In Search of the Edge: Cactus to Clouds – Mt San Jacinto

Cactus to Clouds

“The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it. They pulled back, or slowed down or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still out there.”

Hunter S. Thompson

Impulsive Hiking Decision

Tuesday afternoon my phone lit up with a text from one of my good friends, “Can you do Cactus to Clouds tomorrow?”

My friend, Russ, and I had been casually talking about doing the strenuous 22 mile hike a few months prior, but we had never worked out the details.

I knew it was a tough hike, but I had done tough hikes before. I had the gear and the time off, so why not? I don’t have “yes” tattooed on my body for no reason (seriously, I have “YES” tattooed on my body)!

Getting to the Trailhead

Russ is a pilot, so we decided against the 5 hour drive and instead took a Cessna 172 over to Palm Springs.

We started the morning flying over the mountains at sunrise while relaxing and taking in the views the desert had to offer.

We arrived at the trailhead a little after 0700 where the usual signs greeted us: “stay on the trail,” “pack out what you pack in,” and our personal favorite “hiking beyond your ability can result in injury or death.” After all, the best hikes are the ones that warn you of death, right?

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Commence Hiking – Skyline Trail

The trail started out pretty well marked considering the portion of the hike from the desert floor to the tram isn’t maintained by the state. Though as we gained in elevation, the trail began to lose clear markings of where it truly was.

We lost the trail several times and had to boulder over massive rock piles in the general direction of where we were going in hopes we’d find the trail again. Although this was actually pretty fun, we didn’t take into account how much extra energy we were expending.

We were still smiling at 5,700 feet (1,737 meters) when we stopped for lunch, patted ourselves on the back for how much we had climbed in elevation, and how good we felt.

5th hardest hike in North America? Yeah, maybe to some people we thought, but not us. We fueled up on good food and an equally good view at flat rock. Then figured we’d reach the top by sunset, take some sweet pictures, and be back to the airport by 2000. Oh man, were we wrong.

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The Traverse from Hell

Shit got real, real quick: the stops for pictures thinned, the GoPro stayed in the pack, the climate quickly changed from sunny desert to snowy alpine, and the grind really began.

2,000 feet (610 meters) of elevation gain over 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) is no joke: the temperature dropped into the 40’s, the sun disappeared above the trees, and the dirt trail started accumulating more and more snow. It was when the trail started handing us 60% inclines that we started cursing at ourselves for thinking we were too good for trekking poles.

Those 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) took us two hours! But when that glorious patch of blue sky appeared in the distance, marking that the traverse from hell was finally coming to an end, we felt rejuvenated.

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Tram to Summit

Only 5.5 miles (8.9 kilometers) left to the summit. 10 miles (16 kilometers) down, 11 miles (17.8 kilometers) to go. Wait, what? We had been hiking for over 7 hours and we weren’t even halfway? Thank goodness this thought didn’t sink in. We were just happy to be on a flat trail, for now.

Despite the trail being completely covered in snow, from the tram to the summit the trail was clearly marked since we were now in the state maintained portion of the hike.

As we passed the ranger station we paused to layer up, fill out our permits (these are required from the tram to the summit and they’re free), and head out into a winter wonderland.

The last stretch! I kept thinking we could still reach the summit by sunset, but 5.5 icy miles (8.9 kilometers) in 2 hours was not going to happen.

However, we did get a sunset over Wellman’s Divide, which was 2.3 miles (3.7 kilometers) from the summit. It was insane! That remarkable sunset will forever be burned into my memory – not only because of how beautiful that desert sunset was with our birds eye view, but because of how hard we worked to achieve that view.

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The last little bit of light in the sky was leaving as we broke through the trees and revealed the twinkling lights of Palm Springs where we had started some 12 hours prior. 10,834 feet (3,302 meters) was so close!

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The wind was brutal once we scrambled the last little bit to the top, but nothing to that point has been more satisfying than holding that San Jacinto peak sign with our barely working, frozen hands.

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Summit to Tram

After slipping and sliding on the way up, we decided it was best to throw the crampons on for the decent down especially since it was pitch black now.

Ten minutes into our descent Russ turns back to me and says, “We really should’ve put these on 4 hours ago.” All I could think to myself was, we also really should’ve brought trekking poles

Even though we were now heading back down in elevation, altitude and exhaustion was hitting us hard. Full blown headaches, hallucinations, tunnel vision… I think all the bravado of making it to the top had left our bodies, and we were just ready to be done.

I kept zoning out until my headlamp would catch a snow drift, and I’d think I saw something moving out in the woods. My head was on a constant swivel despite telling myself that nothing was out there. Rocks were turning into animals, trees were turning into people… I was tripping hard.

