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Month Twenty Seven of Digital Nomad Life was the first month in a while when I didn’t set foot on a plane – but that doesn’t mean we weren’t still traveling.
The first morning of month twenty seven was spent doing something I had wanted to do since first visiting Navajo National Monument back in 2010 – hiking to Betatakin cliff dwelling ruins.
I loved the hike, and visiting the Betatakin ruins have definitely made me want to come back and do the longer hike to the larger and more remote Keet Seel ruins next year.
We also visited Monument Valley during our time in the area – Toby had never been before and it was seven years since I was there. Little Casper the van held up well on the dusty roads in the valley and we stopped numerous times despite the intense heat to take photos, and even took a short walk half way around one of the buttes.
Then, we drove south to Flagstaff to do a nine day housesit, looking after two adorable pooches.
During our nine days in Flagstaff we visited a few of the local breweries and restaurants in town, took trips down to Sedona and Slide Rock and up to the Grand Canyon, and walked the dogs around the local lakes.
We loved being able to save some money by cooking, and watched a lot of ‘Mysteries at the Museum’ while chilling on the couch. The apartment was in a quiet, wooded neighborhood and our stay there was very relaxing.
On the way down to Phoenix from Flagstaff we detoured off the highway to visit the small hilltop town of Jerome, which I really loved, then spent three nights staying with one of Toby’s good friends in Phoenix.
Our time in Phoenix was spent at the house or by the pool and was generally a fun and relaxed couple of days – minus the really bad hangover I was nursing for one of them.
After farewelling our hosts, we had a long and boring day of driving to get over to the coast in California before our housesit was starting the next morning in Ojai.
We stopped for a couple of hours in Ventura and I enjoyed walking along the beach and the pier, and wandering around the cute town centre. I had never heard much about Ventura but I ended up really loving this unpretentious beach town.
After free-camping in the van outside a house under construction in Ojai, we started our eight day housesit at a cute little duplex within walking distance of the small town centre.
I was excited to be looking after a couple of kitties this time, along with an old dog that loved the beach. I had big plans to do some hiking in the mountains around Ojai but the oppressive heat stifled that, although we still had a great week there and never ran out of things to do.
Toby had five days of work at a festival in San Bernardino lined up so I had to drop him off there a couple of days before I finished the housesit, then once I had finished the sit, I drove down to LA via picturesque Highway 1 to LA’s South Bay area, to stay in a hostel in San Pedro for three nights.
When I picked the hostel, I purposely chose somewhere that was on the outskirts of LA and that wasn’t anything close to being a party hostel. And I ended up being SO happy with the hostel. I stayed at the HI South Bay and the views were incredible – overlooking the bay, the hostel is situated right behind the Korean Friendship Bell. It was quiet too, but I still managed to meet some lovely people there.
I ended up falling hard for the South Bay and nearby Long Beach – in fact, exploring both areas were the highlight of my month.
Going to places that you know so little about can sometimes be a really good thing – if you don’t have any expectations, it isn’t too hard to exceed them, and that’s exactly what happened for me – especially in regards to Long Beach.
From the South Bay I drove through LA’s endless strip mall suburbs to San Bernardino to be reunited with Toby, and we spent the night in the Hilton there which was a nice bit of luxury – you better believe I visited their jacuzzi – and it gave me the chance to do a bit more work before we were spending a couple of days offline in Yosemite.
The next day we hit the road for greener climes – Yosemite! I was over the dry desert landscape of SoCal and ready to get back into the mountains proper.
After a long afternoon and early evening of driving, we pulled up in Mammoth Lakes and found a reasonably low-key spot to park up and sleep for the night. Turns out it was conveniently located right outside the coolest cafe in town – Strange Brew – perfect for coffee and wifi to do a bit more work the next morning.
Mammoth Lakes is only about an hour from Yosemite’s eastern entrance and driving over Tioga Pass, the highest highway pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains, was spectacular.
We decided to camp in the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite for our first night and managed to nab a campsite despite not booking – score!
This part of Yosemite National Park is at 8,600 feet above sea level and we certainly felt the drop in temperature. It was rather chilly.
