I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while – better late than never I suppose. I couldn’t let this one slip by without writing about it – it was THAT amazing.
So, the 3 days before I backpacked the Lost Coast in Northern California last year, a group of us planted ourselves at a place call the AutoCamp on the Russian River in Sonoma County, California. It’s roughly 90 minutes from San Francisco, so not too far from a major airport. The name doesn’t exactly sound like a super cool place to stay does it? Oh my gosh, this place is the coolest.
It is essentially a luxury airstream campground! In addition to always wanting a retro van, the Life Bus drools all over airstreams. This was our chance to check one out without having to tow the trailer. Wish I was there right now, sleeping on one of their memory foam mattresses – best sleep of my life! If an airstream doesn’t interest you, or the price point is out of range, they do have super cool glamping tents available as well.
The airstreams themselves are de-luxe with high-end boutique hotel bedding, linens, and towels, as well as, spa-inspired bathrooms with walk-in showers (not available in tents). The one we had was perfect for two people, though there is an option to make another bed from the sofa if you have kids or a third wheel friend! We grabbed a bottle of wine and hung out by our campfire – it was dreamy. The attention to detail was present everywhere, from the airstreams themselves, to the lighting on the property, the check-in area, wine tastings in the evening, fire pits, hammocks, and the coffee in the morning!
What did we do for fun while we were there? Since the river is close by, we rented kayaks and paddled down the river, road bikes to town and around the neighborhood close by and also played golf in a redwood forest! There are some awesome redwood hikes nearby and the beaches of Jenner are super close as well. We went in April so there were seals having babies on the beach (LOVE). Wineries are in the area, but we kept to our Life Bus roots and spent our time adventuring outdoors. Every day was a new experience!
The town of Guerneville where the AutoCamp lives is a funky little Northern California town, with some pretty good restaurants! I found a great summary of what there is to offer via this link 48 Hours in Guernville, California. One thing to note, this area was hit hard by the floods this year, so if you plan to go, I would call the AutoCamp and see how things are recovering.
It looks like they have a new location in Yosemite – which I think would be incredible! They are also in Santa Barbara, California. I highly recommend you check this place out – you won’t regret it!
It’s hiking season in Colorado! Well, mostly. We still have a ton of snow at higher elevations, so anything above tree-line right now may be wet and very muddy. In fact, on the way up to Smith Lake recently (on our list of faves), I biffed it on a mud patch – that wasn’t so much fun, but the Alpine Lake at the top was incredible. You may want to consider micro spikes, or snowshoes if you are planning to hike at high altitudes right now (and probably for the next two weeks).
Below is a list of favorite hikes through-out our fine state – compiled from my friend Debbie who is an avid hiker and a few of the Life Bus faves as well (18 years of experience!)! There are so many, but we decided to keep it at 25. BTW, these are not prioritized by our feelings – these are all adored!
Rather than describe all of them, I would look to the AllTrails app for descriptions, distances, trailhead locations, trail conditions, etc. If you find yourself in Colorado, we hope you give a few of these a go! Feel free to comment with your favorites as well – we THINK we know all of the hotspots, but I am SURE we left a few off the list!
Grey Rock (out of Ft Collins)
Devils Causeway loop (out of Steamboat)
Smith Lake (out of Steamboat)
Fish Creek Falls (out of Steamboat)
Devil’s Head Fire Tower Lookout (out of Sedalia)
Missouri/Fancy Pass Loop (out of Vail)
Booth Creek Falls (out of Vail)
Gore Creek Trail (out of Vail)
Pawnee Pass (out of Brainard area)
Copper to Frisco on the Gore Range/N Tenmile Creek Trails (out of Frisco)
Mount Sneffles (14 er out of Ouray)
Ice & Island Lakes (out of Ouray)
Blue Lake & beyond (out of Ouray)
Aspen 4 Pass Loop or any segment of the loop (out of Aspen)
So, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Boulder, Colorado trying to focus on this blog post rather than stress about my keys lost in one of 20 shops I visited in the last two hours!! That will be a fun treasure hunt when the time comes. UGH.
Back to the point of this post…..As everyone should know by now, the Life Bus is obsessed with camper vans – retro in particular, though all vans pretty cool. I have fantasized about owning one forEVER and have spent HOURS and HOURS scouring the net looking for deals on VW Vans. Mind you, I have never rented one or know anyone who owns one. With that, what business do I have even thinking about buying one?!! I figured I needed to actually experience the retro van life before jumping into such a large investment. So, Sean and I broke down and rented a 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon (Pinky) for a week over 4th of July.
