Seven days ascending the Grand Staircase to sandstone heaven
Inspiration came in the form of Utah's Mighty 5 advertising campaign, 127 Hours, Westerns, and a desire to sniff that fresh desert air.
Some background on the trip: In May 2018, after about a year of traveling from Long Beach to Oakland for work, I needed some time off. I was no stranger to outdoor adventures, but up to this point, I had not really done any camping. I figured one of the best places to cut my teeth was on the back roads and trails of Utah. I last minute shopped for all the wrong camping gear (everyone makes this mistake the first time) on Amazon. I had purchased my National Park pass and loaded up my car for the trek into the unknown. Little did I know that this door would open the floodgates to my unsatiaiable outdoor apetite. I didn't have much of an intenerary it was mostly playing it by ear but it ended up being an insane Fear and Loathing type rage run to see as much as humanly possible in the span of a week.
An interactive map of my journey:
Day 1: Long Beach to Joshua Tree
This drive is fairly easy from greater Los Angeles, and JT is definitely the most accessible National Park from the Southland. I remember specificially driving down the 62 and thinking, "this trip has truly begun". Sand and stone stretched around in every direction. Then the Joshua Trees started to appear. Most national parks are designated due to their geological significance. Think: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon (we'll get to that one later) but Joshua Tree is distinct in that it is a national park simply due to the abundance of these plants. Found nowhere else besides the Mojave Desert. That being said, Joshua Tree is a cool spot to explore for reasons besides taking pictures for instagram.
Joshua Tree National Park
Most of the Day was spent exploring different areas of the park, Ryan Mountain is a cool hike to do, easy little hike with some decent elecvation, but nothing too hard. My campsite was a car camp spot at Jumbo Rocks. After I setup my tent and had some dinner I was greeted by one of the gnarliest sunsets I've ever seen. Red Cotton candy, unreal, will never forget the sunset over those martian looking rocks truly the feeling of being welcomed to another world.
Day 2: Joshua Tree to Grand Canyon
From Ventura, after packing up and hitting the road it was a short drive to Ojai. Oh hi, cool little town, lots of local shops and artisans. Some places to check out near downtown; the post office, a little park nearby and across the street were some shops. Deftinitely check out Bart's Books, one of the only outdoor bookstores I have ever encountered. After a morning/early afternoon in Ojai, it was time for Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is a good representation of the mishmash of culutres, old and new. Spanish and American. Sea and Land. The city sprawls from the harbor and shore into the mountains. Lots of the buildings are made to look old, spanish style with terra cotta roofs and whitewashed stucco finishes. There is also a mission in town that is fairly well preserved. This is definitely worth a look. Also check out the courthouse. If there's anything that encapsulates Santa Barabara it is the courthouse. Made to look like an ostentatious Spanish Mission its full of frescos and arches and other features. However it was built in the 1929.
Good food, good shopping, good weather. A really nice public beach and boardwalk. A main street that sprawls for many blocks. Some tips for the city, you can go to the marine museum and take the elevator to the top floor for a nice view of the harbor. You may run into some quirky Santa Barbarans along the way. Keep an eye out for the local ukelele club. Defintely a cool town to spend some time in.
Day 3: Santa Barbara to Hearst Castle to Ragged Point
As I kept meandering my way up the coast the population dwindled. I passed towns like Santa Maria, Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo. About the time I got to Morro Bay. I realized I was nearing what is called the Central Coast a sweet spot between northern and southern california where the coastline is littered with cliffs and where PCH started getting really beautiful. I had an afternoon ticket to visit Hearst Castle the next adventure on my trip.
This place was ridiculous. The gardens were meticulously manicured, I'm not sure if there is some portion of the garden that is always in bloom, but I was blessed with the sight of every color of rose imaginable blooming simultaneously. There were roman and greek statues, and columns, and sculptures galore. The house is set at the top of a giant sprawling property that is surrounded by mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. This place was magnificent. The inside of the main house was awesome although a bit dated. If I were to do this again I would probably choose a different tour, maybe the guest houses tour.
