Considered to be the “Galapagos of North America”, the Channel Islands is one of America’s most remote and least visited national parks. Located off the southern California coast, the park’s five islands offer sanctuary and solitude for those willing to forsake some basic creature comforts.

Known for its coastline cliffs, sea caves, and isolated beaches, Santa Cruz Island is a mecca for divers, snorkelers, kayakers, campers, hikers, and nature lovers. After being fortunate enough to obtain a three-day camping permit to the island, I booked my boat ride and headed for Ventura harbor.


With an 8am departure, I loaded my gear and boarded the Island Packers boat.

Embracing the reality that I would be spending the next hour managing my motion sickness, I headed for a bench seat towards the bow of the boat.

Over the years I have tried medication, acupressure wristbands, and ginger chews in attempts to alleviate my motion sickness symptoms. Nothing has successfully worked! These days my best case scenario is to take Dramamine, keep my food intake to a minimum, sit outside, face the horizon, and suffer through it.

After leaving the harbor, it wasn’t long before we entered the Santa Barbara Channel. Recognized as one of the most diverse and biologically sensitive ecosystems in the world, the Santa Barbara Channel is the seasonal home of blue, fin, and humpback whales.

Sharing their feeding areas with cargo shipping lanes, migrating whales are vulnerable to ship strikes in the channel. In 2007, four blue whales were killed by cargo ship collisions. Their deaths led to moving the shipping lane one nautical mile, increasing the distance between vessels and whales, and hopefully reducing the chances of future ship strikes.

With Santa Cruz Island in the distance, several migrating whales approached our vessel. In spite of my motion sickness, I reached for my camera and staggered over to the port side of the boat.

For the next several minutes, the Baryshnikov’s of the sea captivated passengers with their deep dives and tail flukes. Living in southern California, it’s easy to take whale-watching opportunities for granted. I still remember my first experience whale watching in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Arriving in Scorpion Harbor, the Island Packers crew prepared the passengers for a dingy landing.

Once all the passengers were on shore, an assembly line formed to unload everyone’s camping gear. In less than thirty minutes, the unloading process was complete.

Two national park rangers then conducted a brief orientation, covering basic rules and precautions that were specific to the island. As a non-smoker, I smiled when the ranger announced that only two locations on the island permitted smoking. The first spot was the landing beach and the second was four miles away at Smugglers Cove.

After registering with the ranger as a camper, I left the beach and headed inland to the campground.

Greeted by a welcoming party of island foxes, it was hard to imagine that less than a decade ago this species was on the brink of extinction.

With their numbers dropping below a hundred in 2004, a science-based restoration program was initiated. Today, their population has increased to twelve hundred.

Entering the campground, I felt like I was walking in Australia. Surrounded and shaded by massive blue gum eucalyptus trees, I wondered how Australian trees ended up on a remote island off the coast of California.

Who planted these non-native and non-invasive trees? I doubt it was the Chumash Indians; who considered this island home for over 11,000  years. My first guess was colonizers. I learned early in grade school that colonization is a combination of claiming, removing and introducing. Claiming a land that is not yours, removing its inhabitants, and introducing new inhabitants who identify themselves as landowners. Colonization often sees the introduction of non-native flora and fauna. In Santa Cruz island’s case, it appears it was the landowners and European ranchers who planted eucalyptus trees. I’m sure the eucalyptus trees provided shade, windbreaks, fuel, and construction material for the islands new inhabitants.

I set up my camp remembering I was a guest on sacred land. I considered the historical irony that a stolen island could have more federal and environmental protection than its original inhabitants.


After an early lunch, I hiked out to Smugglers Cove. Just under four miles each way, this hike follows old ranch roads that lead down to a secluded cobble and driftwood covered beach.

After three and half miles of walking across dry hillsides, the trail descended through some olive trees, before spilling out onto the beach.

Having been the only hiker on trail, I was the only human at Smugglers Cove. Seldom have I hiked within a national park and experienced such solitude.





As the only visitor exploring Smugglers Cove, I wondered about the life of pirates, smugglers, sea otter hunters, and bootleggers that utilized the area as a secret hideaway. Did they stay at the cove for extended periods of time or was the cove more of a secret storage facility? Is it possible that some hidden treasures remain in the area?


After being awakened by a curious four-pound island fox, I rolled out of my tent and prepared for a mid-morning island paddle.

Exploring giant sea caves and kelp beds was on the day’s agenda and I could barely contain my excitement. Santa Barbara Adventure Company had a last minute kayak spot become available. I didn’t waste any time securing a booking. https://www.sbadventureco.com/

I’m not usually one to partake in group tours; however, having no experience paddling into sea caves, I decided to take my maiden voyage with a guide.