Russ was speaking complete nonsense, or my brain was incapable of understanding any meaningful conversation at that point. Likely a combination of both. The only thing I could make out besides the routine grunting were variations of the F bomb.

Hitting the 1.7 mile (2.7 kilometer) marker was almost a better feeling than reaching the summit.

As beat up as my body felt at that moment, I was ready to run to the tram. I even calculated how much time it might take us based off the trail conditions and the darkness. It could all be over in less than 20 minutes if we just ran… (Later on we both talked about how we thought about asking the other if we just wanted to run it out, but between altitude sickness, ice, and pure exhaustion neither one of us suggested it out loud).

Tram to Airport

FINALLY the ranger station!

We dropped off our permits so they would know we were alive in the morning and saw the sign for “TRAM 0.3 mi.”

It was almost over! Then the most soul crushing part of the hike hit. The last 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers) were a zig-zagged, concrete ramp. That’s one lap around the track plus some change straight up.

At this point it was 2100 and for whatever reason I had convinced myself that the last tram was at 2115 (it’s not, it’s at 2145). I was in full panic mode.

Russ had really slowed down due to the altitude sickness, and there was no way I was letting us miss the tram. I didn’t even pause to take my crampons off my boots. I just started running up the hill from hell using my arms to pull myself up the railings. There was no way we were spending the night on top of this mountain. Side note: if you do get stuck on top, the ranger station keeps its heated bathrooms unlocked and that’s where you bunker down for the night. 

I burst through the doors to an empty room, and ran up a flight of stairs nearly colliding with a group of housekeepers. One read my mind before I even had the chance to ask. He looked at me apologetically and said, “It just left, I’m so sorry you missed it.”

My heart sunk. Just as I was about to burst into tears I heard a voice behind me say, “Don’t worry. There’s another one at 2145.” The voice behind me belonged to Jodi, the woman who was our saving grace for the night.

The problem with there being another one tram down at 2145 was that we had to be at the airport no later than 2200, otherwise we weren’t flying out that night.

It’s an 11 – 15 minute tram ride down, and another 15 minutes to the airport from the bottom of the tram parking lot. No matter what you do, 26 – 30 minutes of travel time cannot turn into less than 15 minutes.

Jodi, our tram angel, called for a special tram to come up just for us so that we could make it to the airport (potentially) in time. Shout out to Jodi! You were our MVP that night, and we’ll never forget you.

We called an Uber just before boarding the tram and kept our fingers crossed that the Uber would be waiting for us at the bottom since you lose service immediately once you start going down the mountain. Luckily another angel in disguise was waiting for us.

Our Uber driver knew service in the area was bad, and she waited for us instead of taking off when we didn’t answer our phones. As soon as we got in the car, Russ politely asked her to drive as fast as she was comfortable with since at this moment we had 12 minutes to make it to the airport on time. Her response was perfect, “Don’t worry. I used to drive an ambulance.”

Holy moly did that woman take off! We were estimated to arrive at the airport 4 minutes past closing, and she got us there 2 minutes before 2200. That woman was a road animal!

We burst through the doors at the airport, checked out, and were at the plane by 2200 exactly.

Hiking Cactus to Clouds – Not the Best Impulsive Idea Even for the Most Advanced Hikers

I would not suggest doing this hike on a whim.

Everything that needed to go right, went right for us, but we were lucky. We were reliant on factors outside our control, which can always go sideways.

That being said, Cactus to Clouds is an epic adventure! If you’re in good shape and you have your gear in check, go for it. It may not be enjoyable the entire time, but you’ll be stoked you did it.

What was in my Pack, and What did I Wear?

Always, always be prepared for long hikes!

Seriously, you cannot be over-prepared. We went through all of our water and food, and put on all of our layers before the end of the hike. If we hadn’t packed the way we did, we might’ve not made it – sometimes being lucky just isn’t enough.

Cactus to Clouds Packing List:

I couldn’t find my trekking poles that morning (again, impulsive decision) of the hike otherwise I definitely would’ve packed them. So, below is the list of items I should’ve packed:

  • Trekking Poles
  • Thicker Gloves (My hands were barely working at the summit)
  • Salt Tabs (shout out to Russ for bringing some, however I would bring more next time)
  • GU’s or some other quick carbs

Reminder to Just Say Yes!

And, more importantly as always, say yes to experiences that present themselves to you! Life is full of fun and wonder – don’t be stuck at home wondering what life could be like, should be like, would be like… drop that nonsense! Get out there, say yes, and never look back!

