A Sharpie Marks the Spot: The Map (2022)

“There are peaks of achievement along every river, but the finality of committing to an unknown path is what inspires me to travel it.” 

– Chris Korbulic, adventure kayaker and photographer


“We can always U-turn.” 

– Colin and Jennifer, adventure travelers in the highly maneuverable Rocinante

The map from our 2017 trip hangs on the wall. Three months and 8,000 miles are marked out in sharpie. Postcards sent home to ourselves along the way are tucked into the frame, encircling our adventure.

Now, a new map showing the southwestern states is spread out on the table in front of me. We have four weeks to get to California, and a week to get home via a family event in Utah. Right now, it’s all potential. I hack laminate the map with self-sticking 8.5″x11″ laminate sheets, and pack a sharpie. The rest will happen on the road.

Where are we now?

Blog posts from the road

4/4 – At last we get outta town, it’s late afternoon, buzzing down I-25. Dear friends hear we’re passing through their mountain area and say, “Stay at our place! Here’s the gate code! Enjoy!” Love them so much.

4/5 – Capulin Volcano National Monument. Camp at Maxwell wildlife Refuge. Rethink outside shower. Scratch that: hack out back of outside shower box and push inside to prep for freezing (never use it anyway).

4/6 – Bike the dam road with Katie, watch herons soar… and fuss with our water system. Camp at Mills Canyon Rim Campground.

Only a few days in, and we’re already off the map.

4/6-7 Mills Canyon – set up camp for a couple of days. meet van life climbing couple. Hiked 7 miles r.t. down into canyon past historic orchard and lower campsite. Remote! Decided we could technically make it with Rocinante. First hotdogs and s’mores on the campfire at last.

4/8 – Patrice in Albuquerque for gossip, a haircut, sunset walk, and a belly full of yummy Chinese food.

4/9 – Misfit Farm II to visit Sarah, Dean, and the llamas, alpacas, horses, dogs, and all. Best fried green chili burger ever. Cutest casita, too.

4/10 – White Sands National Park (nee Monument) for sunset tour and morning bike & desert life hike).

4/11 – Winding road into Gila National Forest. A night in the woods above Pinos Altos.

4/12-13 – Hike up to (and into!) Gila Cliff Dwellings, and a 7 mile r.t. hike to box canyon, then two river crossings to soak our legs and feet in the hot springs.

4/14 – Laundry Day! Seeking a one-stop-shop for shower and laundry, found Manzano’s RV Park. Coyple on the road came across this unusually cute oasis for sale, and bought it! Kind and laid back, they were happy to accomodate us just passing through. Night at Bill Evans Like. Far from the party RV’s, the loud music still carried across the water – but at least a great playlist!

4/15 – Petrified Forest National Park from south to north : Crystal Forest’s vibrant multicolored stone trees, and Blue Mesa hike down-down-down and through layered friable mounds and canyon walls of blue, grey, red, and white. Quick trailer drop-off at our Homolovi State Park campsite and off to sumptuous dinner of quinoa tamales, bison, lamb, and bread pudding at the historic La Posasa Inn.

4/16 – Blustery! Scored a campsite for a second night, and braved the wind to bike to Homolovi II ancestral Puebloan (Hopi: Hisatsinom) settlement. Explored further and found more archaeological treasures we’re not publishing (but cool chat about our find with the rangers!). A night tucked inside while the wind blows. Did we really stream the latest episode of Outlander?

4/17-19 Our first look at the Grand Canyon! Wow, it’s big… sunset on the rim trail, and spend the next day biking to Hermit’s Rest and back. In the morning we drive out the east entrance in intense winds. Heading north on highway 89 through Diné lands, we cross Navajo Bridge and spot California condor R8 resting on the struts. The Vermillion Cliffs are ruby, pink and orange as we pick our way carefully back into Marble Canyon for the night.

