Tag Archives: California

The Sabbatical 2021

We took a six week sabbatical this fall to refresh and rejuvenate; most of the time was spent in Colorado but we visited five states in total – lots of hiking (LOTS), lots of family time, and a lot of aimless wandering. It was just what the doctor ordered and it was deeply enjoyable. It was incredibly special to catch the last of the summer flowers and the start of the fall colors. Turns out, shoulder season was perfect for us! We’re sad the trip is over but we look forward to new adventures in the near future.

Special thanks to Hilton, Delta, and United for pretty much sponsoring our trip. We saved a lot of money churning credit cards for miles / points and most of our trip was free. This is probably one of the biggest changes in our travels – we normally stay in Airbnbs but Airbnb has become: expensive, unfriendly, filled with rules, and a hassle. It feels like we rode the Airbnb train during the golden age and had an incredible amount of positive experiences so Airbnb is now relegated as a just another story in our book of travels.

We had some pretty big surprises ; some are easy to describe and others are really hard:

  • We were pleasantly surprised to see mountain flowers in the wild! We thought for sure the season was over so it was a nice surprise when we saw lots of fireweed, lupine, indian paint brushes, and so on. What a treat!
  • The weather was pretty much perfect every day. We had two days of rain and the rain + clouds made for some beautiful mountain scenery so the rain wasn’t even bad.
  • We hit some fall colors around Silverton and Denver right around the peak time and it was stellar – up there with the fall colors in the Smokey Mountains NP.
  • The Uintas area a hidden gem! Our time in the Uintas was incredible and an absolute joy. The complete lack of people, very accessible trails for families with small children, the stunning scenery, and perfectly still mornings made for some unforgettable experiences. Our visit to the Uintas ranks up there as the best part of the trip.
  • The most amazing food we had the entire trip was found in a Mexican grocery store housed in a former gas station in Cortez, CO. It was clear the tacos, tamales, and everything else we ate was home made by the family running running the store. It happened to be Taco Tuesday the food was shockingly good. The next best food was a BBQ place we stumbled upon in Colorado Springs of all places. Absolutely incredible BBQ.
  • The forest fire smoke wasn’t that bad! Towards the end of the trip the smoke seemed to go away completely.
  • Colorado is full, chock full, of people. It was surprisingly hard to get around, even in rural areas. As an example, it ended up taking an extra 45min to get between Chimney Rock and Alamosa because of people hauling campers, trailers, and boats going slowly.
  • The number of older people out traveling is astonishing. None of them are in a hurry and many seem perfectly content standing in egress paths, driving 10mph below the speed limit, and chatting with service workers when there are a line of people trying to get out of a store. I’m not sure if Colorado attracts these types?
  • COVID is still a thing and we still had to make accommodation for COVID restrictions.
  • Staff shortages are felt even in rural areas. There were a number of places that were entirely closed or had reduced hours.
  • The wealthy in this country are really wealthy. Labor shortages in the services seemed to be more common in the really wealthy areas which is no surprise; it’s probably hard for anyone below the 5-10% to compete in the housing markets where people commute using their private jets.
  • The wealthy areas had a very strange feel, kind of like a museum or an art gallery – “people look at and use these areas but only some are allowed behind the rope” kind of feel. As an example: Park City, Aspen, and Telluride and some other cities have pretty big highways leading to the cities for all the service workers to flood in and out in the mornings and evenings since these people clearly can’t live in those areas. It’s just odd to be driving on a major highway to a town of 7,000 people surrounded by vehicles with decals showing cleaning, landscaping, building, contracting, and other services.
  • Sunrise and sunset in San Diego are nearly impossible to beat. Just so beautiful
  • Our trend of bad stuff happening to areas we visits continues. A forest fire broke out shortly after we visited Silverthorne.

Some trip stats:

  • 3 flights
  • 5 states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California)
    • 8 days in Utah
    • 7 days in California
    • 22 days in Colorado
  • 8 National Parks and Monuments: Dinosaur NP, Colorado NM, Mesa Verde NP, Gunnison NP, Chimney Rock NM, Florissant NM, Great Sand Dunes NP, Cabrillio NM
  • 28 free hotel nights
  • 37 days on the road
  • 4,100 road miles
  • ~12,000 photos
  • Only two days of rain
  • Many climates: alpine, desert, sand dunes, mountains, plains, alpine plains, temperate, and even lush forest.

Probably the biggest surprise was the Uinta mountains in Utah. Fantastic hiking, complete lack of people, and gorgeous scenery. Of all the places we visited on this trip it’s the place we enjoyed the most and look forward to visiting again.

