AZ to PNW

Before we began, it had to change. That’s the thing about road trips. Have a plan, but be flexible. There’s too many moving parts to get it all perfect. Oh, and be sure to check the weather forecast before setting out.

The morning of May 16, we woke up in our Chandler, AZ apartment and got ready for the trip. With everything packed up the day before, there were just a few odds and ends to attend to. Charley? Check. Snacks? Check. Gas? Check.

“Hey we should see what the weather’s gonna be like in Yosemite. I was checking my friends Instagram and she’s up there right now. It looks like it could be bad,” Jamie said.

Shit.

A quick review of the forecast for the Yosemite area confirmed our concerns. A late season (as in mid-May) snow storm was preparing to wallop the highland area of the Sierra Nevada, dumping several feet of snow in high elevation locations, such as Yosemite itself (the valley sits at just about 4000 feet, with its mountains extending far above). Certainly not the start we were looking for as we pushed north to Seattle, our new home.

But you roll with it. So, the day of our departure from the Valley of the Sun, we called an audible. Bagging the several day camping experience that had been planned, we instead swung out west toward the Pacific coast, with a new plan to hit the ocean and follow it northward. And so marked the beginning of our trip. Before leaving town we grabbed lunch with Kaivan, then said farewell to Arizona.

I-10 can be a bore of a drive if you let it be. Straight, flat, dry. But along the way you hit pockets of mountains, scattered across the desert and rising prominently from the otherwise unending monotony of dry rock, clay, and only the heartiest vegetation. Dipping down into Coachella valley along the way, we experienced the unrelenting wind that makes the area a perfect home for massive wind farms. 4 hours and a bit over 250 miles due west from Phoenix took us to our *new* first stop on our trip: Palm Springs. I’ve learned through the years that sometimes the greatest blessings on these journeys are when you have to cancel your initial plans and figure it out on the fly. With no expectations for how we’d enjoy Palm Springs for our brief stay, we left there feeling like we stole an excellent couple of days.

Palm Springs is protected geographically by mountain ranges on all sides, none larger than Mt San Jacinto to its west, providing a rain shadow that leaves the area seeing over 300 days of sun per year, and not much rain. We found a decent rate and lodging at the Vagabond Inn in Palm Springs. Dog friendly, comfortable bed, and easy access to surrounding activities, it filled all the needs. Jamie and I would joke thereafter that we should design a website called “cheapnotgross.com” for adequate clean lodging at an affordable price, since its typically what we’re searching for on these trips. A short but sweet stop of only two nights, with a couple hikes and trying out the local fare before climbing up on the highway again.

Back in the saddle, we again were forced to figure out our next steps on-the-go. The coast and Route 1 were our goal, so it made sense to move in that direction. Naturally, that put us into Los Angeles, only a couple hours away. This would give us another day to figure out the rest of the trip, and we could spend the day seeing parts of LA. Griffith Park was the first stop, sitting on the hills northwest of downtown LA. We did a hike to the top of the hills, took in the view of downtown and the Hollywood sign, and moved on. Making an obligatory stop at a cafe called “Muddy Paw Coffee,” we enjoyed an iced coffee and brainstormed where we were going to lay our heads that night. There were no hotels in the area that were dog friendly and relatively affordable. My friend, Mattie, and her husband Erdem have lived in LA for some time, so I gave her a call to see if they had any ideas. Without hesitation, Mattie and Erdem graciously insisted we stay with them for the night. Mattie dropped us off down at the Santa Monica pier for dinner that night as she was busy, but we had a great breakfast the next morning with her before heading out of town. Big Sur was our next destination, via Route 1 along the coast.

Santa Barbara is nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Its climate is along the lines of Mediterranean, and it is beautiful. We made a stop at Stearns Wharf and walked along the beach park, but our timeline was short and thus we left before we could really enjoy the area. Fortunately, the rest of the drive had us covered. The entire trip north of LA to San Francisco is as good as advertised. A stop in San Luis Obispo at Morro Bay, home to Morro Rock, a 500 foot volcanic mound just off the coast, was a must. What had me surprised was the remoteness of all of these locations. Its beauty is undeniable, and yet a lot of it was solely ours to enjoy.

The Cavalier Oceanfront Resort was our stop for the night. Another gem found on the fly. This adorable resort sits, as you can guess, right on the ocean, and just a few miles down the road from Hearst Castle. We were greeted with a bottle of complimentary champagne in our room and lovely lush grounds to walk around and enjoy the views.

Now for the meat and potatoes of the Route 1 auto-tour: San Simeon to San Francisco (*Note: check for road closures on Rt 1 before setting out on your own trip. The highway’s setup on the cliffs lends it to washouts on occasion). Again, the remote nature of the trip was pleasantly shocking to me. This is a part of the trip best described in photos, though still the photos fall short of an accurate depiction of the experience.

