Enjoying some time off, I headed south past Santa Cruz to the little coastal town of La Selva Beach to visit my friend Austin. I arrived just in time for his grandmother's 80'th birthday party, which ended sitting around an outdoor fireplace sampling a few too many bottles of fine wine. Come Halloween day, we were both nursing hangover's and decided to jump in the car for a road trip, heading south down Highway 1 along some of the most breathtaking and beautiful coasts I've ever traveled. We drove past Big Sur along the Santa Lucia Range, stopping frequently to take in the sights.
The next day I had planned to take I-5 to LA, but decided instead to take a slower but immeasurably more scenic highway 1 the whole way down the coast. The most breathtaking parts are those Austin and I visited the day before, but the drive continues to be nothing short of spectacular. A little north of San Simeon I got out to stretch my legs and enjoyed watching hundreds of Elephant Seals sunning themselves on the beaches.
I hurried down I-5 as that seems to be what you do on Interstates, only not hurrying as I passed through Sacramento where I got stuck in traffic. That's the third time I've passed through Sacramento, and the third time I got stuck in a traffic jam there. Further south I nearly detoured to Lodi just so I could sing a little CCR and complain about being stuck in Lodi again, arriving in Turlock just in time for a tasty sushi dinner with my friend Donald and his six year old daughter Emmie. I hung out with them for a couple of days, playing guitar, playing with Emmie (whom I immediately fell in love with), and catching up with Donald.
My intention had been to head south when I left Chico, but after looking over my California map I became curious about a National Park only a few miles away. So I headed out from Chico in the exact opposite direction as I had intended, greatly enjoying driving north on Highway 32 which immediately leads through some beautiful canyons, then up over a mountain pass and into Lassen National Forest where it begins to wind dramatically. The road had numerous "deer crossing" signs for good reason, though not all heeded them as I saw multiple road kills as I winded along. From highway 32 I turned onto Highway 89 and followed it up into Lassen Volcanic National Park.
At the entrance gate an attractive park ranger provided me with a collection of pamphlets and kindly waved the $20 entrance fee as it was getting late in the day with only a couple hours of daylight left. The road winds up the volcano to a maximum elevation of 8,512 feet, twisting back and forth with some amazing vistas and cliffs. Sadly as there was only enough daylight to drive through the park, I didn't get to enjoy any of the area's hikes, though in a couple of false starts I did find that the high elevation left me breathless quite quickly. I exited from the far end of the park as the sun was setting, enjoyed a final view of Mount Lassen, then headed across highway 44 into Redding for the night.
With the arrival of another weekend, it seemed like a good plan to do a little more exploring. This time I set out for Lake Tahoe, as several people had raved about it to me. As it turns out, it was well worth the trip. I didn't get ouf of San Francisco until late, so it was already getting dark when I rolled into Tahoe City. I claimed the last room in a hotel on the main drag, then wandered around town for a while. Didn't find much beyond supper, the town seemed to shutdown relatively early.
The following day I asked around for good hiking trails, and without any solid leads decided to just start driving around the lake until something presented itself. The lake itself was worth the drive, and I nearly decided to just spend my whole day on its edge. But crossing into Nevada I ended up in the Lake Tahoe State Park and ended up doing a five mile hike into the "backcountry". A very beautiful trip, and one that showed me I'm starting to get out of shape -- though maybe I can blame my tiredness on the 8,000 foot elevation.
I decided to get out of San Francisco for the weekend, so I rented a car and headed south along the coast. Highway One was a beautiful drive as far as Santa Cruz, then I decided to head East toward the mountains. The Coast Range where I crossed over it didn't offer much in the way of height, but it was still very pretty. Then further East I ended up in Yosemite National Park, a very beautiful drive.
Another week in San Francisco, hard at work most of the time but this weekend I got to do a couple of hikes with Kieran and Denise. It was very enjoyable Saturday to drive north of the city into the hills (I guess they call them mountains?) and look around. Unfortunately there was some incredibly thick fog so while we were well above it our ocean view hike only gave us a view of an ocean of fog. It was still very pretty, and worth getting out. That made my third and fourth times driving across the Golden Gate bridge without actually seeing it, leaving me to believe it's perpetually lost in the fog.
Today, Sunday, we got up earlier and parked near the Golden Gate in time to watch the fog melt away in what's been typical sunny weather since I got here. It was our urban hiking day, we walked across the bridge and up the hill on the other side for some nice views. It was fun to do once, but with all the traffic I'd not make a regular event of it given that there are many other hiking trails yet to do in the area.
No set plans for when I'll be getting out of California and heading north again. Things are progressing slower than I'd expected with work, but we're making progress. Furthermore, the sale of my house was supposed to close Friday, but some last minute issues raised by the lender has delayed things until next week. I'm extending the contract a few days to get these issues resolved, mostly just annoyed that they chose to wait until the last minute to notice what seem like obvious things. Hopefully come Tuesday it will all be said and done, ending my attachments to Florida and opening up exciting new options.
