Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark

Amboy Crater

Located a bit north of Joshua Tree, Amboy Crater is the remnant of a volcanic explosion some 80,000 years ago. And, it’s one helluva fun hike.

Once you park in the paved parking lot (where the only bathrooms are located), you set off towards the reddish black cone jutting out of the desert landscape. It’s easy to get there, as you simply walk along a particularly well-kept trail toward the only real feature of note.

But, once you get to the base of the cone, you start to climb some rocky terrain, which can be pretty danged slippery. The loose gravel and rocks can make getting up the hill a bit treacherous, so I would recommend a pair of trekking poles and some boots with decent grip. Why, yes, I would like to take a moment to recommend my Vasque Breeze 2.0 boots.

You COULD stick to walking around the inside of the crater, but honestly, if you are capable of doing so, keep on scrambling your way up until you’ve reached the top.

Once you reach the lip, you have earned the 360-degree view of the surrounding desert. Miles of desert view lie around the crater, with the Bullion and Bristol Mountains looming over the valley. There are also a few scattered reminders of humanity dotting the landscape.

Alas, there is little in the way of nourishment in the surrounding area, so make sure to take some snacks for the road on top of your favorite light trail snacks. As always, take your wrappers with you and stick to the Leave No Trace principles.



Life Happens

Last year Cal & I experienced phenomenal memories, witnessed immeasurable beauty, and suffered tremendous loss.  We frolicked in the snow with our dogs, ate amazing nachos at the Grand Canyon, explored local hiking spots. We ran our first 5K, drank butterbeer until our heart’s content at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, revisited Yosemite and our favorite non-camping lodgings in the Eastern Sierras: The Yosemite Bug Lodge.

We saw a Bollywood extravaganza, old-time Americana, and fireworks at the Redlands Bowl. We bought a new van, and as a test drive, drove from California to Utah, with visits to Kodachrome Basin State Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. We competed in our first Questival, where we laughed, rode, and explored San Diego.

We had plans to blog about it all. Then, the day after returning from San Diego’s Cotopaxi Questival, I got news that my mom passed away suddenly and life came to a standstill. Actually, it was quite the opposite. It was chaos.

I replaced plans to explore with arguments with my siblings. I replaced work with calls from sobbing family. I replaced time to think with meetings with mortuaries and cemeteries. But I also soon replaced a deep sense of loss with an overwhelming sensation of love. Cal held me as waves of emotion tumbled me around. A friend from college wrote an original composition for a photo gallery. Another brought me baked goods. Some friends sent flowers, some friends sent cards, and others showed up at my doorstep, one to take us out to sushi, and another with nachos at the ready.

It’s been four months since this happened, and I still tear up at how absolutely amazing Cal and my friends were during this time.

Then, in mid-December, Cal’s dad, Scott, passed away suddenly. But rather than the gamut of emotions running rampant among my family, there was an overwhelming melancholic celebration of Scott’s life. We told stories of bad puns and ridiculous tales of Scott’s misadventures.

Raucous laughter over Cards Against Humanity, all-you-can-eat sushi, and exploration of local hiking spots filled our time, while the continued outpouring of love filled our hearts.

We’ve recently begun the process of figuring out how to best honor the memory of our parents, and it begins with distilling their best traits and trying to amplify them. My mom took care of others, so I’ve been trying to be more conscientious of agreeing to help people, even if it is inconvenient. Scott never stopped learning, so we want to continue to explore wilderness, go fishing, get out, get lost, and figure it all out.

As we do, expect new articles (and plenty of pictures), as well as a few post-dated articles as we catch up on some of the experiences we had in 2017. Thanks for your patience, fine readers. Here’s to now.


A Tribe Called Questival – New Adventures Await

Questival Logo

Gonna be a llamazing experience.

Two days from now, on September 15th, Team Bristleconers will be competing against over 175 teams in the San Diego Questival. The event, which lasts for 24 hours, is part scavenger hunt, part race, part team-building exercise on steroids, is hosted by Cotopaxi.

Here’s the rundown:
You sign up for the race of your choice here: CLICK ME!
You download the Questival App
You get a pre-event packet detailing what to bring (sleeping back, charger packs for your phone, etc)
You show up to a launch party, get a free backpack
Your app gets loaded up with lists of things to do
You go absolutely nuts trying to accomplish as much as you can
You upload proof you did the things
You and other teams judge each others submissions
Win or lose, you feel accomplished

The Bristleconers are coming at the San Diego event hot, but Cotopaxi hosts the events all over the country. Keep an eye out for a post-event review, but we’re already pretty freaking pumped for this thing. Here’s a video from Cotopaxi explaining it even more!

