“I feel most at home out along the Ocean’s edge. Where land meets sea…life reaches into me with a soothing calm.” Jesse Lee Longacre
“Country music isn’t a guitar…it’s a feeling.” Waylon Jennings
We spent this past winter at the Ratna Ling Retreat Center in Northern California, located three miles through the Redwoods from the Pacific. Hiking to and along the ocean was definitely a highlight there (above photo) . But when spring started to show its face at the beginning of March we took off and headed south visiting friends and camping along the coast and then into America’s Southwest . Here’s a report of this past month.
After five months at our retreat center it was bittersweet leaving for many reasons. We were saying goodbye to many wonderful friends at a beautiful, tranquil place in the hilly woods of coastal California. It had been the first winter in my life without icy cold. Getting back out on the road, I wondered if I would continue my daily yoga and meditation practice. Plus, I was handing off a cookbook I started writing there and wanted to continue editing it.
We drove down the Pacific coast and stayed with family and friends in El Cerrito, San Luis Obispo and Mission Viejo; northern, middle and southern California, respectfully. Everywhere we went our kind hosts showed us their tremendous neighborhoods. The new springtime weather was as perfect as it could possibly be, except when we decided to open the tent to camp and hike.
Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California has crazy rock formations climbers love and straddles the cactus covered Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. In addition to its beauty, I always wanted to visit since learning that Gram Parsons – a great country-rock musician in the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers from the 1960’s – loved Joshua Tree so much he requested his funeral take place in the National Park. In 1973 Parsons’ body was only partially cremated here. Campers saw the flames and alerted authorities. His road manager and assistant were accused of grand theft and fined for burning the casket. Parsons’ remains were later buried in New Orleans…a little trivia for you. It was sunny yet hovering around freezing with really strong winds March 12-14 when we camped at Joshua Tree. Nice views from the highest peaks look out over the Coachella Valley but we had to be careful not to be blown away and possibly sent back to Northern Cal.
From California we drove into Arizona and met our friends Rick & Beth Swartz to camp and hike near Sedona. Nights were still cool yet during the day hiking among the red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s easy to see why so many movies have been filmed in Sedona. The scenery is amazing, and familiar from the movies.
Sedona area movies range from “Starman” (with Jeff Bridges) to “Rounders” (Matt Damon) to “Blood on the Moon” (Robert Mitchum) and “Tall in the Saddle” (John Wayne) and many, many more.
Near Sedona the town of Jerome sits up on Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley. We could see the big white “J” on the mountainside marking Jerome from our campground. Supported in its heyday by rich copper mines, it was home to more than 10,000 people in the 1920s. Way less than that live here year-round now. Jerome now attracts throngs of tourists to its cool shops and restaurants, such as Bobby D’s where we had a great BBQ lunch.
After visiting Rick’s brother Greg in Phoenix (above, where we stopped in a local Green Bay Packers’ Bar – the Stadium Club in Chandler – to watch the Wisconsin Badgers unfortunately lose in the NCAA Basketball Tourney), it was back to the road and camping in one of the best places of our trip.
Did you ever hear of Chiricahua National Monument? I didn’t either. I have the National Parks Pass so since starting our trip on May 1, 2018 we have visited every federal place to camp and hike from Acadia in Maine to the Badlands, Rocky Mountain, Zion, Canyonlands and Arches in the West…and lots of parks and monuments in between. Maybe it was the remarkable perfect weather, or the surprise of finding such an oasis with stunning rock formations, or the peaceful hiking paths up into isolated mountains, whatever the reason Chiricahua National Monument (which really doesn’t even have a monument site; that’s okay) stands as one of my favorite places of all.
Driving to Chiricahua National Monument/Park involves a leap of faith, traveling through mostly flat desert for 38 miles after taking the nondescript Wilcox exit on Highway 10, but then there comes a most welcoming left turn into hidden forest and mountains. During the 1860s and 1870s, these Chiricahua Mountains provided a secret refuge for the Apache tribe who, led by the famous chiefs Cochise and Geronimo, lived hidden and happily. They repelled the Spanish (taking their guns and horses to become even more feared by their enemies) and other attackers before finally being defeated by the U.S. Cavalry in 1886.
