2017 Escape to Iceland – Day 1

Last May I planned a trip to Iceland with four of my friends that was full of fun, adventure, exploration, and seeing many of the wonders of this beautiful country.

To begin our Iceland adventure we flew out of Los Angeles on WOW air, one of the only non-stop flights to Keflavik, Iceland. WOW air has fairly low-cost flights but there are some serious trade-offs when choosing this carrier. They have a very restrictive carry-on policy that charges $40 each way for what you would normally be able to take on many other carriers without charge (small overhead suitcase). It was a good thing I wore my heavy jacket for the flight because of limited packing and how cold it was on the plane. WOW air does not provide any complementary food or drink on the 10-hour international flight. In short, if you want to take an inexpensive flight to Iceland, be prepared that WOW air will be a budget flight in all means.

On the Road to Iceland
Let the Adventure Begin! On the Road to Reykjadalur Hot Springs!

After landing at Keflavik International Airport we went to a rental car agency I had researched online as one that should be easy and convenient. It definitely was not that simple as we went through a terrible shuttle experience from the airport trying to locate the agency. For some reason it always seems to be high drama for me at the rental car portion of traveling but once we hopped into our 4WD Toyota RAV4 and raced out of the airport towards our first adventure, all the drama was forgotten.

River Varma
River Varma, Reykjadalur Valley, Iceland

We headed straight towards our first planned hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs which was a perfect way to get rested up from an overnight flight. Reykjadalur is located in a geothermal area in South Iceland near the town of Hverageri. The hot steamy River Varma flows through the valley and town of Hverageri making it a beautiful must see while in Iceland. The hike is about 2.5 miles of off and on steep terrain through lava sites with the river running along side. The smell of sulfur from the underground hot springs bubbling up can be strong as you reach the increasingly heavy steam coming up at the boiling sites. The parking lot at the the trail head has a small café where you can each lunch. Make sure to check the hours of business carefully as we learned about how easily it is to miss out on eating due to the fact that it is day light most of the day and easy to forget about time.

River Varma
River Varma
Relaxing Soak in the Hot Spring
Relaxing Soak in Reykjadalur Hot Spring
Hot Springs
Reykjadalur Hot Springs Area for Safe Soaking
Hot Springs
Hot Springs Warnings

Once at the safe area to enter the hot springs to swim and soak in there is a platform to set your belongings on and partitions to provide privacy while changing clothes. Bring a bathing suit and towel with you to dry off with after enjoying the relaxing soak.  Prior to leaving on this trip I purchased the small, quick- dry travel towel from Amazon that came in handy for most of the trip but I suggest buying the large size towel as mine was too small. Make sure to read all the signs along the path because there are some areas that are very hot and can be a danger to sit in. Keep walking until you come to the appropriate site to soak in which will be marked as safe.

Sulphur Hot Springs
Sulphur Smell Bubbling Up!
Ljosafossakoli Hostel
Ljosafossakoli Hostel

After a full and exhausting day we arrived at Ljosafossakoli Hostel to stay for our first night. We arrived very late and were concerned that we may not be able to get inside the hostel. The owners left the door to our room open with a welcoming note attached that provided us with instructions for our stay. I was pleasantly surprised having never stayed at a hostel before by a very clean and comfortable experience with several bathrooms and a kitchen available where we could warm up some coffee and snacks. We had our own room with towels and sheets provided and a beautiful view of outside. The blackout curtains on the windows were perfect due to the long daylight hours in Iceland during May. We had a good sleep but had to wake up early the next morning to hit the trail towards adventures at Golden Circle!

 

Looking Back at 2017 and Forward to 2018!

 

Skaftarhreppur
Skaftarhreppur, Southern Iceland

2017 was an amazing jam packed year of adventures for me. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to many countries, see many different landscapes, animals, and cultures, and checked off several of my bucket list items along the way. I also launched my quest for a new path in life that will focus more on the positives, while still holding deep respect for the current service that I fulfill that has enabled me to pursue travel and hobbies. The year ended for me on a tragic note with the sudden passing of my beloved dog. He was my loyal friend and partner in adventure. He comforted me through life’s ups and downs for over 13 years.  I have been truly blessed with his companionship and his loss is felt by many who knew him. My other dog, remains my furry companion helping me through this challenging time that only a dog lover can understand. 

