Updated: Feb 3, 2018
Oregon Coast September 1-2, 2017
For our first night, we stayed at Seaside, OR. We arrived in the evening, walked along the beach as the sun set, wandered through the shops, and ate fish and chips at the Crabby Oyster. After the sun set, the beach got cold, and we headed back to the motel for the evening. We rose early to grab some coffee, wander the last of the shops, and get back onto the road.
YAQUINA HEAD LIGHTHOUSE
We had full intentions of reaching the Redwoods to camp by the evening. Along the way we stopped off at Yaquina Head Lighthouse just outside of Newport, OR. I had visited when I was a kid, and wanted to show Michael the black volcanic beach. We walked up to the lighthouse, but wanted to escape the crowds, so we went down to the beach. We sat down on the black pebbles, and as I tried to fill my little vial with some smaller grains of the black sand, Michael proposed to me!
HIGHWAY 101 - PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY
We drove down Highway 101 to California. At the time there were a large number of forest fires in Oregon, which made the air hazardous to be out in for extended periods of time.
California September 3-5, 2017
HUMBOLDT REDWOOD STATE PARK
We didn't quite make it to our campsite in the Humboldt Redwood Forest. We ended up crossing into California around midnight, realized we still had two hours until we reached our campsite, and stayed the night at a rest stop just passed the Trees of Mystery.
I had a difficult time sleeping in the passenger seat, so I woke around 5:00am, ready to get the day started. Michael slept until about 7:00am, so I people watched until he awoke. I was so surprised at how many people could not figure out how to open the bear-safe garbage cans. After I watched those particular people get back into their cars, I went out to open the latch and throw away their wrappers and recylce their water bottles. I guess you really do have to be smarter than the average bear.
We brushed our teeth, made some coffee, and moved on toward the Humboldt Redwoods. Along the way we drove through the Avenue of the Giants Auto Tour and wandered through the trails.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
That night we made it to San Francisco. We crossed over the San Francisco Bridge, (which is an $8 toll) and became tourists. After sitting in the same position for almost 24 hours, we needed some way to stretch our legs. We wandered around a neighborhood by the airport, ate some giant burgers and onion rings, and people watched as we made our way back to our comfortable hotel. We grabbed some tourist brochures and maps, and browsed through them for the evening.
(Photo credit: Michael)
SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK
We continued down to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park for our first actual night of camping and no cell service. At our first viewpoint stop, we found a large open clearing filled with stacked rocks. Black bears roam freely around the park, so at every campsite is a metal bear-safe container where we were to put everything from chapstick and fire starters to any kind of food item and stove tops.
In the morning, I awoke before most people in the campsites around us. At 6:00am, you could feel autumn quickly approaching with the crisp morning air. I bundled up in the some sweats, brewed some coffee, and crawled into my hammock to read through the park informational pamphlets.
Washington has some pretty narrow and steep roads, but I don't think I've ever been on a road like the one that passes through this state park. On the way up there were countless curves and trees so close to the roadside, that if you were to put you arm out the window, you could probably touch them. On the backside, you travel down switch backs with barely any barriers separating you from the canyon. The views were absolutely gorgeous, so I didn't mind the crazy roads.
Arizona September 5-6, 2017
I don't know what I was thinking when I designed this road trip. Never again am I planning anything that requires more than four hours of driving a day. We drove from Sequoia National Park, California to Flagstaff, Arizona. That is an estimated 10 hours of driving. I really don't know what I was thinking.
We drove through Southern California and got to see oil fracking first hand. Temps rose to 115 degrees in 29 Palms and we braved the heat to stop at a rest area. A mother and daughter were in the restroom when I came out to wash my hands. The little girl insisted she needed the air dryer to finish cleaning her hands. I couldn't help but laugh to myself when I heard the mother say, "They turned those off for a reason. As soon as you step outside your hands will be dry. Let's go." Sure enough, I wiped the excess water off on my jeans, and as I stepped outside the water instantaneously evaporated.
Back on the road, the desert seemed to stretch on forever.
As we approached Prescott, AZ, a stretch of thick, dark clouds loomed at the top of the hill. Lightning hit the ground and rods all around the highway. The rain drops were so large we were afraid we might not have paint on the front of our car. Almost three inches of water covered the road. Heavy winds tried pushing the car. I white-knuckled the steering wheel as we pressed on. Neither of us had experienced a storm so bad.
When we arrived in Flagstaff, they were just receiving power again. We decided on dinner at Applebee's, where only a handful of college students sat in the bar after the storm.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
The warm sun was a wonderful change from the blazing temperatures of SoCal and the crazy rains we passed through. The sky was clear enough the next day that we even got sun burns on our faces and shoulders.
Michael was incredibly excited to finally check the views from the Grand Canyon off his bucket list. As a Geologist, he was a kid in a candy shop.
After visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, we headed Northeast through the Navajo Reservation. Along the way, we stopped at a pull-off on the side of the road next to a jewelry and rug outpost. At the end of a quarter-mile trail, we found a lookout spot. We were alone, besides a small English family, viewing this giant crevasse in the the earth. Soon thick raindrops started to fall, giving off the sweet scent of water hitting warm, red dirt, and we headed back to the car.
(Photo credit: Small, enthusiastic Asian man who wanted us to take his pictures after)
Utah September 6-7, 2017
We made it to Moab, UT that evening. We found a little diner to settle our hunger, and then went back to hopefully get some sleep. Come to find out, upon further looking at the floor, our room had ants. We were unable to switch rooms, so we had to kill as many as possible before pushing it out of our thoughts and finally getting some sleep.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Although we set out early to Arches National Park, the heat still got up toward 90 degrees by 11:00am. Our little Washingtonian bodies couldn't quite take the dry Utah heat. We didn't make the trek to delicate arch, like so many people do, but we did climb around the rocks on double arch and sat in the shade for a while.
Colorado September 7-8, 2017
Another "Sarah what were you thinking" trip planning moment. We wanted to go to Colorado Springs, CO and wander around the city or maybe go on a hike. At that point we didn't really care where we were sleeping at night, so I booked us a hotel in Victor, CO since it claimed it was 30 minutes from Colorado Springs and on the cheaper side. The rooms looked gorgeous with the brick walls, sitting area, and large beds. What I did not consider was where Victor was located.
When driving through Colorado, we made our way through more than one mountain pass. We passed through the Vail Mountain Resort, nestled within the trees and mountain sides, not yet covered in snow. We got out at a rest area, a little crabbier than expected, but blamed it on the little sleep from the Moab motel.
After getting off the highway, GPS took us through some tiny back roads, led us passed some large mines on the cliff face next to the road, and brought us to a brightly lit town. Casinos and their flashing lights filled every storefront we could see down the main drag of Cripple Creek. We passed the road of casinos, and finally made it to Victor, Colorado. The sky had started to turn dark, and the streets were empty as far as we could tell. The dreary weather made it feel like we had arrived to a ghost town. We checked in to the Victor Hotel with time to spare before dinner. The only way to get to the third floor was via antique bird cage elevator.
Upon arriving to our room, ice-cold water bottles waited in the fridge along with a pamphlet mentioning that Victor, CO is located at an elevation of 10,000 feet. We were experiencing headaches, nausea, and fatigue because we had altitude sickness. It felt like we had spent the night before drinking and had a nagging hangover by the time we arrived to Victor.
Despite the altitude sickness, my favorite hotel during our entire trip had to be the Victor Hotel. The people were extremely friendly, the hotel was gorgeous, and somehow the sickness made it memorable. I only wish I had taken more pictures of the hotel.
The next day, we took it easy and wandered around Colorado Springs, looking through shops and book stores, and enjoying the sun.
Wyoming September 8-11, 2017
DEVIL'S TOWER NATIONAL MONUMENT
We stayed at the KOA at the base of Devils Tower. We chose a spot where the tower would be right in our line of sight when we opened up our tent in the morning. The owners of the KOA played Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as they do every night, and Michael and I brought blankets and cans of soup to eat while we watched.
The next morning, we got to get up close and personal with the tower. We took the mile-long trail around the base of our Nation's first monument, watched some climbers, rummaged through the little gift shop, and headed onto our next destination.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
We drove across Wyoming to find another flat and desolate part of the US. For miles and miles there was nothing but open land. And when something did pop up to break the scenery, it was a fracking farm - oh so dirty. We drove 8 hours to get across Wyoming before we finally made it to our last destination - Yellowstone! I had no idea how large the park was, or the fact that it was going to take 45 minutes just to reach our campsite from one entrance. We passed through a herd of Bison, and laughed as the park rangers tried to herd them off the road with their vehicles. We made ravioli on our little single burner stove top, and crawled into the tent for the night. On the first night, we fell asleep to the sounds of elk bellowing and wolves howling out in a clearing at the edge of the camp ground.
Our first full day at Yellowstone was spent watching Old Faithful, wandering around the geysers, and befriending a raven. In the evening, we attended a ranger talk about Mountain Lions. As we walked back to our campsite, we stared up at the Milky Way, where there was near to no light pollution to outshine the stars.
On our second morning, we drove up to the Mammoth Hot Springs. In the town, we watched the park rangers try to shoo away a large bull elk and some females off the roads. On our way out of the park, we stopped at the Roosevelt Tower and the Calcite Springs Overlook.
The original plan for our trip home was to stop in Big Sky and Bozeman, Montana, and see where Michael's mom lived. But at the time, forest fires were nearly taking over all of Montana, so we decided to reroute our trip through Idaho instead.
This trip was an absolutely incredible experience. We did not plan nearly enough time for each destination, but we both agree that it was a taste-tester of a trip. After seeing some places, we now know which parks we would like to devote an entire trip to in the future. When it comes to road trips, or even just vacations in general, you can only plan so much - we had some expectations, but some of them were completely blown out of the water and were out of our control. And the things that we can't always control seem to make the best memories.