A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

The End of the Road

Miles Driven: 34,834 miles
States Visited: 40

Days Spent on the Road: 185 days (not including time spent with family)
Total length of road trip: August 11, 2009 - May 25, 2010 (9 months)

Yes, I really did drive that much. I had this philosophy that if I took a wrong turn or chose a winding byway that I wasn’t wasting time at all. I encouraged myself that the more time I spent driving the more scenery I saw. If I had any kind of curiosity about a certain town I would make the detour to see it, because I knew I wouldn’t have such an opportunity again. So that explains why my mileage got so high. You can see from these maps of the approximate route I took just how indirect my path was.


Along the way I started collecting little items to display on my dashboard - mostly rocks, leaves and shells. By the end of the trip my dash was covered (it made making turns in my car somewhat dangerous, since things would sometimes go flying if I made the turn too sharply). But it was worth it. I knew pretty early on that I had to do something with the seemingly random assortment of paraphernalia I’d collected that ended up meaning so much to me. So I made a shadowbox and took the best items I had to make a display. I love how each item brings back memories of a specific place - it’s hard to believe I remember exactly where I got each one.


Most people ask me what my favorite place was. And that is the hardest question to answer. Really, there wasn’t any area of the country I didn’t like. Even the bitter snow in New England and the monotonous stretches of farmland in South Dakota had their beauty. Heck, one of my favorite times was hiking in the rain on St. George Island - even the bad times were good. What I can tell you is what places I was surprized to love. I didn’t expect to like the South very much, but I would go back to Charleston, Savannah or New Orleans any time. I loved it there. I also didn’t expect to like the deserts of Utah and Arizona, but those were some of my favorite National Parks.

Another thing most people ask me is “Wasn’t it scary?” It wasn’t. Not really. There were times when I would have acted differently had I not been alone. But I made a safer choice because that was a priority for me. So because of that there were only a few times where I was frightened. Some of the things that didn’t make it into my posts were the scariest moments. The worst was when I had a bear in my campsite in Washington (I’ll never know for sure if it was a bear or something else, because I was too afraid to open the tent, but it was something bigger and heavier than a man that was rummaging through the trash cans and breaking branches on the ground). Unless you’ve had a similar experience you have no idea how frightening that is.

Inspite of a couple moments like that, this road trip has been the most incredible and amazing journey. I can't recommend enough that at some point in your life you have some kind of similar travel experience. I'll never forget it.


Posted by Velora 19:28 Comments (1)


From San Francisco I could have gone straight home to Sacramento, but instead I have to detour over to Yosemite. It’s one of those places that you really can’t visit too often. Last time I was here it was mid-March and it was freezing and it snowed. Despite the weather it was still absolutely gorgeous and wonderfully deserted, but this time, I hoped all the roads would be open. Alas, Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Road were both still closed for the season. I’ll have to come back some year in September. But May was a wonderful time to visit - with perfect weather for hiking, nights warm enough for camping and waterfalls at their peak.


The first day, after securing a campsite, I decided to hike up the mist trail to Vernal Falls. The trail is aptly named because it takes you right beside the raging falls where other hikers take shelter from the mist under umbrellas and tarps.


Most people are content with being soaked by one waterfall, but not me. I continued along the trail to reach Nevada Falls. Here the water finds it's way down a granite cliff at the edge of a valley.


Making the trail into a loop takes you along the other side of the valley and underneath a trickling wide waterfall with the strength of a standard showerhead. So what that means is you have to put up the hood on your jacket and run. And you still get pretty drenched.


The next day I’m up early and I decide to treat myself to breakfast at the Ahwahnee. Breakfast being the only meal at this restaurant possible in my budget. What you're paying for is the rustic-elegance of the high-ceilinged dining hall. And the view out the window. But the raisin brioche French toast was pretty stellar too.

To burn off all that sugar I hike the Upper Yosemite Trail - not all the way to the top - because it's one of the steepest in the park I'm a little tired from yesterday's hike, but far enough to get excellent views of the falls and Half Dome.


I've got a feeling I'll be back to Yosemite many more times in my life. And each time I visit there's a moment when the long drive and other cars make me wonder why I've come back again. But then I get to the valley floor and look around and I realize, "Oh, yeah." For this kind of beauty I'd put up with just about anything.

Posted by Velora 21:38 Comments (0)

San Francisco

San Francisco has always been the closest big city to where I’ve lived. Even so, I haven’t visited that often and when I do it’s mostly been just a day trip. But this time, since I’ve already done most of the tourist stuff on previous visits and because my lodging was covered for a couple days (my Dad happened to be in the city on business and so I got a free hotel room) I was able to take my time exploring.

I wandered around the Nob Hill and Haight regions of town: both among the nicer places to live in the city. It’s really crucial, I feel, to wander off outside of Union Square or the Warf area or Ghirardelli Square. Get away from where all the tourists are and you’ll get away from all the weird people and trash on the street. When you walk around the areas of town where most people actually live, you can see a lot of great architecture and come across some excellent restaurants and unique shops.


