around different mountain ranges. One of the funnier things we saw as we were driving was a camper pulled over on the side of the road and several people outside of it, eating lunch around a decorated card table, tablecloth and all. It was rather amusing! We were able to grab a few more boxes on the drive back, and saw a great lightening show as we approached home. We're thankful for such a great trip celebrating a wonderful year together. Here's to many more adventures. :)

End day 4: Drove 450 miles, hiked about 1-2 miles, found 36 letterboxes

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Anniversary Trip Day 3

July 26, 2014
Driving & Boxing around Joshua Tree, CA

We woke up with the sun this morning and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise. It's always fun to see the sun set one night and rise the next morning…okay, maybe not always, but we were on vacation and we're all about relishing every moment of our adventures! We stopped at a brand new McDonalds to plan out our route and pick some letterboxes to get on the way. Oh, and to load up on caffeine…because we REALLY needed caffeine. 

We continued West to Apple Valley, hoping to get a box, but once we got there we realized it was going to take more effort than we planned to find it. After giving it a good try anyway, we had to move on. At least we got some great views of Victorville and Apple Valley from this isolated spot!

Curtis always has more dedication to finding a box than I do. After a while, I just need to sit down and enjoy my surroundings. Sometimes his extra effort really pays off and we find a well-hidden box, but unfortunately today that wasn't the case.

Sometimes while Curtis is looking for a box, I try to pretend I'm like a good photographer or something. :) 

It was about 8-9 now, and we still had at least an hour until Desert Hot Springs. Our goal was to make it as early as possible to avoid any similar situations to Thursday. We drove down some very quiet and deserted roads, West to Yucca Valley, and then South to Desert Hot Springs. It was already starting to warm up, so we didn't try for any more boxes along this route.

We did have to make one stop on the way though - we had to return the letterbox that we had forgotten to hide after our little "break down" on Thursday! I must admit I was nervous when we pulled over around the same spot as before, but thank God, there were no issues this time. Above is where we were stranded just 2 days before! (I didn't take a picture that day because we were a little stressed and I wasn't sure I wanted to remember that. Now that everything's fine, we're okay with this story. Lessons learned!) :)

Facing South as Curtis hid the box - those mountains were amazing.

We made it!! We got to see our Giant up close after all! And it was so worth it. Above, you can see how big he is compared to my little 6'3" husband. ;)

Whispering Giant #27. Our 7th find in a year. Here's to many more vacations centered around seeing them all. :)

He was in excellent condition, considering he is around 40 years old!

Someday, we hope to have one of these statues in our front yard, if we ever decide to "settle down". I don't think moving it would be very easy which makes me hesitant to commit to one now. ;)

What a beast.

After this, we drove South to I-10 in search of "cheaper" gas, and upon being successful we headed back up North to Yucca Valley.

So many of these fans! There was like a huge forest of them on either side of the interstate! They will always freak me out.

After arriving in Yucca Valley, we stopped at a visitor's center in search of ideas of things to do and a place where we could enjoy air conditioning. The main reasons we were here was to visit Joshua Tree National Park, and go to another park that is the home of several letterbox series. While today didn't feel as hot as Thursday did, it still didn't feel comfortable enough to spend long amounts of time outside. We tried going after a box, but with the heat and clues that didn't line up to the trail we were on, we gave up rather quickly. We had lunch in Yucca Valley, and after discussing our plans for the evening and the next day, we changed our plans yet again. It was just too hot to enjoy being outside right now, so we went and checked in at our hotel so that we could relax in the air conditioning. (seriously, it's really a special thing when you drive so much without it!) We decided that we would wake up with the sun again tomorrow and try to do all our boxing and touring Joshua Tree in the morning.

Now, I usually just choose something that's cheap with relatively good ratings on Expedia when I look for hotels. Somehow, we ended up at this beautiful place with really nice rooms, AND a sushi/Japanese steakhouse right next door! What's even better than that, is that people staying in the hotel get a discount on their meal. All this made our day so much better! We recommend the Travel Lodge for anyone who's traveling through or staying in the area. :)

We rested for a while until the heat of the afternoon started to fade away, and we drove North to Pioneertown to do a little boxing before dinner.

