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Why Everyone Needs a Go-To Camping Spot

Up in Utah’s La Sal Mountains, about 45 minutes from Moab, there’s an undeveloped campsite on Forest Service land. A rough dirt road forks, then turns even rougher immediately before a stand of aspens opens onto a field with a sweeping view of La Sal Pass. 

This was my family’s favorite spot when I was in high school. We would set up our tent at the edge of the trees, the mountain peaks visible out the door. In spring, the field was a riot of wildflowers; in fall, the leaves turned golden. Cows sometimes wandered through, flustering our Jack Russell terrier. 

We visited that spot at least twice as often as we went anywhere else. It was a summer escape from the desert’s baking heat, and it was beautiful, free, close by, and almost never occupied. We could bike or hike, but mostly we just hung out around camp, enjoying the view and the silence and each other’s company. Having a go-to spot eliminated decision anxiety and cut down on planning, making camping more a good habit than a special occasion. After a busy week that left no time to dream up new adventures, if we realized we wanted to sleep under the stars, we could be on our way in an hour.

Our spot was familiar (we knew which trees could anchor our tarp when it rained and which rocks made the best seats) but returning to it was no less memorable than trips that took months to plan. The only mountain lion I’ve ever seen bounded across the road in broad daylight as we drove to our site—in disbelief, we confirmed with each other that it was what we thought and kept the dog on a leash that night. We saw a double rainbow and dense wildflowers and the orangey-pink light of summer evenings slanting across 12,000-foot peaks. When we forgot our stove, we made tacos and pancakes over the campfire in a cast-iron pan.

By letting go of the expectation that every vacation be unique, we got out more. We cultivated a relationship with the place—I brought a high school boyfriend there once, a compatibility test on par with having him meet my parents. Our family camping spot wasn’t just a place we went to; it was an extension of home.

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My Quest to See Endangered Condors in Pinnacles

62 Parks Traveler started with a simple goal: to visit every U.S. national park in one year. Avid backpacker and public-lands nerd Emily Pennington saved up, built out a tiny van to travel and live in, and hit the road. The parks as we know them are rapidly changing, and she wanted to see them before it’s too late.

“If it’s jerky, it’s a turkey vulture,” chuckled a park ranger when I asked about the difference between vultures and condors. Birding is a big deal in the Central Californian expanse of Pinnacles National Park, and I was dying to spot an endangered California condor before my two-day trip was complete.

As I hiked along Chalone Creek on the eastern side of the park, my eyes were glued to the tall spires of rock that towered above me. I tripped over tree roots and shuffled along the gravel trail, scanning the horizon as my buddy J.C. and I slogged up the three-mile approach to Costanoan, a 5.4 multipitch rock climb that would bring us into the heart of the park’s High Peaks section.

But things don’t always go according to plan.


We got lost. In a big way. Not realizing that the climbs in Pinnacles are incredibly well signed, we turned off the trail at the first intersection we saw after a butt-clenching scramble, in full packs, through Balconies Cave Trail. The next two hours of our afternoon were spent pacing back and forth along the base of Machete Ridge, a colossal fin of volcanic breccia, growing increasingly frustrated as the sun began to sink. I had only 48 hours in the park and felt like I was blowing it. I shoved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth and tried to stay optimistic.

Stomping around like two clueless tourists, we finally located the base of our route with just enough time left to climb the first pitch before dark. I put J.C. on lead and craned my neck skyward as two massive black birds soared overhead. “Could it be?” I wondered.

By the time I was clipped in and ready to rappel, the remaining neon egg yolk of sun was beginning to dip behind the nearby hills. Everything in sight was bathed in amber and glowing, as if illuminated from within. Suddenly, a monstrous black bird coasted across the sky on an updraft, gliding high above my head. Even though it was far away, it looked impossibly huge. It had to be a condor.

I hiked back through the dark with J.C. in tow, smiling and unable to feel my toes in the frigid night air. Even a day full of botched plans can end on a high note.

