Tag Archive: CA roadtrip


the open road

so, this is the end of california — finished, even though it took nearly seven months!  over those ten days at the start of december 2011, we covered about 2100 miles in our little black rental beast.  it seems only appropriate, therefore, to reflect on all the different roads we traveled.  scrubby desert roads lined with strange joshua trees; long straight highway stretches with mountains looming on one or several sides; snowy gravel roads high in the forest, lined with giant trees; out-of-place-seeming asphalt strips winding through strange rock formations; rolling river-side roads and a spectacular final drive along the coast.  from the car, we saw sunrises, sunsets, and moonrises; lakes, streams, waterfalls, and the ocean; cattle, birds, and coyotes.  it had been a long time since we’d traveled together to somewhere new to both of us (well — technically all three of us, since i was 14 weeks pregnant and also spent a fair amount of the car-time either feeling queasy or eating trail-mix), and we’re so glad we did.  so here are my favorite shots taken of, along or from the road.  thanks, california — we had a great time getting to know you better!

 

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the california moon

before i write about the life events that overtook us at the end of april — causing the two-month radio silence here among other things — there are two more posts to finish the california trip off.  although i have finished writing about the specific places we visited, i wanted to focus on two specific aspects of our trip.  the first was the moon.

by dint of driving to a new destination each day and exploring when we got there, our walks were necessarily mostly late-afternoon to evening affairs.  as it happened, over those ten days, the moon tended to rise as, or just before, we arrived at our new destinations, and so was a common feature in the landscapes we were discovering.  we saw it perching above desert rocks and looming over mountains.  it added to the other-worldy feel of places like death valley.  and on the penultimate night of our road trip, in the wee hours before we got up to go to anacapa island, our california moon-gazing culminated in a lunar eclipse.

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anacapa island

this was one of my favorite places on the whole CA circuit.  during a previous research trip to santa barbara, i had heard about the channel islands national park, but hadn’t had the time to go there, and so added it to my ‘must do eventually’ list.  and when we realized we would be finishing this trip by driving down the california coast from monterey back to los angeles, i seized the chance.  given our limited time and my somewhat tenuous state of metabolism/stamina, we opted for the smallest and closest island, anacapa (actually made of three islets but visitors are only allowed on east anacapa).

the ferry took us out there from the giggle-inducing town of oxnard, on the morning following a lunar eclipse (more on that shortly).  we had a stunning day for it — sparkling turquoise water, pelicans soaring along just above the surface, misty cliffs ringing kelpy bays where sealions basked and barked.  after an initial steep climb up the cliffs from the ferry (ok, there were stairs, but still steep) we had sweeping panoramic views of the island, with the lighthouse at one end and the craggy humps of the other islands visible off the other.  there were a total of six buildings and not a single tree; just the strange coreopsis plants and extensive swathes of the invasive (if picturesque) ‘iceplant.’  in addition to the pelicans (which breed there — one of only two colonies in the US), the steep cliffs hosted hundreds of smaller nesting seabirds, but very little other wildlife.  the whole place, especially the views to the other islands, reminded me a lot of the cíes islands in spain, but east anacapa was much smaller — about a mile long; all three islets together cover just 1.1 square miles in total area.  so four hours was plenty of time to stroll the cliff-tops (not getting too close, of course), enjoy a picnic lunch, and take about a thousand photos.

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pinnacles

the next day held another long drive, from visalia to monterey, but we had a stop planned along the way at pinnacles national monument.  although we would be entering the park on the less popular west side, the pebbles had scoped out what sounded like a very cool walk including a section through a talus cave — a canyon where boulders from higher up have fallen to form a roof. (sounds like a great place to walk, right?)  as seemed to be our pattern on this trip, we arrived in the late afternoon, as the sun was sinking, painting the pinnacles orange and pink.  since we did not have flashlights and didn’t know just how dark it would be in the rocks, we opted to do the loop backwards to get the cave section done first in case we needed to turn back.  there were a few blind moments in the deepest part of the tunnel, but between the camera flash and a few chinks of light far overhead, we scrambled through (discovering later by looking at the ‘throw-away’ photos used to fire the flash that there had been white arrows painted on the rocks to show the way — who knew? — albeit in the opposite direction since we were doing the loop backwards).  emerging from the cave, we passed through a short stretch of wooded valley and then climbed back over the surface of the cave section, earning further views of the sunset spires and peaks, and of the rising moon.

