Westbound: The Last Leg

The fifth and final week of my cross-country road trip consisted of several quick stops. I first headed north from Grand Canyon National Park and made the two and a half hour drive to Zion National Park in Utah. The weather was chilly when I arrived in the park and periods of intermittent rain became more and more frequent. The desert terrain consisted of mountains and cliffs of red rock and sand. Tunnels that had been blasted through the rock allowed the roadway to weave through the park, adding to the excitement of the drive. There seemed to be more vegetation in this area compared to some of the desert regions of Nevada and Arizona I had previously driven through. Many trees and shrubs sprung up in the valleys and along the mountainsides displaying much richer greens than the drier outskirts had on display. As I drove through the park I noticed many small creeks rolling down the rock faces, slowly carving paths into the landscape. I stopped along the roadside in between the sporadic fits of rain and admired my surroundings. While the park did not have the same wow factor I had become accustomed to after just leaving the Grand Canyon, it was noticeably more lush and had a certain beauty all its own.

road
Cliffsides in Zion National Park
tunnel
Tunnels in Zion NP
curve
Winding roads in Zion NP
creek
One of many creeks in Zion NP
selfie entrance
Entrance to Zion National Park

After leaving Zion National Park I continued north through Utah and made a few quick stops in Provo, Salt Lake City, and Ogden. The mountains directly butt up against these towns and the access to the outdoors is at your fingertips. I explored downtown Provo for a short time before stopping by the campus of Brigham Young University. As I continued to drive north towards Salt Lake City I made a stop at Canyon Bicycle Store in Draper and picked up a replacement wheel and saddle to repair the damage inflicted on my bike the week prior. Once I got into Salt Lake City I stopped at a Planet Fitness for a quick shower before making my way downtown. I walked around the shopping district for a while before crossing the street to Temple Square. Temple Square is a 35 acre compound in downtown Salt Lake City and is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There are several large ornate buildings and temples standing among well landscaped walkways lined with flowers. The church’s world headquarters are located here and the giant office building along with the temple are the only two buildings not open to the public. I examined the interior of the buildings without having too much difficulty fending off the friendly advancements of the many Mormons stationed throughout the property who offered a quick tour or just some pleasant conversation. Ogden was similar to the other towns and my visit encompassed an uneventful tour through downtown. Utah left me with the same dried out feeling I had living in Denver, Colorado but these towns had a smaller feel to them. Another noticeable difference is the pronounced presence and hold the Mormons have on the region. Listening to and watching people around town gave me the impression there is a distinct division between the Mormons and non-Mormons of the area.

exit
Leaving Zion National Park
temple
Salt Lake Temple
flowers2
Temple Square
church
Assembly Hall
flowers
Flower lined walkways

With Utah in my rearview mirror I drove through Wyoming, Nebraska, and Illinois on my way to Grosse Pointe, Michigan. I stopped a couple of times only to sleep because I had driven through these states before and knew there was nothing I cared to stop for in them. After a couple of days I made it to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Grosse Point. Grosse Pointe is an oasis on the outskirts of Detroit. The city sits along Lake St. Clair and I would describe it as the Mayberry of Michigan. A very pronounced line separates Grosse Pointe from the surrounding city of Detroit. Crossing over this town line leads you down tree lined streets, past well landscaped yards, along the shoreline dotted with beautiful homes, and through quant pockets of shops and restaurants. Growing up I spent many summers here and the comfortable, familiar surroundings created a much needed reprieve from the long drive. My Aunt and Uncle were gracious as always, dropping what they were doing in their very busy lives to make time to spend with me. We crammed a lot in over the course of a couple days. From wonderful breakfasts, bike rides around town, Starbucks runs, eating lunch in downtown Detroit, to dinner at the Detroit Athletic Club; it was difficult to return to the road and continue my drive.