Photo: Meet Pinky 🙂
We loaded Pinky up with everything you could possibly want or need – our sweet pup Yogi, fishing poles, mountain bikes, speakers, paddle boards, puzzles, games, solar string lights, adult bevies – and food – lots of good food. I wanted this experience to feel like home on wheels, to see what it would be like to travel like this more frequently.
Photo: Poor Yogi was buried in the back – sweet pup!
We thought it was a great idea to have all of our future wants and needs at our finger tips, until we realized we could only drive 20 mph (literally) up the mountain passes on I-70 West outside of Denver, Colorado. Yep, we were one of THOSE people. We were going so slow, people were passing us on the RIGHT side – the actual shoulder of the freeway. That part was not so much fun, I thought Sean was going to have a heart attack. One can only assume he was mad at me for putting him through this – but – as sweet as he is, he never said a word and went along with my fantasy adventure. (I forgot to mention, the van broke down right out of the parking lot when we were leaving the rental office AND there was no A/C. Yep, it was starting out to be a real dreamy experience. They replaced the battery and off we went not really knowing what was going to happen next.)
Photo: Sean remaining patient on our 6 HOUR drive to the Flat Tops – love this guy!
We FINALLY made it to the East Flat Tops Wilderness (EFW) – Southwest of Steamboat Springs. The whole ride took us nearly 6 hours – any other car would have taken a little north of 4. Not only was the van a little bit of a challenge, I had no idea where we were going to land – this part of CO was untouched, at least by me and I had no idea what to expect. Sean took a huge leap of faith to trust me on this one!
Photos: Our hikes did not disappoint!
We found a great campground that didn’t take reservations – Bear Lake Campground – those always scare me a little, because you can’t tell if something is going to be open when you get there. Turns out, there aren’t many people who make their way to this part of Colorado. Probably because there is no connectivity what-so-ever and there are no stores around. You have to know what you are doing to spend more than 2 days out there. Pinky fit right in. She was small enough to fit anywhere we took her, with little or no fuss, nothing unwieldy to maneuver, not obnoxiously too big. We hung our solar string lights on her every night so she could shine when the sun went down – she was a beauty!
After a few nights in the campground and getting to know Pinky pretty well, we decided to try a different camping experience. We jumped on our bikes found the perfect dispersed camp spot over looking the valley with the winding Yampa river below. The views were outstanding, with the swirly orange/purple sunsets and stars filling every inch of the sky at night (there is a song that says stars are really angels taking their cigarette breaks at night – I love it!).
No-one was next to us, so we could play music as loud as we wanted and could dance like crazy people! We backed her up with her tail facing the valley so we could wake up every morning with the most beautiful views. We stayed in that spot for 4 days…it was magical.
The only thing un-magical about it were the dang mosquitos – good lord, there were seemingly millions of them. Luckily, I had bought some citronella candles that managed to keep them at bay. Only regret is the natural insect repellent – what a bunch of junk – no less then 50 bites on each leg and arm. I say go for the deet – what harm could it be to use it just a few times a year?? I’m at home right now swatting at my arms – PTSD from the swarms of mosquitos!
Photos: Our beautiful campsite
Even though Pinky didn’t have AC, she stayed pretty cool all day long as we kept the tent flap up and open all the time – a nice breeze was always present. We would come back from the days’ activities and she was very comfortable and inviting. The bed was easy to set up and pretty comfy – we brought some cozy blankets and sleeping bags with us, and our favorite pillows to keep our heads comfy. We spent a TON of time inside – more than you would expect – playing games, reading, napping, eating, etc. and we loved every second of it.
Photo: Nap time!
We kept most of our food and bevies cold with the solar powered fridge inside the van – but we also had our Yeti cooler – that thing is badass – kept everything fresh for at least 4 days. We met a really sweet gal who brought some ice back for us from Steamboat – she saved our bacon as the fridge in the van worked great – but wasn’t large enough to keep ALL of our stuff cold. The only challenge we had with food, was that we did not have a bear box outside the campsite, so we had to bring all of our dry food into the van at night. This is fine, but we kept losing stuff trying to keep everything organized – as stupid as that sounds – Pinky was just not that big to accommodate all of our stuff at all times!