Jalama Beach
Camping at Jalama Beach with my Best Friend 2008

As 2018 begins, I have many new adventures in plan. Most of them will be day or weekend trips to escape life’s responsibilities and truly enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. My big trip this year that I will be focusing on is a three-week tour of Kenya, Zambia, Zanzibar, Tanzania, and Switzerland. Although I love the many wonders of the United States, part of my heart resides in Africa as I hear that same comment from many others who have visited there. In reflecting on 2017, I will share a few highlights of the most memorable escapes I enjoyed throughout the year. 

Colorado
Colorado Springs, Colorado

The adventures started in February with a trip to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Tulum on and off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. I swam and snorkeled in some of the most beautiful reefs, walked along white sandy beaches, shopped and ate in fantastic shops and restaurants, and visited ancient cultural ruins and landmarks. 

March and April led me to South Africa and Namibia. I spent a week in Kruger National Park visiting beautiful lodges surrounding myself with lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and numerous other African animals roaming the lush green vegetation of Eastern South Africa. Then off for a week in Namibia. Starting in the northern part of the country visiting the Okonjima Valley loaded with giraffes, zebras, oryx, and wart hogs grazing on the vast green grasslands peppered with rust colored ant hills as tall as myself and finishing in the Namibian dunes of Sossusvlei. The simple natural beauty of the Namib Desert is one of those places that can only be imagined in person since photos of Deadvlei end up looking like paintings. My trip ended in Cape Town as I traveled from the vineyards of South African wine country to the gorgeous coastlines along the Atlantic and Indian Oceans with my favorite stops being at Boulders Beach to spend time with the African Penguins, skydiving outside of Cape Town, and shark cage diving off Seal Island. On the way home I spent a quick day layover in Madrid, Spain touring the beautiful architectural and historical sites from a city tour bus. 

Iceland
Iceland

In May I travelled with a group of friends to Iceland. It was an amazing trip so tightly packed with chasing waterfalls, hiking cliff faces, swimming between continents, hot spring dips, hurriedly racing to the next destination, with virtually no sleep and lack of food just to take in every possible inch of this fairy tale land. Shortly after coming back from Iceland, I took my mom to Zion National Park in Utah for her birthday. We hiked through Zion and then went to Page, Arizona to walk through Antelope Canyon and kayak on Lake Powell. It was quite an adventure for her because she loves the outdoors but not as the same level of extreme that I do. To finish up May, I went to Ensenada, Mexico to rest on the beach following a full day of exploring the area on ATVs.

After the busy month of May, I escaped for a weekend in June to Mammoth Mountain for some snowboarding, hiking, eating, drinking, and generally having a great reunion with old friends. 

Twin Lakes
Twin Lakes with Twin Falls

July took me back to Mexico. It was a relaxing outdoor escape for a friend’s birthday to soak up the sun and wade in the ocean before taking in some local wineries that rivaled those in Temecula Valley. The following weekend was July 4th celebration at Lake Havasu filled with swimming and boating on the lake amongst all the typical summer river crowds. 

I made my first trip to Maui in September. It is a beautiful island full of all my favorite things to do. The eight-day trip was filled with swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, hiking, and of course chasing waterfalls. The best thing I accomplished in Maui was to take a selfie with not just one, but many sea turtles, fulfilling a bucket list item. 

In October I visited Yosemite for the first time. It was a perfect time to be there due to the changing fall colors and pristine fresh snowfall. We did many challenging hikes, chased waterfalls, and practiced using my new Nikon camera trying to capture the breathtaking panoramic views all over Yosemite Park.

Yosemite Park
Yosemite Park

In November I went to Colorado for some hiking and exploration around the Rocky Mountain and Colorado Springs area. We took in some of the local breweries and did some whiskey tasting. I wasn’t able to spend many days there and now must plan another trip because there is so much more to see. For Thanksgiving week, I took my dad on a road trip up the California coast with stops in San Francisco, Napa Valley for some wine tasting, Muir woods, Point Reyes National seashore, and a cheese factory in Petaluma. 