I also visited the Museum of Modern Art. Having been to all the other art museums of San Francisco fairly recently, this was the only one left I’d never been to. Modern art museums are kind of a last resort for me. But I’d always been curious so this time I went.

The thing about modern art is that each artist is so polarizing - you either like a certain kind of thing or don’t. And in some ways that can be aggravating because you pay a bit of money to get into a museum and then there are whole rooms where nothing at all appeals to you and you have to keep walking. But on the other hand, I think you can always find at least one artist that you really like. In terms of modern artists Diebenkorn is one of my favorites. From further back his paintings might look a little sloppy and haphazard. But if you look closer there are so many layers of color and so much texture. I like how close-ups of any part of his paintings could stand on their own as abstract.


There was also an exhibit on vernacular photography, which are photos taken in the normal course of life that were not intended to be art, but through chance happen to be very artistic. I like old photos even if they aren’t artistic, so I enjoyed this.


There are things I really love about San Francisco (the architecture and thriving arts scene), but like any place it has its faults (the over-priced tourist traps and the homeless people who will accost you). But it can be a really great place to visit, if you know where to avoid.


Posted by Velora 15:06 Comments (1)

Half Moon Bay Area

Most of the time I’ve only stayed at hostels as a last resort. I would much rather camp. It’s quieter and cheaper most of the time and I like being outdoors. Camping gives me a greater sense of the differences in my surroundings depending on where I am in the country. But there are some hostels that are situated in such amazing locations or in such unique buildings that they are destinations in themselves. And there are two such hostels located just south of San Francisco in the old buildings surrounding two lighthouses.

And while both of the actual lighthouses are closed to the public, staying in the same buildings that the lighhouse keepers and their families once lived in gives you a sense of what it was like to call these rocky shores home. During the day you can walk down on narrow paths to the beach coves below. Don't expect it to be warm, but there are some beautiful views.


Back when the lighthouses were in use, part of living here meant dealing with isolation from the rest of the world. And that's still pretty much true today. There really isn't much else to do around the area. But you can eat your dinner while watching the sun set over the ocean from the huge picture window. To be able to stay at a place with this kind of view for a hostel kind of price, it's worth any moments of boredom.


Half Moon Bay itself is a pretty small town. When I visit the area I like to stop by the bakery and antique stores and then I head inland to Purisma Redwood Preserve. It’s one of the only places I know where you can walk among giant redwoods and not be surrounded by other tourists. It’s very quiet and peaceful there with the creek running along the wide and shady path. And it’s an excellent place to spot banana slugs. They're hard to miss.


Posted by Velora 20:47 Comments (0)

Hearst Castle and Big Sur

The California coastline tends toward wide and sandy shores in the south and rocky with crashing waves in the north. It seems to me that the transition between the two happens right around Hearst Castle. So it makes perfect sense to build a mansion on the hillsides overlooking this amazing part of the coast.


Hearst Castle is only one of the many mansions owned by William Randolph Hearst. The land itself was purchased by his Grandfather and originally the land was only used by the family for "camping" which my guide described as a circus tent with hardwood floors and fine dining. But young William fell in love with the landscape here and when he finally inherited it from his Mother when he was in his 50’s, he knew he had to build on the land. And he built Hearst Castle. He always had a love of classical art and antiquities and from a very early point he knew he intended to share this mansion and its furnishings and décor with the world. He wanted it turned into a museum and after his death, his children gave the castle to the State (after first trying to sell it against their father's last requests but not finding any buyers).


Over the years I’ve been on a couple tours of Hearst Castle, but the first was as a child and the last was almost ten years ago. This time I go on tour two. On every tour you get to see the deep blue outdoor pool. Ever since that first tour it has always taken every ounce of determination to keep myself from “accidentally” slipping and falling into the water. It just looks like it’s so cool and refreshing. Something about it. Everyone wants to swim in it. You only need $10,000 and you can rent the pool for a couple hours.


We get to see the library, Hearst’s bedroom and the kitchen, but the coolest room we saw on this tour was a little circular bedroom in the bell tower. They call it the jewel-box bedroom because of the cool way the light shines in through the ornate carvings on the windows. People like JFK and Walt Disney stayed in this room when they visited the castle.


Hearst Castle is just the beginning of the most scenic drive in the world (or at the end of the road depending on which way you drive). Big Sur is a strange world where hippies hitchhike down the same road that the wealthy drive to reach the posh resorts for weekend getaways. And then there are the people that live here. I imagine those people are a combination of the two: the Ben and Jerry's of the world - rich hippies. But everyone can enjoy the same scenery.


This is the kind of place where you stop every chance you get to take pictures. The first day I’m there it’s foggy, but clear enough to see fine, which is all that matters. But after camping on the other side of the ridge for the night, the next day with the sun shining the sea is now turquoise at the shore.


There have been times when I've avoided Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park because of the entrance fee, but this time I pay it, and take the walk out to the viewpoint. It really is such an iconic view, with the waterfall meeting the waves in the protected cove. I hadn't realized that there was a house here at one point and the residents donated the land to the State. It's hard to imagine that it's possible to wake up in the morning and enjoy a cup of coffee with this view out your kitchen window.


Posted by Velora 09:32 Comments (1)

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