Photo: Look at that pile of stuff to manage – too much? I think not.
After 6 wonderful nights in Pinky, we decided to head to Steamboat Springs, Colorado – about 1.5 hours from where we were in the EFW. Lunch and exploring the town was in order as it was Sean’s first time there. We spent our time laughing about all of our favorite things that happened over the past week – our nighttime music and dancing, all of our gorgeous hikes, catching trout, playing games (Sean kicked my ass at Yahtzee every time – how is that possible? Its a DICE game), paddle boarding around Bear Lake with Sean fishing off the front of the board, mountain biking at night with our headlamps on with the star-filled sky… the list goes on and on….Once we were done, we jumped back into Pinky ready to head back down to the front range for one last night with her….then it happened…
She broke down AGAIN. Sean put the key in, nothing… Mechanics came to look at her…no luck bringing her back to life. It took us several hours to sort through all the madness and find a rental car and a tow-truck to take all of us back to Denver. A few things about this – yes, it was stressful and pretty much ruined our last day with her, however, we didn’t lose her in the wilderness where we had no connectivity, we had a great day in Steamboat, and we didn’t have to drive 20 MPH uphill on I-70. The owner of the van felt so bad about it all, I’m pretty sure he started to tear up when we said our goodbyes. He loves Pinky and wanted us to love her just as much as he – we did, we fell in TOTAL love with her.
Photo: Goodbye sweet girl
In the end, I am glad we had the experience we had – it was FANTASTIC. I learned a few things in the process – vans ROCK and are a super fun way to travel. However, without knowing how to fix mechanical issues, etc., sadly, a retro van is probably not in my future – I’m glad my obsession with this idea is over! I am good with renting for a while – buying a van of any kind right now probably doesn’t make sense. Retirement is on the horizon – maybe then… Until that point in time, we will think about Pinky every day, and miss that girl – maybe we will see her again :-).
I LOVE the National Parks in the US. We are so lucky to have all of these amazing natural open spaces at our disposal!! My goal is to take my Life Bus to each and every one of them at some point as there is always something pretty cool to see.
Case in point, this weekend we were visiting friends in the Palm Desert in Southern California, a few short miles from where the world famous Coachella music festival takes place. I think in my 20’s that would have been on the bucket list, now I shudder at the thought of being around that many drunk and stoned people in a confined space, even if it is outside!
We had some time on or own, so Sean and I decided to explore the Joshua Tree National Park. I always thought U2s famous Joshua Tree album cover was shot in this National Park, but realized the tree lived outside of Death Valley. The tree sadly died in 2000 at 200 years of age. There is a shrine somewhere off highway 190 to pay homage to it! I’m kinda bummed we didn’t look into it. Nasty people keep chopping parts of it off…not sure about you, but that kind of thing drives me crazy.
(Image by SwittersB & Exploring)
Once we made it to the park, our first stop was the Cottonwood Visitor Center, where we grabbed a map and directions to the Lost Palms Oasis trailhead. The park ranger told us the 7.2 (ish) mile hike (out and back) would take 5 to 6 hours and to bring a gallon of water per person. We generally don’t carry that much, but we probably should have. It was hotter than blazes and I am pretty sure we are dehydrated even 2 days later!! It would have been nice to have extra water to wet a bandana or SOMETHING for a relief from the relentless sun.
This is how it all started…..this is pretty awesome….we didn’t see anything like this again for a while.
It was a hot and dusty trail – in the middle of the Colorado Desert – exactly how you would envision a desert to be. Not one cloud in the sky (or just a few wisps), not one ounce of moisture, no shade, anywhere. Just a sea of brown with an occasional orange barrel cactus and some pretty cool rock formations every now and then – I totally expected more desert blooms, but not sure when it rained last. At one point, I was like, “Why are we out here again?”, questioning our decision to do this hike in the first place. We apparently weren’t the only 2 thinking this as we ran into a young couple hiking up when we were heading down who asked, “Is it it worth it?”.
After about 3.2 miles (ish) of hiking through the barren desert, with scorched skin and lips, we came upon a beautiful sight – SHADE in a stand of fan palm trees – an Oasis. The first one I have ever seen in my life. It was AMAZING. These fan palm trees apparently only live in this Colorado desert. I realized most of the the pics I took did not have people to show how big these things really are – with the exception of the image below. Pretty incredible given the preview of growth (or lackthereof) we saw on the route along the way.
