Top 5 (California) National Parks

Continuing on my ongoing saga of National Park posts. I’ll be fleshing out my top 5 California Parks (with a few extra stops) that I’ve added to my more local bucket lists. If you have been reading along, you’ll know that national parks have been on my mind recently and with our current political times and a little sister looking to join the ranks of park rangers, it’s been relevant to me. Plus, Nature’s pretty pretty.

1. Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park

Both of these parks are by Tulare County, California adjacent from each other in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains which, if you are having an extended trip, makes it easy to visit features of both parks. Some of these features are shared – there are hikes and beautiful vantage points – but each have remarkable places of their own which made it impossible to feature just one.

In Sequoia, besides the Mount Whitney hike (which I will definitely be training for with my dad in the next year or two), there are 240 known caves including the Crystal Cave. Actually formed from marble stalactites and stalagmites which form textured walls and features. This cave – as well as others – are only available to view on guided tours that you can purchase tickets for at the park. When you are planning your trip, stay flexible by giving yourself enough time just in case anything in either park is sold out for any specific day.

For Kings Canyon, while Roaring River Falls sounds great – I love waterfalls – the pictures of Rae Lakes and the idea of camping and hiking here makes the nature junkie and camera bug in me do a happy dance. Also, the fact that these aren’t far from my sister’s place (at least for now) makes this another big plus!

2. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Like many kids in middle school, I have definitely built many volcanoes in my lifetime out of sand and paper mache, and I’ve studied their structures and the variety of types. Therefore, Lassen Volcanic park, yea, I want to go. Besides volcanic hikes and areas filled with Lava rock from the last eruption, there are areas of geothermic activity (like hot springs), beautiful lakes and waterfalls, and of course a small hike over to Bumpass Hell which has a lifted catwalk that leads you through volcanic vents and mudponds.

3. Pinnacles National Park

Speaking of volcanoes, Pinnacles is ancient volcanic field which means caves. If you look up images of Bear Gulch Cave Trails you will easily see why I want to get up here and as quickly as possible. Of course there are also tons of overlooks that go along with the many trails you can hike. Some of these hike look a bit more treacherous than others – some seriously tiny pathways here – but still so excited to get out there.

4. Point Reyes National Seashore

While most of my listed parks have boasted beaches around lakes, this Marin County park settles along a much bigger body of water. With waterfall after waterfall and beach after beach, plus the beautiful Tomales Bay and Point Reyes Lighthouse, there is so much to explore. And, for those geology nerds out there, Some of these waterfalls are actually ‘Tidefalls’ – waterfalls that fall directly into the ocean – so beaches that also have lovely tidefalls – YES! Welcome to Alamere Falls. Can I say it again for the cheap seats? Yes, Please!

5. Lava Beds National Park

And then back to volcanic- cave strewn loveliness. Located to the southeast of Tulelake, California and the home of over 700 caves, I just want weeks to explore. Many of these caves are names and I definitely suggest researching which ones you can and which you will want to explore.  There is also Petroglyph Point Archaeological Point – the home to one the largest panels of Native American rock art.

*Bonus: Mono Lake

While this is a smaller stop, as soon as I saw the pictures of Mono Lake’s rock formations, I knew it deserved a mention. While the water level has been depleted at times (LA apologizes!), the high salt levels of this lake has made the ecosystem truly unique. The formations you can see in any pictures of the lake are limestone ‘tufas’.

That’s it for me this week and narrowing down this list was seriously a task unto itself so I’m ready to pass it along. If you have a different park or another part of the country I should look through next, drop me a note and I’ll see what I can do.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Top 5 (California) National Parks

That time in Yosemite.

In my last year of college, my family took a quick trip to Yosemite National Park and, in theme with my current national park love, this trip was both amazing and filled with it’s own special brand of hell.

Getting There:

If you son;t see the flames from where you are, beware that this is the problematic part of the trip. To set the scene: my family was driving up to the park from the LA area but I – all by myself – planned to meet them at the hotel within the park  since I was finishing my classes and then heading out for spring break. All in all, I was not worried. I was used to trekking the 7-ish hours home fairly regularly so the 4-is hours it was supposed to take to get to the park was never going to be a problem, even if I was starting out between 3 and 4 o’clock.

Cut to me three and then four hours later, missing a phone charger with 10% battery left in my GPS and limited data. Cut to me half an hour later driving through woods in the dark with no reception and frankly no idea where I was (My GPS at the time was really unreliable even for the portable 2010 edition I think it was).

What I remember most was having to turn around and driving back 15  or 20 minutes to a tiny town praying for reception enough to call my family. No one answered. I waited 10 minutes more and the phone rang. The call was patchy but yes, the hotel was just inside the park. That’s about it.

