Friday, August 14, 2009

The Road Less Traveled... in Joshua Tree

One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken.

The final stanza reads:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I like to take roads less traveled by. I've done it locally and not so locally. I've done it recently, and I've done it for years.

Once, while camping in Sequoia National Park, I took my pre-teen kids on a ranger led hike on Morro Rock. It was a pre-scheduled, published opportunity for park visitors to go a bit deeper into their visit to the park. The only ones who showed up for this free opportunity were my family and me.

The park ranger, a certified naturalist, did his duty and informed us. One thing he said that left an impression was this, "The average visitor to Sequoia stays for four hours."

What? As if a drive-through, a stop at the gift store, and a short walk on the paved path to General Sherman constitutes a visit? Sad, but true.

We took short two-hour type of hikes. We went to the ranger led camp fires. My kids earned their junior ranger badges. (We camped in a park cabin with a canvas roof and a wood burning stove for cooking.)

Some would say, "That's hardly 'the road less traveled'!" But I'd disagree.

Once we were more than 1/2 mile from any trail head, we were pretty much alone. It wasn't necessary to go wilderness camping, we just needed to go a bit deeper off the main path. Sometimes we were in a crowd, but it was a small crowd.

In the movie, "Out of Africa," Denys says, "I don't want to live someone else's idea of how to live. Don't ask me to do that. I don't want to find out one day that I'm at the end of someone else's life."

Denys took the road less traveled. He practiced non-conformity. One of Denys' critics said, "He likes giving gifts... but not at Christmas." (Go Denys!)

I like to live somewhat creatively. I like roads, but I like back roads, less traveled roads. They seem more interesting and more out-of-the-ordinary.

So, when my wife recently suggested a vacation away from home, I looked a bit off the beaten path. We went "camping" at a condo in Indio. (Indio is not Palm Springs. It's 20 miles east.)

I've done tent camping. I've slept under a bush by a river. I've slept at the bottom of a freeway embankment. Now days, I camp at timeshares. (I find that my wife is more prone to go camping with me, if I stay away from tents.) Adventure doesn't require a tent.

Summer is vacation time for many people. Roads are full. Parks are full. Space is limited, except for... off the beaten path. Summer in the Palm Springs/Indio area is off-season: it's hot. We knew that, but reserved a unit anyway.

The Southwestern US has experienced a population influx since the 1950's. Why? Because of the wide-spread availability of air-conditioning! A/C makes living in the desert very do-able.

I bought my first air-conditioned car in '97! I'm a bit slow, but Wow! Car travel is less sweaty now. Especially when driving into the desert in the middle of summer.

We headed to Indio, which is about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, into the heat (100's). It was great! Our unit was nice, but we were only there at night. By day... we did road trips -- back road trips.

Day One: we visited the eastern end of Joshua Tree National Park. (A park less traveled.) We did a short half mile hike to an oasis. (We saw five people.) We stopped by all the road-side exhibit signs. (Usually, we read them from the air-conditioned car.) We took all the small paved roads off the main road. We hiked the short hike to the vista point at Keyes.

The eastern end of Joshua Tree is less spectacular than the western end. We knew that. That's why we were there: slightly off-center. We saw Octillos, Chollos, and yuccas. After a half day in the eastern end of the park, we drove straight through and out of the western end. We headed "home" to our condo. It was 50 miles or so from the park entrance.

We grocery shopped at Fresh and Easy and dined royally at home, loaded the dishwasher, played some tile rummy, watched some cable TV in our air-conditioned unit, and flopped into our comfy bed. Ahhh... this is camping!

Enjoy the pics!

(Next time... Day Two: Maintained dirt roads in Joshua Tree.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vacating my Vacation

Anybody miss me?

I was on vacation for the last four or five days.

"What?" (I can hear a few of you saying.) "You've been on vacation for weeks and weeks. It's almost annoying how long you've been on vacation."

Yes, that's all true. I'm on Summer Vacation from teaching, but last week my wife and I went "away" on vacation. I took a vacation from my vacation.

*gag* (I hear some of you having some trouble here.)

As fun as my stay-at-home vacation has been, my wife suggested that we get away a bit before I went back to school. That was about three weeks ago.

Now my wife isn't one to suggest these things very often, so I jumped on it. I have something called RCI Points, and for a mere 7,500 points and $168, I got us a two-bedroom, fully furnished timeshare in a country club setting in Indio, near Palm Springs, for a week!

Indio in the summer is about the only place still available for trading during the sought after month of August. Why? Because it's hot! 100 degree plus hot. But we decided to go for it, and we're glad we did.

Indio is about 20 miles east of Palm Springs, which is 90 miles east of where I live. So, after less than two hours of driving, we were at our new "home". Although I got the timeshare for a week, I only anticipated staying four nights. (Playing the timeshare/points game is an art form.)

Last year we did a desert road trip in June and the weather was 110 to 115 degrees hot. Ouch. Instead of being 10 degrees hotter than normal like last year, the weather was 5 to 10 degrees below normal, so we had 90's and low 100's. With A/C in the condo and car, it was a breeze. (Joshua Tree is high desert, so it was a cool 88 to 93.)

We used the condo as our "base camp." Some people climb mountains from their base camps, we took day-long road trips. We drove to Joshua Tree National Park two of the days, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (and Salton Sea) another.

A little research uncovered a local Fresh and Easy Market, and we had meals to-go, and meals to have at home. We had a blast. We smiled a lot. We marveled at the scenery, enjoyed the blue skies, and the nice beds. We got back yesterday.

The bags aren't unpacked yet, but I'm back to my other vacation, which includes catching up on reading some blogs. The cats and dog are glad we're home. I'm back to lining up some racquetball. The new plants survived. And I have pictures!

Another awesome aspect of the vacation is how great 85 degree weather at home feels. It's so cool!

So although I vacated from my at-home vacation, I still have a few more weeks before I return to the work-a-day world of gainful employment. And just to ease the envy of all of you who don't get summers off, remember, I don't get paid. Paychecks come my way once a month, ten months out of the year. During July and August my paychecks are absent. (Good thing I know how to budget, save, and spend wisely!)

Hope you all are enjoying the summer. Before you know it, fall will arrive, and then... that long, cold winter that makes you long for... summer!