As 2018 moves along, I will be mixing local hikes with short trip adventures, all while planning my big escape in August. Much of my time will be spent on my new admiration for the practice of yoga as I pursue something that I love as much as outdoor adventures. Stay tuned for more posts of past escapes!

 

Heart Rock Trail – Hiking to Escape

Heart Rock
Heart Rock

Located in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California is a short and easy hike to a beautiful overlook called “Heart Rock”.  To reach Heart Rock/Seely Creek Trail take CA-18 to CA-138 W in Crestline. The trail starts about ¼ mile south of the entrance to Camp Seely where you can find parking either before Camp Seeley or along the road past the entrance. No Adventure Pass is required for this part of the National Forest but it is recommended to always check if a pass is required before parking. The approximately one-mile round trip hike takes you along Seely Creek the majority of the distance with gorgeous views of the mountain forest. The leaves were changing colors and falling from the trees and it was not too cold yet, so November was a perfect time to visit here. Walking along the creek you will reach a fork in the trail. Steer to the right until reaching the rock landing area marking the trail’s end. There are markers along the trail to lead you in the right direction. Right below the landing is the famous heart-shaped hole in the cliff next to a waterfall. Even though there are ways to climb down into the heart, it is not recommended because the slippery rocks can cause easy falling. I highly recommend Heart Rock Trail for anyone in the area to take because it’s a quick and easy trail to explore the beauty of nature outdoor!

 

Shooting Stars

Stars
Stars Above Light Painted Pines

I learned last night that night photography is definitely not as simple as day photography. My goal has been to learn how to take pictures of stars and star trails. It was my first attempt at shooting stars with my new Nikon D3400 and Tamron 16-300 mm lens. I purposely chose a night that would have a new moon (less light) and studied the weather forecast to make sure clouds would not be a problem. My grandpa has taken some beautiful star trail shots so we went out into the forest and he guided me along. Before dark, I set up my lens to the proper focus using auto focus while taking a picture then used some gaffers tape on the lens to hold it in that position. I then changed the lens setting to manual focus and waited until it was dark outside. After finding a level and sturdy area to set up my tripod, using my red-light head lamp, I set my camera and lens to the following settings:

  • Camera on Manual Mode
  • ISO setting of 6400
  • Aperture Setting of 4
  • Shutter Speed of 20 seconds
  • White Balance to Incandescent (bluer shots) or Cloudy or Daylight (yellower shots)
  • Vibration Reduction on lens to OFF
  • Lens set from Auto Focus to Manual Focus
  • Exposure Compensation at 0.0
  • Wireless Shutter Remote

I experimented taking different shots by changing the ISO to 3200 and the White Balance from incandescent to cloudy. My photos turned out fairly good for my first time but maybe because we went out too soon after sunset the light pollution seemed to not help with capturing the numerous stars that can not be seen with the human eye. With anything in life, if you want to be good at something it requires practice and patience. My next trip with require both as I want to move on to capturing star trails soon.

Escape to Colorado – Part 1

Escape to Colorado
Escape to Colorado

I took a quick outdoor escape to the great state of Colorado for the first time this last weekend. We boarded an early morning flight from Los Angeles to Denver and picked up our rental car to start the journey to Colorado Springs for the day. Being tired from the exhausting logistics of an early flight, we stopped at Crowfoot Valley Coffee in Castle Rock for a much-needed caffeine fix. I had a vanilla chai latte with soy milk and a chocolate chip muffin at this cute little coffee-house. Nice place and successfully recharged us for the busy day ahead. 

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek
Colorado
Hike to Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls

We made it to Colorado Springs in good time and started our first hike at Garden of the Gods Park. This registered National Natural Landmark has a fantastic Visitor and Nature Center with exhibits and history of the area. Admittance to the park is free and the large main parking lot makes stopping at the Visitor Center convenient. There is limited parking along the road throughout the park to pull off and take a view of the towering sandstone rock formations set against the snow-topped Pikes Peak and bright blue skies. There are fifteen miles of trails within the park area. Due to time constraints, we took a few of the shorter trails where we could see the red rock formations surrounded by the brilliant blue sky peppered with fluffy white clouds. Nature had made photography easy for me by creating the postcard perfect weather.

