Is it really time to go? – One last drive through the Southwest

Waterfall in Orderville Canyon - Zion National Park

After a month and a half of free-spirited travel across the US, through California and the Southwest, I found myself at a crossroads. I could start driving home and hit a few places on “my list” on the road east, or I could take a week to try and squeeze a few more places into the itinerary in the west. There are too many options when it comes to exploring (especially in the US Southwest), so I had to pick a route. I have a friend that grew up in Wyoming (Laramie, not too far from Colorado) and he highly recommended Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s less than 2 hours from Denver, so after I dropped Lily and her parents off at the Denver airport, I decided I had to head west before heading east.

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The return inland – San Francisco to Vegas

Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - 7-31-2019

After almost 3 weeks along the California coast, it was finally time to drive to Vegas. It was a Tuesday and I had to be there Friday morning. No problem! What is on the way to Vegas? Well, Yosemite National Park is on the way (if you take a slightly longer route). Even though I had already visited Yosemite a few weeks earlier, it’s definitely a park where you need to spend more than 1 day. Also I wanted to summit Half Dome; something I was unable to do during my first visit as I did not have a permit (and I didn’t have enough time).

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Let’s keep going – Northern California coast – part 1

Disclaimer

What you are about to read is part 1 of a two-part series. Actually there is so much to write about, I didn’t want you to feel like you were reading a book, so I divided my exploration of “NorCal” into a northbound journey, and the return southbound journey. If you really enjoy this post, and you are thinking to yourself “I just gotta read the second part”, then check out the Northern California Coast – part 2.

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That’s the California I know – Big Sur and the central coast

After driving out of Sequoia National Park and through the Central Valley, I stopped in Paso Robles to get an early dinner at Jack in the Box and inquire about campground availability near the coast. The answer: there wasn’t any. I called the San Simeon Creek Campground which would be the first one I passed once I got to Route 1, and they said they didn’t have anything available. I then talked with an employee at the Morro Bay location and he said “sorry we don’t have anything from here to Santa Barbara, the entire coast is booked”. It was Friday, it was the weekend in July, but I thought there would be something open!

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Big trees, mountains, and waterfalls – Central Sierra Nevada

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall

It seems likes everything is bigger in the Sierra Nevadas. The highest mountain in the lower 48 states is in the Sierras. I think the biggest waterfall in the US is in the Sierras. And the biggest trees (by volume) are in the Sierras. While we were wrapping up our hike in the Hoover Wilderness, I asked the guys if they knew of any place(s) to see nearby after our trip was complete. I think everyone I asked said “Big Trees” at one point. If you haven’t been to the Sierras, you would probably have the same reaction I did: “Big Trees? There are all sorts of big trees.” The Big Trees they spoke of is Big Trees State Park near Murphys, CA. It’s a beautiful park only about an hour or two from where we split off in Twain Harte.

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The gifts of nature – Buckeye Hot Springs, CA

After departing from Bodie, I stopped at the nearest active settlement: Bridgeport, CA. Bridgeport is a cool little town. There is not much going on, but Lenny (who I was meeting to backpack with in the Hoover Wilderness a few days later) recommended that I stop for a burger at The Barn. I was so hungry after a long day of driving and walking, I got a burger and then walked around the corner for a milkshake at Jolly Kone. Needless to say I didn’t need to make dinner after that.

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There’s Gold in them hills – Bodie, CA

I had a couple of days to kill before meeting my buddy Lenny and his west coast friends on the 4th of July for our backpacking trip through Stanislaus National Forest. One place on my list that happened to be nearby, is Bodie, California. Bodie is a California Gold Rush town located on the eastern side of the Sierras. It takes about 2 hours to drive from Tahoe to Bodie. Route 89 takes you out of South Lake Tahoe and over the Sierras which made the first half of the drive extraordinarily scenic. I turned off of US 395 onto route 270, which basically exists just to take you to Bodie. There is a sign as soon as you turn onto 270 that states that the road is rough after 10 miles. My GPS said 14 miles to Bodie, so the final 4 miles are gravelly. As soon as I got to the gravel section, some cars started turning around due to the rough road. I could only manage about 10 miles an hour with a lot of slowdowns for ditches over the last 4 miles. Eventually I crested the final hill and the tiny former town appeared in the distance.

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Cliff notes for Great Basin National Park, the loneliest drive, and the busiest lake

After crossing into Nevada, I stopped at the gas station/hotel/restaurant just over the border. I had about a quarter of a tank of gas left, but the distances around these parts are awfully long. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stranded in the desert over the next two days. While I was filling up, a bicyclist rolled into the station. I asked where he was coming from and he stated that he was finishing up a 35 mile ride around Baker, his home town. I said that I thought he might be going across the country, although he didn’t have much cargo. He said no way that he would ride on route 50 to Delta (the direction I had just come from). He said that the climbs are long and the ride to Delta is flat and grueling for 40 miles. He had ridden to El Paso before. I’m assuming he did take route 50 to start (it’s basically the only way out of town). It’s funny because once again, this was the route I planned to take via bike. And after the following day driving through Nevada, I can’t imagine biking it.

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Arches National Park, Moab, and crossing Utah in a day

Landscape Arch

I started my day early in an attempt to beat the crowds at Arches National Park. It was still the weekend so I assumed it would be crowded. I drove about 1 1/2 hours from the BLM Westwater campsite to make it to the Arches entry gate around 8:00. I planned on spending only a few hours here. The main attractions are of course the natural sandstone arches, of which there are over 2,000 inside the park boundaries. It’s about a 45 minute drive to get from the park entrance to the far northern end of the park, the location of Devils Garden, which contains a concentration of arches including the iconic Landscape Arch. Of course there are several places to stop along the way to Devils Garden, so it took around 2 hours for me to get there. There are two major offshoots of the main park road. The first offshoot is just past Balanced Rock, the road is about 2 miles long and takes you to The Windows Section where you can see Turret Arch, the North and South Window, and Double Arch. The second offshoot road is a few miles farther down the main road where the primary attraction is the also iconic Delicate Arch.

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