62 Parks Traveler Pinnacles Info

Size: 26,606 acres

Location: Central California, 120 miles south of San Francisco

Created In: 1908 (national monument), 2013 (national park)

Best For: Birding, hiking, rock climbing, and car camping

When to Go: Spring (37 to 78 degrees) and fall (34 to 89 degrees) are the best times to visit. Winter usually ranges from 30 to 62 degrees, and summer averages between 50 and 100 degrees—not the best time to visit.

Where to Stay: Pinnacles Campground is centrally located and offers amenities like camp showers, flush toilets, food lockers, and even a camp store. It’s the only campground in the park, so book early if you plan to visit on a weekend or during popular spring months. Pro tip: beware the tenacious raccoons—one managed to sneak into my van.

Mini Adventure: Explore Bear Gulch Cave and the Rim Trail on an easy two-mile loop that departs just south of the Bear Gulch Nature Center. Bring a flashlight or headlamp to explore the talus caves, then circle around toward the reservoir to catch a panoramic view of Pinnacles’ famous rock formations. If you’re lucky, you might even see a few climbers scaling the cliffs near the nature center. The cave is closed mid-May to mid-July for pupping season, when the bats raise their young.

Mega Adventure: Hike the entire park in a day on the High Peaks–Rim Trail–Bear Gulch Loop. This 8.5-mile trail starts at the Old Pinnacles Trailhead parking lot and traverses the very best of Pinnacles National Park, cutting through the steep and narrow section of the high peaks, cruising by the Bear Gulch Reservoir, and finishing with a mellow, shady stroll along Chalone Creek. Keep an eye out for woodpeckers, prairie falcons, California condors, and hundreds of other native bird species along the way. Visiting climbers won’t want to miss the highly rated four-pitch Costanoan (5.4 YDS) in the park’s High Peaks area.

Worth a Detour: If the park’s only campground is full, Laguna Mountain is a great runner-up. Located 23 miles from the park, there are two camping areas just off the winding Coalinga Road: Laguna Mountain and Upper Sweetwater. These free BLM sites are secluded and well spaced and offer vault toilets, fire rings, shade structures, and picnic tables.

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Men: We Found Your New Favorite Base Layers

I use a long-sleeved, light-weight base layer 6 days a week throughout the winter season. And it isn’’ t unusual for me to use the exact same one for all 6 days. Why? The ideal one will work for any activity. I run in them, ski in them, oversleep them, snow-camp in them, and see films while delaying Gear Guy due dates in them. I have actually evaluated more than a hundred base layers over the previous 7 years while working for Outside. I securely think that if you purchase the ideal one, and layer properly, it can be among the only tops you require for the whole season. I put 5 of my favorites in a head-to-head test to figure out which was the very best, however I likewise noted what the runner-ups stand out at, so you can choose whichever one works for you.

.The Test.Convenience: I oversleeped and worked a complete day at my desk in each of the t-shirts.Workout: I carried out a 25-minute high-intensity stair-machine or inclined-treadmill exercise in each t-shirt to ensure that I completely sweat through them. I carried out a circuit of push-ups, sit-ups, triceps muscles, curls, and slabs presses to evaluate how well the t-shirts moved when sweaty..Snowboarding: During the ski-touring part of this test, conditions varied from a sub-20-degree blizzard to the high thirties and bright. I skied for a minimum of a half day in each of these tops and kept in mind. I likewise put them to a resort test on my regional hill, Mount Ashland , in Oregon. I skied the exact same 4 runs in each of the tops. Conditions were a constant light snow, about 28 degrees, with winds of 10 to 13 miles per hour. I remembered in Mount Ashland’’ s locker space in between the sets..Wetness Movement: I soaked each t-shirt in a big bowl of water for 15 seconds, eliminated it and held it by a sleeve for another 15 seconds (to let water slough off), and the weighed each with a cooking area scale. I hung each up and weighed it every 20 minutes for an hour to see how quickly it shed wetness.Daily Use: I compared convenience, fit, and how technical the t-shirts looked in general.The Results.

 baselayers( Photo: Sarah Jackson)

.The Winner: Stio Basis Power Wool Crew Neck ($ 109).Convenience: 4.5.Workout: 5.Snowboarding: 4.5.Wetness Movement: 5.Daily Use: 5.

