Reflections of Barstow

Barstow is not the place I would want to spend any amount of time, but it did get me out to explore Southern California.

For the past three weeks, we have been stationary at a Marine Corps Logistics Base located in Barstow, CA. When we first arrived to the town of Barstow, my husband instantly looked at me and said “I am so sorry for bringing you here.” The streets were littered with garbage and neglected houses and buildings. Every block had at least one homeless person pushing a cart or holding up a sign. It seemed as though Barstow had been forgotten a long time ago. The town was dirty, run down and not on the safe side.

Dan had a contact job working out of Fort Irwin, an Army base located in the middle of nowhere about an hour outside of Barstow. It was four days on, three days off for three weeks, although there were quite a few days when the weather didn’t cooperate so he didn’t have to report. While we were not excited to be in Barstow, we were lucky enough to have the security of being on a base and we decided to make the most of our time there. IMG_0402

The first weekend we were there, we took off and went camping in Joshua Tree National Park for two nights. It was amazing. The first night we spent in the Colorado Desert on the south side of the park. With not a singe Joshua Tree in sight, we had a great time wandering the desert, hiking and exploring. IMG_0296

The second night was spent in Black Rock Canyon of the Northern part of Joshua Tree. It was a dense concentration of Joshua Trees and offered a lot of fun for the kids. In the park, we climbed the great granite boulders. The kids had no fear as they found small cracks within the rocks that kept them scaling higher and higher. I have never been afraid of heights, but watching my children ascend the rocks, I felt the fear of most people when they are out of their comfort zone. The kids are great being safe though and with our careful watch and guidance, we all made it back down without a scratch. The fear was certainly worth the views from the top!IMG_0367

A few days later, Dan had a day off so we decided to go to Big Bear City for the day. The town is a ski resort town located on a big lake and is pretty much the ideal place to be if you like the outdoors. We drove up Big Bear Mountain and explored life above the clouds. Just miles away from the  Mojave Desert, the forest brought with it a new sense of life and purpose. The pines create a canopy that allows just enough light in to highlight soft wildflowers that speckle the ground. The needles create a soft blanket beneath the trees, causing sound to be absorbed and making the area perfectly calm and tranquil. Evelyn and I dropped the boys off at the top of the mountain to ride down on their bikes while we explored some more and drove down to meet them at the bottom. IMG_0529

That weekend, we headed out to San Diego. I was fortunate to meet a couple amazing individuals from San Diego in Denver when I was training for my job with the VA and we have been in constant communication ever since. We spent the first night with Shannon and her husband Mike, catching up on life. Our other friend Abe, his wife Jane and daughter Lei came out that night and hung out making the night exciting and full of laughter. Being in the company of friends that were more like family instantly made being on the road feel not so foreign. The next couple of days we explored San Diego a little. We went to a dog beach on Ocean Beach (previous blog), and wandered. San Diego has terrible traffic and so many people so it can be quite overwhelming at times. However, watching the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash into the tall cliffs was refreshing and made me understand why so many people are willing to deal with the craziness of the city. Leaving was bittersweet since I feel as though there was so much more to explore and see. Also, I felt as though I was leaving my family again, even though I know it would not be the last time we see each other. I am still trying to talk them into buying an RV so we can all travel the country together. IMG_0411

When we got bak to Barstow, we immediately started planning out next trip out of the town. Big Bear City was so refreshing that it was no-brainer to go back and spend a full weekend there. We opted to camp to avoid having to pack up an RV and drive it up the mountain. Plus, camping offers a little more intimacy with nature and more adventure underneath the stars. We went on bike rides around the campsite, a hike along a mountain stream and built a squirrel house made of pinecones. Evelyn and I once again dropped the boys off at the top of the mountain for more intense biking while us girls enjoyed some ice cream shakes down in town. Just being there made the world feel small, calm, and peaceful. It is a place we will surely be back to visit. IMG_0666