The downsides were pretty surprising. There are a ton of people all over Colorado doing all sorts of outdoor activities. It’s impossible to get away from people. Time entry for the national parks, monuments, and busy sites is a major bummer. This is the first time I’ve felt that the “outdoors are closed”. We planned ahead and were able to see and visit a lot of the places we wanted but we didn’t get to see everything. It’s sad because I feel like I might be in the last generation of Americans who could use the national parks, monuments, and other federal lands to the fullest extent.

Six weeks is a long time so I have multiple posts:

I also have my favorite photos from the trip in the album below.


Chris W.

California 2016

We spent almost three weeks in California traipsing across the countryside hiking and enjoying the sights. We’ve been to California a few times in the past and always had a lot of fun so we figured we’d switch it up a bit and spend some time in other parts of the state we’ve never visited, like: LA, Highway 101/Big Sur, the Eastern Sierras, and San Diego. There were a couple of stops like Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Park that we’ve visited in the past and we still found a lot of fun during this visit.

This is our first big trip since we’ve returned to the US. We thought for a long time about where to go on holiday – back to South Africa, Japan, Eastern Europe, etc.? Ultimately, it came down to the fact that we really like California, we hadn’t been there for a while, we would get to do some incredible hikes, and we were reasonably sure the weather would be good. It’s one thing to go to new and exotic places and it’s an entirely different thing to show up when the weather is good, and be rested, and healthy. We knew it was unlikely we’d get food poisoning in California and it’s only two hours different from our time zone so we figured we had all our bases covered. It ended up being a great choice!

We had our breathe taken away by the shear beauty of the Eastern Sierras. We stayed near Crowley Lake, south of Mammoth Lakes, and had an amazing time hiking to various lakes and lookouts while immersing ourselves in stunning mountain scenery. Unlike the Western Sierras, the eastern side had far fewer hikers and were just as stunning. We were very fortunate to see the beautiful mountain flowers too, we thought we missed the flowers but we had amazing displays on many different hikes. It wasn’t just the hiking: we found a very neat bakery, Shea Schat’s Bakery, and our little town near Crowley Lake had a gas station that made delicious pizza! All-in-all, our time in the Eastern Sierras was the highlight of the trip. In the past when people asked me where I would life if I could live anywhere in the world and I would always say that I would live in the Pacific Northwest, of course. Well, I’m not too sure about that now, and it’d be hard to choose!

We had no idea there were so many things to do around Mammoth Lakes. On top of hiking: the cones, the springs, the pumice, the view points, etc.

We had a very fun time in San Diego and think highly of the city. The compactness and quirkiness make for easy travel and fun experiences. It was awesome to get authentic cuisines in San Diego, food we only wish for in Minnesota, all while having perfect weather every single day. We stayed with family in San Diego and learned a ton about the area and the recent history. While the food and weather are pretty much perfect it’s pretty hard to swallow the insane cost of housing. I think San Diego will remain a fun place to visit :). We look forward to returning and seeing some more of the sights and surrounding areas including Juarez, Mexico.

I’ve mentioned it a few times but we managed to find some amazing food in California. Bronx Pizza in San Diego, Red’s Donuts in Monterey, OB Noodles in San Diego, Christy’s Donuts in San Diego, Schat’s Bakery in Mammoth Lakes and Independence, the pizza place in Yosemite Valley, the great food in LA’s farmer’s market, fresh mangos, and the delicious Thai food from Thai Patio in LA. We were VERY lucky to have fantastic food throughout the entire trip and it was great to have authentic food. It’s hard to get good asian food in Minnesota and, surprisingly, there aren’t many good donut places in Minnesota which is amazing considering all the other incredibly unhealthy food we’re so proficient at making!

That said, I’m not sure about the hype over Highway 101. It’s a road that follows the coast and, sure, it’s pretty, but that’s about it. We drove the highway over two days and had a moderate amount of fun. Hearst Castle was neat and so were some of the other sights on the route. We made a stop in the strange Danish town of Solvang. It’s a lot like Leavenworth, a strange German town in Washington. We thought the ‘pancakes’ from Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery were OK and didn’t really find much else interesting.  I think my opinion is deeply formed by my experiences growing up in a tourist town / area and I don’t think I’d ever do it again or recommend the drive to anyone. A notable event did occur during our drive on Highway 101: we continued our streak of seeing / being near disasters while being completely unaffected. The Soberanes Fire started close to the highway so we stopped to watch some planes drop fire retardant and then we carried on. It was the next day or so that the fire became very serious; the highway was closed, people’s homes burned, and people died. As of today, seven weeks later, the fire is still going. During our travels we had tragedies like this occur where we escaped unscathed: the human stampede in Shanghai, earthquake in Santiago, bank shutdown in Greece, landslide in Nepal, volcano in Iceland and so on. I’m happy we’re both OK but I would love it if these tragedies stopped occurring during our travels. Harbinger of death and/or disaster is not a title I enjoy.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.