My favorite piece of the castle apart from the gardens were the guest houses. Each of them had a back porch area that looked directly out to the ocean. Complete with golden statues on the columns that seemed to admire the view just as I had been. Hearst Castle is worth a trip in itself but it was definitely a highlight of Day 3. After a while it was time to head out. As I left I got a view of the indoor pool and tennis courts. Then it was time to keep heading north.
When I left Hearst Castle, I stopped by the Elephant Seal habitat and got a little jealous of how aloof they were. But I had to keep moving. This is the point where PCH started to get really beautiful, unfortunately for me, a crack was discovered at a bridge near Big Sur which haulted traffic north of Ragged Point so that was as far as I could go from the south. I stopped to snap some pictures along the way, and as the road wound up and into the coastal cliffs I rolled into the Ragged Point Inn around early evening, time enough for a short hike.
I walked to a spot just south of the resort that was recommended by someone at the front desk, where it looked like I could climb some hills and get a view down to the coast. The late afternoon sun started to set and a fog rolled in. Yellowish hues hit the green grassy knolls and a crisp sea air kept everything cool. Dinner at the Ragged Point Inn was interrupted by another highlight of my trip, a purple, raspberry, sunset that was really unlike anything I have ever seen. I have no idea how this happened but everyone left their tables and went outside to take pictures and admire the sight. The rooms at the Ragged Point Inn were awesome. Clean, with an ocean breeze, it really is Big Sur. I woke up refreshed and ready to hit the road for Monterey.
Day 4: Ragged Point to Monterey
Due to the road closure on PCH I had to go to Monterey the long way. There was quite a bit of driving this day. Through the Central Coast to King City then up the 5 and back over to Monterey. I got to Monterey early afternoon and did a little bit of hiking around the outskirts of the city, then checked into my hotel. Got an opportunity to jump in the pool and hot tub, then relaxed and later on had dinner with some of my extended family. My cousin was getting married so this was another reason for this trip. However, it was Thursday and the wedding wasn't until Saturday, so I would be here for three more nights. This was really a driving and chill day. I think every vacation needs one of these, especially after how much I had experienced so far this trip.
Day 5: Monterey and Big Sur
My parents got into town this day, so we met for an early lunch and made it a point to do some exploring. PCH was open coming from the north a little bit past the Bixby Creek Bridge. So we decided to go down there and then head back up north to Carmel and loop back around the back way to Monterey.
Another Big Sur photo opportunity at the Bixby Creek Bridge. Then off to Carmel by the sea for a shot of Lone Cypress.
Big Sur, Carmel, and Monterey
Day 6: Monterey
Day 6 was the wedding. Lots of family, laughs, and dancing, a good time was had by all.
Day 7: Monterey to Santa Cruz
Day 7 was a groggy brunch as everyone said their goodbyes. A full week on the road for me was in the books. And I had to keep on moving, on to Santa Cruz.
I want to shout out the Sea and Sand Inn in Santa Cruz. It was an awesome place. Santa Cruz is like Santa Barbara after a few bong rips. The town is super chill, I liked the downtown area, it didn't seem quite as pretentious as the other Central California cities, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. The boardwalk is super cool too. Of course I had to stop by my favorite coffee spot Verve Coffee Roasters.
I want to give a special shout out to Verve. First of all, I have been regularly ordering Verve Coffee since probably 2011, not even joking I'm addicted. I emailed them before taking this trip, just letting them know that I have been a loyal customer and I was going to be in the area, I asked if I could take a tour of their facilities and see what it was all about. They wrote me back and told me to stop by which was super, super rad. When I took a sip of the nitro cold brew at the Seabright facility it felt like I was drinking holy water.
Their roasting equipment was amazing, their staff was chill and they gave me some pointers on how to enjoy Verve even more, they even gave me some free swag, customer for life. I had some Verve this morning actually.