I had orginally planned to push across the country and head straight up to Alaska to go sailing with a friend. But packing up the house took longer than anticipated, and then the drive itself also took longer than anticipated. We arrived in Portland late enough that I missed my sailing trip, so I decided to rethink my hurry to get back to my home state. As eager as I am to meet my new niece, it seemed wise to take care of some other business first will still in the lower 48. So, I said goodbye to Amie who kindly agreed to watch Haelo until I do finally head north, and I headed south instead. I'm currently in San Francisco for a few weeks, the first time I've been into the office of the startup company I've worked for for the past year. I'm spending the vast majority of my time working, but have had a couple opportunities to visit with friends and look around. I'm hoping to spend a little more time playing in this area early next month, after work settles down a little.
Day twelve was exciting in no small part thanks to our sheer proximity to the end of our trip. We were back home for the full day's drive, passing through Idaho and Oregon, very familiar places on roads we'd both traveled in years gone by. Nearly 4,000 miles and $500 in gas later, we had made it. The trip got off to a rough start, but for the last week we'd made the best of it, still friends, with all our animals still alive and healthy. Haelo was getting tired, but still happy about it all, loving the cramped quarters and the excitement of regular walks and drives. Tripper and Mango seemed to have finally gotten the routine down, holding their bladders and bowels for the nights in the hotels, unlike the first half of the trip when they had it backwards and would wait until they got into the car to relieve themselves. Amie and I were actually laughing and talking, rather than oscillating between snapping and ignoring each other like at the beginning. So perhaps there's something to the saying, all's well that ends well.
Day eleven we slept in a little, then drove a couple miles out of Moab to Arches National Park. I read a couple chapters from Ed Abbey's Dessert Solitaire the night before to set the mood. Driving up into the park you get back into the rock formations, and it is indeed awe inspiring. All said and done, we felt the park was at the same time more impressive and less impressive than Canyonlands. The rock formations are nothing short of amazing, and for that reason everything is much more impressive. But the park is also much smaller, so we felt content taking it all in in a few hours, then headed through Utah, spending the night in southern Idaho. I felt a certain pull to cruise up to Moscow and visit my home of two years where I dropped out of college, but there was a stronger pull to finish the trip.
We drove into Canyonlands in the early afternoon, expecting a nice evening of hiking and camping before continuing on. But that was enough time for us to fall in love with the place, and we ended up spending three days of hiking and playing in the desert environment. Canyonlands is a huge area, we spent all our time in the southernmost entry point, the Needles District, which was nice as it gets you down into the canyon floor. Our third day in the area was my 32'nd birthday, much of which was spent lost in the desert -- a highly recommended experience if you get the chance and manage to survive. Late afternoon found us in Moab, Utah, having dinner at the local microbrewery, staying at a hotel and greatly enjoying a long-needed shower.
Free of pets for a day and night, Amie and I headed into Mesa Verde National Park to view the cliff dwellings. It turned out to be an amazing day, lots to take in. Coming from the massively overpopulated South Florida, we expected the park to be very over crowded on Labor Day weekend, but evidently it's in between seasons so we had much of the park to ourselves. An afternoon downpour chased away the few stragglers, so our guided tour at the end of the day consisted of five people including the two of us and our guide. That evening we enjoyed camping in the park, visited by overly friendly deer throughout the night.
We spent the day exploring the "Aztec Ruins" -- a misnomer -- in Aztec, New Mexico. Built around 1100 AD not by the Aztecs, but by the Anasazi's of the area. Aztec features a restored Grand Kiva within which we heard a lengthy lecture about the area and the people by one of the local guides.
Late in the afternoon we drove up to Durango to walk around and get dinner, then to Cortez where we got a hotel for the night with plans to board the animals and visit Mesa Verde the following day.
As planned, we woke early (everything is relative, let's just say we were making miles before noon...) We buzzed through the northern tip of Texas past a Cadillac Farm and the Largest Cross in the Northern Hemisphere without much interest. That all changed when we crossed the border into New Mexico, a very pretty state. Unfortunately by this point we'd built up a lot of momentum and zipped west, only stopping briefly in Albuquerque for dinner then heading north, in spite of everything looking interesting. I plan to return to this area when time permits to explore a little more thoroughly.
We slept in, got a slow late start on day four. We found a park on a big lake a little ways off the freeway and took a couple hours break to stretch our legs, ride bikes, go for walks, nap, and try to forget just briefly our little wheeled prison. We also tried to not think about the evacuation signs peppering the park which was just down river from a nuclear power plant.
We drove through Arkansas into Oklahoma. After a late dinner in Oklahoma City, we found a motel in Elk City, vowing to get up early and push through to New Mexico or even Colorado tomorrow.
Our third day of driving, all five animals in the car began to realize how small a space we are sharing. Each of us focused a little too much on the faults of the four others sharing the space, with various random growls and complaints. We left Georgia behind, passed through Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, finding a motel in Arkansas. Not a lot of photo taking.