ROAD TRIP — THE AMERICAN WEST
I grew up hearing so much about how beautiful the best coast was, but I knew there was no substitute for experiencing it in person.
PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY
Almost missed the flight out of NYC, but I made it to the West Coast. This would be my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean, having never gone west of Austin, TX.
Ben and I headed north along California Route 1, the famous Pacific Coast Highway. I wasn’t at all expecting the heavy fog, the chill in the air, or the impressive cliffs being battered by the waves. We made frequent stops to take it all in.
VAN DAMME STATE PARK
Our first night camping was in Van Damme State Park, a moss-filled park right off the highway. Unfortunately, because we were hammock-campers and it was raining a bit, we opted to sleep in the car. A bit of a disappointment, but we were easing into the flow of camping and learned a thing or two from our first attempt.
FORT BRAGG GLASS BEACH
Wasting no time, we woke up at dawn to head to Fort Bragg Glass Beach. In the early 20th century, residents of the city threw their garbage over the cliffs quite regularly. Discarded glass ended up breaking into bits, rounding into pebbles, and collecting here. Apparently there’s far less of it now because of people collecting it.
The landscape, combined with the thick, omnipresent fog and weak, morning light gave some parts of the coast a very alien feel. We lucked out on a spot for breakfast right on the ocean. For two guys on the road, we were eating quite well.
REDWOOD NATIONAL FOREST
Camping in Redwood would be my first time sleeping outdoors. What I did not anticipate was how cold it could get at night on the coast, so I was severely under-dressed. I woke up several times throughout the night shivering, counting down the hours til sunrise and begging myself to go back to sleep.
The morning hikes through the forest were incredible. Seeing these impossibly tall trees inspires something deep inside you to want to preserve and protect them.
Crater Lake was our only destination in Oregon, and the furthest north we would go. The lake is a caldera formed by the collapse of the Mt. Mazama stratovolcano 7,700 years ago. The deep blue and the clarity of the water come from the impressive depth.
We made friends with a German couple the morning we were in the lake, and I was convinced to jump off a cliff. Another first for me, and I don’t think I’ll soon be forgetting the pain from my glorious belly flop. Ben has it all on video in case I do forget.
At Lake Tahoe, we got splurged on an Airbnb close to the lake, and made it to the lake just in time for a spectacular sunset dipping into the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The break from camping gave us time to recharge ourselves and even cook a real dinner.
THE DRIVE ACROSS NEVADA
The drive across Nevada would be our biggest push yet. By now I had figured out how to drive stick and was able to contribute to the driving effort. We were worried the drive across would be monotonous, but it was quite the opposite. There was something to see about every 15 minutes of driving, whether it was run-down towns along the highway, cows roaming around, or just beautiful stretches of the desert changing without warning. We even lucked out by getting a supermoon in the sky.
The car hit the 100,000 mile mark on the car while on Extraterrestrial Highway.
Bryce Canyon was my first look at the reds, whites, yellows, and oranges that would dominate the landscape for the next few days. It was the only place we’d see hoodoos, the frost-weathered rock formations. We had the time for a quick trail, and were able to see the amphitheater from both high and low.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion was easily my favorite destination of the trip. It happened to be where we spent the most time and also where I felt we could have spent even more time.
Despite the crowds, which were managed very well, Zion felt like a peaceful retreat. The entire park seemed and looked other-worldly and tranquil. Zion was also home to one of the most strenuous (and dangerous) hikes I’ve ever done, Angel’s Landing. The trail was doubly challenging we were hiking up with food, gallons of water, and supplies. The plan was to camp on the West Rim of the canyon, which meant another 3 hours of hiking. The hike was complicated further by the approaching thunderstorm and limited daylight hours remaining. Fortunately, the lightning passed right over us and we got to the campsite just in time.
(NEAR) THE GRAND CANYON
On our way to the Grand Canyon, we made a stop at Horseshoe Bend. The scale of the site was quite a shock. I had seen photos before, but I couldn’t have imagined it being so big. The 1,000 foot drop from the cliff edge had me keep my distance, but it was quite a mesmerizing sight.
Luck was not on our side, and we had to pass on seeing the Grand Canyon. The entire canyon was fogged up from the rain that day. This meant we’d be spending a bit more time in Las Vegas than we planned…
I wasn’t expecting to like Las Vegas. In fact, I was expecting to dislike Las Vegas. What I ended up appreciating was how weird the city was. More so, how shamelessly out there it was.
I decided to leave my camera at the hotel. We went to see Cirque du Soleil (Mystère) with great seats for quite cheap. After visiting several of the big hotels and getting a sense of what the theme of each was, we settled on a roulette table at The Venetian. It would be my first time playing roulette and I doubled my money for a pretty handsome win. Not bad!
Our car started making funny noises in 5th gear, so we stopped in at a Walmart (another first for me) and got our oil changed. Things were running smoothly afterward, so we decided to try our hand at driving through Death Valley with extra gallons of water just in case.
The landscape looked both incredibly chaotic and still. The sun was low in the sky, so we avoided the peak heat and even managed to get a desert sunset. The drive at night gave us one of the clearest views of the night sky. Despite being short on time, we stopped the car off the side of the highway, let our eyes adjust to the light, and watched the sky explode with stars. I even saw my first shooting star.
Mono Lake was an interesting sight. Super saline and shallow, it had a pungent smell and was bordered by a crust of tufas. We didn’t spend too long there, but it’s definitely a place that I imagine is quite a spectacle throughout the seasons, particularly in the winter.
As a lifelong New Yorker, San Francisco is often brought up as a foil for NYC. From something as trivial as Shake Shack vs In-N-Out to the culture differences of East Coast vs West Coast.
We only had a night and two days left, but our car finally gave up 100 miles outside the city. Despite the hours of waiting for a tow, we made it to a house party, stayed with a friend, had an exorbitant amount of Mexican food, and rented bikes to explore the piers, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and faced impossibly steep hills.
I got a superficial understanding of what the city was about through conversation, but definitely not enough. I certainly did feel the cold, windy fog! I made some new friends and caught up with old ones to cap the journey, and can’t wait to go back.
Big thanks to Ben for modeling for these photos and being an awesome road trip buddy! Photos taken with a t2i and iPhone 4s and paired with VSCO.