Holidays

Road Trip 2022, Part XI: Crossing the Desert

We left Sequoia National Park and started looking for someplace to stop for lunch. Every eatery we passed was overcrowded with cars and people, so we kept driving until we came to a picturesque but oddly empty Mexican restaurant. As we pulled into the parking lot we made a few jokes about how terrible the food must be if no one wanted to eat there. Turns out the joke was on us. The food was…subpar, to put it kindly. Luke ordered a chocolate shake with his meal, and the waitress apparently misheard him, because she brought him a slice of chocolate cake. Luke accepted the cake, but asked her to box it up to go. Later that day, many miles down the road, we pulled out the cake only to discover that it was riddled with mold. Luke is still salty about the whole experience.

In Keene we detoured off the highway to visit the grave of a personal hero of mine, Cesar Chavez. The gravesite is a National Monument at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, where the United Farm Workers of America is headquartered. The visitor center was closed, but the graves and memorial gardens were accessible.

A heady mix of jasmine, mock orange, roses and other fragrant blossoms rolled over us like a warm wave as soon as we opened the car doors in the parking lot. Most of the garden plants must have been chosen for their scent, because the place smelled amazing.

“It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”

There’s also a desert garden here, a tribute to Chavez’s birthplace in Arizona.

After we’d paid our respects, we returned to the highway and continued southeast. We passed a rusty old boat with “SS Minnow” painted on the side…

…and crossed another segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. That was satisfying, like a bookend. And then, rather suddenly, we were out of the foothills and into the Mojave Desert.

I can neither explain nor fully describe the stupefying effect this desert had on us. Luke and I took turns driving in short shifts of an hour or two at a time, because that was all we could manage without dozing off at the wheel. Our Fellowship of the Rings audiobook, that had entertained us through a few tedious miles earlier in the trip, now required more concentration than we could muster. Fast music was an annoyance, slow music was a sedative. We drove in silence, two of us sleeping while the third struggled to keep their eyes open enough to stay on the road. It was like that field of cursed poppies in “The Wizard of Oz.” After everything we’d seen and done in our travels, the Mojave Desert nearly defeated us.

We were briefly roused by a middle-of-nowhere travel stop called the Cima Mining Co., that lured us in with promises of exotic jerked meats (Alligator! Elk! Buffalo!) and fresh date shakes. Alas, most of the jerkies were too caliente for our taste. But we did find some really good maple-wild-boar jerky, and the date shakes were great. That kept us mostly awake for the rest of the way to Las Vegas.

We had planned to walk around Vegas a bit, but the combination of lingering desert grogginess and Memorial Day Weekend crowds squelched our enthusiasm for sightseeing. We settled for driving down the Strip instead of bypassing it completely.

We pulled into a small truck stop to spend the night, but the whole parking lot was flooded with lamplight. As tired as we were, we couldn’t sleep there, so we dragged on to another, more vagabond-friendly travel stop.

We woke up the next morning with a single goal: make it home that day. There was nothing left on our to-do list, no more sights we wanted to see. Or so we thought!

I was not prepared for the beauty of central Utah. Here among the plateaus and canyons, our sense of urgency faded and we stopped often along the highway to get out and admire the views.

I had finally traded in my marino wool top, jeans and leggings for tee shirts and shorts back in Sequoia. Now the air was chilly again as we climbed back up into the higher elevations.

 

As we crossed back into Colorado, the weather was almost identical to what it had been when we left: lowering skies, raining off and on.

As eager as we were to get back to our own beds, we made one more stop on the way: we picked up dinner to go from our favorite local Chinese restaurant. Colorado has a reputation for lacking diversity, but if you know where to look you can find really wonderful authentic food from all over the world.

It felt nice to be back. It felt like coming home.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Death, environment, Family, food, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road Trip 2022, Part X: Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

From San Francisco we drove east to Manteca, then southeast through Modesto down to Fresno, and then east again into the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Around 5:30 pm, we arrived at the Big Stump entrance to Kings Canyon National Park.