Follow ME 🙂

Click on the links below to follow me on my social media accounts, and definitely subscribe to my blog for more of my exciting Yescapades!

As a disclaimer, I was not paid by any of the above linked sites. This review is solely mine without any monetary compensation.

However, I will receive a small kickback from Amazon if you purchase any of the items linked to Amazon. As always, I only link to items I believe in! I would never lead you astray.

Waterfall Obsessions – Hiking Cedar Creek Falls “Devil’s Punchbowl”

Outside is Where I Feel the Most Alive

Nothing calms me more than being outside in nature.

The vast open land, rolling hills, and ability to hear yourself think! Too often are we wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of every day life that we forget to stop and reflect on ourselves.

We have but one life to enjoy!

You may scoff and think, well duh. But it’s true! Treat your body and mind with the upmost care, and life will unfold in the most magnificent of ways – in ways that bring you joy, peace, happiness, meaning, love, fulfillment… the list is endless!

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Aly Admiring the Hills of East San Diego County Along the Cedar Creek Falls Hiking Trail.

For this reason, I try to escape to the great outdoors as much as possible, and I try to encourage my loved ones to do the same.

Cedar Creek Falls “Devil’s Punchbowl”

Acquiring Permits

The area surrounding the waterfall requires a permit to enter.

Only 75 permits are sold daily for $10.00 each, and 1 permit accommodates up to 5 people. You may only buy 1 permit on the day of your choice – so if your group is larger than 5 people, you will have to ask someone else to purchase the permit.

Permits have been known to sell-out two weeks in advance during the peak season so unfortunately this is a hike you have to plan for.

I don’t recommend going on a whim to see if you can purchase a permit at the trailhead. I’ve never been successful with this approach.

As long as you can commit to a weekend date far enough in the future, or are available to go during the week, obtaining a permit is an easy process. Simply head to Recreation.Gov, put in your desired date, and they’ll let you know if permits are available.

This permit purchasing process is nothing like trying to get a Havasupai campsite I promise.

What You Should Pack with you

Required Hiking Items:

  1. Permit (see above for how to acquire permits)
  2. Valid Government Issued ID – dependent minors do not require ID when accompanied by an adult
  3. Lots of water! LOTS!
  4. Hat

You cannot enter the falls restricted area unless your name is on a permit for the day you’re hiking. This is not a joking matter. Last summer I watched 4 high school kids get cited by an officer for trying to enter the restricted area without a permit. It’s not worth a ticket.

You must have a valid government issued ID that matches your name on the permit. The Ranger or Officer will have you check in and out at the trailhead.

You should never attempt a hike without water. Water is vital to your survival – especially when you’re hiking in an area that has highs of 80°F (27°C) in the dead of winter. Don’t tempt fate – pack water. You can fill up your water bottles / bladders at the trailhead before and after the hike.

You shouldn’t hike to Cedar Creek Falls without applying sunscreen and donning a hat. The trail is scarcely shaded – protect yourself from the hot sun.

Optional Hiking Items:

All of these items will make the hike more enjoyable – I’m assuming you took the time to apply sunscreen before you started the hike, right? Good:)

I’ll do a blog post where I talk about my must-haves for day hikes! Stay tuned.

Trailhead and Parking

The Cedar Creek Falls trailhead is extremely easy to find:

  1. Type “Cedar Creek Falls” into Google Maps, or
  2. Type the address into your GPS: 15519 Thornbush Road, Ramona, CA 92065

The parking lot fills up really fast, and there are a very limited number of stalls – maybe spots for 15 cars at best.

Don’t sweat it if you don’t get lucky with a parking space in the lot! Parking along the street is free, and abundant even if you have to walk a bit further – you’re going for a hike so you shouldn’t be worried about a little extra walking.

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Ranger Booth Setup at the Cedar Creek Falls Trailhead.

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Cedar Creek Falls Designated Parking Lot.

Hiking Difficulty: HARD

It’s recommended that you hike this trail from late October through early April because the trail is scarcely shaded, and it can get extremely hot (+100°F / 38°C). This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the trail wasn’t entirely uphill on the way out.

Because of the extreme heat and uphill hike out, the trail has received a rating of Hard on All Trails: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/california/cedar-creek-falls-trail

I complete agree with this difficulty level. However, I believe that anyone, as long as he or she is able to walk a block without feeling completely out of breath, can manage this hike. Just make sure you take your time, don’t push harder than your body can go, and conserve water for the hike out.

