Outdoorsy Book Recommendations: Summer 2018

Summer 2018 Book Recommendations

It’s hard to give book recommendations, especially since there are SO MANY GOOD BOOKS OUT THERE! I’m a pretty eclectic reader who swings from fiction to non-fiction fairly regularly.

If a bookseller were to ask me what my favorite book was I would probably say Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. If you asked me my favorite book of 2017 I would say The Witches of New York by Ami McKay.

While those two books describe my taste, they do not define it. I’ll give most things a try (aside from dystopian novels or horror) I’m not a fan of downers and I’m a wimp.

To me a good book takes me away from my everyday work life and allows me to move into a different world. Good books make me ask questions about myself, my country and how I want my future to look. They make me laugh out loud when I’m lucky and on the rare occasion dampen my eyes.

These five books came my way through friend recommendations, thanks to a stellar bookseller and if I’m being completely transparent because I’m a former graphic designer. If you design a good book cover I’m a guaranteed buyer.


Outdoorsy Reads:


Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks
We are all one drunken bet away from this experience. A true adventure, albeit one that makes a man drag a refrigerator around an entire country. Round Ireland with a Fridge is a raucous feat filled with laughs and ridiculousness.


Travels with Charlie in Search of America by John Steinbeck
Full disclosure…I have not read this book. BUT, Catherine has and she puts it at the top of her list. One of Steinbeck’s lesser known works (at least that’s what I would say), Travels with Charlie (who happens to be his French poodle) walks you through America and teaches you about Americans.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu
An excellent camp read if I do say so myself. Fu brings together a group of girls who are not only diverse in ethnicity, but also in upbringing. When their canoe adventure takes a bad turn the girls are forced to work together (or not) to survive. As the story unfolds we see how their upbringing shapes their decisions and how those decisions go on to effect them as young adults.


Crow Planet by Lynada Lynn Haupt
If this book did one thing for me it was to remind me that nature is all around me and that I don’t need to drive to a trail head and  hike through the mountains to be in nature. All I need to do is look out my apartment window, walk down the sidewalk or pay a little more attention when I’m waiting to cross a street.


The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
An epic journey that takes you through the cinchona forests of Peru. The bark of the cinchona tree contains quinine, which incidentally is used to treat malaria, a disease that’s rampant in England’s Indian colonies. Tremayne’s job is to smuggle out some of the cinchona plants to break the Peruvian monopoly on the stuff. Along the way he makes friends with his guide Raphael, discovers family relations, travels through magic glowing pollen, and is chased by statue assassins.

These five might not be the epic thru-hike memoir Wild by Cheryl Strayed (which I’m currently reading), but they all made me want to go out and explore whether it was the Santa Monica Mountains or my own neighborhood.



Zip Zip

The last time Catherine and I went camping I noticed something…..a seemingly small noise that kept repeating itself. Sometimes long and drawn out, other times short and quick in a staccato style. In a round or cannon, with crescendos and decrescendos. Over and over again all around me with a grande finale just before bed.

I’m not talking about the sounds of frogs croaking or birds tweeting, I’m talking about zippers. Going to bed?

Unzip the vestibule.

Unzip the tent.

Enter tent.

Zip up tent.

Realize you left the vestibule unzipped.

Unzip tent.

Zip up vestibule.

Zip up tent.

Get changed.

Unzip backpack.

Pull out pajamas.

Unzip jeans.

Unzip fleece.

Put clothes in backpack.

Zip up backpack.

Unzip sleeping bag.

Get in.

Zip up sleeping bag.

Realize you forgot your socks.

Unzip sleeping bag.

Unzip backpack.

Find socks.

Zip up backpack.

Zip up sleeping bag.

And so on and so on. By the time Catherine and I were completely zipped in everything and everywhere I couldn’t help but laugh because I felt like I had just witnessed a symphony of zippers.

As an aside if you search zipper symphony on YouTube this is what you get….you’re welcome.








Leo Carrillo Campground Review

Leo Carrillo Campground Review

According to the calendar it’s not officially summer until June 21st, but in my book summer starts on Memorial Day Weekend (am i right?). This year Catherine and I decided to pregame the long weekend with a three day camping trip in Leo Carrillo State Park.

Nothing says summer like sand, waves, surfers, s’mores and some killer hikes…the fact that it’s all in Malibu is an added bonus. Snagging a campsite at Leo Carrillo is tough which is why we had to be flexible and go for a mid-week trip rather than the official holiday weekend. On the plus side this freed us up for the REI Anniversary Sale….new gear reviews to come!

Leo CarrilloThe park is named after actor and conservationist Leo Carrillo who is most famous for his role as Pancho in Cisco Kid, an early 1950’s TV show. According to the park’s website, “Leo Carrillo served on the California Beach and Parks commission for eighteen years, and was instrumental in the state’s acquisition of the Hearst property at San Simeon.”

