Hells Canyon + Snake River

After leaving the McCall area we traveled west to follow the Snake River north to Hells Canyon. The Hells Canyon Wilderness has been on our must see list for quite some time. Three dams were constructed on the river by Idaho Power Company (IPC) in the early 1960s, which generate significant power to Idaho. The dams and power plants are so remote that IPC provides company housing nearby each of the facilities.

The good news is that below the last dam (Hells Canyon Dam) the canyon and river remain a protected wilderness – there is no road – no electricity – no water. In order to access the canyon in the wilderness area you have three options – walk, go down river (raft, kayak or jet boat) – access at HC Dam – or fly in utilizing the grass airstrip on the banks of the river by the former Kirkwood Ranch.

Today, Hells canyon is completely uninhabited. A number of families attempted to make a living ranching and mining within the canyon but only a couple of ranches managed to survive for any length of time. The last ranch was abandoned in the early 1960s. There is ample evidence from pictographs that native americans were in the canyon long ago.

Hells Canyon at is deepest point is the deepest gorge in North America (7900 feet). We wanted to experience the canyon from river level, from above, and go as far downriver as possible. Fortunately, we were able to catch a jetboat tour that took us downriver 27 miles to the site of the former Kirkwood Ranch (sheep) before returning to the dam access point. Our river journey provided us with the ability to see the very remote and pristine canyon – we could not possibly have hiked anywhere near that far downstream. The added benefit was the fun of running the numerous rapids on the river between the dam and our turnaround point. We did hike along the river for several miles which gave us the on the ground vantage point. Finally, we drove the Hat Point Road to gain a spectacular view of the canyon and river from an elevation of 6900 feet above sea level.

The Hells Canyon Wilderness is a beautiful, awe-inspiring area, but come prepared as there is very minimal infrastucture anywhere near the area and almost no connectivity.

P.S. Summer temperatures average daily high 100+F!

Hiking To Stud Creek Trail, Snake River, Hells Canyon

Imnaha, Oregon Pop. 159 – Starting Point for Hat Point Road Drive

Wild and Scenic Snake River Viewed From Hat Point (Elev. 6982)

Sawtooth National Forest

After departing City of Rocks we traveled north to Twin Falls for fika at Twin Beans (see fikawithfiona on Instagram). From Shoshone we followed the Sawtooth Scenic Byway into the Sawtooth NF.

The Sawtooth is an absolute gem! We were absolutely enchanted with everything about this 2.1 million acre forest and wilderness area. The mountain peaks range from 4000 to over 12,000 feet elevation with a plethora of peaks above 10,000 feet. The Sawtooth reminds us very much of two of our favorite national parks – Glacier NP and Grand Teton NP – but without the crowds!

The Sawtooth is a hikers paradise with a seemingly endless number and variety of hiking trails. Many of the trails lead to secluded waterfalls and alpine lakes while providing spectacular views of the glaciated peaks.

The Sawtooth also provides ample camping opportunities through the forest. We were able to camp along the Wood River near Murdock Creek and on the Cape Horn Creek in complete solitude. Added bonus: outrageous night sky. Our necks became stiff from staring up into a star and planet laden sky. We saw shooting stars, the Milky Way and numerous satellites and rocket bodies pass overhead while listening to the rush of the nearby water.

While in Ketchum we met two former Nutmeggers – one from Southington and the other from Cheshire. Our best hiking and camping spots were recommended by them.

We also met a delightful young couple from Ashland, Oregon. Ashland is on our itinerary because it is the home of Noble Coffee Roasting Company. We think their Ethiopian Buku beans are the best we have had and have been looking forward to visiting after years of purchasing on-line. The couple provided us with a number of recommendations for both Ashland and Bend, Oregon.

Experiencing all the beauty that our country has to offer and meeting so many genuine and friendly people continues to bolster our optimism for the future.

P.S. If you are a fly fisher you must come here to fish in the Wood River.