I ended up doing 10 miles of hiking that first day including a hike to the beautiful Elizabeth Lake which I also walked the perimeter of, slipping in the freezing cold mud onto my butt halfway around. Still worth it for the changing views of the lake.
That night was a reeeaallllllly cold one.
We hightailed it to the valley where it was a much more agreeable temperature the next morning and we were so lucky for another gorgeous day, which we put to good use by hiking to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. Another perfect Yosemite day.
Our luck for finding camping in Yosemite didn’t hold out for our second night so after a much needed shower at Half Dome Village and cooking dinner at one of the picnic tables there, we said goodbye to the park.
Groveland, California is where we ended up spending the night, stealth camping in a small shopping mall’s carpark.
The next day we drove the rest of the way to Sacramento where I did some work at the cute Temple Coffee Roasters before heading downtown to explore for a couple of hours.
Sacramento felt like a sleepy place but it was pretty. I loved the super tall palm trees lining the street where the Capitol is located.
From Sacramento we drove the short distance to my Mum’s cousin’s place in Roseville where we spent the night.
After a loooong drive up to Oregon to their cabin in Sun River, we spent the last night of month twenty seven chilling in the woods, with deer, chipmunks and squirrels.
Now onto the Stats!
Countries visited: USA
- Arizona: Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley, Flagstaff, Sedona, Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Oak Creek
- California: Ventura, Ojai, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite National Park, Sacramento, Roseville
- Oregon: Sun River
Islands visited: No islands this month
National Parks and Monuments visited: Navajo National Monument, Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park
Best meal: I was so happy to find that the excellent Cornish Pasty Co. had a restaurant in Flagstaff and I got my favorite pasty that I first tried in Phoenix last year – The Pilgrim – with turkey, sweet potatoes, grilled onions and stuffing, served with red wine gravy and cranberry sauce. Definitely the food highlight of the month! I also loved the shredded chicken sandwich and seasoned fries from Bobby D’s BBQ in Jerome, the poke bowl I had at Poke Pola in Long Beach, and the berry pie thing I had from Temple Coffee Roasters in Sacramento – it was like a cross between a pie and a croissant and was incredible.
Worst meal: The Mac and cheese I made when we were housesitting in Flagstaff. Even though the soy milk I got to make it with was unsweetened, my Mac and cheese ended up tasting like there was vanilla in it. I usually am a fan of sweet and salty together but this was pretty weird. But I’m cheap so I still ate it.
Best craft beer: I haven’t been good at keeping track of the beers I tried this month but I did really like the Pink Vapor Stew from Ska Brewing – a wild-style sour beer infused with beets, carrots, ginger and apples. I also enjoyed the eclectic offerings from Dark Sky Brewing in Flagstaff who changes their beer menu often.
- Guided hike to Betatakin Ruins in Navajo National Monument 3 miles/4.8km return
- Sandal Trail at Navajo National Monument 1 mile/1.6km return
- Section of the rim trail at Grand Canyon National Park 1.5 miles/2.5km
- Visitor Centre to Camping Ground Trail in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park 3 miles/4.8km return
- Elizabeth Lake Trail in Yosemite National Park 7 miles/11.25km return
- Mist Trail and John Muir loop trail to Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park 7.5 miles/12km
Reading: Hotel Honolulu by Paul Theroux. More a bunch of short stories told by the Hotel Manager than a complete story and quite different to the last book I read by Theroux and loved – ‘The Mosquito Coast’. I am not loving Hotel Honolulu as it feels quite disjointed and there are quite a few very disturbing tales woven in. Not Theroux’s best work.
Watching: Ozark. LOVED this show and watched the entire first season in about three evenings. Exciting, depressing, and it had me on the edge of my seat. A very different role for Jason Bateman and he absolutely kills it. Great acting and great storyline. I can’t wait to see Season two.
Finally Making it to the Betatakin Ruins
Since my first visit to Navajo National Monument with my Dad and brother in 2010, I have wanted to return to hike to the Betatakin ruins, cliff dwellings that can only be visited by a ranger led hike during summer.