I was blown away by how well this Power Wool leading well balanced the frequently conflicting advantages of heat and breathability. The small grid of loft on its interior kept simply enough heat to provide a best thermal bump—– kept in mind throughout a lift flight with 15-mile-per-hour winds, temperature levels in the mid-twenties, and open vents on my ski coat. I likewise didn’’ t start sweating too soon on the stair device. It was damned comfy for a piece with wool in it. I have an extremely low tolerance for scratchiness versus my skin (among the factors I typically pick synthetics with my individual base layers), however this wool-synthetic mix revealed definitely no indication of itching. In regards to convenience and efficiency, it was quite close with the Patagonia variation I evaluated however edged it out since I felt more comfy using it with denims to a coffeehouse, thanks to its soft appearance. I couldn’’ t use it on date night, however it seemed like a more casual piece of clothes than core equipment.

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 baselayers( Photo: Sarah Jackson)

.Best for High-Output Activities: Patagonia Cap Cool Lightweight Crew ($ 55).Convenience: 5.Workout: 5.Snowboarding: 4.Wetness Movement: 5.Daily Use: 3.

I anticipate myself utilizing this top for high-output pursuits more than the others on this list (whatever other than resort snowboarding). My body temperature level runs high (I’’ m typically a hot sweaty mess ), and it breathed much better than any of the rivals. It felt great as I exercised in a complete sweat, and it pulled wetness off my body like a champ on the skin track. It was wonderfully smooth on my skin both in bed and on the fitness center mat. That smooth outside made it layer rather well. It’’ s likewise the 2nd least pricey on this list. The only factor it missed out on the win is due to the fact that it’’ s too technical searching for everyday wear and borderline transparent in parts.

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 baselayers( Photo: Sarah Jackson)

.Best for Skiing: The North Face Winter Warm Gridded Long-Sleeve ($ 50).Convenience: 4.Workout: 3.Snowboarding: 5.Wetness Movement: 3.5.Daily Use: 4.

This is among my preferred ski-specific tops ever. Credit the just-right quantity of insulation from the supersoft dots of loft and channels of lighter product that drop heat. That style, paired with a elastic and incredibly breathable back panel—– it is transparent when you put it as much as the light—– put out heat when I opened my coat and made this leading definitely great for snowboarding in temperature levels from the low twenties to the high thirties. Its insulation didn’’ t serve it well in the health club, however, where I overheated very rapidly. This one would have taken the win if this test were intended at discovering the finest snowboarding layer.

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 baselayers( Photo: Sarah Jackson)

.Best for Going from the T-Bar to the Town Bar: Houdini Activist Crew ($ 110).Convenience: 2.Workout: 3.5.Snowboarding: 4.Wetness Movement: 3.Daily Use: 5.

The Activist appears like a style piece. Its cut, plus the matte merino and Tencel surface, makes it look better than the large bulk of t-shirts in my closet. If I remained in a scenario where I needed to go straight from the skin track to a conference, and didn’’ t have time to alter, this t-shirt would completely work for that. Those great appearances did refrain from doing it any favors in other departments—– it was the least comfy in the test—– however it did ski very well. It layered easily and was rather breathable in spite of its expensive style.

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 baselayers( Photo: Sarah Jackson)

.Best for Hut Trips: Norr ø na Equaliser ($ 79).Convenience: 3.Workout: 4.Snowboarding: 4.Wetness Movement: 4.Daily Use: 3.

The Equaliser’’ s merino-wool and polyester mix made it the tiniest bit scratchy, which didn’’ t aid when I was going to sleep, however that pain vanished midway through my very first ski run. That bit of irritation and the leading’’ s extremely technical appearance is why it landed up until now down this list. It moved wetness effectively for a wool item, and the warmth-to-weight ratio was exceptional—– the t-shirt was excellent while snowboarding in the high twenties, regardless of its light weight. It likewise carried out exceptionally well throughout push-ups and curls while taken in sweat. The odor-fighting nature of wool, in addition to this leading’’ s heating up performance, will make it a leading choice for me when I go snow outdoor camping or on a hut journey this winter season.

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