After spending a few hours navigating my kayak through several sea caves, I have a new appreciation for the finesse, timing, and tide awareness needed for cave exploration.

To complete my final full day on Santa Cruz Island, I opted for a late afternoon and sunset hike to Potato Harbor.

Leaving my campsite, I hiked up the chalky ridge and followed the backbone of the cliffs to the potato-shaped cove.

With no trail down to the beach, Potato Cove had to be admired from above.

On my way back to camp, mother nature painted a crimson canvas that exploded across the pacific skyline. The dramatic color changes; from burning orange to bright pinks and purple. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my day.


With a mid-morning departure, I packed up camp and said goodbye to my island fox friends. Ten years ago, it would have been rare to see this handsome fellow hanging out in the campground.

As I waited for my return boat back to Ventura, I was already planning a return trip in my mind. While day trips are available, consider spending a few days exploring the island on foot and by kayak. Santa Cruz Island’s history is one of sadness, survival, and struggle. Honor it’s past, present and future; by paying it a visit.



“It’s a place where one can see how nature shapes human endeavors in the American West and where distance and aridity have been pitted against our dreams and courage.” President Bill Clinton


Twenty-five miles west of Glen Canyon Dam, lies a former power line maintenance road known as Cottonwood Canyon. Redesignated as a scenic byway, this forty-six mile, unpaved road, connects Highway 89 with Utah State Route 12. Considered to be an adventurer’s thoroughfare, Cottonwood Canyon traverses an ancient inland sea bed, delivering road-trippers into the inner sanctum of Grand StairCase Escalante National Monument.


Impassable When Wet! The sign does not lie or exaggerate. After a rainstorm, the road’s bentonite clay base transforms itself into a muddy, slick, slip and slide. Avoid this drive during the monsoon season and be sure to contact the Big Water Visitor Center for the latest road conditions and weather updates. Cell phone service across the Monument is non-existent. This is not an area to experience car problems or to get bogged in the mud. To quote the Monument’s website, “Grand Staircase-Escalante can be a fierce and dangerous land, and its wild character should not be underestimated.”



With clear road conditions and a favorable weather forecast, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I left the southern terminus of Cottonwood Canyon road.


Less than five miles into our trip, we were greeted by grazing livestock, lush green grass, and dramatic rock formations. It’s not uncommon to see cattle grazing on public lands managed by the BLM (Bureau Of Land Management) and the Forest Service. Local ranchers pay a monthly fee of two dollars per head in order for their cattle to roam free on public lands.


As crazy as it may sound, I envied the cattle. After spending a year in Northern Arizona, I stopped taking Mother Nature’s carpet for granted. Grass was to be celebrated, appreciated, and enjoyed! I had become so accustomed to walking on sandstone, mud, and gravel, that grass now felt like memory foam underfoot.




For the first seven miles,  Cottonwood Canyon Road runs parallel to the silty, murky, and muddy Paria River. Carrying the highest sediment concentration in the United States, the Paria packs two pounds of mud per quart of water. Critical to the health and welfare of the Grand Canyon’s riparian ecosystem, the Paria River is responsible for delivering silt and sediment into the Colorado River.

Besides its sediment value, the Paria River holds a special place in my heart. Measuring almost one hundred miles in length, I’ve been fortunate enough to have hiked almost half of this desert beauty.  I celebrated my 40th birthday backpacking the Paria and have spent countless hours hiking, swimming, mud bathing and exploring the river’s numerous side canyons.



At some point, I will thru-hike the Paria. Not only as a token of my appreciation but as a way to say thank you for all the memories and life lessons the river has afforded me. The Paria has influenced and impacted my life, and now the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I get to share the river together.


Driving deeper into the canyon, the potholes and ruts quickly reduced our speed to a mere ten miles an hour. Without a four-wheel drive or high clearance vehicle, we decided to err on the side of caution.


On a positive note, identifying potential rock scrambling areas becomes easier when driving at slower speeds.

The Perfect Stranger quickly discovered her roadside ceiling to the sky and within minutes was headed for the moon.

At mile twenty-five, we officially entered  “Candyland.” Surrounded by red, white, and pink jagged pinnacles, these multi-colored rocks formed a serrated ridge, at a forty-five-degree angle.


Out of this world and unlike anything we had ever seen, we decided to make Candyland our base camp for the night.

At an elevation of 5700ft, our tent was perched on a hillside summit overlooking a geological masterpiece. With no other campers in sight, Candyland was exclusively ours until morning.


After a late morning breakfast, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I drove down to the Cottonwood Narrows trailhead. Located in the belly of Candyland, “The Narrows”, is an easy three-mile loop hike.

Looking more like a geisha than a day hiker, I applied some last-minute sunscreen before we crossed the road and descended into the canyon.