A longish line of cars slowed our entry into the park, which reminded us that it was now Friday afternoon of Memorial Day Weekend.

Inside the park we stopped for a nice dinner at the Grant Grove Village Restaurant, peeked through the windows of the closed Visitor Center, and then continued up to Grant Grove itself. We walked the General Grant Tree Trail, a short loop that features an old cabin and some of the world’s largest living trees.

Like the coastal redwoods, the mountain sequoias don’t translate well into photographs. In person they are massive and imposing and majestic, in photos they are just trees.

This is where my pics start to get blurry. Afternoon was turning into evening, and my GoPro doesn’t handle low light well at all.

I will say that I like the sequoia forests better than the primeval jungles of coastal redwoods. They just seem friendlier. Maybe it’s because I feel at home in California mountains in general, so the Sierra Nevadas did not make me feel like a stranger in an alien landscape.

The trees here still show the scars of the big KNP Complex fire that tore through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks last fall, the fire that provided the final motivation for this road trip.

Unlike the coastal forests, the sequoias seem to avoid touching one another at all. They are not as tall as the coastal redwoods, but their thicker bases make them larger by volume. The redwood trunks are straight poles, the sequoia trunks taper as they go up.

 

Campsites at Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks can’t be reserved more than 30 days in advance, and after that they go fast, especially on a holiday weekend. The campsite I’d been able to get reservations for wasn’t my first, second or third choice, but by the time I’d secured an available site I was just thankful to have found one at all. It’s a bit of a drive to Princess Campground, but the views are nice on the way up.

The campground was more crowded and noisy than we had experienced so far on the trip, but that was to be expected on a holiday weekend. The real surprise came when we left camp the next morning: the park had filled to the brim with people. Cars and crowds everywhere.

Back at the visitor center, which was now open, we secured the first and only park stamp that we managed to get on the entire trip.

We had a full day’s itinerary planned, and we didn’t get to do any of it. The parks were just too crowded, the lines too long, the parking lots too full. We drove the Generals Highway from Kings Canyon to Sequoia National Park, past vast stretches of burned landscape.

A prescribed burn was smoking in the distance, so I don’t know how much of the damage we saw was from last year’s KNP Complex Fire and how much was controlled burn-off.

Still a pretty drive. There were places the fire hadn’t touched, and places where the beauty of the mountains shone through the burn scars.

Scorched giant, stranger for scale.

We stopped to splash around in the Marble Fork Kaweah River. This is the river that feeds Tokopah Falls, which we had planned to hike to. We weren’t far from the trailhead at that point, but the crowds and overflowing parking lots were more of a barrier than we wanted to deal with.

So we mostly stayed in our car and enjoyed what views we could see from the highway.

We did stop at a relatively uncrowded picnic area, where we saw our very first bears in the wild.

A mama and her cub, presumably in search of pic-a-nic baskets.

I was willing to brave the throngs to hike the Moro Rock Trail, but we never saw the sign for the trailhead. By the time we realized that we must have passed it, none of us wanted to turned around and go back.

The crowds thinned as we left the big Instagram-worthy attractions behind. We began to have less competition for the mountain view overlooks, so we stopped to enjoy them whenever we came to a turnout.

We descended below the Sequoias, and the landscape changed around us through the different elevations.

By the time we got to the lower borders of the park, we were back in the “golden hills” that I associate with California.

Park sign, stranger for…well, mostly because this was the least crowded pic I managed to get.

We exited the park via the Ash Mountain Entrance, and beginning at the entrance station we drove past a loooooooong line of vehicles trying to get into the park. Miles and miles of cars and trucks lined up down the road.

We saw another young bear, this one trying to get across the road and completely stressed out by all the vehicles.

Poor little guy.

So we didn’t get to see the mighty General Sherman tree or do the other things we had planned in those parks, but we did get to marvel at some really big Sequoias, appreciate the majesty of the Sierra Nevadas and finally see some bears in the wild. We were satisfied.