I finally got to do it this month and I really loved it. I have visited a number of cliff dwellings now in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, and although you can’t enter this dwelling, we hiked right up to it and were given the history by the Ranger that took us there.
Now I want to return to do the much longer hike to the very remote Keet Seel cliff dwelling next year. We also loved the free camping ground at Navajo National Monument which had flush toilets (!) and fantastic views. The sunsets were some of the best I have seen in a while.
Sliding at Slide Rock State Park
Another spot that I visited with my Dad and brother on our road trip in 2010, it was fun to return this month and introduce Toby to the fun that is slide rock. This series of small waterfalls that have carved out the red rock are perfect for sliding as the rock is smooth and covered in algae.
The water is cold but I still slid the 80 feet of chutes a number of times, before we had to leave due to a storm rolling in. So. much. fun!
Detouring to Jerome
I love visiting new places and although I have seen a lot of Arizona after multiple visits, I hadn’t made it to the mining town turned hippy/artist enclave of Jerome until this month. So despite protests from Toby who would have preferred to take the highway straight down to Phoenix, we detoured to visit Jerome and I am so glad that we did!
Jerome sits at different levels up a steep hillside overlooking the plains below and is a mix of falling down historic wooden buildings that are now home to art galleries, souvenir shops and restaurants, and newer constructions.
I loved just poking around the shops and had an excellent meal at Bobby D’s BBQ washed down with prickly pear lemonade. A very cool little town.
Small Town Living in Ojai
Our week at our housesit in Ojai was pretty laid back, mostly because there wasn’t a whole lot to see and do in tiny Ojai. We took the dog to the local waterhole to swim, we checked out the awesome Sunday Farmers Market and local shops, we rode bikes along the bike trail through town, visited the excellent outdoor book shop – Bart’s Books, I worked at a couple of local cafes, and I visited the recreation centre to swim and do some weights.
We really enjoyed just hanging out at the small duplex too – there was a jacuzzi, a great outdoor area where I worked on the patio, and a well-stocked kitchen were we cooked most evenings. Ojai was pretty chilled, and pretty awesome. And the kitty love was of course also much appreciated.
Back by the Coast in California
I hadn’t expected to be back by the coast until my return to New Zealand in November so it was a treat to be in California where we made the most of the endless sunshine and warm temperatures on the coast.
With our base in the mountains in Ojai, we were only 20 minutes drive from the coast and visited fancy Santa Barbara, down to earth Ventura, and quiet Carpinteria during our time there.
After our housesit in Ojai, I stayed at a hostel in San Pedro in LA’s South Bay, and from there visited the massively underrated Long Beach, and the beach communities of Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach – all of which I loved. The mountains are my true love, but the coast is a close second.
Loving Long Beach
Long Beach was never somewhere I was interested in visiting – I had heard it was a pretty rough place and so it held no appeal to me. But when I was staying nearby at a hostel in San Pedro, I decided to check it out. My friend Dani had been to Long Beach before and enjoyed her time there so it made me want to make the effort and explore.
With her suggestions, I visited a couple of cool cafes, had excellent chicken and waffles at the famous Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles and a super fresh poke bowl from Poke Pola, visited the shops along walkable Second Street, lay on the wide expanse of beach at Bluff Park, and visited the ageing but elegant old ocean liner – the RMS Queen Mary.
I also strolled the beautiful Shoreline Village and Rainbow Marina to the lighthouse, and around Rainbow Lagoon Park. Turns out Long Beach is really, really cool and is somewhere I would definitely return to.
Exploring LA’s South Bay
Along with my excellent hostel situated on the cliffs with spectacular views, another highlight of my three days staying in LA’s South Bay was a day exploring the beach communities of Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach.
I am not a big LA fan but I would happily live in one of these three towns. Manhattan Beach was my favorite – I had great coffee from a Kiwi owned place in Manhattan Beach and loved the pretty town centre and the lovely beach with its sand dunes and pier.
Hermosa Beach has a younger, funkier vibe, and I liked the palm-tree lined promenade with its surf shops and bars. I just stopped into Redondo Beach but I loved all the seafood restaurants on the pier and the sand dune backed beach.
