Sunday, February 13, 2011

California Bound!

This will perhaps be the first time in many months that I've been able to come current with this travel journal.  Up until recently, I was always a few weeks behind.  Now I have an opportunity to change all that.  Oh joy!

Linda's slippers, so cute.
For those of you who read our last update, we are moving to Palo Alto, CA for a few months.  Tiffany took a thirteen week travel nursing assignment with Stanford University.  Neither of us has lived in the Bay Area, and we are excited to explore San Francisco, the California Coast, and to live life out of the box.  That's right, we will be exercising a three month hiatus from our illustrious Vansion lifestyle.  Ben (mua) will hopefully find some short term work, and find his place in the Bay Area economic machine.  In addition, I will also be allocating energy into studies, which will help me be better prepared for school.  For those of you not graced with my future intentions, I've decided to work towards a career in Physical Therapy.  It's been over ten years since finishing my B.A in History; and completing and navigating the arsenal of Math/Science prerequisites will certain to be a challenge, but one I'm looking forward to.

Us and the Storey's!
Flashback...after leaving Hueco Tanks we drove most of the night, stopping just past the Arizona State Line.  The following day we arrived in gorgeous Tuscon to visit two of my parents best friends, Dave and Linda Storey!  At 10am we pulled into their driveway, and within minutes we were being serenaded by hugs, spectacular caffeinated creations, and perhaps the best scrambled eggs we've ever eaten (sorry Loni).  With plans to arrive in Palm Springs for dinner with Tiff's grandparents, we had only a two hour window for the visit.  However, Dave and Linda were so engaging, and we were all having so much fun, that it wasn't until 1:45pm that we realized we were almost two hours beyond our cutoff.

There isn't a greater authenticity of hospitality but that which flows the farthest from home.  It was so great meeting you Dave and Linda!  We thought Tuscan beautiful; the city is surrounded by rugged mountains in all directions.

After saying our goodbye's we were on the road again.  Vicious headwinds became an official adversary just West of Phoenix.  For three hours I had the drivers wheel cranked to 3 o'clock.  Our path rarely deviated from absolute straight.  Dust storms also raged in all directions, though, we avoided them for the most part.  Vision remained good for the rest of our drive into Palm Springs.  Normally a benefit, the Vansion's high profile makes driving in significant gales trying to say the least.

Official "Dust/Wind Storm" warning signs were all ablaze as we crossed the California border.  Thankfully. the warnings never led to anything significant.  But, we did hear about 5 big rig semi's that were knocked over by the wind later the next day.  The news didn't report any Sprinter debacles to our knowledge.

With weeks of living in the New Mexican desert comes lethargy.  And, what van dwellers need every blue moon is a little vacation away from their vacation.  Enter Palm Springs!  Tiff's grandparents John and Pat purchased a quiet condo in the oasis of Rancho Mirage back in the late 80's.  And, it was our good fortune that they just happened to be visiting.  During the next five days we had the pleasure of their fine company, excellent cuisine, and comfort of hot tub living.  Our last two days spiked into the low 80's and we had some nice lounging by the pool and bronzing our spirits.

Tiff completed many tasks and requirements for her new job as well.  She had blood draws, x-rays, Oncology exams, and other multitudinous and laborious paperwork to complete.

One day we spent at Joshua Tree.  This place is extra special for me.  During my college years I spent many days cutting my teeth out at Joshua Tree National (Monument as it was then) Park.  Learning the ropes at Joshua Tree meant slab climbing!  Oh yes, I had ample opportunity to develop my nose over toes climbing; and to find calm in the face of nerve wracking runouts (this is where ones gear recedes so far into the background that ones legs start to shake and look much like Elvis on stage), and to plummet on my first lead falls.  Mitch "don't pitch" Golden was my mentor at this time; and being back in the park brought back many a memory from the day.

Mitigating the reachy crux with patina intermediates on Gunsmoke
With all that driving and lounging by the pool, it felt absolutely invigorating to be out climbing and wandering about that surreal wonderland that is Josh.  We started out at Echo rock and climbed four delicious slabs.  It was quite a shock to engulfed in a sea of friction, with nary a jug or pocket in sight.  But, slab climbing is a lot like riding a bike.  Once learned, it usually only takes a few pitches before the movement and trust become once again familiar.  After lunching in the Vansion we hiked out to Arid Piles so that I could give the Acid Crack 12d a try.  Well, perhaps going from 6 months of sport climbing (and very little gear climbing) to a burly old school Joshua Tree trad route wasn't the best idea.  The real problem was the heat!  Though temperatures were only in the 60's, this route is nestled in an oven like niche, and by the time we arrived and racked up beads of sweat were running down my face.  Being somewhat anxious in the face of this formal adversary I cast off.  Yes, I'm sure you saw it coming.  I fell.  The crack's finger jams felt like they were smeared in ankle grease and I probably clipped a superfluous amount of gear on my way to plummet city.  Deeming conditions unreasonable, I cleaned my gear, and said adios to Acid Crack.  For all you crack monkey's out there, don't try this in the sun unless temps are in the 30's.  Better yet, get on this masterpiece in the cool morning of a balmy spring day.  It is a stunna!