snow
Snow storm in Wyoming
bike ride
Biking in Grosse Pointe

I spent the next day and a half driving towards the White Mountains in New Hampshire. My wife and I rented a home there for six weeks while she completed her last clinical rotation for school. I arrived just in time to meet her for dinner at the Saalt Pub in Gorham, New Hampshire. We ordered the calamari, a Caesar salad, and a chicken dish of some kind and all of the food was absolutely spectacular. I spent the remainder of the weekend in the White Mountains before building up enough stamina to make the last hour and a half drive to my home in Portland, Maine. It felt good to finally make it home and a part of me longed for some down time to recuperate from the long journey, yet another part of me pulled and tugged wondering where I would head to next.

trip
Done!
light
Back home

 

It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon

Westbound: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

A month had come and gone since I had left Portland, Maine to travel out west. The last four weeks were a blur of overstimulation. The daily sensory overload was starting to take its toll and I began to think about how I would need a vacation after this vacation. I was glad to be taking this trip alone because I am convinced the pace I was moving at would have killed anyone accompanying me. This was not a relaxing trip, it was a mission to see everything worthwhile on the western half of the United States in the least amount of time possible. I would drive to a location and bike or hike to everything I deemed worth seeing before getting in the car to do it all over again. I had nothing other than the next destination planned, only figuring out where I would sleep when I became too exhausted to continue. There is a certain sensory overload you get when exploring a new place. Your senses are at their sharpest, taking in each little detail and working overtime to piece together every new thing you are seeing in order to create an overall picture of an area. Physically being somewhere is the only way to accurately piece together this puzzle and no amount of pictures can replace what the senses create in the moment. This sensory overload quickly diminishes over a day or two until you are not working nearly as hard to process what you are seeing and you begin to have a comfort and understanding of your surroundings. It is at this point, right before my brain could relax in a moment of familiarity, that I would hit the road for my next destination.

entrance
Grand Canyon National Park entrance

I left Las Vegas, Nevada behind and drove the four and a half hours to Grand Canyon National Park. As I entered the park I noticed it looked oddly unassuming. I had spent the last month travelling in and out of the mountains with constant fluctuations in elevation and I must have become accustomed to this. The flat pine forests appeared unremarkable and I found myself surprised by this. I drove along the south entrance road until reaching the visitor’s center. The visitor’s center was nestled along the Rim Trail, a long trail system bordering the canyon. I parked the car and made my way to an overlook at Mather Point. I was immediately taken back by the grandeur of it all. I guess I had not given much thought to the topography of the Grand Canyon before I arrived. The uninspiring drive into the park lowered my expectations and then I was shocked by the massive void in the earth I had found. It was as though I was staring at the exact opposite of a tall mountain range, both being equally impressive. The big difference between a mountain range and the Grand Canyon, aside from the obvious, is you see a mountain range coming from a long way away. You know it is coming and it slowly builds in size as you approach it. In contrast, the Grand Canyon is surrounded by nothing particularly spectacular and you are hit with the canyon’s brilliance all at once as you suddenly arrive at the earth’s edge. Without having given this much prior thought, it took me by surprise.

Mather Point
Mather Point

The red rock juts downward abruptly adding to the vertigo inducing view. Several miles stand between either side of the canyon, making any journey across a very long one. The canyon’s width is only dwarfed by its length as it snakes through the desert for hundreds of miles. Smaller peaks and valleys lie below and shoot up and down throughout the canyon until reaching the Colorado River at the base of it all.

Mather Point2
One of the many overlooks

Being time constrained, I forewent the multi-day hikes and rafting excursions and decided to hit the easy highlights. I headed west along the Rim Trail to Hopi Point. While all the vantage points I passed along the way were good, this one is a well-publicized favorite. After leaving Hopi Point I headed back east to Yaki Point and Grandview Point. Each stop was a unique, breathtaking view of different sections of the Grand Canyon. I continued east to the Tusayan Museum and Ruins where the remains of an Ancestral Puebloan settlement said to date back to 1185 A.D. sits preserved. With the remains of Native American settlements dating back hundreds of years and only a small percentage of the canyon surveyed, there is a lot of artifacts and history left undiscovered. Many tribes including the Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, and Paiute once called this area home.