Dress Down

Get Your Groove on With Groove Rings

Here I am, poking at some rad red rocks in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Married? Pretending to be married? Just like to wear rings? If you answered yes, then you’ve probably snagged your ring on something or scratched your ring on something or scratched someone with your ring. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Been hiking and got the dang thing encrusted with dirt? Like to rock climb, but trying to brush them single people off when you can’t wear a ring and properly climb your route? Ever just punched a guy to see if your ring would make an imprint?

Well, after Groove Rings asked us to review a round-up of their silicone “breathable active rings,” I was suspicious of wearing a goofy rubber band. After a week, I was sold. It’s been a couple months now and I can’t believe I didn’t get these shortly after getting married.

Here I am in Kodachrome Basin State park, modeling the Groove Ring in black, and a Target watch in brown.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my sweet custom wedding ring is AWESOME. It’s actually much cooler, and prettier, than the Groove Rings. It’s carbon fiber (super light) with Jack Daniels whiskey barrel wood inlaid into it (super rad), but it was DELICATE.

I still have it, as it’s super rad and I love wearing it for special occasions, but it’s already a little beat up. It has quite a few scratches from gardening, excessive use of high fives, dog petting, and, of course, climbing over rocks while hiking.

I’ve been wearing this Groove for over two months, shoving my hands into garden soil, hiking over boulders in Utah, washing old chili out of a pot I forgot about for a day and a half, and haven’t put one scratch or nick in it. It’s lightweight, super flexible, and the namesake grooves actually keep my clammy fingers from getting all pruney.

I love it. I love it so much. It’s a durable ring of silicon that I can’t really ruin, and if I do, it’s got a warranty! It’s not nearly as pretty, nor nearly as meaningful as my actual wedding ring, but for a daily stand-in, it’s top-notch.

The Groove Rings are taking a page from companies like Warby Parker, and offering customers the opportunity to try on five different sizes and colors before committing, which you probably will. Check out more at https://groovelife.co/.


Mindshift Backlight 26L – A review

The Backlight 26L in it’s natural environment.


I’ve gotten to the point where I have outgrown the janky free Canon backpack that came with the camera kit I got a few years ago. I wanted something rugged, and easy to access for long hikes and sudden appearances of forest friends.  When I started asking around for a replacement, the name that kept popping up was ThinkTank.
But, as I looked into it, I found that they were made far more for photographers that are in a bit more of a controlled environment, or a place where they can get their needed gear out, and stow the bag away. I needed a bag that was going to get snagged on brambles, get splashed by waterfalls, and be scorched by the sun.
So, imagine my excitement when, after scrolling to the bottom of the ThinkTank website, I find that they have an entire line of outdoorsy bags under the moniker of Mindshift.

Half Dome from Sentinel Dome

I reached out to their team, told them what I was looking for in a bag, and was floored by their warm reception and was offered a Backlight 26L to check out.
Immediately, we took to putting it through its paces. We took it to the mountains, to Disneyland, to the Grand Canyon, and to our latest excursion to Yosemite National Park.
Seriously, it’s phenomenal. The pack is currently holding:
MeFoto Backpacker tripod
A Canon 5DMiii
Canon 24-70mm f2.8
Canon 70-200mm f1.8
Canon 50mm f1.4
Rokinon 12mm f2.8
Canon Speedflash 580ex
Three spare batteries
A “camera condom” (rain sleeve)
Two USB battery packs (for phones)
A TriggerTrap cable
Spare AAA/AA batteries
A multi-tool
Extra Peak Design cuff
Included rain jacket
Peter Storm rain jacket (for me, not the backpack)
Charger cables
A squeaky duck toy I use to shoot both kids’ birthdays and animals
Random pieces from my double-camera harness, allen wrenches, and lord know what else.

2+ miles into the Wapama Falls Trail

So, the Backlight has some fantastic features that lead me to rave about it.
Hip/sternum straps
This was the major feature I wanted. In hiking with my janky little Canon bag, the chest strap was great, but it’s small size and lack of hip straps left me sore as could be. The Mindshift bag had both a larger capacity for gear and a padded hip strap, allowing for my 5 mile hike to Wapoma Falls in Hetch Hetchy to finish with no real aches and pains other than those related to the FIVE FREAKING MILE HIKE I JUST UNDERTOOK IN 90+ DEGREE WEATHER.
Tripod straps
The straps/weird pocket for the tripod were fantastic. We took the Backlight to Hetch Hetchy, Glacier Point, and up Sentinel Dome, and each place I was able to set up my kit to take a low f-stop, low ISO shot that tried to take in all the grandeur I possibly could, and because of the Backlight, I was able to carry everything and still keep my hands free. RAD.
The weird access from the back-thing
Hands down my favorite feature is the ability to access ALL of my gear without taking the Backlight off. With just the hipstraps on, you can spin the thing around and get into everything. We had a deer come near us in Yosemite Valley, and it took me less than a minute to get into my pack and switch lenses to my 70-200. While on the trail to Lower Yosemite Falls, we found that you can use a tree as a body and access the gear AND not have to carry it. How cool is that? (Spoiler: VERY COOL).