4/20 – Wast end of Zion National Park. Colin finds a spot a few miles out of the park that takes a little mogul mode to manage some grand-canyonesque ruts, but lands us a lovely flat spot to camp and leave the trailer. We bike along Zion’s tunnel road as the sun approaches the horizon. The road is narrow and the few cars come fast, so we lock up the bikes and walk roadside (no dogs on trails). Zion geology: crossbedding. Breathtaking features that make me want to be a rock climber.

4/21 – Drive through Zion and its historic Mt Carmel tunnel. People galore on the other side and there’s no chance of parking; nearby town of Springer equally packed (and $40/spot if you can get it). Load of laundry (parking free) and a camp spot amongst cows 7 miles out of town. At dusk the park is quiet and we bike the Zion Canyon Scenic Road with only wild turkeys for company.

4/22 – China Ranch Date Farm for a banana date milkshake and a date muffin. An easy overnight in the modest off-season RV lot of Tecopa Hot Springs Campground: electric, water for washing, and all the hot springs soak you can take for $28/night. Local musicians with earthy instruments jam on the bench out front.

4/23 – Back to China Ranch Date Farm for a hike along Armagosa Wild and Scenic River. As one hike warned, the sun is relentless. We cool in a slot canyon, find a waterfall and miner ruins, and wonder if the caloric balance works in our favor after another banana date shake and some date cookies. Into Death Valley National Parkin late afternoon; Dante’s View to look down across the Badlands and the stretch of Death Valley, Zabriskie Point fir sunset. Hours to get through the park and we are just too tired. We give up at Stovepipe Wells and get a spot in the not exciting rv lot. Besides being right there when we needed it, its best two features? Electric hookup (fridge is struggling)…

4/24 – … and a swimming pool. 😯. After a dip, we drive long miles through the park. Plenty of time to be philosophical about the geology, pass the 20 mule borax mining site, and delight at coming across a stream the follows roadside a while. In Lone Pine we stop at the Easter Sierra Interagency Visitor Center for the scoop (best ranger advice ever had came from here in 2017). We go north on our beloved 395 and then up a sand and boulder track off Onion Road to a streamside spot overlooked by Mt Whitney. Thai peanut dinner to fill our bellies.

4/25 – Mt Whitney Fish Hatchery; half-timbered and built in 1916, is evidently “the most beautiful fish hatchery in the United States” (who knew that would be a thing?). We walked the grounds, dispensed two quarters’ worth of fish food to feed the ducks and golden trout (CA state fish), and on we went. A somber walk through the remains of Manzanar, one of the Japanese internment camps to be humbled again by a sad and shameful piece of American history, preserved and shared here at this National Historic Park with honesty and grace. Dinner in Lone Pine at Merry Go Round, our favorite Chinese restaurant (recommended by cousin Julie on our 2017 trip and happily still going strong.

4/25-26 – Alabama Hills. Beloved by campers for its weird and famous rock formations, it has suffered overuse in recent years. Recreational Management is catching up now, and we scored a lovely sight for one night, even better for the second. A night walk and subsequent day bike ride to Möbius Arch and others. Next day we hike 0.15% (4 miles) of the PCT and feel like the sinewy, tenacious hikers we surely are. 🙂

4/27-5/7 – To Santa Barbara and excited to spend family time with my parents. Hikes around toro Canyon and Parma Park. Ice Cream cones. Mani-pedi and fish tacos. All the good things that come from being (parentally) home. ❤️

5/8 – Celebrate Mothers Day with Thai food lunch, hugs all around, and then it’s on the road again. We crank through all the way to Tecopa and have an hour to soak before bed.

5/9 – A soak again in the morning, and we heed the siren call of a banana date shake at China Ranch. Walking through the date palm orchard we meet a man under one of the trees. He’s thatching the grasses and hand-pollinating the date flowers. Hard work. He kindly takes some time to tell us about it, and we learn we’re speaking to travis Brown, whose grandparents planted China Ranch. Then we keep cranking on those miles. Tomorrow we’ll be with the wedding brigade, so tonight we spend a quiet night in the Nevada desert among the Joshua trees.