More to come!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, trees, Wildlife | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Road Trip 2022, Part IX: More Redwoods, and the City by the Bay

Directly across the highway from Trees of Mystery sits the Forest Cafe, a whimsical little restaurant with a woodland theme. Our seating area had been arranged to create the illusion of being at the bottom of a pond.

Of course we had to drive the Elantra through a giant tree at some point. We chose the one in Klamath.

Just past Klamath we left the highway for the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway, stopping here and there to admire the massive trees.

Stranger for scale:

We detoured out to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trailhead near Orick in Redwood National Park, walked as far as the big pedestrian bridge, and realized that none of us were feeling another hike. We were already behind schedule as it was. We had planned to spend Thursday night on the other side of San Francisco, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. We aborted the Lady Bird Grove hike and continued on.

Still in dinosaur country.

We made a brief return to the highway…

…before turning onto the Avenue of the Giants, a long scenic byway that winds through Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Day 8 for that wool top, btw. Any doubts I had about merino’s famed ability to stay clean and fresh over long periods of use were laid to rest on this trip. The hype is true!

Fallen tree, Elizabeth for scale:

There are a lot of touristy novelty stops along Avenue of the Giants, but nearly all of them were closed when we came through.

We made it almost, but not quite, to San Francisco that day. We spent the night at some unmemorable chain hotel in Santa Rosa whose name I don’t recall, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge around 10am the next morning.

I liked San Francisco a little better than I’d liked Seattle. They both struck me as once-beautiful cities in lovely settings that had been mercilessly hijacked by the corporate economy. And granted, I saw very little of either city. But the impression I got of Seattle was that everyone but the wealthy had been chased out, whereas in San Francisco I at least saw normal-looking people out doing normal-person things.

Oh…Elizabeth says it was the Rodeway Inn in Santa Rosa.  She forgets nothing.

Anyway, we began our brief tour of SanFran at Ghirardelli Square, a historical bayside chocolate factory that has been mostly repurposed as a shopping center. It reminded me of the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio, but with chocolate instead of beer.

We had some amaaaaaazing ice cream sundaes at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience, and watched some of the old chocolate-making equipment do its thing.

Looked around the Square a bit more, and then walked out to the municipal pier for a better view of the bay.

if you want to see a stark example of the social inequality built into the modern corporate economy, look no further than San Francisco’s public pier. Set against a backdrop of immense wealth…

…the municipal pier is literally rotting away for lack of funds to maintain it.

Alcatraz Island in the near background:

Private wealth, public poverty.

We returned to the car and drove down via Lombard St…

…to a beach parking lot so we could walk out to see the Wave Organ.

The tide was too low to reach the concrete pipes that play the organ, but the structure itself is fascinating.

About that time we all decided that we had seen enough of San Francisco and were ready to move on. Alas, moving on was easier said than done in the thickening afternoon traffic. We spent hours struggling free of the city before we finally escaped into the foothills.

And just like that, I felt like I was finally back in my home state. It even smelled like California, that familiar dusty scent of tall dry grass and coastal sunshine. We rolled down the windows and let the breeze blow through the car, and nostalgia for a California that no longer exists ached in my chest.

To be continued!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, trees | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road Trip 2022, Part VIII: The Forests Primeval

If our road trip could be said to have a destination, this would be it: the giant coastal redwoods and mountain sequoias of Northern California. I’d always wanted to see them, but before this trip the farthest north I’d ever been in my home state was San Luis Obispo in upper SoCal. When the KNP Complex wildfire raged for four months through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks last fall and winter, I wondered if I had missed my chance to ever see those ancient trees. Luckily most of the biggest and oldest ones survived, at least for now. But that fire was the motivation I needed to start planning this trip.

We got a latish start on Thursday. There was plenty of stuff on the day’s itinerary, but for some reason there was no hurry in us that morning.

We took our time breaking camp, and dawdled to admire this absolute unit of a banana slug.

Pic on right courtesy of Elizabeth’s phone, which handles close-ups much better than my GoPro.

From the campground we detoured down Howland Hill Road, an unpaved scenic byway that rambles through the heart of the redwood forest.