Cal found my squeaky duck


Overall, this pack is absolutely perfect for an entry-mid-level photographer who wants to take a fair amount of gear with them onto a hiking/backpacking trip. I have nothing to take away from this pack, so it most certainly gets a 10/10.

Yosemite National Park – One of the Best Ideas

“Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.”
–John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235.

We need our wild lands; places in nature where we can play, ponder, explore, and engage.  We need our senses heightened, our memories indulged, and our spirits rinsed clean.  We need this desperately, and we need it often.

A couple weeks ago, we ventured north from where we reside to a place that seems to draw us in over and over again: Yosemite National Park.  In Ken Burns’ PBS series titled The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, viewers follow the birth and growth of the National Park Service to what it is today.  This documentary introduced me to the words of John Muir, and since then I can’t seem to shake that feeling of wonder and gratitude whenever I read or hear a quote from that great man.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
–John Muir, The Yosemite (1912), page 256.

So, we went to Yosemite to play, to take in its wonder, and to take a break.  With almost three months off from school for the summer, I decided to use up some saved vacation time and take Jonathan there for his second trip.  The first time he went was in 2014, a year of a severe drought.  In contrast, this year had so much snow that during our end-of-June trip, the Tioga Pass was still closed.  Though our timing was not impeccable, the waterfalls definitely were.

Staying at the Yosemite Bug – Rustic Mountain Resort, or Bug Lodge, as it was formerly known, our first order of business was to check out the amazing menu, which changes daily, at the June Bug Cafe, and talk it up with some locals.  We met a rad rafter who leads tours on the Merced, and informed us that within the past week of us getting there, the river had risen 5ft due to snow melt.  After dinner, we tucked in for the night and began our first day in the park bright and early with a 3:30am wakeup call.

Sunrise from Tunnel View is a thing of supreme beauty.  We spent our first day in the valley, wandering amongst the crowds, getting showered upon by the crazy amounts of water pouring out of those spectacular falls.  After grabbing some much needed maps on day one, we spent our second day exploring John Muir’s beloved Hetch Hetchy.  The hike I chose was a moderate jaunt to Wapama Falls, although due to that snow melt I mentioned before we were only able to get as far as Tueeulala Falls, which provided us with an amazing shower before turing back to the heat of the hike.

Day three was both an early morning and late night.  We started up the road to Glacier Point, feeling that bumpy road that gave us some indication of how Tioga Pass must have been.  After snapping some early morning shots, we ventured up to Sentinel Dome where the views of the park are not to be contended with.  Basking in the beauty of that amazing 360 degree view, we also realized that we were basking in full-sun on empty stomachs, so we began our hike back to shade and food.

The rest of our last full day there was spent getting to know Curry Village, now known as Half Dome Village, for future trips.  That night, we stayed in the park till sunset, driving back up to Tunnel View for some more amazing images to document the memories we made.  On our way back to the Bug Lodge for the last night of the trip, we stopped by the Merced to see its rushing waters on a moonless night.

“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”
–John Muir, Travels in Alaska by John Muir, 1915, chapter 1, page 5.

What a goddamn poetic man…

This trip gave me many things.  It gave me a renewed sense of wonder for our parks and open spaces.  It gave me a sense of calm content that can only come when viewing places of such majestic nature – places so old.  More than anything, though, it gave me the courage to keep going, keep exploring, keep fighting for our wild places, and keep writing about them, telling my friends, doing as much as I can to protect what means the most to me.  Yosemite reminded me that nature, above all else, is home.


Skip The Funeral. Take a Walk, Instead.

My wife and I often joke about what to do with our bodies when we die, as discussing the topic without humor is, well, AWFUL. My usual go-to is “stick me in a hemp suit, dump me in a hole, and plant a tree on top.” Death is hard to talk about, and the idea of someone planning my funeral is tough. So, instead of joking, I’m going to change it up because of a Kickstarter alternative to caskets or urns. Yes, yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear me out.

A Dutch team has come up with the Totem of Life and Death, or TOLAD. I think that if you are here and reading Bristlecone Journal, the concept will appeal to you just as much as it does to me.

The premise is pretty simple: Scattering ashes is messy, generally over in a second, and not a particularly dignified way to dispose of the remains of those closest to you. The TOLAD, to put it bluntly, is a large, hollow walking stick/ash dispenser. In goes the ashes of your beloved friend or family member, and off you go to their favorite location. As you walk, a plunger at the bottom releases a small amount of ash, allowing you to take one last journey with those you love.