An awesome Main-street historic village where several movies were filmed. Every Saturday afternoon they have a shoot out or reenactment, but we passed on that today simply because of the heat!

After boxing here and enjoying the sites, we headed back to our hotel. The drive went through a canyon and was just lovely as the sun was starting to set.

Next up, it's time for ANNIVERSARY SUSHI!!

Beautiful and delicious - this restaurant was awesome! It's called the Kimi Grill and we also recommend this for getting your sushi fix in Yucca Valley! :)

Hotel room just feet away from the restaurant? Okay, I think drinking is okay. We tried hot sake for the first time. It was an experience, but I preferred my plum wine!

Oh, and after years of dreaming of getting "the Love Boat" at a Japanese restaurant, we finally did it!! It wasn't filled with sushi, but it still counts ;) Tempura crab & veggies, teriyaki chicken, beef, and vegetables, and salad with miso ginger. The miso ginger was our favorite part - we hadn't been to a sushi restaurant that used that on a vegetable salad rather than yum-yum sauce or ginger dressing. It was surprisingly delicious! (yes, we are huge fans of sushi restaurants and Japanese steakhouses. After working at one, frequenting it for over 4 years, and writing reports about them in high school and college, I know some things about how they work and what they serve, and it makes me feel qualified to "judge them". Being a sushi critic is one of my many dream jobs.) :) Anyway, this was the perfect way to wrap up today!

End Day 2: drove 156 miles, walked about a mile, found 3 letterboxes

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Anniversary Trip Day 2

July 25, 2014
A Day in Santa Barbara

It was a beautiful morning, much cooler than the day before, and clear skies all around. A perfect day for going to a beach! But first, we went a little out of our way again for a letterbox. This one took us North on I-14 and West on highway 138, to a quiet and peaceful spot by a lake. 

After this, we headed South on I-5 and West on highway 126 to Ojai. Lots of back roads and small towns, but it was totally worth the drive through the beautiful Angeles National Forest. We had been planning to go camping there that night, and so we stopped at the rangers station to ask about camp sites and the roads. They told us the roads up the mountains and through to I-5 shouldn't be a problem, but since it was hunting season, they couldn't guarantee there being any campsites if we didn't get there early. We took all this information and headed out West the remainder of the way to the Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Barbara.

Driving South on I-5 was lovely and easy drive, thanks to it being downhill. Uphill may have been a different story for the Yeti!

Another beautiful lake hiding between the mountains

It was an easy drive here on a Friday morning!

Took a letterboxing break on highway 150 at a scenic look at the Ojai Valley. It was so beautiful and green, despite the drought California is in. The drought was much more evident in other places, such as along I-5 through the National Forest.

We had considered doing a longer hike for the next day, but instead decided to try to "take it easy" and not do anything too strenuous. ;)

Finally - the Pacific Ocean!! We had been waiting far too long to see this!

Once exiting in Santa Barbara, we decided to park in a lot near the beach, find a map, and go from there. We found a great lot with relatively cheap parking for the day, and after visiting a nearby visitor's center, we planned out what we wanted to visit for the day. We decided it was all within manageable walking distance from where we parked, making it easier to enjoy the city without the stress of driving around. Our first stop was the ocean!

There were lots of people, but it wasn't entirely too crowded, and we were able to enjoy getting our feet wet and walking along the waves in peace. The weather was just perfect, everything you'd hope for at the ocean!

Facing West, toward the Wharf.

Rocking our matching flip-flop tan lines. We're so married. ;)

Facing East. I love the view with both the ocean AND mountains!

Celebrating 363 days today! ;) 

We walked over to the Wharf/boardwalk area and walked to the end before choosing a spot for lunch.

Facing West

Our view at lunch! There were signs there reminding guests that California was in a drought and they wanted to conserve water, but our waiter came by many times, eager to refill our glasses every 2 minutes, even if we only took a sip. Later, we'd be wishing for this kind of service, but it seemed a little over the top at this point!

The awkward dolphin painting that was directly across from us…we got to enjoy gazing at it for the whole meal! :P

Walking back to the beach, enjoying the deep blue water!

On a clearer day, we might have been able to see the Channel Islands South of us, but not today!