Bookended by walls of Navajo Sandstone, the canyon felt like a time vault that permitted visitors for the day. Bearing the battle wounds from a million years worth of erosion, wind, and water, “The Narrows” was unashamedly beautiful.


The intricate dance of sunlight and shadows lured us deeper into the canyon. Unbelievably,  we were the only hikers on trail; yet, this was the very inspiration for our offseason and off the beaten path travel. Having never been a fan of tour buses and densely populated national parks, I have found solitude by exploring backcountry roads, national monuments, and state parks.

Greeted by a large slice of blue sky, we grabbed some final shots of the canyon walls before exiting the trail.

With only a few hours left before sunset, we decided to continue our exploration of Cottonwood Canyon road.

The rest of the day was considered to be a fact-finding mission for a future return trip. Twenty-five miles away was Kodachrome State Park. Having never visited the park before, I was hoping to get a sneak peek before dark.

I first heard about this park in 1989, while living in Japan. A colleague of mine worked for Fuji Film and had visited the park in the late 1970’s. One night after dinner, my friend Nakamoto shared a photo album from his trip to Southern Utah. His black and white pictures from Kodachrome were beyond stunning. Nakamoto repeatedly told me that if I ever journeyed to America, I must visit Kodachrome State Park.

Our next stop was Grosvenor Arch.

Standing one hundred and fifty-two feet high and spanning ninety-two feet wide, Grosvenor is a massive sandstone double arch and worthy of an overnight visit. I could only imagine the light show over this magical formation in the early morning and late evening.

With less than fifteen miles to Kodachrome State Park, the terrain appeared wild, vast, and open. Parked at the top at of a hill,  we peered down into mother nature’s amphitheater. Was this a teaser for Kodachrome or was it simply the planet presenting a united front of strength and vulnerability?

Greeted by cows at Kodachrome’s entrance, we followed a gravel road leading deeper into the park.

Representing one hundred and eighty million years of geologic time, Kodachrome’s monolithic spires and sandstone layers inspired a National Geographic Society’s team to name the area after Kodak’s popular color film. Seventy years later, I find myself driving to the tallest spire in the park,  Chimney Rock.

With the sun setting, I was glad the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I were able to spend the final light hours in Kodachrome State Park.

Feeling slightly disappointed that our time at Kodachrome was ever so brief, I quickly reminded myself that a return visit was on the horizon. It seemed our two days exploring Cottonwood Canyon Road barely scratched the surface of what this forty mile long fold in the earth has to offer.



Happy International Dog Day! August 26th has been declared as the day to celebrate human’s best friend. By honoring our past and present four-legged companions, we recognize the friendship, loyalty, and unconditional love dogs bring into our lives.

On this International Dog Day, I wanted to share some of the adventures I shared with my dog Shadow. Born on the streets of Fresno and raised in Northern Arizona, Shadow experienced the extremes of desert living.


Capturing his world through my camera lens, served as a personal reminder that home is a world without walls, windows, and doors.

Happy Dog Day, Shadow!

















” I don’t need therapy. I just need to go camping.”


June is National Camping Month, a four-week celebration of reconnecting with mother nature and ourselves. In honor of National Camping Month, I decided to share some of my favorite camp spots.



Situated in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, this seasonal campground provides an escape from the summer heat. At 7,000 feet, Quaking Aspen serves as a base camp to explore the Sequoia groves.



Located on the Colorado River, this campground can be accessed by kayak or by hiking a three-mile trail down from Arizona State Highway 93.


Hidden away in a colorful slot canyon, the spring forms several soaking pools averaging 112 degrees Fahrenheit. With endless opportunities to soak, swim, and camp, Arizona Hot Springs remains one of my favorite winter camping spots.



In the North Kaibab Ranger District, the remote Rainbow Rim Trail hugs the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The trail connects five overlooks: Timp, Parissawampitts, Fence, Locust, and North Timp. If you are looking for a remote camping experience with sensational views, Locust Point is your destination.




Stretching twenty miles through the Kings Range National Conservation Area, the Lost Coast Trail is a premier coastal backpacking trail.


Sea Lion Gulch is my favorite camp spot on the trail. Consider the views, imagine the coastal breeze, and expect to be serenaded by sea lions throughout the night.




There are so may different shelters to use when camping. A hammock between two trees, the simplicity of a tarp, a two-pound ultra-light tent, a backpacking tent, the bomb proof four- season tent, or even the traditional bulky Coleman car camping tent. At the end of the day, I prefer cowboy camping.


The Mojave National Preserve is one of my favorite places to sleep under the stars. Located between Los Angeles and Vegas, the Mojave’s 1.6 million acres guarantees sand and solitude.