 

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sequoia national park

let’s have some arm-chair travel!  the pebbles has gone off to canada and england for a few weeks, and while i am partly jealous (he’s spending the weekend on vancouver island – hard not to be), i can’t say it would have been a terribly good idea for me, with just ~10 weeks to go until dragon baby arrives.  (yay! but also OMG NOT READY!)  so, with my old laptop intermittently playing nice, and a shiny new version of photoshop, i will try to wrap up the california trip from the end of 2011 (three national parks to go!) and console myself with the memory of some pretty good recent travel of my own.

the day after we drove through death valley, we awoke early in panamint springs and took stock of our plans.  our room had warmed up substantially overnight (it was about 4C/40F when we arrived the night before), so we were slightly reluctant to face the chill outside, but knew we had a big day ahead: we planned to drive to and through sequoia national park, hopefully seeing some impressive trees along the way, and staying on the far side – about 6 hours on the road, plus stops.  although our gas tank was nearly empty, we opted to skip filling up before we got underway, since the local price was $5.48/gallon ($2 higher than anywhere else we’d seen).

we were on the road in good time and enjoyed our final vistas of death valley, then turned southwest and skirted the strange, salty owens lake.  as happened often on this trip, we were amazed by how rapidly the landscape could change, as we passed stony, scrubby mountains backdropping lowland fields (with a few coyotes in one, playing among a herd of unperturbed cows) and then found the rather gorgeous (if artificial)  isabella lake nestled in a golden hollow, followed shortly by a little mountain town called kernville where we stopped for additional information about sequoia national park.  here we encountered our first and only real glitch of the trip – the road we had planned to take through the park is apparently closed in the winter, or at least unpassable to most vehicles.  i confess that i had naively not anticipated the possibility of california roads being only seasonally accessible.  a helpful ranger did point us in the direction of ‘some large redwoods’ by continuing along the road we had planned to take but then branching off toward a dead end; this would be about an extra hour in each direction but the scenery was lovely as we followed the kern river.  the higher we climbed, the more apparent it became how the roads could truly be problematic to normal vehicles; we passed iced-over waterfalls and, toward the end of the road, enjoyed a few exciting moments of skating along icy ruts in the shadiest parts of the woods.  the rock formations around us became increasingly dramatic and the trees larger (though we didn’t see any that really fit our mental image of ‘giant sequoia’ — apparently this tree was around there somewhere, but we didn’t find it, and from a political standpoint: good riddance), and the people fewer (from already not many).  when we reached the end of the road we parked and went for a short forest walk, crunching through the thin layer of crusty snow and hearing nothing other than our own footsteps, a few jays and crows, and the wind sighing in the tops of the trees.  while not as spectacular as we had hoped on the tree front , it was still gorgeous and peaceful.

the rest of the day was largely food-centered, which was not a bad thing — we had a delicious late lunch at the big blue bear cafe back in kernville (toasted pide wrap of pesto, goat cheese & fresh tomatoes, with my umpteenth arnie palmer to take advantage of the land where ‘lemonade’ doesn’t mean sprite), then made our final driving push to visalia, where a large and colorful mexican dinner finished the day off.  many miles covered, much scenery taken in, and more to do in the morning!