Having thoroughly worked my nerves but not my forearms, we sauntered out to the Gunsmoke Traverse at Barker Dam.  8 laps later I was cooked, and the skin on my fingertips was absolute hamburger.

A lovely evening at Palm Springs Elephant Bar.

Feeling refreshed from our stay in Palm Springs, we cast off for the Eastside of the Sierra.  Here we lingered for a week climbing some at the Owen's River Gorge and skiing for one day at the Mammoth Ski Area.

Ten years ago I spent three inglorious days as a Mammoth Ski Patrol after three weeks in training.  My reasons for quitting the patrol were manifold and I've always had a bitter taste in my mouth when thinking about this area; which must surely be one of the most beautiful ski areas in the world (at least I think).  Spending the day on the
mountain quelled many of those latent memories.
And, I can frankly say I harbor no ill will anymore.  For Tiff it was her first day skiing on the mountain, and for both of us it was our first day skiing in over a year.  The tickets there are ludicrously expensive, but for one exceptionally sunny day of primo groomers, we felt satisfied.  Skiing is fun!!  Some pics from our day:

Mountain smells:  there are two things you should know about Mammoth.  Firstly, once purchasing your lift ticket (the cost of which might have paid for a few dinners at the brew pub), pack yourself a lunch.  There are at least five different lodges scattered over the mountain; and on a sunny day, one is almost constantly bombarded with delicious cooking odors.

Secondly, don't fall in any tree wells.  Because, Mammoth is on the edge of an ancient volcanic caldera and the site of toxic gases that issue from different vents on the mountain.  These gases don't pose a serious concern for most skiiers; but, dangerous levels of gas do exist in certain low points, like tree wells.  We are pretty sure there should be a run named "fart alley".

Just another day in the "office".
One day we spent climbing and hanging out with my best man Paul Tomlinson at the Owen's River Gorge.  This guy is not only funny, but a climbing maverick, and one of my closest friends.  Paul, fresh from sending his first V10 boulder problem "Stained Glass" in the Buttermilks, and sporting at least four split tips, simply mummified his fingers with athletic tape, and demolished lap after lap of rope stretching clip ups.  It was great catching up with you P-Town!  And, please don't tell anyone about the pink plastic measuring devices...

Camping on the Eastside of the Sierra is unreal.  Just up the hill from the Owen's lies stellar camping options with amazing vistas.  Two mountain ranges encompass the valley.  We were treated to several majestic sunsets up here in the Pinyon Pines.

The other sweet thing about the Eastside is Hot Springs.  There are at least 7 that I've heard of.  They are free, hot, and the perfect ending to any day.  Some smell like rotten eggs, but that is just part of the fun.  And, if one really has a case of the farts, no one will ever know.

Another climbing friend, Patrick  O'Donnell moved down to Bishop this last September.  And, we had the privilege of hanging out with him one evening at his "man cave", eating pizza, and sharing a brew.  He was also kind enough to let us shower.  Big thanks Patrick!

And, on our last day at the Owen's he joined us in the Gorge.  I repeated a new 12b extension he put up on the Great Wall of China.  Excellent stuff!

But, notwithstanding the plentitude of routes, I wasn't really feeling motivated; and try as I might, I didn't finish even two of the five 13's that I had purposed to finish.  One route called Fight Club caught my interest, but the chipped holds and lack of feet, and extremely reachy moves reminded me of why I don't like manufactured routes.  Sure, sometimes they are good fun.  But, I really seem to like natural routes that don't climb like gym routes; which are mostly created with only one body type in mind (ahem, the route setters).  Still, I did enjoy spending some serious time soaking in the sun, and shredding my post Palm Springs tips.   My favorite routes were definitely the 5.10's.  The Owen's has perhaps the most fun 5.10 sport climbing I've ever been on.  The routes are long and classic!

Patrick O'Donnell bouldering at the Sad Boulders.

This brings us up to this morning!  Wow, I'm actually going to leave you current for once.  Last night we drove to Bridgeport's Travertine Hot Springs.  These springs were recommended to us by Paul, who stopped by on his way down from Bend.  We we not disappointed.  Nestled high on a ridge lies this natural wonder.  No less than four tubs are accessible within a minutes walk.  The tub featured to the right is crafted out of cement.  Temperature is controlled by readjusting a sock in the irrigation canal that feeds the pool.

The other three pools are situated just down the hillside at the base of a spectacular Tufa like structure, cut down the middle by a two inch limestone funnel that drops steaming hot water into the upper pool.  The breathtaking backdrop of the Sierra make this place extra special.  We soaked for several hours this morning before vacating.

That's all for now!  Hope you enjoyed the photos.


  1. Ben, Our friends Jess and Jeremiah Kille are people you should get to know. Jess is a nurse at Stanford and Jeremiah is an amazing artist, surfer, cyclist among other things. They live in Santa Cruz. Jeremiah's stuff can be seen here:

  2. We're following your lead! We're in Bishop weathering the storm. Nice post, glad you got to see Paul. Also, I love your "road hair"! Lookin' stellar. I just gave mine the chop and it's quite cold. Congrats on the Palo Alto Job Tiff!

  3. Any possibility you'd be willing to email me at to help me with lodging/transportation options for a stanford travel nurse assignment? I can't find anything within a few miles that's reasonable and close and I start in a few weeks ... thanks, david