I drove back to San Pedro via the Palos Verdes Peninsula and was so impressed by the striking coastal scenery – another gem in LA’s South Bay.
Hiking in Yosemite
Toby and I visited Yosemite back in May last year but the weather was so bad that we ended up having to leave without actually doing anything in the park. This visit our luck changed and we had two days of spectacular weather which allowed us to do a couple of very beautiful hikes – to Elizabeth Lake and to Vernal and Nevada Fall. Elizabeth Lake was stunning with super clear water and backed by jagged mountains – a very peaceful spot.
Vernal and Nevada Falls were not so peaceful as it is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite, but both falls were incredibly beautiful and we got the classic views of the rock mountains that Yosemite Valley is famous for.
Stealth Camping in the Van
I love our little van Casper and the fact that it doesn’t look like a campervan due to its size and the popularity of the Transit Connect as a work vehicle.
We had this in mind when we bought the van and put it to the test a few times this month – camping on a suburban street in Ojai, on the main street in Mammoth Lakes, and in a shopping centre parking lot in Groveland – and we weren’t moved on once.
We have already developed some great tactics to successfully stealth camp and I’m excited to share them with you guys soon.
Feeling Down in Flagstaff
This life is pretty damn awesome but its not always sunshine and rainbows. During my time in Flagstaff I wasn’t feeling myself, I was in a bit of a funk and feeling mildly depressed. It was for no discernible reason, all I can think of is that I was a bit lonely.
I love hanging out with Toby but you need more interaction and support in life than just your partner and I have been missing having a community. Feeling like this definitely makes me even more keen to have a base for at least part of the year.
Hot, Hot, Hot in Ojai
During our week in Ojai temperatures were soaring, so plans to hike in the surrounding mountains ended up being thrown out the window. The house we were looking after didn’t have aircon, and only had one fan – something we suffered because of. Even late in the evening we were sweating – there was no escape. Hence why we spent so much time down on the coast.
Hungover in Phoenix
The first night we spent with Toby’s friends in Phoenix ended up involving a lot of drinks, shots and little food. It was really fun, but my God did I pay for it the next day. Worst hangover in a long time and I truly suffered.
An Extremely Cold Night in Yosemite
Our first night in Yosemite was unbearably cold – for me at least. I couldn’t sleep for ages because my legs were actually aching from the cold and I was shivering. In the end I put on my puffer jacket and finally got warm enough to sleep. It snowed there a couple of days after we left and I was not at all surprised.
Traffic in LA
Urgh, the traffic in LA is as bad as everyone makes out, maybe worse. It took me hours to get from Malibu down to San Pedro, with gridlock traffic through Santa Monica, Venice, and the highway down to South Bay, and when I dropped Toby off in East LA for work, it took me at least an hour longer than it should have to get back to Ojai. I don’t know how locals can deal with it daily – it would drive me nuts.
OK, so I didn’t get it down to the $800 this month that I was hoping for, but if you take away the cost of my expensive Chaco sandals – my monthly total is in fact just under $800. Not bad. I don’t have any big ticket expenses next month so the total should be a little lower.
My paid accommodation this month consisted of three nights in a hostel dorm in LA’s South Bay (Toby paid for one), and a nights camping in Yosemite. The rest of the month we housesat in Flagstaff and Ojai for a total of 17 nights, we stayed with friends and family for five nights, free camped in the van for four nights, and stayed in a hotel covered by Toby’s work for one night.
Food and Drink $480
A pretty average month for me in regards to food and drink spending. We were housesitting for half the month so we cooked a lot, as well as cooking while we were camping so we didn’t eat out as much as the previous couple of months.
- Black Skinny Jeans $38
- Jandalls $4.50
- Hiking singlet $11
- Chaco Hiking Sandals $140
- Gas $40
- Parking in Long Beach $2
A lot of our gas was covered as travel costs by Toby’s job in California this month.
