get outdoors! go camping!

that's a nice dinner!
that's a nice dinner!

there comes a time in a young father’s life when he realizes that his son (or daughter) is all grown up and won’t be asking for advice any longer, you know somewhere around 16 or 17. for me, that day came a couple of weekends ago when i took my 2 1/2 year old son, jake, on his first camping trip at leo carillo state campground, just outside of malibu, california. jake has amazed me for some time, but this is the first real one on one time we have had in a long time. we had the whole weekend together. i felt like i was spending time with a 5 year old.

when it was time to unpack the tent, i heard “daddy, can i help you?”, when it was time to stick the stakes in the ground, “daddy can i help you?”, when it was time to put the sleeping bags in the tent, “daddy can i help you?” jake has always been a good helper but this time it just seemed different, he just seemed more mature. when i was lighting the campfire, he stood there and said “can i say a pear?” 4 or 5 times and i really couldn’t figure out what he was saying, then it hit me. he wanted to say a “prayer” because he remembered when he and  mom would light the minorah and they would recite the jewish prayer. he said ashare a couple of times (which is more than i can remember) and i think i said something about sleeping through the night, so in essence we did say a prayer. i was in awe.

then, when we were sitting across the picnic table from each other, my back was closest to the fire , i asked him if he wanted to come over and sit next to me closer to the fire as it was getting a little cold. he waved his hand around and said “no, i like to sit here and look at all this.” what he was referring to was the trees and the mountains in the background. yes, he definately had the better seat and even at 2 1/2 years old, he knew it. that, he surely gets from his mother.

he listened to everything i had to say and when i asked him to do something, he would do it. i never had to repeat myself (and for the record he is pretty good at home too, but as anyone who has had kids will tell you, they don’t always, shall we say, listen). at night, while sleeping in the tent, we both lay on our new air mattress (yes, i’ve prided myself as a die hard camper who would never use an airmatress, but what can i say, kids?), i realized jake is a real snuggler. we don’t share a family bed at home so i’ve never spent the night with him and i have to say it was one of the more special things i can remember about the weekend. i woke up at one point and he is strewn across my stomach, completely asleep. another time he was nuzzled under my arm. by the way, he is a super sleeper and this was no exception.

the point of all this, GO CAMPING! i really mean it. in that short weekend, i feel like we bonded in a way that we hadn’t before. i’ve moved up the airstream on my priority list to have it finished be the end of the summer. our whole family will be going on a camping trip at the end of april to new mexico and in october we’ll be going to the world famous balloon fiesta in albequerque, new mexico. i’m really excited about enjoying the outdoors with my family. it doesn’t get any better than that!

get outdoors! joshua tree national park

joshua trees at sunset
joshua trees at sunset

ah, the desert, or is it dessert? one is sand, the other is chocolate. no matter, i love them both. joshua tree national park in southern california is one of my favorite places and a spectacular place to visit for the day or a whole week. now, don’t expect amusement rides here kiddos, this isn’t disneyland or disneyworld, kind of the exact opposite. what you will find is a desert environment unlike anywhere else in the world. Three ecosystems meet here, including the colorado desert, mojave desert, which is home to the famed joshua tree (yes, made infamous by u2’s joshua tree album), and the little san bernardino mountains.

joshua tree national park, or “jtree” as we-in-the-know like to refer to it, is located about 90 miles east of los angeles, california and lies within a 3 hour drive of some 18 million people. it is the kind of place to escape for a day or week and remove yourself from society for a little while. there are many activities within the park including hiking, backpacking, camping, and rockclimbing (my favorite activity and one i did quite often before the kiddos came along).

for the daytrippers, this is the perfect day getaway. i’ve made many trips on a saturday or sunday for rockclimbing. we’d leave los angeles at 7:00, arrive in the park and ready to climb by about 9:30 and start heading home around 4:00 and get home around 6:30. it’s also a great place for dayhiking as well, so you angelenos out there, if time is tight, just go out for the day, you’ll be glad you did.

the view from ryan mountain
the view from ryan mountain
a typical jtree campsite, tent not included
a typical jtree campsite, tent not included

for the campers, there are several great camping spots including hidden valley (hard to find a spot and filled with rock climbers), ryan campground (nice and should find a spot if you arrive by friday midday) or jumbo rocks, a little further in the park and more secluded  (but bigger campground than others), are some of my favorites. there are no services within the park so you must bring all food and water with you (joshua tree, california is right outside the park and has all services) and ladies, there are no running toilets or restrooms, but pit toilets are the norm (they are what they sound like).

for the non-campers, there are several choices of places to stay. you’ll find mostly motel 6 type places located outside the park in joshua tree and nearby yucca valley. for a real weekend getaway, i recommend staying at the desert lily, a boutique bed and breakfast, located just outside the park (carrie yeager, the owner, was recently  featured in the shout out!).

i dug into the files for this one (my first rock climbing class)
i dug into the files for this one (my first rock climbing class)

for the rockclimbers (did i metion i did this a lot before the kiddos?), there are over 5,000 routes in the park ranging from super easy to super hard. for those of you who always wanted to try rockclimbing, this is one of the best places to do it. contact the joshua tree rockclimbing school or vertical adventures for lessons. both outfits run very safe and fun operations. i recommend taking a saturday and sunday class and staying in the park overnight (motels are nearby if you’re not the camping type).

the best times to visit the park are october thru may. the summers get blistering hot (this is the desert afterall) and the winters are beautiful during the day but freezing cold at night (this is the high desert, elevation 3000’+). the desert wildflower season is almost upon us and you can get a pretty good show in the park.  

so whether you want to go out to joshua tree national park  for some peace and quiet, see an amazing display of stars amongst the dark skies,  or you want to tell everyone how cool you are because you just got back from “jtree”, you should put it on your to-do-list. i assure you, you won’t be disappointed and you might even get a little dirty.

desert big horn sheep
desert big horn sheep

sometimes, you just have to say it. . . go take a hike!

the new year always brings the new resolutions that we commit to at the beginning ojake-hiking-1f each year. no doubt, on the top of most people’s list, is the committment to get more exercise. with our busy days and family lives, it can be difficult to find time to do just that. also, many people just aren’t in to the gym scene. BUT, one thing everyone can do is go for a hike in your local mountains. for you flatlanders, there is plenty of hiking in your neighborhood, along rivers, along golf courses to name a few. oh yeah, and a trip to the local mall doesn’t count, even if it’s an outdoor mall like the ones that i’m surrounded by here in los angeles.

speaking of los angeles, we’re blessed with sunny weather for a majority of the year and are in close proximity to the ocean, mountains, and desert. as i write this today, it’s a nice 65 degrees out (so why am i inside writing this…).  i’m not sure what it is in new hampshire where i grew up and my sister lives (i talked to her the other day and i think she was getting 8 inches of snow while we were on the phone), but there are opportunities there to strap on the snow shoes and enjoy the fresh air. right in our neighborhood are the local santa monica mountains which provide a plethora of hiking opportunities for all levels.jake-hiking-2

the attached photos are of my son jake who is 2 1/2 years old and loves to hike. he simply has to go outside and breathe the fresh air. on those weekends when we get a late start getting outside, he gets antsy and a little cranky. once we step outside, an instant change takes place (similar to when the incredible hulk changes back to bruce banner, but with a smile and without the ripped clothes). i frequently take jake hiking in the santa monica mountains and i’m committing myself to getting my wife and other  son remy out there as well. so exercise shouldn’t be looked at as a dreaded thing on your to do list, it should recharge your batteries, give your body the fresh oxygen it needs. SO with all that said, stop reading right now and go take a hike!