So I thought, F*** it. Let’s drive and hope for the best. I turned the radio up and scream/sang to whatever was on and drove until I say lights. There it was. And there was my older sister looking into the parking lot from the store.

I got out of the can and when she made it to me, I hugged her tight and sobbed, ‘I’m never driving here alone again’ and then just cried.

Yep, she laughed but also hugged me back and brought me food. In the end, with family at the end of the road, I survived and slept very, very well.

But the view was worth it!

After the – may I call it harrowing? – drive down, I really hoped that I would be able to put it all behind me and relax. Yosemite totally delivered.

It’s been about 5 years since this trip so some of the details are fuzzy but others are not.

First, this whole park is beautiful and I wish we had had a longer time to do and see more – I can only imagine it now after all the rain. Again, we weren’t there for very long – we had to get back home for holy week – but we did some pretty cool stuff while we could.

There are a great variety of hike to do at Yosemite ranging from easy walks to check you balance and watch-your-phobias difficult hikes with a wide range of crowd numbers for you to deal with. Since my family ranges in fitness level and desire to trek up mountains, we planned full and partial group activities.

Together we competed the Bridalveil Falls hike. All together the ‘hike’ is a little over a mile round trip and be prepared for misty glasses and cameras. But while the mist is heavy, it is lovely! It’s a pretty iconic view so have your camera out throughout your walk because pictures are great from all over.

Our other hiking day, the family split. Mom and two sisters headed to Mirror Lake (another iconic space but be careful because it is crowded) but the other half of our group headed up to the Upper Falls and Yosemite Point. While this is a pretty long hike – 9.6 miles round trip – the elevation makes it seem like much longer. I really enjoyed myself and this hike started my fitness push – it kicked my butt more than a little bit. Warning, however: if you are afraid of heights, this hike will push you. About 90% of the way up, my sister (who is afraid of heights) had to stop after harrowing through narrow passages and slick roads and a fairly large crowd of hikers in both directions. She ended up in a little alcove with some snacks encouraging those hikers that passed by, a few joining her for a small break – I like to think she helped a few make it to the top with her kind words.

If you make it to the Upper Falls, you should consider the Point as well as your comfort level with heights and climbing down small areas onto ledges. I had to both think of what I was physically doing and yet, shut my brain off to where I was doing it to get to the point (though it looks narrower than it is.). In the end, we were exhausted and soar but even for Bex who didn’t quite make it, the hike was so worth every aching step.

10/10: Would travel again:

While I will never drive here alone again – I only make those kinds of mistakes once! – revisiting this park is definitely on my bucket list! Maybe I’ll even get Bex – a newly inspire ranger-hopeful – all the way up that mountain. Until next time and the rest of my bucket list:

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

That time in Yosemite.

New Favorite Travel Show.

Every Sunday, we sit in the living room working and letting a stream of travel shows fill the excess space. While each serves a purpose and entertains (while teaching) us, I have quickly fallen in love with Those Park Guys and Tremendous! Entertainment’s show Rock the Park. This show follows the two male hosts – Jack Steward and Colton Smith – around the US’s National Parks, highlighting all the beauty and fun out there to explore. These guys have a great dichotomy – they get along so that it’s like watching your best friends traveling together and they look a little like your stereotypical bros but with the best, most genuine personalities.

Growing up, my family took a lot of road trips which involved many stops through national parks and, as my sister is looking to go into park services, more and more road trips to national parks are on my mind. This is why I paid attention to this show and to watch these two gentlemen is to love them.

What drew me was the positive banter between Colton and Jack and the show’s candor about the truth of travel: that things go wrong.

One of the first episodes I watched saw the boys camping in a snowy region but Colton – who had been in charge of packing – brought the wrong tent poles which turned the overnight into a day trip. Instead of cutting and starting over the next day with new gear, they spoke frankly to the camera about how things go wrong and you have to figure it out – make the most of the situation.

In the most recent episode I watched in season 3, the boys and a park ranger from Carlsbad Caverns were exploring when the ranger got a bad feeling. They turned to leave only to find the way out flooded. In the end, they had to leave to camera high up in the caverns and slide on their back through the water – a rather tight looking fit – to get out before the cavern filled more. The ranger made the point – which all travelers should take to heart – that if you are exploring these kinds of areas and your gut is telling you something is wrong: don’t wait, just get out. I also loved the honesty this episode shows. Colton talked about how scary the situation was and the Park ranger simply said, “yes, it is” and kept them moving.

Not only is the bromance between these hosts amazing – I seriously could watch them all day – but the places they go and the way they approach each site has me making more and more lists of things and destinations I need to check out.

Who knows, maybe this summer. Until then, I suggest looking through their site which covers blogs, videos, and is a great base outside of the show and you can follow them across social media to fill the gaps between shows.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

New Favorite Travel Show.