My furry buddy, Peyton, who is a 12 year old German Shepherd / Siberian Husky mix, and he did just fine. And no, my dog is not in shape – he’s old enough that he gets spoiled however he wants, which generally takes the form of bones, treats, and sometimes extra portions of food.

Dog Friendly – With Caution

This trail is dog friendly! Yay! I feel like dog friendly trails are somewhat few and far between these days.

Peyton made the hike from the trailhead to the falls without skipping a beat! But, as I’ve already cautioned you, the first half of the hike is all downhill.

The hike back out took us a considerable amount of time to ensure Peyton didn’t overheat. We stopped at almost every shaded spot to break and let him drink water.

And just because I did this hike with my old, out of shape dog doesn’t mean that you should perform this hike with your dog.

DON’T HIKE WITH YOUR DOG WHEN TEMPERATURES ARE SKY HIGH! Your poor, four-legged creature will not fare well when the temperatures are at their peak in the summertime. Your dog may burn the pads of his or her paws causing him or her immense pain when walking, or worse he or she might die of heatstroke.

Know your dog’s limits. They trust you!

Now Let’s Hike!

Now that I’ve talked preparation to death – sorry guys and gals, but it’s important I give you the blunt details – let’s get on to the trail!

The trail is absolutely gorgeous throughout the entirety of the hike!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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View of the Trail Shortly After Starting the Hike to the Falls.

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View of the Trail that Leads to the Falls from Julian, California.

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Imagine How Much More Beautiful This View Would Be if We Had Received Fresh Rain!

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A Grand Waterfall is Quite Near!

Every time you round a corner you get a more beautiful view of the rolling hills until you finally reach a majestic waterfall.

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Cedar Creek Falls “Devil’s Punchbowl” in Late January.

And because my Pentax K-70 has an amazing HDR Landscape mode… sorry not sorry in advance… I have to share with you two of the photos from our shoot!

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Aly and Alisa Soaking in the Beautiful View.

Hiking Cedar Creek Falls is always a true nature treat.

If you’re looking for a waterfall with more spunk than the one in my photos, I recommend hiking closer to springtime when it’s “rained” – we all know San Diego doesn’t truly experience rain.

I’ll be sure to make another hiking excursion come springtime so you can see what I mean!

Reminder to Just Say Yes!

And, more importantly as always, say yes to experiences that present themselves to you! Life is full of fun and wonder – don’t be stuck at home wondering what life could be like, should be like, would be like… drop that nonsense! Get out there, say yes, and never look back!

Aly’s Camera Choice

All of the pictures were shot with my Pentax K-70, 18-135mm Lens and edited by me using Adobe Creative Cloud.

I’m in the market for the Prime 15-30mm Pentax Lens so be on the lookout for when I post photos using that bad boy! Landscape and portrait photography are my passion.

Follow ME 🙂

Click on the links below to follow me on my social media accounts, and definitely subscribe to my blog for more of my exciting Yescapades!

As a disclaimer, I was not paid by any of the above linked sites. This review is solely mine without any monetary compensation.

However, I will receive a small kickback from Amazon if you decide you want to become a Pentaxian like me! I can’t recommend the Pentax K-70 and Adobe Creative Cloud more – look at all my pictures if you don’t believe me.

I will also receive a small kickback for any of the other items linked to Amazon. As always, I only link to items I believe in! I would never lead you astray.

Frolicking Amongst the Ferns: Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek National Park, NorCal

Never take what you have for granted

Home. A beautiful, four letter word that makes you feel whole, loved, and at peace. That’s how I feel every Christmas when I make my way North to Eureka, California.

I never appreciated Eureka until I moved away for college. I guess it’s something you learn as you get older – to appreciate the little things like groves of trees, crisp air, clean water… You get tied up in what could be versus enjoying what is.

I couldn’t wait to go away to college after I graduated from high school. 18 years spent behind the Redwood curtain – seeing the same people, doing the same things. I wanted something new! Little did I know that I would one day crave something old; something I only get but once a year at best.

One place in particular will always have a place in my heart, and it’s a place I strongly encourage all of you nature enthusiasts to visit: Fern Canyon.

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My Amazing Family on the Canyon Floor.

Northern California – Fern Canyon

Getting to the Canyon

The setup for arriving at the canyon entrance is magical: you drive through groves of beautiful trees and greenery and along the ocean – Gold Bluffs Beach to be exact! Then, to make things even better, you park your car, begin the hike in, and BAM! You’re greeted by a gorgeous canyon!

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View of Gold Bluffs Beach from the Trailhead.

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Entrance of Fern Canyon.

Commence “Hiking”

I’ve never hiked anywhere more beautiful! And for all you trail lovers out there like myself, there are plenty of solid trails.

