Playing Favorites: Anza Borrego #ParkPride

Playing favorites… guys, it is something I am not good at. I would say I’m a person of good taste. I can definitely tell when I like something and when I do not like something. But picking a favorite   whatever  ? Not really my game.

When I was inspired by outdoor wear company Cotopaxi, whose products include jackets and hiking backpacks, to blog about my favorite park (National, State, or City park) I was at a loss. Would I write about Balboa Park here in San Diego? Mesa Verde or Garden of the Gods in Colorado? Hiking in Sedona which I just experienced for the first time last weekend? I could even mention Coronado Heights in Kansas… I think one of my favorite things about getting outside is that there are so many different climates and experiences in this wide and rough country, the United States.

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The park I am currently groovin’ on is Anza Borrego [California] State Park. Located just a hop and a skip away from San Diego, it is a great location for an easy afternoon hike (home in time for dinner) or a couple nights of camping. Desert camping is so radically unique when compared to “classic” forest/mountain camping; it can be almost like sleeping in a moonscape. It provides a great variety and is particularly good in the spring before things get too hot (as in, like, this month and April).

The cacti and drought-tolerant plants that pepper this funky desert landscape are “so in right now” and make for cool photographs—just don’t get too close! I have a coworker that swears he will never go back because he got a zillion cactus needles in the leg. I guess that would put a damper on the trip.

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As you may have heard, San Diego and the surrounding areas have gotten a historic amount of rain so far in 2017. Everyone is predicting a “superbloom” of desert flowers, so I’m sure you can guess what is on my itinerary for this upcoming Saturday: Flower scouting. I can’t wait!

Something I’ve been paying much more attention to in the past two years is making sure to get out and explore nature. Growing up in Colorado Springs, my parents were excellent at getting us out and about in the mountains and taking long road trips to see the country from the car window. Of course, there came a certain age where we were “too cool” to explore nature centers and would rather be at the mall. It’s encouraging to observe that the pendulum has swung back in the favor of authentic, outdoor experiences.

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The US National Park Service turned 100 last August, and the centennial celebration is currently underway. Doug and I have some trips planned out for this summer, including Zion National Park, so we went ahead and bought our America the Beautiful park pass. It will surely pay for itself in 2017.

If you don’t want to buy the park pass because you don’t have a ton of trips coming up, please make sure to mark down the upcoming free weekends in April: the 15/16th and 22/23. There are 10 free days in total during 2017 but four of them are coming up real quick. Time to plan a weekend to be spent outside in our beautiful country!

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To celebrate #ParkPride this season, you can get 20% off your purchase at Cotopaxi by using the coupon code REDBOOK20. It could help you upgrade or replace any of your gear or even help you start building your own gear collection. Or, if it’s a better deal for you (do a little number crunching), you can get $20 off of an order of $75+ by using clicking here. With that link I’ll get store credit too, so it’s a win-win!

I was prompted to write this post by Cotopaxi, a certified B-Corp, but it is not a sponsored post. 

I’d love to hear more about your favorite National or State Park. Please share in the comments!

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Fall Camping on Palomar Mountain

Before you give my post title the side-eye, I will have you know that the first official day of Winter is December 21!

View from Palomar Mountain

For the past two years, our friend group has gone camping on Palomar Mountain at the Doane Valley Campground, which is a little over an hour northeast of San Diego. We’ve gone one of the first two weekends of November, when the weather definitely feels like “fall,” but it is not yet too cold to be sleeping outside in a tent.

Pinecones

Both years, the itinerary has been as such:

  1. Arrive to the campsite and get tents/gear set up
  2. Short hike up the fire road to view the sunset (watch out for mountain lions—really)
  3. Food and drink around the campfire until we run out of firewood
  4. Wake up with the sun (this year we had a jetboil to make coffee—so helpful)
  5. Longer hike. Both times we’ve done a modified version of the “Chimney Flat” hike.
  6. Brunch at the vegetarian diner outside the state park

Each time, we have only camped out for one night. A lot of people in our group work in the school system, and fall is such a busy time; this 24 hour period without cell reception is perfect to unwind and connect with nature. There were plenty of other campers with lots more stuff and I could tell they were settled in for a number of days.

This year’s trip felt very special since last year we were all just beginning to spend time together. I sort of happened to fall in with a few old classmates a couple years younger than me who were freshmen/sophomores when I was a senior. I knew them but didn’t know them, until Doug and I spontaneously agreed to go on last year’s camping trip. It was really the event that gelled us into the “squad” we are today. We even jokingly called ourselves “Squad 14” since we were camping at site 14, but somehow the name has stuck for more than a year.

Campsite 14

Camping Crew

Making friends as an adult is really weird and really hard. When we moved out here to San Diego, we were starting over, aside from maybe 3 or 4 people I was still in touch with from college. We had just left an awesome friend group in Kansas so we were drifting a bit. A few years later, we are now part of a #squad and I couldn’t be happier. I know that like most things in life, this friend group will wax and wane, but for the moment I am feeling lucky to have found such good people.

Desert Camping at Anza Borrego

A few weeks ago I went desert camping with a couple of my buddies! Actually, it was Coachella weekend, but we didn’t go all the way to Indio for that. Why spend multiple hundreds of dollars on a concert ticket when you can rent a modest campsite for $25 a night, eat hot dogs, and listen to iTunes?

Anza Borrego 1

Oh, did I tell you guys yet? I’m into camping now. I’ve been 2 1/2 times! To explain the “half” time, it was on this particular trip, when I drove over for the day and then went home that night. I was unsure about camping overnight in a tent with Mosey (we’ve never done that) plus, this semester was just exhausting for me and I couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping on the ground (even with my comfy air sleep pad).

April in in the Anza-Borrego desert was just perfect. It was nice and hot, but not too hot. Just hot enough that you don’t feel bad about sitting in the shade drinking cool beverages (instead of exploring). We were a couple of weeks too late for the famous wildflowers, but nonetheless there’s just something to be said about the beauty of the desert.

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Anza Borrego 3

I love the greens and yellows against the blue and purple mountain backdrop.

The campsites were very nice and new. I was impressed! Later I read in a guidebook that the reason the campsites were so new was that a massive flash flood in the mid 00s had washed everything out. So, everything was rebuilt anew. Sad, but glad for the nice new digs, which are pretty rare in the camping world.

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Anza Borrego 2

There was a nearby hike to an oasis(!), but the trail was dog-prohibitive (so as not to disturb the wildlife, which included jackrabbits and bighorn sheep) so I went with everyone to the trail head but then Mosey and I went back to the campsite to arrange all the food, read my kindle, and build the fire. Doug took a few cool shots at the oasis though. Next time, I’m definitely hiking all the way there.

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Anza Borrego 6

The following day, while I was at home relaxing with Mosey, the crew took a much more grueling hike to Maidenhair Falls. Sounds wimpy, but I’m glad I wasn’t there to slow everyone down. It sounded really hard, but the waterfall at the end must have been so magical!

How do you guys feel about camping? I won’t say I love sleeping on the hard ground, but I love how affordable it can be for a quick weekend escape. Any favorite campsites to point me toward?