 

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death valley

from the chaos of las vegas, we fled back into the desert, and wow, is this a trip of contrasts.  death valley holds some more superlative records for our catalogue this trip – largest US national park outside of alaska, hottest recorded temperature on land (on the planet: 56C!), lowest point in the US (-282 feet; we stood there and looked up at a sign high on the cliff that said SEA LEVEL).  but mostly, it was desert-y, in all the possible and surprisingly varied ways we could have imagined.  high, dry mountains, desolate plains, sedimentary rock faces in stunning colors.  empty lake basins (lake manly was once 90 miles long and up to 600 feet deep), dry golden canyons with gorgeous rock formations, fields of low scrub in a range of colors to rival the rocks, and very, very few other people.  until we reached badwater basin, we saw perhaps two other cars (over a distance of ~50 miles).  from there, we hiked a few short trails and had some company as the afternoon light and rising moon drew photographers to the most picturesque spots, but in general it was a place of vast solitary expanses (for which we were grateful, after the previous day) and otherworldly scenery.  with a few extra moons in the sky, some of the views could easily have come straight from science fiction films; the pebbles said he kept expecting sand people to descend on us in the canyons.   luckily, they did not – at least, not that he noticed.  >:)

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las vegas / hoover dam

hmm, las vegas.  what to say about las vegas… ?  the pebbles noticed early in our trip planning that it was within reach of other places we would be, but did not press the issue.  i then realized that there were a large number of cirque du soleil shows on offer there, and suggested we might have a night in town as long as we could go to one.

so we did.

the city was everything we expected, and more, and less, in all the possible ways.  sparkly, glitzy, overwhelming, boundlessly opulent, unlimited things to see but many of them pretty much the same.  we walked a bit on the strip (although we managed to be in town on the day the strip was largely closed for a marathon), ate, goggled, got overloaded, took a nap.  looked around some more, saw the world’s tallest chocolate fountain, drove to hoover dam, got lost in our hotel (bellagio – might as well go iconic), and did, in fact, see a cirque show, “O”.  it was incredible.  if i say that the stage was mostly an ever-changing pool, that does not do it justice.  it was grand and gratuitous on a level with everything else in las vegas – the contortionist act involved four performers who arrived on the stage suspended by their feet from four more performers on trapezes.  there were (without exaggeration) fifteen lyra artists going at once.  high divers plummeted  into the pool from a level higher than the top of the stage’s proscenium.  the stage hands were all on scuba rigs.  a woman on trapeze balanced on her head, on the trapeze bar, as it swung wildly high above the stage.  i’ve never seen anything like it.  i can only recommend that if you ever have the chance – go!

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mojave desert

logically, the third and final day of the rail trail would appear here next, but as it happens, we’re ~1500 miles into a ten-day road trip in southern california (surprise!), and the photos are piling up, so in the interest of currency, we’ll skip ahead for now. :)

we arrived in los angeles a week ago tomorrow morning, and spent a couple of days doing work-related things (for me, visiting squid collections in santa barbara and at scripps), then met up again to start our holiday proper on saturday. having never really explored this part of the country, we had decided to do a week-long loop encompassing a few national parks and some other sights, with a fairly ambitious driving schedule, but hopefully worth it. which it proved to be already on the first evening – we made it to the mojave national preserve around mid-afternoon (granted, having estimated sunset to be a little later than it turned out to be), and were almost immediately treated to the first of several surprises that would await us in the desert(s): snow! among a remarkable landscape of sagey scrub, strange coral-like joshua trees, a few barrel cacti, and actual tumbleweeds, we found first shady patches of snow, then entire hillsides. it was very surreal – but gorgeous. we also saw golden dunes, spectacular striated rock formations and mountains, and swiss cheesy cliffs full of small to good-sized caves begging to be explored (next time). we did have time for one lovely walk, and agreed afterward that we couldn’t have imagined a better one – a short 1.5-mile loop around the base of a tall escarpment pocked with crevices and nooks, leading us to a large hollow in its middle (the hole in the wall for which the loop was named), and climbing up through banshee canyon to return to the road where we’d parked. our timing also could not have been better (or a closer shave, probably) – the sun was setting as we began the trail, turning the sky lovely shades of soft blue and rose, with a few stars beginning to peep out and the bright half-moon appearing over the pinnacle we skirted. by the time we climbed to the top of the canyon, we were in half-light and probably wouldn’t have found it quite as easy had it been even ten minutes later. coupled with the temperature (about 2C/35F), we were quite pleased to return to the car, but also enraptured with our first experience in the desert.

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