- Entry fee to Monument Valley $10
- National Parks Annual Pass $40 (my half)
- Toiletries $22
- Monthly Phone Plan $25
- Dreamcatcher Necklace $15
- Books $20
- Towel $6
What’s in Store for Next Month
The beginning of month twenty eight will be spent in Oregon, one of my favorite States, but somewhere we hadn’t planned to return to any time soon.
As the resort town of Sun River is only a short drive to the adventure town of Bend, we are planning to spend a day there, exploring town, visiting the Deshutes Brewery and visiting my friend Colleen who settled there nine months ago.
We also want to bike the trails around Sun River and check out the little town centre, and perhaps do a hike.
Despite driving up to Sun River in my Aunt’s car (we helped her drive as it takes seven hours), we were going to be flying back to Roseville, in my Aunt’s husband’s private four seater plane!
I’ve spoken on here before about my fear of flying, and I admit that I am a bit nervous about flying in such a tiny plane, my smallest yet. After facing my fears and doing a flightseeing tour in a ten seater plane in Alaska a couple of years ago, my fear has actually lessened so hopefully it all goes well.
After a night in Roseville we will be heading off on our own again and traveling to a place I have wanted to visit for a long time – Lake Tahoe!
We are planning to camp around Lake Tahoe for a couple of nights (hopefully it won’t be too cold!) and I want to hike the trails and explore the small towns around the lake. I am so excited!
After Tahoe we will surely be ready for a shower so have used Toby’s points to book a room at the Holiday Inn in Reno for the night.
Then from Reno we will be back in Vegas, for the second time in three months.
Toby is working a lantern festival for ten days and I am hoping to spend a night or two at the hotel with him, just relaxing, working and visiting the pool, before making my way to Flagstaff – either via Route 66 or Zion National Park – to housesit at the same place we were housesitting in last month.
I am looking forward to being back in Flagstaff as I still have a few places and activities on my to-do list and it will be nice to see the sweet dogs again. And to slow down, if even for a week.
I’m hoping to visit Wupatki National Monument, Walnut Canyon, Lowell Observatory for a night program, the fall colors on the surrounding peaks, and a few cafes downtown. My friend Sarah is coming up for a couple of nights from Phoenix so I’m sure we will get a lot of fun sightseeing done together.
When the sit finishes I have one night before picking Toby up from Phoenix so I’m thinking of either spending the night in Sedona or Prescott.
Once I pick Toby up we will be driving to Toby’s Dad’s place in Espanola, New Mexico for four nights from where we are planning to attend the last weekend of the Albuquerque Balloon Fest – my first time! – as well as doing our regular New Mexico staples, soaking at Ojo Caliente and visiting Meow Wolf to try solving more of the mystery.
We will have one night before we start a housesit in Morrison and I really want to stay at Valley View Hot Springs near Salida, Colorado as you can camp there for free out of season, just paying for 24 hour access to the hot springs. My fingers are crossed that there will still be some fall colors in Colorado on the drive up too.
The last week of month twenty eight we will be housesitting and looking after a labradoodle in the sweet little mountain town of Morrison. It’s a dream sit for us as we love being in the mountains while also being close to Toby’s family. Morrison and nearby Golden are two towns that we are seriously considering living in one day.
I’m hoping to get out hiking, spend lots of time with family and friends, and to tackle some of my Denver oversights including eating at D Bar and Linger, trying Colorado pizza for the first time at Beau Jo’s, drinking at the the speakeasy Williams and Graham, and hitting up some breweries I haven’t visited yet.
Bring on month twenty eight!
To read additional Monthly Round Ups, you can find them here
Hahaha “But I’m cheap so I still ate it.” I hear ya. I do love being in places where I can cook! Can’t wait to do a little housesitting again. And I’m pumped to hear about stealth camping, sounds so sneaky. Man, you are seeing so much of the US! I’m in the UK now, but heading home soon! Can’t wait to show the British boyfriend around a bit.
Yep – gotta save those pennies when you are a poor freelancer, the weird taste kinda dissipated as the days went on. It took me three days to eat it because Toby wouldn’t touch it haha. I’m definitely going to write a stealth camping guide soon – I love the sneakiness of it, feels so good when you get away with it!