Why I Travel.

It’s been years since I started this  blog and While this is one of the first questions I should have asked and answered, for some reason, I’ve always missed it.

So, why do I travel?

Maybe it’s escapism; or trying to find myself; or learning more about the world; or maybe it’s as simple as I never have as much fun as when I’m traveling. The truth of the matter is traveling gives you access to so much of all of the above.

There are so many places to see with tiny seen and unseen beauty and the idea that I haven’t seen it has me itching to move. And it doesn’t matter if it’s somewhere I’ve never been or somewhere I’ve been a thousand times over, I can always reach out and find something new (ie. we’ll be looking out at Disneyland next week).

Since camping has become such a huge part of my life, I always feel stuck when I get back home – I’m always ready to get back out there. Again, this is why it’s been so hard to say no to heading out to Iceland even with all the legitimate reasons I have to saying no.

So I guess the biggest reason I haven’t been able to ask or answer this question is that it’s both much harder to define and yet so simple of an answer that it’s just stayed below my radar: there’s very little I enjoy more. The only word I can think that even comes close to explaining how I feel is freedom.

I know this is short but let me know: why do you travel? What does travel mean to you?

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

P.S. Oh and shout out to our lovely contributor, Libby, who just got engaged at – if you’ve been following along – you guessed it, a marathon! You may have seen this on CBS if you are in the San Fran area!

Why I Travel.

And The World Changes Again…

Or at least it looks like it may be changing soon.

So, if you are a US citizen planning a trip or already circling the globe on your adventures, you will want to keep an eye out on the widely reported happenings in the EU right now.

This week, the first step – namely a preliminary vote (the first of three) – set to require visas for all america visitors to EU countries.

If, for some reason, you haven’t seen the news about this, here’s a quick breakdown:

In 2014, the EU found out the the US and four other countries had created visa requirements for 5 EU countries despite international agreements that citizens from these countries could travel as tourists without said visas. We had 24 months to fix this and, while the other four countries amended their laws, the US did not. If the EU follows through on the next steps – which given the current state of affairs in international relations is probable – any American traveling through the EU will have to pre-plan every stop and apply for visas before heading out.

The truth of the matter is not many Americans who casually travel have to worry much about visas – there are a lot of EU countries and countries that we still have agreements with – so travelers can easily move around the world with little trouble and forethought.

I remember, however, friends in London who were originally from countries without these agreements who had to forego trips with friends (for times like reading week) because they weren’t given the time to apply for a visa before everyone was off and away.

Plus, planning a trip can be hard enough without having to remember all your information for visas at every stop. However, this is the world we are quickly becoming a part of, therefore, just in case, here are a few things you ought to gather and remember:

1. Keep an up to date list of places you have traveled up and the dates of that travel spanning the last 10 years. You can look at an app like the TravelStory app I talked about a while back (who knew that would become so relevant?). Having this list already made up will seriously save you a giant headache later.

2. Throughout these next few months, anyone who has made plans to travel later in the year will want to keep an eye on this situation and start looking at what you’ll need to get a standard visa especially at short notice. You can pay a little more and expedite the visa process but if you need more than one, this will cost you and, chances are, will still take time. This will be even worse if many Americans are all trying to get this done at the same time!

3. If this passes and the US can’t create a new agreement, airports may get a little insane. Just like my mom ad no idea that this was happening, there will be people all over the US who will have no idea that there was more for them to do, and this will gum up the works. Make sure that you give yourself extra time so no one else makes you late and all is for not. This is important for each stop along the way – your visas time frame shouldn’t be tight enough to cause you an issue, but it’s a good thing to pay attention to.

Again, this is a lot of ‘be prepared’ and ‘just in case’s but it is better to stay ahead of any unexpected policy changes and keep yourself informed.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

And The World Changes Again…

My bucket list: US Cities Edition

With Marti Gras on the mind, I couldn’t think so a better time to put together my list of ‘haven’t made it yet’ bucket list cities for the United States. I’ve made a lot of lists from international cities to activities that I want to conquer, but I realized that despite having traveled all over the US, there are so many places I still want to hit.

Of course, my list is much, much bigger than what you will see here, but these are the one’s I’ve looked as that had tiny things that just drew me in. And as always, if there is somewhere else that I should really have in the running, let me know in the comments with what I should do and see there that makes the destination so worth the trip down in the comments!