The more time I spend out in state and public parks them more grateful I am to the individuals who came before me that had the presence of mind to make protecting our lands a priority. So before I move on I want to say a big thank you to Leo Carrillo for all he did.

Reservations at Leo Carrillo Campground:

Leo Carrillo Campground reservations can be made 6 months in advance of the current date. Which means if you want to spend July at the beach you better make your reservations in January (I suggest you set your calendar reminders now). Weekends get snapped up quick so if you can swing staying during the week you might have a better chance of getting a spot.

While we were there I noticed lots of empty sites, but I knew that according the website they were “full”. I spoke with a representative from ReserveCalifornia to figure out what was going on and she let me know that individuals who have reserved sites can call the park and let them know they will not be arriving on their specified date. They pay a fee for this, but get to keep their site.

When I asked her if it was possible to snag these unused sites she basically told me it was tough, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check the website every day before you want to camp….you never know you could get lucky.

What to Expect at Leo Carrillo Campground:

First things first, Leo Carrillo Campground is pretty big (139 sites) which means there are lots of other people around…luckily our camp neighbors were pretty mellow. If you’re not fan of sharing the outdoors with other people I’m going to go out on a limb and say this park is not for you.

If you have kids this campground is a pretty special place to take them. There were TONS of kids running around, exploring, playing war games in the wooded areas and walking over to the ocean for some beach time. On the flip side this meant that there were war games being played just behind our tent the entire first day….not exactly what I had in mind, but it was ok since we went off hiking.

leo carrillo campground beach store

Leo Carrillo Campground has a lot of amenities including: showers (hot and cold water!), flush toilets, dump stations, RV hookups, a general store, visitor’s center and a footpath to the beach (no running across PCH with your kids and gear!). I was very impressed with the clean bathrooms and the stock in the general store (especially when our milk went bad and we needed our coffee!).

Getting to Leo Carrillo Campground is pretty straight forward so I won’t waste much time explaining that…we all Google everything anyway. What I will say is that you have access to a couple beaches, one is more of a cove with lots of sandy spots to relax or boulders to climb up for a stellar view and plenty of surfers to watch. If you manage to come here when the tide is low you can also explore the tide pools.

Leo Carrillo Cove

A short walk North on the footpath or a very quick drive on the road will lead you to North Beach and Staircase Beach. These beaches are longer and offer plenty of amazing views, nesting sea birds, and the occasional dolphin in the distance.

North Beach in Leo Carrillo State Park

In addition to beaches, Leo Carrillo also has several hikes with a nice variety of intensity levels.

Leo Carrillo Beach Trail is about 5 miles long and hugs the coast, giving you great views. It can be somewhat steep in places so consider it a moderate hike.

The Yellow Hill Trail  is a 5.9 mile out-and-back hike that leads you away from the beach and into the nearby mountains. The park service rates this hike as easy so it should work well for families or those working up to something bigger.

If you’re looking for something challenging head for the Nicholas Flat Trail. This 6.9 miler hike takes you up 2,000 feet so be prepared for some heavy breathing. Catherine and I managed to tick this one off our list and even added some extra mileage on (thanks to me not bringing the map). More information on that hike to come.

leo carrillo campsite

Leo Carrillo Campground Pros:

  • Clean campsite and facilities (no clogged sink drains like in Furnace Creek!)
  • Well stocked store
  • Close to local restaurants and grocery stores if you’re tired of camp cooking
  • Endless beach options
  • Close proximity to a variety of hikes

Leo Carrillo Campground Cons:

  • Lots of people (and in our case shouting kids)
  • Too many brazen squirrels and crows hopping on tables

Park Rating: 10/10

Facilities Rating: 8/10

Overall Campsite Rating: 9/10


On Being Indoorsy


I grew up in the suburbs, surrounded by paved roads, city parks, the occasional stream and plenty of Target stores. Pretty sure I just got the attention of all the indoorsy readers. There’s nothing like a good Target trip….except maybe a Netflix binge….or a top notch bookstore i.e. Vroman’s….if you’re in Pasadena you need to go to there.

As of the beginning of 2018 I had officially gone camping 8 times in my life. I slept in a tent only one of those times. Truth be told there were two camping trips in there where I was in an air conditioned cabin. So number of camping trips few….number of hotel stays many.

Here’s how I used to think about camping.

You spend a LOT of money buying gear so you can sleep on the ground, in the cold, covered in bugs. On the other hand you could save all that gear money and stay in a hotel for a couple nights where you could watch cable TV, have someone clean your room daily, and bring you fresh towels. I mean when I say it like that the choice is clear right?

BUT here’s the thing. I’m totally wrong. Camping doesn’t have to be expensive, if you bring the right gear you won’t be cold, the ground won’t be uncomfortable and at least where I’ve been camping bugs aren’t even a problem…plus, bug spray.

And while I’m not going to turn down a good deal on a hotel stay, I also see the importance of being outside. It clears your head, calms your mind and in my case it often gets me to do things I didn’t think I could do.