After lunch, we decided to take a walk down State Street to the Santa Barbara Courthouse. We heard it was only 11 blocks from where we were, which sounded like no problem!

We loved the colors, architecture, and variety of trees around here. It's such a beautiful city!

I took the above picture because I was so intrigued by the way the tree on the right looked. I didn't get a closer shot, and we started wondering if it was fake, like a disguise for a pole. But looking through other vacation pictures, I see it around other places, such as in parks. I've looked online trying to identify it, but haven't seen anything like it. If anyone does know what it's called, please let me know!!

Walking under I-101

I love the colors and architecture everywhere - they make all my pictures from this city look beautiful!

Vines growing up the building

We made it to the courthouse! It's free to tour and definitely a must see if you're visiting.

The colorful stairs leading upstairs to the Mural room and the bell tower!

Looking up at the ceiling!

Inside the mural room.

Looking out at the courthouse courtyard.

Next, we took the stairs up to the bell tower. Here's the inside!


Several flights of stairs later, we are now overlooking this beautiful city. I believe this is facing Northwest, but I'm not sure on my directions here!


Zoomed in on the Mission - it's another 11 blocks North, and that's where we walked next!

Facing East

This one's easy - we're facing South toward the ocean!

I love looking down on these roofs!

Smiling because we're sneaky and found the letterbox ;)

Back on ground level, planning our route to the Mission

There were less people walking, and we started to leave the downtown area and walked through more of a residential area. It was a bit warmer here than it was by the ocean, but still felt great to us.

We were still loving the variety of trees out here! Everything is so green as well! :)

We're here! The Santa Barbara Mission.

Touring the inside

The Sacred Garden

Holy water - it's filled to the brink and just looked so cool!

Curtis found a map-puzzle thing and of course he had to put it together. (Yes, we denied a child the opportunity of doing it herself. My husband really. loves. maps.) :)

There were awesome chalk drawings on the pavement outside the Mission

Grabbing another letterbox before walking home! The walk really didn't feel like anything to us, but later I looked up how far we went and found out that it's 6 miles round trip from the beach to the mission. A year ago, I don't think I could have done all that, but today we still felt great!

This tree had epic above-ground roots.


Still admiring trees. We're so Arizonian. ;)

The Santa Barbara Presidio. We were too late to tour it, but just wanted to see it.

After one more walk along the beach, we went out in search of a park with a letterbox series. It took some time and confusion, but we were able to find it without having to do any backtracking.

The trail started through a woodsy area

Sunset! We still have 6 boxes to get!

One of the boxes led us down a secret trail...

And we found ourselves back at the ocean! It was a perfect, peaceful point to enjoy the water, sunset, and letterbox!

There's an oil rig way out there!

Gotta love auto-timer! It can get the best pictures of us. :)

One last picture of us and the ocean. Until next time, Pacific!

We finished up boxing in the dark, and thankfully we were able to find all boxes and only ran into a skunk that left us alone. I'm not sure how far we walked this evening, it was somewhere between 2-4 miles according to the letterbox clues.

As we hiked, we debated what we should do. While camping in the forest sounded fun, it was already dark and it didn't seem likely that we'd get a spot. We discussed just camping in the back of the truck, but then decided that there's no use of going out and driving up a mountain if it's dark and we can't enjoy it. We hadn't had any truck problems today, but didn't want to push it too hard, just in case. And most of all, we REALLY wanted to go back and see the Whispering Giant statue in Desert Hot Springs. It was 3 ½ hours away, and we had hotel reservations for the next night in Yucca Valley, which was just a half hour from Desert Hot Springs. However, we would only be able to see the Giant the next morning from 9-1, and it would be closed on Sunday. 

Finally, we decided to start driving East and camp just East of Palmdale, where we were the night before. We were mostly just backtracking, but that was fine since we had already seen the road we were going to take earlier that day. The next morning, we'd continue on our way to see the Giant, hopefully before it got too hot. We went back into Santa Barbara to get fuel and dinner, and started heading East around 11. Even at this hour, the interstate was still very busy outside of LA, making us even more thankful we didn't drive through that city. We drove about 2 hours until finally stopping for the night in Pearblossom, CA.

End day 2: Drove 300 miles, walked at least 8 miles, found 14 letterboxes.