As the video below shows, the TOLAD can be passed around, allowing each of the bereaved to have an active role in the process. This helps give each person a more profound sense of closure, which so many of us need when losing someone.

(Turn on the CC, it’s in Dutch)

And, whereas gaudy caskets can cost thousands of dollars, the TOLAD is asking backers for less than $100 for each one.

You can check it out for yourself here: TOLAD on Kickstarter.


Ohana Means Beach Vibes at the 2nd Annual Ohana Festival

Ohana Festival Lineup Poster

I freaking love music festivals. I hate music festival weather. It’s usually in a 110 degree desert, where you end up with dry desert sand in all your nooks and crannies and you blow black snot rockets for two weeks. So, when I saw the Ohana Festival, with their amazing line up and their amazing, ocean-side location, I was STOKED.

I’ll admit, it’s weird to see Social Distortion playing with Fiona Apple or The Pixies with Jack Johnson, I’m still pretty interested in seeing them all. While the lineup is out for the September festival, the “attractions” are still yet to come. I’m guessing some kind of surf wax competition and loads of vegan food trucks, both of which I’d be on board with.

AND they’ve also partnered with the California State Parks, San Onofre Parks Foundation, California Coastal Commission, Ocean Institute, Surfrider, and the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association.

But, with sponsorship partners like Tito’s Homemade Vodka, Krave, Kind, Bai, Hydroflask, OluKai, Sambazon, and World Surf League, I have a feeling it’s going to be one helluva party for hippies and hipsters alike. I mean, filling a Hydroflask with Tito’s and Sambazon’s açai juices, nomming on some beef jerky while wearing weird sandals and listening to Ray LaMontagne sounds like as perfect a festival vibe as you can get.

Unless… Want to go nutso and spend rent on a Treat Yo Self weekend? The VIP tix at Ohana Festival get you the following:

  • Dedicated VIP entry
  • Exclusive VIP laminate
  • Ohana VIP Giftbag
  • VIP viewing seated platform

Access to Ohana Festival Dana Point VIP Lounge, which includes:

  • 4 drink tickets (valid in VIP lounge only, 21+ and over)
  • Live streams of music stage
  • Comfortable lounge seating with shaded areas
  • Cabanas and hammocks to hang out and relax in
  • Access to VIP Cash Beach Bar
  • Expanded Private Restrooms
  • Complimentary Bai and Bai Bubbles beverages
  • Complimentary Wahoo’s Taco bar from 3pm-6pm
  • Sunscreen Bar provided by Epicuren

If you don’t wanna spend the extra dough, I understand. You can come hang out with me. You’ll find me wherever the free samples are.

What: Ohana Festival
Where: Doheny State Beach
When: September 8-10, 2017
Who: You
Why: Because it sounds rad.
How: Tickets Available HERE
Weekend General Admission: $335 w/ fees
Weekend VIP: $1260 w/ fees
1 Day General Admission: $120 w/ fees
1 Day VIP: $539 w/ fees

Hiking Local

Hiking Local – Heart Rock Trail

We live in the best place in the effing country. We live an hour from Joshua Tree. An hour from LA. An hour from Disneyland. And only 40 minutes from the very, very wonderful Heart Rock Trail in Crestline.

Our friend, the creek

Our friend, the creek

Driving up to the small town of Crestline is via a wonderfully windy mountain road just North of San Bernardino. The trailhead is just to the left of Camp Seely, a mountain camp owned by the City of Los Angeles (which sounds weird to me, too), but make sure NOT to park in the Camp Seely parking lot. Instead, veer to the left at the fork and find a parking spot in any number of dirt parking spaces on the side of the road. Obviously, if you block the road or others, you are a dick. Don’t be a dick.

Heart Rock In All Its Glory

Heart Rock In All Its Glory

Once you hit the trail, you are immediately surrounded by a variety of pines, some of which have fallen across the trail, which is the only real hazards you may encounter on your journey. There’s also a beautiful creek that the trail clings to, which is pretty dang sweet. We were fortunate enough to come across a 10 week old red husky baby that reminded me of Gozer when we first adopted him. In all of our ooing and aahing, we forgot to ask her name. But it’s OK, I saw it in her eyes, her true name was Nala.



After a straddling a few fallen trees to get over them, we came across the namesake landmark: Heart Rock. It’s a pretty straightforward moniker: there is a rock with the shape of a heart hollowed out inside. After the requisite photoshoot, we started heading back down the trail. We made sure to stop along the creek, poking at some weird bugs and judging the turds who carved their initials into the trees like some real fuckos. Aaaaand that’s it. It’s a short hike, only about ¾ mile each way, but absolutely worth the drive to go check it out. Go check it out.