Our next stop was Rainbow Falls located on Fountain Creek in the West end of Manitou Springs. There is a cement walkway along the river, which was brimming with fast-moving water. After walking along the path for a short time, we came to the waterfall located under a bridge. The area is call Rainbow Falls due to the massive amounts of colorful graffiti on the rocks and trees. It was a little shocking at first because I hate to see anything defaced but the area is known for this “nature art” and that is what draws crowds making it definitely different from what you normally see at a waterfall.

With the day passing quickly, we headed to North Cheyenne Canon Park to hike to Helen Hunt Falls. We took the short walk to the top of the falls and also viewed it from the base. Helen Hunt falls is a fairly small waterfall compared to other waterfalls I have seen but glad we went to take in the beautiful views and the nice drive up in the park with many places to stop and explore along the way.

As it was starting to get dark we drove towards our hotel in Estes Park, very exhausted from our day that had started at 4:00 am. We stopped at Sweet Basilico Café and I had veggie lasagna that was vary good. After that I fell into bed and slept  like a bear because of the long day of fresh air, beautiful sights, and successful great first day in Colorado.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mammoth Lakes, California

Convict Lake
Convict Lake

It’s amazing to take a trip somewhere in California during the month of June where you can bundle up in a jacket, gloves, and scarf and enjoy the cold weather with snow coming down around you. I found it in Mammoth Lakes this year. We took a short trip for some hiking, snowboarding, warming up in natural hot springs, and of course enjoying local food and drinks. Our first stop was Convict Lake. There is easy parking here next to the lake where you can take a gorgeous walk around the amazing bright blue water. Convict Lake is great for fishing and hiking and has camping facilities. Close by is Twin Lakes, another beautiful set of lakes surrounded by snow crested mountains with Twin Falls empting into them.  

Mammoth Mountain is one of California’s best places for skiing and snowboarding. We took in a full day of boarding even though it was snowing the entire time on the slopes with visibility of only about ten feet. When we had enough of the slopes we went to Wild Willy’s Hot Spring to warm up. It can get crowded here at times but we were lucky enough to not have many people when we went. This was a perfect way to get the frost out of our bodies while viewing the beautiful snow topped mountains that surrounded us.  Make sure to bring a towel with you because it gets cold once out and walking back to the parking area. After warming up we went back to our lodge and made our traditional pasta and garlic bread dinner we reserve for “snowy” trips.

The next day we visited Hot Creek Geological Site. It is located off Hot Creek Hatchery Road and US-395. To reach this geological wonder of nature, take the short trail from the parking area. The bright blue sulfur smelling water bubbling up from the creek bed reminded me of places I have visited in Iceland. It is a beautiful view but entering the water is prohibited due to the varying temperature changes resulting in sometimes extreme hot water.  We ended the day at Mammoth Brewing Company. I loved their root beer and then progressed to a flight tasting of their craft beers and then on to having ramen noodles at Sushi Rei, one of Mammoth Lakes best sushi bars. This was a perfect way to end a June escape with friends to snow in California!

Oceanside Harbor, California

Sunset Oceanside
Always Time For Yoga, Oceanside Sunset

After a long day at work one of my favorite things to do is stop at Oceanside Harbor and escape from the stressful commute in freeway traffic and refresh myself for the evening.  I usually take a walk or jog along the waterfront passing the many boats rocking gently in their slips and restaurants full of people enjoying an outdoor meal. Opposite the big “Oceanside” letters on the hillside towards the middle of the harbor area is a dock with a nice kayak and paddleboard launch that is open to the public. I take my paddleboard there on weekends as the floating platform makes it very easy to get on and off the board without jumping into the water. Parking is almost always available and very easy to find, unlike most Orange County Beachs. Right around this area is where groups of sea lions come to climb onto the dock and dry off in the sun. It is amazing to watch these huge animals easily propel themselves out of the water and onto the dock. I can spend hours watching them fight for position and snuggle with each other while snorting and barking loudly. As the sea lions finally get situated and ready for their naps, the sun starts going down while highlighting the beautiful view of the harbor in shades of orange and red. Unfortunately, now that the time has changed and it gets dark earlier, I will miss the sea lion ritual and wait anxiously for summer to return.