We wrapped up our coastal tour with lunch at Rocky Point Restaurant, situated atop the rugged coastline just south of Carmel in Monterey. After lunch, it was time to push for San Francisco, our last stop for the day.

Our friends Jeff and Kayla live in San Francisco and offered to put us up for the night and show us their neighborhood. We pulled into the city around 4:30 in the evening on May 20 and arrived at their apartment shortly after. A quick walk up to Alamo Square gave us a gorgeous hilltop view of the city and the houses that starred in Full House. Charley and their dog Nala were fast friends and played with other pups in the park for a bit before we went back to their place and headed out for drinks and dinner. Our stay in San Francisco was less than 24 hours but it was filled with friends, fun, and laughter. But the road was calling our name, and after a quick $12 avocado toast at a nearby cafe, we cleared out of the Bay Area via the Golden Gate Bridge and were off to Northern California. We had our sights set on the Redwoods for the next couple days, and Crescent City would be our adventure headquarters.

The Redwoods of Northern California are difficult to describe with words. Or pictures. Being among these silent giants is a sensory and spiritual adventure. All trees are living things, but I’ve never felt like I could feel trees breathe until we were in the Redwood forest. It’s incredibly humbling. These monsters have been here for thousands of years, each of them a historian of nature’s ebb and flow. Standing stoic, the redwoods have no regard for our presence. We are visitors in their home, and we tried to respect this as best we could. It felt like making any noise louder than a whisper would be a disturbance to the living community of these forests.

The James Irvine trail to Fern Canyon loop is a hike of just over 10 miles through old growth forest, though the gradient wasn’t demanding. It was more a pleasant walk in the woods, without the physical exertion that would disallow us to take in our surroundings. Thoreau would’ve loved these woods, I imagine. Because of the enormity of the trees surrounding us, I found it hard at times to spot Jamie if she got too far ahead. I didn’t mind though, and neither did she. We were having our own experience, but doing so together. The western terminus of the hike ends at Fern canyon, which is just what you think it’d be. Walls of rock and soil beautifully coated with ferns lined the creek bed that we walked along.

“Jamie?!”

It wasn’t me hollering. It was a girl’s voice coming from behind us. We turned around to see our old travel nurse coworker Kenzie from Arizona walking up the path towards us. What are the chances? Here we are, at the tippy top of California, a thousand miles from Chandler, and we run into a friend. We caught up a bit, and ended up grabbing a beer at SeaQuake Brewery in Crescent City that evening before she headed out to her destination, somewhere in Oregon.

The morning of the 23rd, we said our goodbyes to the Redwoods and set the GPS for Crater Lake. Situated inland from the I-5, we made the detour to spend a few hours there. I-5 would have gotten us into Portland in about 5.5 hours. Instead, the stop-off at Crater Lake made it over 8 hours. Worth it. I’m not sure we would make it to Crater Lake otherwise, as it’s not close to anything else that interests us. This also meant we were passing up on the rugged and breathtaking Oregon coastline. But we got plenty of that in CA. Maybe next time.

At a depth of nearly 2000 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest in the US. Formed from a collapsed volcano (Mt Mazama), the lake has no inlet or outlet. All of its water is from rain and snowmelt, devoid of much sediment. It’s considered some of the cleanest and clearest freshwater in the world. When we arrived to the park, we had a long drive from the entrance up to the rim. Snow still dominated the landscape. In some areas, the snow depth was taller than us. This area gets an absurd amount of snow, averaging over 40 feet per year. We spent some time walking the rim as far as was allowed considering the snow. The enormity of the lake was difficult to appreciate, but we snapped some pictures to try and sum it up. After we had had our fill, we loaded back up in the car and set out for Portland.

Our time in Portland was spent mostly exploring the Columbia River Gorge. It was rainy on and off during our stay, and the gorge is enjoyable whether it’s dry or not. We got a place in Stevenson, WA for two nights, just across the Columbia River from Portland. On the 24th we auto toured the Oregon side of the gorge, visited a winery east of Portland in the Hood River valley area, and did a gorge hike (Beacon Rock Trail) on the Washington side. The gorge reminded me of the Hudson River valley, with steep glacial rock formations lining the wide valley floor. Hopefully we can make it back to the Hood/Columbia River area, as there was too much to do and not enough time. The following day, we made the 200+mile push north on I-5 to the Emerald City.

As we entered the greater Seattle area, we were welcomed by steady rain and a sky full of clouds.

“Of course it’s raining. It’s Seattle. What were we thinking? Is it gonna rain the entire summer we’re here? Did we make a mistake by coming here?” My mind was anxiously racing ahead of me. For those interested in an answer, we didn’t have a rainy day for the first 3 weeks we were there. Apparently, the rainy season is VERY rainy. BUT, the dry season is also very dry.

We pulled in to our new home in University District, just west of UW and north of downtown Seattle via the I-5 bridge that spans Lake Union. We had arrived. Let the next adventure begin!

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