Boulder Mountains, Sawtooth NF,

Murdock Creek Trail, Sawtooth NF

Trail Creek Road, Sun Valley, Idaho

McDonald Peak (Elev. 10068) foreground, El Capitan (Elev. 8500) background

Petit Lake

Mickey’s Spire (Elev. 10,679) and Thompson Peak (Elev. 10,682)

Redfish Lake

Williams Peak (Elev. 10,633)

Disbursed Camping at Big Horn Creek, Challis NF

Idaho City, Idaho

Cooling off at Petit Lake

City of Rocks National Reserve, Almo, ID

We are officially back on the road! Day one consisted of making our way through Ogden (Wasatch Coffee Roasters) and then on to City of Rocks National Reserve (CORNR) Our backroad route took us through Naf, ID. It is officially a ghost town but still boasts one human resident and a dog.

The CORNR is a mecca for climbers and scramblers with its many and varied rock formations. We stayed for three days to take advantage of the ample scrambling and scenic hiking opportunities.

The area that is now CORNR was a major stopping point for emigrants heading to California between the 1840 and 1870. We were able to hike along portions of the route and see the dated signatures of many of the emigrants – applied with axle grease used for the wagons.

There are terrific campsites located around the CORNR which provide tremendous views of the rock formations and the dark night sky. (002.003.004)

Twin Sisters Rock Formation

Morning Glory Spire, Crack of Doom, Anteater Rock Formations

Carson City to Salt Lake City

After arriving in Carson City and finding it very much to our liking (good espresso, tea, yoga, restaurants and friendly folk) we extended our stay to five days. We took day trips for hiking and sightseeing after our morning yoga and fika: very delightful!

Our extended stay in Carson City did necessitate a speedy trip across Nevada to return the Beast for storage and make our flight from Salt Lake City to Hartford. We covered 650 miles over our last two days on the road. Most of the drive was on Route 50 which runs all the way from Carson City to the Utah border. 

The scenery along Route 50 is spectacular. Driving west to east you traverse numerous mountain ranges and valleys between the ranges. These are big mountains – 9000 to almost 11,000 foot peaks and valleys ranging from five to 20 miles across. The peaks are snow capped and the valleys vary between salt flats, sand dunes and prairie. 

This is mining country with a handful of extremely large cattle and sheep ranches. The mining towns of Eureka and Ely are pretty run down despite the fact that there are still very large mining operations in the towns of Eureka and Ely. There are two major pits, one producing gold and the other copper. Even traditional pit mines are highly mechanized today and do not require significant labor to operate the mines. Both of these mines are owned and operated by foreign based companies which is very common today in this industry. 

Make sure you are well prepared if you choose to cross Nevada on Route 50,  known as the loneliest road in America for good reason. There are only two gas stations between Fallon and Eureka, a distance of 180 miles (and they are not 24 hour stations!) Bring your own food and water as well.

We are planning our next trip as we make this final post of On The Road with Maria + Stephen. We will be departing for the Pacific Northwest in August. Thanks for following along.

Safe travels!

P.S. If you find yourself for any reason (we won’t hazard a guess) with the need to be in Bakersfield, California do yourself a huge favor and stay at the Padre Hotel. Classic western hotel with a great bar, cool lobby and friendly staff. Added bonus, and a big one at that is that Rig City Coffee Roasters is 252 feet from the lobby entrance to the hotel.



Final Preparation for Our Return to CT


Route 50 – America’s Loneliest Road


Garnet Hill – Ely, NV


Eureka – Mining + Basque Shepards + Good Grub




Reno – Baseball


Virginia City – Coffee, Saloons + Prayer


Genoa – Hiking + Thirst


Lake Tahoe


Carson City – Yoga, Coffee + Calamari!