New Orleans, Louisiana

Today of all days, I can’t leave this off my list. Yet, strangely enough, hitting this city at this time of year is pretty low on my to-do list. This is not to say the being in New Orleans to celebrate Marti Gras wouldn’t be fabulous, but I feel like there is so much to see that I would need to explore away from the crowds that flood the city this week. There is so much more to the culture of New Orleans than Marti Gras and that’s the side of the city that makes me want to get on a plane and just go. I ‘m not even going to start in on food and music…

Portland, Oregon

Can I just say: POWELL’S! Powell’s Books is a book nerd’s dream and the fact that I haven’t made it here yet hurts my heart. Besides books, you can explore light houses, get active on the water, and explore the unique art scene of this eclectic and growing city. If you wonder why Portland is on this list, just think about the fact that Portland almost always end up on lists of up-and-coming cities or cities young people are flocking to. Yes, I am ready and so is my camera!

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

When the first thing that came up when researching things to do in Pittsburgh is an amazing little house called The House Poem, a house that is covered in poems written in Chinese calligraphy, I am all in! Also, street art, Street Art, STREET ART! I have a deep love on street art from murals canvasing a city to the giant metal, architectural giants present in Pittsburgh, I just can’t help myself.

Providence, Rhode Island

Rivers and museums, and rivers and statues, and river and architecture, and rivers and parks! There are so many boat tours advertised here that I want to both go on and that I want to sit along the river bank photographing. If you have been paying attention, I love river walks and this isn’t limited to European cities. This doesn’t even touch on the historic aspects of the city which I wouldn’t pass up either.

Austin, Texas

Finally, our last city: Austin. Let’s be honest, Texas is a world of its own and Austin brings that and easy accessibility to travelers far and wide.Whether you are into arts, music, sports, or time sensitive events or festivals, there is a scene for everyone. Going through the entertainment districts alone in this city is impressive to the point that it’s hard to figure out what details I want to point out. What I will say is that Austin not only has an activity for everyone, but a venue for each activity that will fit what you and yours want to experience!



Of course, each description is a tiny snap shot of what the cities here have to offer and if you are going to be adding them to your itineraries, really research and get the most of what you want out of the visit. Again, if you have a suggestion to add or want to argue another city onto this list, tell me the whats and whys below in the comments.

Until next time,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

My bucket list: US Cities Edition

To go or not to go…

And that is the question…

This weekend, I was down at LAX for the Doctor Who convention and my mom was finalizing her plans for her 30th anniversary trip with dad this summer. They will be going on a cruise (again) and I am so jealous. This year, they’ll be on a Scandinavian cruise which includes working through Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, and Germany.

Like seriously jealous!

And to top this all off, they are using Icelandic Airways which means they can stop one way up to a week in Iceland without any extra airfare – so of course, they are also stopping in Iceland for five days. If you haven’t been playing along, this is one of my top must get to locations.

Well, while mom was finalizing a few plans and I was bemoaning (mostly good humorously) the fact that I will be mostly stuck at home all over again, she looked up the cost of round trip flights for the days they will be in Iceland. As it turns out, WOW Airlines can get me a small personal item and carry-on (again really small but enough for 5 days) for a little less than $800.

Because mom and dad will be there and I would be part of their trip, $800 would be the total cost to me. If you don’t know, that is fabulous for a 5 day adventure and traveling with my parents is something I actually really love.

So, why am I asking a question practically out of Shakespeare rather than running around screaming, ‘shut up and take my money!’?

First, even if it is just the last five days of their trip, this is my parents 30th anniversary. I think they might need to have the trip to themselves even if they had one last year.

Next up, while $800 isn’t a lot when planning a trip, seeing as I’m a substitute teacher, paying off loans, looking for more permanent work (and therefore, with no idea when I’ll be able to take off when I do get a job), this is a lot of money for me to invest on an uncertain future. This might not normally be enough to stop me jumping on the plane – I’ve really, really missed traveling since moving home – but add in a few surrounding SCA events (though if a friend (or a few) of mine knew that was a consideration, he’d murder me) and other planning situations, and you have me hesitating.

My mom is an amazing trip planner – we always see amazing things and more than I ever would otherwise – but our expectations and needs for a trip to a place like Iceland is very different (kind of like our different needs for Hawaii). The trip doesn’t cross with the Northern Lights (though this could explain the cheaper flight out), and is thrown together to hit the big must sees rather than active moments.

Then there are my sisters. I’m one of four girls and, while I’m sure the pregnant one doesn’t want to spend her last month of pregnancy flying, just me going doesn’t feel like a fair shake. My oldest sister already voiced a desire to go if I was going to crash the trip and the youngest couldn’t afford it out of college.

With all of these – despite the con of having to foot a bigger bill if I’m doing the trip all by myself – uncertainties and timing issues, I’m leaning to a heartbreaking no. I’ll shelf it for a year or two and make the most out of what is possible closer to home.

Sometimes logic sucks, but it’s also all about the balancing act.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

To go or not to go…