Yurting is backcountry winter glamping at it’s best. Yurt’s bridge the gap between roughing it and camping in comfort. These portable round tent type structures offer the security and warmth of being protected from the elements while still preserving one’s connection to the environment.


The ultimate winter yurt experience can be found at the Arizona Nordic Village for $50 a night.




In 2013, I hiked the John Muir Trail. A torrential four-day rainstorm was the highlight of my first week.


Wet, cold, and desperately looking for a place to set up camp, I threw my pack off and claimed Shadow Creek as home for the night. Little did I know, there was a masterpiece waiting to my discovered behind camp.




Considered to one of the longest slot canyons in the world, Buckskin Gulch lies within the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area. In 2011, I spent five days exploring Buckskin Gulch before following the Paria River to Lees Ferry.


This camp spot felt like a raised platform bed within an amphitheater of ever-changing light.



California’s archipelago, the Channel Islands, is considered to be one of America’s most remote national parks. Campers arrive by boat, then explore the islands by foot or kayak.


Santa Cruz Island is a sixty-minute boat ride from Ventura, California. Nature lovers should allow a few days to explore the sea caves, snorkel the kelp beds, and hike the island trails.




In 2013, I made numerous attempts to obtain a John Muir Trail permit via the advanced lottery system. Unsuccessful, I decided to apply for a walk-up permit. To ensure I was first in line,  I cowboy camped on the backcountry permit’s office front porch. The highlight of my night was a fellow hiker applauding my dedication as he walked by.



A serpentine of switchbacks, a remote red rollercoaster, and a hairpin hell track; are just a few of the terms used by road trippers to describe southern Utah’s, Moki Dugway.

Built during the uranium frenzy of the 1950’s, the Moki Dugway transported uranium ore from the Cedar Mesa mines to the processing mills in Mexican Hat. Over two million tons of ore were extracted from local mines, leaving a toxic environmental legacy for generations to come.

No longer used as a mining road, Utah incorporated the Moki into its highway system. Every year, forty thousand road trippers take the plunge and drive the Moki. Today, it would be our turn.


Exercising caution, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I made our way onto the unpaved gravel dugway.  Over the next three miles, we would ascend 1,100 feet on switchbacks that had been blasted into the cliff’s edge. Considering it was late winter, we were prepared for road conditions of snow, slush, ice, mud, and rock slides.

Regardless of the season, expect the unexpected on the Moki, and keep your eyes on the road at all times.




After traversing our first set of switchbacks, the Valley of Gods came into view.




Winding seventeen miles through isolated buttes and towering pinnacles, the Valley Of The Gods is a dusty backcountry road that guarantees an escape from civilization.


The Valley Of The Gods

Backcountry escapes had been the foundation of our desert winter love story. What started as a friendly eight-day road trip evolved into a never-ending honeymoon of adventures.



In a few weeks, I would be returning to my seasonal job in Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona, and the Perfect Stranger would be completing her thesis and managing her foundation in Long Beach, California. How would we manage the distance? Being together was now more familiar than being apart!



Continuing our Moki ascent, the road started to narrow; leaving minimal room for oncoming traffic.


Driving the Moki is a master class in blind faith and mindfulness. Without guardrails, the Moki leaves no room for human error or driver negligence. One can only hope that drivers respect the speed limit without the temptation of treating the Moki like an off-road race track.


Our final set of switchbacks left me with a new-found respect for the civil engineers who deemed the Moki’s construction possible. Eighty tons of explosives transformed a mountain into a uranium ore thoroughfare; convincing courageous Cold War truck drivers that this human-sculpted road was drivable.


Despite our numerous stops for photos and honoring the five miles an hour speed limit; we completed the dugway drive in two hours.



On the Moki’s summit,  a five-mile access road leads to an overlook and camping area, known as Muley Point. Originally, our plan was to spend the night there. Unfortunately, after noticing the road was covered in slushy snow and soft mud, we decided otherwise. Without a four-wheel drive, we were not willing to risk a potential bogging in the middle of nowhere.


Muley Point access road

After a family conference, the Perfect Stranger and I decided to drive an additional fifty miles to Blanding, Utah. Having spent the last few nights camping at Goosenecks State Park, a hot shower and a warm bed sounded very appealing.


The Moki Dugway serves as a living testament to the Cold War and our nation’s urgency for nuclear superiority. Forgotten, is the government’s sacrifice of rural Utah’s health and environmental safety. Thousands of uranium miners, mill workers, local residents, and Native Americans died or were sickened from toxic exposure. Contaminated soil and water supplies have been left for generations to come. Millions of tons of radioactive tailings continue to cost American taxpayers billions of dollars to remove and safely bury.