Alabama Hills

After our stay in DVNP we journeyed northward on Route 395 in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The SN is massive with a north-south length of over 400 miles and an east-west width of 70 miles. Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the U.S. at 14,505 feet sits just west of the town of Lone Pine. Yosemite and several other national parks also sit within this range. The SN is very impressive physically and stunningly beautiful with an unending line of jagged, snow covered peaks.

We camped in the Alabama Hills, foothills to the Eastern Sierra Range, west of Lone Pine, CA. As camping locations go, this area is one of the most spectacular we have experienced and we have been fortunate to camp in some incredible locations.

The Alabama Hills are also know as Little Hollywood. Many films and television shows have been filmed in the hills which are blessed with incredible rock formations (great for scrambling) and the SN as background.

When you find yourself in this area definitely make a point of eating at the Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery.  If you are feeling adventurous try the Red Beer ( Bloody Mary with beer instead of vodka). All of the baked goods are baked on premises each morning and delicious!

Our next destination is Carson City where we will stay for several days before beginning the trek across Nevada to Salt Lake City.



Lone Pine Mountain




Death Valley National Park

Death Valley welcomed us to the park with 100F plus temperatures – a combination of somewhat hotter than usual temperatures for this time in April and our arriving later than we originally envisioned. We however, were determined to work around the weather and experience the park for at least several days.

We knew we would not be able to hike in the full heat of the day so we set our alarm for the early morning in order to hit the hiking trail by 6:30AM each morning. This approach gave us four to five hours each day to hike with safe conditions. We also went out in the evenings to drive to various vista points and view the impressive night sky.

We have included some photos from several of our hikes including Golden Canyon, Red Cathedral, Gower Gulch and Natural Arch. The Natural Arch Canyon hike features an easily reachable natural arch about one third of a mile from the trailhead. The interesting and increasingly challenging hike comes after passing through the arch as you encounter a series of dry waterfalls which must be climbed to continue up the canyon.

The USAF flies low level training missions through Rainbow Canyon. As aviation buffs, we were thrilled to be at Rainbow Canyon when four F16 fighter jets came roaring through the canyon fast and low. We managed to photograph one of the fighters in the canyon and we have included that photo in this post.

We ventured to the Keane Wonder Mine to see the remains of this abandoned gold mine and mill. It was one of the few mines to utilize an aerial tramway to haul ore down the mountain. This mine closed in 1912.

The Billie Mine, an underground mine, was the last mine to operate in DVNP, closing in 2005. There are still thousands of mining claims that exist within the area that is now DVNP. However, it is unlikely that the National Park Service will allow any further mining within the park.

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. We walked out onto the salt flats early one morning and found the experience of being on the valley floor – the immense scale, the complete quiet and the forces of nature so evident – very humbling.

It is quite apparent to us that we could spend months exploring DVNP and not come close to seeing and experiencing all the wonders of nature that exist in this vast park. DVNP is larger than Connecticut and ninety percent wilderness.

It is also apparent to us that this place is not to be taken lightly if you are going to seriously explore the more remote locations within the park. This park is both extremely beautiful and inherently dangerous. Regardless, we recommend that you experience it first hand if you have the opportunity.

P.S. As with many of the public lands within the United States there is a saga related to Native Americans. The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe have lived in now what is Death Valley for over 1000 years. When the precursor to the national park, DV National Monument, was created in 1933 the Timbisha were displaced with no provision for a new homeland. It was not until 1982 that the tribe was recognized by the federal government and allowed to have a reservation within the park – initially a grant of 40 acres for the 199 tribal members (in three million acre park!). In 2000 the Timbisha Homeland Act returned 7500 acres to the tribe. The reservation is located within the Furnace Creek area of the park.