One of my goals for Indoorsy Camper is to get people like me outdoors.

Who are people like me?

  • People who jump in their own houses because they think they saw a bug (which turns out to be a chocolate covered raisin).
  • People who shower daily….because if they don’t the world would end…I mean not end, but come pretty damn close.
  • People who place a high value on cool dry air conditioned air (and not the crappy kind of A/C….the good stuff…what I sometimes refer to as “Texas air conditioning”) because it’s big, bold, and hits you with a cold slap in the face when you enter the room.

I am all of those things…but that doesn’t mean I can’t also be a little outdoorsy too. So here we go, one camping trip at a time.

Little Hebe Crater

Death Valley National Park Hikes – Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater

Total Distance: 2.00 mi.
Trail Type: Loop
Net Elevation Gain: 276 ft.
Hiking time: about an hour


Ubehebe Crater is is a 1/2 mile wide hole created by a maar volcano. Unlike an asteroid crater or a volcanic eruption, maar volcanoes are created by steam and gas explosions. As hot magma rises to the surface of the earth it comes into contact with ground water. The hot magma flash boils the water creating steam that expands until it reaches the point of explosion, blasting the earth out of its way resulting in a crater.

Death Valley National Park contains more than one of these maar volcanoes and this particular hike will let you experience Ubehebe and it’s neighbor Little Hebe. While this hike is not very long the initial incline coupled with the loose gravel path can make the start of your journey slow going.

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley

Ubehebe Crater from the top.

Once you’ve made the initial climb be sure to stay on the trail and be careful along the edges of the crater as some areas may be unstable. The loop features views the inside of the crater itself, the surrounding cinder fields as well as the Panamint Mountains. If you’re feeling ambitious you can also hike down into the crater itself, but make sure you have the stamina for the climb back out.

As with all hikes make sure to bring water and sun protection. This trail is completely exposed with little to no shade to block out the sun. You might also find that the temperatures at Ubehebe are a little cooler than other parts of Death Valley so have an extra layer in your car just in case.

Since Ubehebe is a ways away from other more populated parts of the park you will most likely have a quiet hike. If you drive a high clearance 4×4 you can also take a side trip to check out the strange moving rocks at The Racetrack.

The Racetrack at Death Valley.

The Racetrack


Camping in Death Valley National Park


While choosing Death Valley National Park as your inaugural camping trip may sound scary…I’ll admit it was a little worrying to willingly drive to a place with DEATH in the name. The prospect of seeing lost lakes, sand dunes, volcanic craters and maybe even a fish was too much to resist.

Death Valley has 9 campgrounds, Furnace Creek is the only campground that takes reservations. The remaining 8 are first-come-first-serve and range in price from free to $36 per night.

As this was our first official camping trip and we were driving a couple hours to get there we went for the security of a reservation and proximity to a hotel…just in case things didn’t go according to plan.

Furnace Creek Campsite 125

Furnace Creek camp site all set up and ready to relax.

What to expect at Furnace Creek Campground:

After driving through the park from the West entrance you will arrive at Furnace Creek in a little under an hour. Our drive was smooth and enjoyable with minimal traffic.

Furnace Creek has 136 sites so you will not be alone in the desert here. If solitude is what you’re looking for consider Emigrant or Wildrose campgrounds, with less than 30 spots each they are bound to be quieter.

Furnace Creek campground signFor indoorsy campers Furnace Creek offers lots of amenities, bailout opportunities (there’s a hotel or two nearby in case things go south) and safety in numbers.

National Park campsites can be booked through recreation.gov. The Park Service has kindly added pictures of each site so you can see exactly what you’re getting into when you go to book. Remember it’s called Death Valley…so you want a spot that can offer you some shade. If you’re like me you will also want to avoid high traffic sites beside the bathrooms, wash areas, dump stations and parking lots. We managed to grab site #125, located at the edge of the grounds with a tree for shade and some distance from the RVs and parking lots.

The Ranch at Death Valley (mid-renovation as of Jan. 2018) is located within walking distance of Furnace Creek and offers an array of amenities including; a restaurant, bar, golf course, pool, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts as well as a general store.

Being indoorsy campers we took advantage and grabbed a bite to eat at the restaurant and a bundle of firewood from the general store (it’s not camping unless s’mores are involved).

Campsite Pros:

  • Clean campsites
  • Picnic table and fire ring at each site
  • Flush toilets, sinks and water
  • Dump stations
  • Safety in numbers
  • Proximity to lots of great hikes and sites

Campsite Cons:

  • Lots of people….some people may not like this, but I found it fine
  • Clogged sinks. Lots of campers were cleaning their pots/pans/dishes in the communal sinks. This left them kind of disgusting after evening meal times.

Park Rating: 10/10

Facilities Rating: 7/10

Overall campsite rating:  8.5/10