Day 8: Santa Cruz to Yosemite
I figured since I was up in Northern California it was a good idea to take a little detour to this National Park that everyone had been talking so much about. I had heard that Yosemite was another must see in California. Somewhere, I don't remember where, I saw a list of Realistic State Mottos. And California's was: We Have Whatever Your State Has, But a Better Version of It. Nowhere was this more evident than at Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite National Park
We had a really wet winter of 2016 in California and the Sierra was pummelled with snow. So much so that Glacier Point was not open until late May 2017. Although the south part of the park was closed due to snow and ice, ALL of the waterfalls were spitting at full capacity. The Merced River almost completely filled the valley which provided some awesome photo opportunities on Day 1 in the park. I pulled in and snapped some pictures in the afternoon, then checked into my canvas tent at Half Dome Village.
Then I was able to catch sunset around the park. Seeing Yosemite Falls, California's waterfall that is bigger and better than anything any other state has was a majestic sight. Seeing the sunset on Half Dome and the golden glow it provided. Seeing Middle Cathedral Rock's reflection in the Merced. All of these moments I will always remember.
The only thing I really dislike about Yosemite is the crowds. There are so many people at this park, and this was the first time I learned that it is necessary to hit the backcountry to avoid the crowds. I planned for a morning hike the next day.
Day 9: Yosemite
Early to bed early to rise. I hit the trailhead at Lower Yosemite Falls around 6am, a short walk from Half Dome Village. This was an excellent idea. I was able to see the last bits of sunrise hit the valley as I made my way up towards Yosemite Point. The trail was also sparsely populated. When I finally got closer to Upper Yosemite Falls it was another moment of magic in this sacred place. The water was flowing so profusely that it was hitting the ground and jumping back up into the air, creating rain around the base of the fall. If you ever go to Yosemite, go in May.
Getting to Yosemite Point the whole valley came into view. A new appreciation for the splendor of this place really hit me. It was 3,000 feet striaght down to the valley floor. This appreciation was soon replaced with annoyance when I hit the crowds who got later starts to their day than me. However, I believe this was the day my backcountry thirst was first quenched. Thank you to John Muir and everyone who helped preserve this place for everyone else to enjoy.
Day 10: Yosemite to San Francisco
At this point I was ready to get back to civilization, a long drive that took me through Modesto offered me a chance to do some laundry on my way to the San Francisco airport to return my rental car. Then I took an Uber from the airport to my hotel near Chinatown. It was nice to be back in a hotel. Grabbed a shower then I got the chance to do some exploring of the city.
I headed for Dolores Park and the Mission District. Seeing the Painted Ladies brought back memories of Full House. Dolores Park was uniqely San Fancisco. A local man had a parrot that he trained to do flybys. The view of Downtown got better and better with each step I took. This city is extremely walkable.
Dinner was at La Taqueria in the Mission District. Hands down the best burrito I've had to date. Definitely worthy of the tag "Best Burrito in America" that it was given. The order is the Carnitas Super Burrito, Dorado Style. Make sure you bring cash. The burrito will be gone in no time.
Day 11: San Francisco
This city is so cool man, and what a first impression. There is a quote, "the coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco", nobody knows who said it, maybe it was Mark Twain, but that is contested. Either way, the weather was perfect for me. I could not have asked for a better introduction to this city.
My second day in SF I took the ferry to Alcatraz and did the self guided tour. That was awesome. Highly recommended. After that I checked out Lombard Street and did a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. That bike ride was really cool, the plan was to get all the way to Muir Woods, I got to the entrance but I didn't feel like making another descent that would have been an eventual ascent on my way back. You can rent a bike for a pretty reasonable price. Something happened and I actually bent a rim, even with the bent rim, after a Ferry back to the Embarcadero it was only about sixty bucks for the rental.
Day 12: San Francisco to Long Beach
Breakfast, then checkout. Took an Uber to the airport and caught my flight home. My trip had come to an end. What a whirlwind. I fell in love with my new home, warts and all. Stay Golden Pony Boy.