Our last week in Barstow is best described as hot. The temperature was in the triple digits and the dust and wind made it almost unbearable. On Monday, I took the kids to Fort Irwin to escape the heat at the Army base’s splash pad and various parks. The base was a mini-oasis in the middle of the desert. The splash park was conveniently located right next to one of two Starbucks on base and the kids had a blast playing in the water and running around like crazy. On Tuesday we decided to make the RV look a little more like home by changing out some curtains and decorating the kids spaces with posters and stickers. The RV still looks quite bland, but it we are slowly making it our own and figuring out ways to modify it so it suits our needs better.

There was another family at the Marine base that we were staying at so the kids had three other kids their age to play with this entire time too. It was nice watching the kids all play together. They would run from RV to RV or hide off in the trees that line the park. Even on the hottest days, they would be out on their bikes or coloring with sidewalk chalk. They too were homeschooled so the kids instantly bonded. It also helped Alexander at times focus on his work so he could get back outside to play with his new friends. Leaving today was a bit sad knowing that they would most likely never see one another again, but we did exchange addresses so the kids can send postcards and maybe keep in touch.

We are currently on our way to June Lake in central California. As I sit here in the truck and reflect, I look out the window at an endless stretch of desert. A sign for Death Valley alerts me that we are a mere 121 miles away. Evelyn is fast asleep in the back while Alexander watches a movie on my Kindle. Barstow is in the rearview mirror. The past three weeks here have given us a taste of what life is like on the road, even if we were “stationed” in Barstow the entire time. It showed me that there is no excuse to just stay in and be miserable. There is beauty and adventure anywhere you go, even if you have to take a day trip to get there. I hope that I will never be back in Barstow again, but I am grateful that I was there and that I was able to experience Southern California these past few weeks.IMG_0540

Nevada: More than “Snow-capped”

I never thought Nevada was anything but a desert with a big city, but little did I know…

Nevada. The word rolls off your tongue as if it were a fancy drink at some posh restaurant. In fact, the word simply means “snow-capped” which holds true to its form. Before coming to Nevada, I never thought much of the state. We all know about Las Vegas; the gambling, money, sex, drugs, and booze. A city in the middle of nowhere that never sleeps. We have heard of Reno, however many do not know why Reno is familiar, just that it exists. However, the actual state of Nevada is something that until now never inspired me. Never made me want to visit and explore. It was just a vast state in the middle of nowhere; on the way to somewhere with a city that never sleeps.

We left Idaho a day earlier than planned. The weather was not great and the kids were not enjoying the cold wind that swept across the reservoir. While we loved the Salmon Falls Dam, it was time to move on and go for another adventure. Shortly after starting our journey, we arrived in the quaint city of Jackpot, NV. It is the typical border town that you would think of, except here there were run-down casinos everywhere and restaurants that didn’t open until dinner time. A quick coffee and we were out on the open road, expecting less than an exciting journey. Personally, I was looking forward to a nice nap so when my husband asked if we could listen to a Joe Rogan podcast, I was all for the idea. Evelyn was quickly passed out in the back, Alexander was reading a book about plants and trees and Maggie was laying in my arms as though a child who I had rocked to sleep. However, instead of closing my eyes, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the landscape. The road separated the mountains so as we drove, I stared at the snow-covered hills colliding with beautiful fields that had just started to bloom. It was truly the beginning of spring and the countryside captured each moment with grace and beauty.

We ate lunch in yet another run-down town of Wells, Nevada. It was good cooking yet pricey for what we got. It may be the first time I saw a kids menu that was all over $10 at a diner. However, the service was nice and the break from driving was well worth the money.

As we got back on the road, I couldn’t help but think to myself what our time in Ely, Nevada would be like. We had booked a full three nights there and if it were anything like Wells or Jackpot, I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy it. However, my husband completely surprised me with a beautiful reservoir in Southern Idaho, so I had to trust that we would have a wonderful time no matter what.