Next, we visited another National Park, but for the first time instead of climbing up mountains our designated trail took us down underground. Deep beneath the Chihuahuan Desert in southern New Mexico one finds Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a labyrinth of more than 300 limestone caves, carved over 250 million years ago.
We spent an hour and a half touring through Carlsbad Caverns. We first cruised down the 1.25 mile Natural Entrance Trail, 750 feet into the cavern. The trail winds down a steep, asphalt switchback route to the “Big Room.” I was happy to have my i-phone flashlight on for some of this, that’s how dark it was down there. The second tour goes into the “Big Room,” another 1.25 mile path that took us through the enormous cave chamber. Guests can access this by walking down the Natural Entrance or taking the elevator down into the cavern. We walked down and used the elevator to pop back up to the outside.
After Carlsbad Caverns, Rick and Beth took advantage of a sweet unseasonable break in the weather and headed north back to their home in Wisconsin. We decided to stay down by the warmth of the deep Southwest and set up camp in the foothills of the mountains outside Alamogordo, New Mexico. A review we read of the Dog Canyon Hiking Trail said: “This is archetypal foothills hiking in the Sacramento Mountains with steep, rocky climbs and tremendous views.” The review didn’t say it would be “wicked hard” or “you’ll probably wish you brought more water” or “it’s magnificently beautiful with hardly anyone on it,” three subtle points I’d like to add.
On the Dog Canyon Trail we covered over nine miles roundtrip with a 3,338′ climb. In my opinion it was then time for more food. We headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
One thing about following the best springtime weather with everything in bloom: allergies. Sleeping in a tent with temps near freezing didn’t always help either. By the time we made Santa Fe, New Mexico I was hoarse, and coughing and sneezing some as well. I think it was a double treat of allergies with a cold. Doesn’t matter. All I know what a welcome relief was provided by a bowl of Pozole at Palacio Cafe, 209 East Palace Avenue in downtown Santa Fe.
Pozole, which means “hominy” (dried maize kernels that have been treated with an alkali such as lime to soften them), is a traditional soup or thicker stew from Mexico. It is made from hominy, with meat (pork, in the above bowl I had in Santa Fe), and can include shredded lettuce, chili peppers, onion, garlic, avocado, salsa, radishes and/or limes. Pozole soup also owns the description, “A cure in a bowl.” Take the comforting restorative offerings of chicken noodle soup. Add spices with chilies and upgrade to a detoxifying, throat soothing, sinus clearing medicinal food. Those characteristics also make pozole renowned throughout Mexico and the Southwest U.S. as a solid, if not miraculous hangover cure. There you go.
On to Arkansas! Billboards along the highway invited us to exit up ahead and take a walk through the William (Bill) J. Clinton Library & Museum. That sounded good, but we opted instead to have an early lunch at the Whole Hog Cafe in Bentonville (trust me, you get your money’s worth if you order pork loin), take a stroll through the Crystal Bridges Museum which will blow your mind to think it’s in Northwest Arkansas, and then camp alongside a river somewhere in the Ozarks. Still freezing cold at night, but another sunny and majestic morning.
And now we’re in Nashville, America’s Music City. Every famous musician has a presence (restaurant, club, museum) here. I heard on the local news this morning even Bob Dylan plans to move in, opening “Heaven’s Door” whiskey distillery in 2020 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of his “Nashville Skyline” album (another top favorite).
Nashville weather runs as perfect as can be this time of year. We’re visiting Michele’s daughter who lives here, mixing walks through the city with hikes and camping trips to the woods just an hour or so drive away. Only Austin, Texas is growing faster these days than Nashville. A person told me Nashville now reminds him of Paris, France in the 1940’s, the city all artists (and people who want to be around artists) are moving to. Everywhere we go there is great music, of course.
Yes, great music, hiking along the ocean, in the woods or up mountains or down into caverns, all of it represents freedom and helping people feel good, just like these two plaques (below) I’ve seen on this trip. The first one a month ago provided inspiration hiking near the Pacific. The second one from Waylon Jennings made me smile just the other day while walking the streets here in Nashville.
That’s it for now. Hope you feel good. We’re off today for another hike, this time to Kentucky where we hear the weather turns beautiful today. Maybe we’ll get in some yoga and meditation, too. So grateful for it all. We look forward to seeing you soon.
Love and Peace,