My family chose the easiest trail: the Fern Canyon Loop Trail. We’re not all at the same intensity level, and we wanted everyone to have an enjoyable time.

The trail is rated as “Easy” on All Trails, and I assure you it lives up to that difficulty level.

The Fern Canyon Loop Trail is much more of a walk than it is a hike. However, it provides you with all of the highlights: walking through the canyon, heading up above the canyon to walk through groves of trees (there’s even an amazing meadow I highly recommend going slightly off trail for – it’s part of the trail so you’re not endangering the land), and then back down to the entrance of the canyon.

Soak it all in

There’s something for everyone in Fern Canyon as long as you can take a few moments to yourself and shut the world out.

Maybe you take off your shoes and dip them in the cold creek water. Maybe you stand next to a trickling waterfall, and let the moisture bounce off the moss onto your face. Maybe you just sit and take a moment to reflect on how lucky you are to be alive.

Fern Canyon is perfect for any of these. See for yourself:

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Ferns Line the Canyon Walls from Top to Bottom.

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Natural Waterfalls Trickle Down the Moss and Ferns Lining the Canyon Walls.

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Looking Down the Canyon.

Up Above the Canyon

Once you’re done exploring the canyon floor, you head up a short flight of stairs through groves of trees.

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Candid Shot by My Baby Sister, Brynna.

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Groves of Trees Above the Canyon.

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Looking Up Towards the Tops of Trees Reminds Me of How Little We Are in Such a Grand World.

Fun side note, my dad and brother milled some of the planks you walk on. A couple winters back some redwood trees in my parent’s yard fell because of how bad the storm was – I can research the year if anyone would like to know. It’s nice to see a natural disaster benefiting nature lovers.

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Dad, Kenny, and Brother, Garth, Admiring Their Work.

And when you’re out of the groves of trees, you can carefully approach the edge to get an insane view of the canyon from above.

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View of the Canyon Floor Entrance From Above – Looking Right.

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View of the Canyon Floor Entrance From Above – Looking Left.

Visit Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon is an amazing nature spot that should be on everyone’s list to visit. Hopefully these pictures inspire you to plan a trip!

These photos are from late December. I recommend going any time of year as long as there isn’t a flash flood or storm warning. You can easily check the current weather conditions of Prairie Creek State Park through the National Park Service.

If you go in the winter time, I highly recommend waterproof shoes. My dad had to carry my sister the majority of the canyon because she only had basic running shoes.

Shout out to my Salomon hiking boots! I wore these bad boys the entire time, even in ankle deep water, and my feet did not get wet. Follow the link to find these bad boys on Amazon. I also recommend pairing the hiking boots with Darn Tough Vermont socks – also found on Amazon. I’m a full cushion fan, but there are lots of different types and they truly stand-up to any hiking challenge. I refuse to put anything else on my feet when I’m on my nature adventures.

Summertime is perfect if you’re concerned about getting your feet wet – I don’t blame you! – the National Park Service installs foot bridges – makes waterproof shoes a luxury and not a requirement.

I’ll be sure to do a summertime Fern Canyon post next time I’m able to! This place is a true gem, and I try to visit every time I venture home. Maybe I’ll even camp next time! Let me know if you think I should in the comments section below:)

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I Have Major Waterfall Obsessions.

Reminder to Just Say Yes!

And, more importantly as always, say yes to experiences that present themselves to you! Life is full of fun and wonder – don’t be stuck at home wondering what life could be like, should be like, would be like… drop that nonsense! Get out there, say yes, and never look back!

Aly’s Camera Choice

All of the pictures were shot with my Pentax K-70, 18-135mm Lens and edited by me using Adobe Creative Cloud.

I’m in the market for the 15-30mm Pentax Lens so be on the lookout for when I post photos using that bad boy! Landscape and portrait photography are my passion. That being said, feel free to checkout the Pentax K-70 Body Only (silver) and upgrade your first lens choice!

Follow ME 🙂

Click on the links below to follow me on my social media accounts, and definitely subscribe to my blog for more of my exciting Yescapades!

As a disclaimer, I was not paid by any of the above linked sites. This review is solely mine without any monetary compensation. However, I will receive a small kickback from Amazon if you decide you want to become a Pentaxian like me! I couldn’t recommend the Pentax K-70 and Adobe Creative Cloud more – look at all my pictures if you don’t believe me. I will also receive a small kickback from Amazon if you purchase your Salomon Hiking Boots and Darn Tough Socks by following the links! I purchased these exact items myself so I fully believe in them – heck, I’m wearing them in every picture you see!