We arrived in Ely around 4 pm. It was beautiful. The sun was out and the 70 degree weather was something that I cherished more than ever after a long winter in Idaho. Ely is tucked in an amazing valley that has views in every direction your eyes can wander. We had opted for a KOA campsite that turned out to be almost perfect. It had trails that the boys went mountain biking on. It had a park that the kids have played on each day. The service was wonderful and there was so much nature around that we knew we had plenty to look forward to. The next morning, the boys went mountain biking while Evelyn and I played around being lazy girls. We then ate lunch, packed up the truck and went to Cave Lake, just a short trip down the road. The weather was intermittent rain, but it didn’t slow us down at all. The lake was breathtaking. Its’ water was a turquoise color that made you wonder how nature could create it. There was a trail around the lake and the kids and Maggie ran freely, climbing and exploring the area. When we came back, the boys went to another lake to fish. It was the first time that Alexander actually became engrossed in the activity. Normally, he would fish for five minutes and be bored, but this time, he became obsessed and managed to bring home two brown trout.

Today, we decided to go for another adventure. I was a bit concerned since we actually woke up to snow. Yes… snow. Two days ago the temperature was 70 and sunny and today I woke up in the same place to massive snowflakes coming down. We bundled up and headed down the “Loneliest Highway in America” toward the Great Basin National Park. The clouds hung low as the snow continued to fall while we began our journey. After a few minutes, the snow turned to rain which eventually ceased, but the clouds still obstructed a lot of our view. On the way, I joked that there was no way anyone else would be at the park today because the weather should be a great deterrent. Then, out of nowhere, Daniel’s eyes opened wide and said “LOOK at THAT mountain!” I peered out my window into the distance. There was no mountain in view. Right as I was about to ask him what he was talking about, an enormous cliff appeared in the fog right before my eyes. As I stared in awe, the fog lifted and the remainder of the mountain range took shape. Sharp cliffs rose from the ground, peppered with pine trees and sage brush. The sun reflected off the new snow that was blowing off the peaks and the landscape transformed once again to an exciting wilderness that beckoned you to explore it. Never have I thought that something this beautiful existed in this state that I once believed to be only desert.

When we arrived at Great Basin National Park, we went to the Lehman Caves. We had a wonderful lunch that Daniel had packed for us and then waited for our cave tour. The kids completed a Junior Park Ranger book and were awarded their badges in front of the tour group who all were very receptive to them.

The caves were wonderful. There was so much to see and learn. The tour guide was quite accommodating to the children and very good at engaging the group. The Lehman Caves were founded over 100 years ago and to this day are still a great site to see. Learning about caves, stalagmites and stalactites in a book has nowhere near the same impact as seeing them in person. We all got “kissed by the cave” as water dripped on us and witnessed with our very eyes how over a million years ago, something as simple as water formed the natural wonders we are able to view today. It just proves that education doesn’t always have to be in the classroom.

Our Nevada trip has come to a conclusion. We are heading for southern Utah tomorrow. Fishlike National forest first, then Zion National Park and beyond. While we are leaving Nevada for now, many things will stick with me. I know not to underestimate any place before experiencing it. Seeing my son come back from a afternoon of fishing with his dad has carved a deep place in my memory and heart. Watching my daughter scale rocks like she is a (semi) pro shows me that while she is my baby, she is more than capable of handling herself. Finally, I realize that a simple element like water and a lot of time and patience can make everlasting beauty. Things like that help me see life in a whole new perspective. Maybe while I thought I should move fast or get instant results, that isn’t what Mother Nature has in store for me.  In all actuality, time and patience, love and courage, and most importantly faith is what I really need in order to be completely satisfied with this wonderful, crazy, perfectly insane life that is only mine.

Nevada. Never put all your trust into a name. It is a state capable of a lot more than just being “snow-capped”.