The day was bright and clear, but inside these groves is a perpetual twilight. The trees are so tall and dense, direct sunlight never reaches the ground.

Wild spring rhododendrons bloomed profusely in the shaded woods.

Photos don’t convey the size of these giants at all.

You can’t hurry on Howland Hill Road, it’s too rough and narrow. We enjoyed the scenery and accepted that we would have to make up the lost time later in the day. We stopped to walk the Stout Grove Trail, an easy half-mile loop.

The kids and I each hike at our own speeds: Luke jogs tirelessly ahead, I’m usually in the middle and Elizabeth saunters leisurely, inspecting every leaf and bug. It’s too bad we were so far apart on this trail, because I could have used some humans for scale. The trees in the next pic don’t seem unusually large until you realize that the one lying on the ground is still taller than me.

GoPro at eye level:

This really is a “forest primeval.” You half expect to see colorful dinosaurs come shrieking out of the underbrush.

The coastal redwoods didn’t make me sad the way the Hoh Rainforest did, but I didn’t exactly feel at home among them either. They are a natural wonder, like the Grand Canyon: spectacular to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. The dinosaurs might get me.

Stout Grove ended up putting us even further behind schedule, because Elizabeth wandered off on a side trail and Luke and I spent over an hour trying to find her. Stressful AND late-making. Reunited at last, we crawled along the rest of Howland Hill Road without stopping, got back on the 101 and may have driven just a tad over the speed limit trying to make up lost time.

Even so, we stopped at a beach that wasn’t on our itinerary just because it looked so striking from the highway.

You can’t really tell from the pics because I lightened the exposure to bring out the details, but the sand of this beach is a very dark gray. Almost black.

A rather dramatic effect in person. Very pretty beach.

We stopped at Trees of Mystery, walking in past the enormous statues of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. Luke for scale:

We weren’t at all sure what to expect there, but it was a pleasant surprise. Lots of great wood carvings, poetry, folk-style art, and a wonderful canopy trail that lets you walk through the redwoods 50 to 100 feet above the forest floor.

There’s also a gondola that you can take up to an observation platform.

It doesn’t show up in the pics, but you can see the ocean from this platform.

Lots of wood and metal depictions of events and characters from the Paul Bunyan legends.

And of course this guy, because apparently you can’t walk ten feet in the Pacific Northwest without bumping into him.

More to come!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, trees, Weather | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Road Trip 2022, Part VII: Rocks to Redwoods

In Bandon, Oregon we visited Face Rock Creamery for some really good ice cream, and then headed down to Bandon beach to check out the famous rock formations and tide pools. We arrived at low tide, a great time to see both.

Of all the strange and lovely rocks on Bandon Beach, for some reason I like this one the best. Just a random boulder the size of a house. I love it.

Here’s the Face Rock that Face Rock Creamery and other local businesses are named for. Looks like a giant taking a bath in the sea:

And here is my second-favorite rock on this beach, the shattered one in front that looks like a wizard’s hat or a crescent moon. I wonder what happened to the rest of it.

This is just a really pretty beach.

Sea stars were more plentiful here than at the other tide pools we visited.

We could have spent half the day exploring Bandon Beach, but we had reservations for that night at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California and didn’t want to fall behind schedule. After an hour or so we got our sandy selves back to the car and continued down the coast.

We pulled into the parking lot at Prehistoric Gardens, debating whether to buy tickets and take the tour.


In the end we decided we were all a bit older than the target demographic and moved on.

Just north of Brookings we came upon a place of otherworldly beauty. A place where tall trees thrive on seemingly bare rock, where the land thrusts stony fingers into the sea and the sea cuts round culverts through them.

It’s one of the loveliest places I’ve ever seen.

As we crossed into California, the landscape began to change. We had left The People’s Coast behind and were back in the land of billboards and shopping centers. We stopped to see a big ship that had once been the gift shop for a tropical-themed resort.

By now the shadows were lengthening and we were in danger of losing daylight. We hurried on to Jedediah Smith Campground, found our reserved site and set up camp in the forest-scented twilight.

To be continued!

Categories: Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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