James Murren
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Earn Your Beer: The Valley of the Moon

The Earning

East of San Diego, out in the desert along the border with Mexico, is the Valley of the Moon. It’s an off-the-beaten path place, where climbers looking for solitude go. Some say it’s like Joshua Tree without the famous trees. Bouldering opportunities abound, as do sport and trad climbing options. Not much of a climber, the Valley of the Moon is, for me, perfect for loading up the fat bike and getting away. What I find is silence, sand and rock, cacti and other succulents, bird songs and vigorous breezes, and sometimes lashing winds and wintry rain.

Photo of a bike on a trail in the Valley of the Moon

There are no real trails, per se. Instead, you simply ride where there’s two-track, sometimes spotting paths that wander off here and there, which are great for meandering while pedaling. The climb up from the parking lot is steep. At the intersection after the climb to the saddle, the primary area is off to the left, though if you go right, there is a lot out that way to explore. With patience, a willingness to be adventurous, no real agenda, and a map, you can make it an all-day outing.

Better yet, load up your backpack or bike and spend a few nights. If you have a 4×4 vehicle with high clearance, you might be able to drive in, setting up camp for a longer stay. The Valley of the Moon sits on BLM land, and there is no water so you do not want to go during the summer. Fall through early spring is perfect, with warm afternoons and chilly nights.

Photo of bike frame with a water bottle and a can of beer

The Beer

Tabula Rasa Porter. Second Chance Beer Company, San Diego. Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal winner in the Robust Porter category (2016, 2017, 2019, 2020).

Porters are my go-to campfire beer on chilly evenings. When the weather turns cold, a variety of porters are in my fridge. Fortunately, San Diego has one of the best porters you can find anywhere in the country.  The Tabula Rasa porter is exactly what I want in a winter beer. There are no added flavors. It is not thin. It has girth. The roast and toast profiles are there. It even has a bit of a silky smooth feel as it goes down. The color is dark, deep brown-to-black. On the nose, you might sense chocolate or espresso, with some biscuit in the background.

Tabula Rasa means “blank slate.” That’s how I feel about Valley of the Moon. You just find it on a map and go. It’s a bit like those books where you choose your own adventure. The possibilities are endless: hike, backpack, climb, boulder, scramble, bike, bikepack, bird watch, star gaze, or whatever adventure is calling you.

Read other Earn Your Beer columns here.