At the end of the hike, with depleted water bottles, tons of rocks in our shoes, salty faces, swollen fingers, and hot skin, we were glad we did it and would recommend this hike if you ever find your way there.
Start early (we started too late at 9:30), definitely bring more water than you think you need, bring a picnic to enjoy in the Oasis, take a nap in the shade, and have a cold beer (or cold beverage of choice) in car for the end if you can swing it.
I would also recommend camping in the park….I would imagine the sunsets/sunrises are pretty incredible.
Somehow we were bored yesterday morning and couldn’t think of anything fun to do. So, I suggested a field trip to the Garden of the Gods, about 55 miles (ish) South of Denver in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It’s one of my favorite places to bring visitors, especially if they have kids. The red rock formations are beautiful and the kiddos can run around and climb on some of them. The mixture of the red rocks and snowy Pikes Peak is pretty spectacular. You can also bring pups on leashes too, which is always important for our household!
There are dinosaur fossils, all sorts of hiking trails to explore, and you can rent electric bikes or Segways if that is what you are in to. I am not sure if a Segway is such a great idea unless you are a pro at them. We were leaving the park and noticed a woman (in a mink coat of all things) in a ditch on the side of the road. I am not a proponent of fur coats, but I hated to see her flat on her back holding her head in agony. I can only assume she got spooked by a car and lost control.
If you are a road cyclist you can ride through the park in designated bike lanes – only recommendation there is do it in the morning when there are fewer people out and about. If you are a runner, there are some great fun runs in the summer – a 10k and a 10 miler. This park has a tendency to get really HOT in the summer, so if you happen to be in the area during that time, bring some extra water and a snack. I say snacks, because you can lose track of time and end up further away from your car than intended!
Explore Colorado Springs’ paradise in one magical stop. Garden of the Gods Park is a registered National Natural Landmark. Imagine dramatic views, 300′ towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak and brilliant blue skies. This world-class Visitor & Nature Center and museum is the most visited attraction in the region with all new interactive exhibits. Learn how the amazing red rocks got there with the NEW Geo-Trekker theater experience, shown every 20 minutes. Delight in one of Colorado’s most photographed views while eating in our glass-enclosed café or from our terrace overlooking Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods.
After dinking around the park we landed at the Broadmoor Hotel for a glass of vino. It turned out to be a wonderful day!!
Enjoy the Pics – click on an image for a larger view! See if you can find the climber!
If you are ever in the Boulder area looking for a good local hike, pick Mount Sanitas. It’s about a 3.3 mile (ish) round trip, STEEP hike that takes you ~1,000 + feet to the top. The challenging parts about this hike are the deep steps that will make your calves and hammies scream, as well as the large boulders you have to navigate!! I generally traverse the trail in a clockwise direction, mostly so I can run on the smooth trail at the end – finishing strong is always a good thing.
Once you get to the top, the views of Boulder are pretty nice – you can see forever.
Key tips: Bring water and snacks for the top, wear solid hiking shoes (as mentioned, you are scrambling over boulders and scree in some parts), and lather on the sunscreen (you are in Colorado closer to the sun). I don’t recommend hiking poles, only because of the scrambling components of the hike. They would probably get in the way and possibly create a hazard. The trail can be icy in winter so be prepared – bring Yak Traks or Micro Spikes so you don’t break a hip! People bring their dogs up there, but not sure I love this idea. I saw a woman whose pup got freaked out on the boulders and could not hike out – not quite sure how she got past that issue. Don’t worry about being alone on the trail as it is usually pretty crowded. Don’t let this bother you, there is plenty of room!
What to do after the hike?
The best part of this hike is going out for beer and tacos (or just beer or just tacos) after. Let’s face it, you earned it, so go for it. We recently found a cool, little spot called T|ACO. The food is super fresh and the beer is cold. Sunday afternoons they offer $2.50 tacos and $3.50 beers. Just awesome.
A few other favorites in town – born and bred in Colorado:
There is a new location on Pearl Street in Downtown Boulder – great vibe, great beers. They do serve food – general bar food – not much to write home about, but it’ll do. They open doors when the weather is nice . Dale’s Pale Ale is a Colorado staple!