Badwater Basin


View from Red Cathedral 
Red Cathedral 
Golden Canyon 
Artists Palette 
Rainbow Canyon
F16 Falcon Flying Through Rainbow Canyon
20 Mule Team Canyon
20 Mule Team Canyon 

Natural Bridge Canyon


Keane Wonder Mine – King of the Desert



Mesquite Sand Dunes 


Red Rock Canyon State Park

We spent a couple of days camping and hiking in Red Rock Canyon SP as we journeyed eastward towards Death Valley NP. Red Rock Canyon SP sits between the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and the El Paso Mountains in the northernmost part of the Mojave Desert. This area abounds with colorful rock formations and a plethora of washes that meander for miles making for great hiking and exploring (bring your compass!). We enjoyed beautiful weather and moonlit nights during our stay and as you can see below there are still plenty of desert flowers in bloom.

We found this park to be a nice stop for a couple of days of hiking. The public lands surrounding the park are BLM managed and largely designated for OHV riding with hundreds of miles of trails. The park, however, does not allow OHV riding which ensures safe hiking and a quiet, peaceful setting for camping.

You may also see some unusual aircraft flying overhead if you visit this park. The Mojave Air & Space Port is about 25 miles south of the park. This facility is utilized by many firms to test very high tech and innovative air and spacecraft. During our stay the largest aircraft in the world (based on wingspan – 355 feet) made its first flight from the spaceport. The Stratolaunch, as it is called, is designed to launch rockets into space from an altitude of 35,000 feet. Cool stuff!







Carrizo Plain National Monument

We spent three delightful days boondocking and hiking in the Carrizo Plain NM. CPNM is managed by the BLM and covers apx. 250,000 acres in San Luis Obispo County. The plain is an internal drainage basin which doesn’t sound all that appealing but it carries significant water into the 50 mile long plain which at this time of the year translates into a verdant landscape covered with colorful wildflowers. The plain runs north – south and is bounded by the Caliente Mountains on the west and the Temblor Mountains on the east. The Temblor Mountains derive its name from the spanish word terremoto which means earthquake. Uncoincidentally, the San Andres Fault runs parallel to the base of this range down the length of the plain.

The water all drains into Soda Lake.  Since this is an internal drainage with no outlet the water evaporates during the spring and summer as temperatures reach into the 100F range. What is left after the water evaporates is a salt-covered dry lake bed as you can see in the photo below.

We also spent some time walking on the Wallace Trail where you can see evidence – in the form of offset creeks and channels – of how the earth has shifted along the San Andreas Fault – which is pretty cool – as long as the earth does not shift while you are there! 

We had the good fortune to find a camping spot on the Caliente Ridge at 3700 feet which gave us a spectacular view of the plain and Soda Lake. 

We should be at Death Valley NP later this week after a stop at Red Rock Canyon.

Carrizo Plain and Soda Lake



Sunset from Caliente Mountain





Joshua Tree National Park

After extending our stay in both San Diego and San Clemente, we are back on the road. Our first stop was at JTNP where the wildflower “super bloom” is at its peak.

JTNP is one of a limited number of National Parks that allows access to back country high clearance 4WD trails. Many of these trails exist due to the significant number of mines (300) that at various times operated in the area which is now JTNP. We took advantage of the opportunity by spending an afternoon traveling through Pinkham Canyon and were treated to spectacular scenery and solitude.

There are a number of great hiking trails within the park. Because this is the busy season at the park we chose several hikes that we thought would be less crowded including Mastodon Peak and 49 Palms Oasis.

An interesting aspect of the park is that portions of both the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert are within its boundaries. While the park is named after the Joshua Tree there are no Joshua Trees in the Colorado Desert area of the park; they are only found in the Mojave Desert area of the park.

JTNP is extremely beautiful at this time of the year and the temperatures are reasonable for hiking. But as this is a true desert environment we would recommend you that you visit between late fall and early spring before high temperatures go into the triple digits!

49 Palms Oasis – 49 Palms Canyon, JTNP
BLM Joshua Tree North Dispersed Camping


Pinkham Canyon 4WD Trail
Rattle Snake at Mastodon Peak
Ocotillo Cactus