Hopi POint
Hopi Point
selfie
A token “selfie”
Museum
Tusayan Museum

My last stop in the park was the Desert View Watchtower. This perfectly executed re-creation of an Indian watchtower was envisioned by architect Mary Colter. Colter was so demanding in the building of this watchtower that any sign of a modern tool mark on the outside of the stone structure was inexcusable. The tower sits seventy feet high on a cliff side overlooking the canyon and the Colorado River. The circular interior spirals up leading to several different floors. Murals painted by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie cover the walls and add to the authentic feel.

tower
Desert View Watchtower
inside tower
Interior of Desert View Watchtower
tree trunk
A fighter

I finished off the day by finding a campsite right outside the park entrance and taking some time to relax. I followed a dirt road up into the forest until I decided on a secluded site deep in the woods. A stone fire ring had been placed in the clearing where I parked and it sat begging to be used. I took what daylight I had left and walked around collecting firewood. I fashioned the wood in a teepee-like structure utilizing various layers of both kindling and larger pieces of wood. My preparation paid off as night fell and I brought the glowing beast to life. I could feel the heat radiating off the fire as I sat in the back of my SUV eating dinner. I stared at the mesmerizing flames until I got tired and shut my eyes for the night, leaving the fire to eventually burn itself out.

fire
Successful campfire

 

It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon

 

 

Westbound: Yosemite National Park, CA

My journey pushed me on to Yosemite National Park. I made the three and a half hour drive from San Francisco to the park and planned to use the remainder of the day to look around, get a feel for what is there, and plan out how to best tackle the park the following day. After spending the previous two days battling crowds in San Francisco, I was looking forward to a little forest solitude. What I ended up with; however, was something completely different.

Entrance sign
Yosemite National Park entrance

As luck would have it I arrived in Yosemite at quite possibly the worse day of the year. Not only was it a weekend, it was a National Park Week and Earth Day weekend. This tragic trifecta managed to bring in unimaginable hordes of people. The fact it was a weekend brought in the usual weekend warriors, Earth Day brought in the nostalgic conservationists, while National Park Week, with its free admission, managed to bring in everybody else who are too cheap to pay for admission any other time of year.

valley overlook
Yosemite

Once I passed the entrance to the park I headed towards Yosemite Valley. It was not long before this two lane road became a parking lot full of brake lights as far as the eye could see. The slowly creeping traffic lasted for hours as I made my way to the heart of the park. I took this opportunity to enjoy the scenery and the slow pace gave me ample time to thoroughly examine everything off the roadway. I passed by raging rivers as the road weaved through the forest. Granite cliffs began to suddenly appear on every side and towered high into the sky. It was difficult to grasp the size of the massive rock faces staring down at me until I noticed the numerous waterfalls shooting narrowly down the vertical surfaces, providing a sense of scale. Yosemite has an undeniable beauty, one that somehow feels slightly more patriotic than the other national parks. I thought to myself, if there was one park used to visually represent America and its perceived greatness, this would be it.

traffic
Battling traffic
waterfall
One of many waterfalls
rock face
Granite cliffs

I finally made it into Yosemite Valley, an area surrounded by granite cliffs and the location of the visitor’s center, a small grocery store, a museum, and other similar resources. After an extensive battle to find parking I slid into a spot beside a large grassy field not far from the visitor’s center. I could see from across the field a line of cars in bumper to bumper traffic with no sign of letting up anytime soon. Having officially reached my destination, I became increasingly aware of the exhaustion I was feeling from the day of driving and I began to get a slight headache. I looked across the field again at the line of stagnant cars and decided I would stay put, take a nap, and wait for the sun to set to clear out the excess traffic.

When I woke up I noticed the sun was falling behind the mountains and a large herd of deer were grazing in the field outside my window. The line of cars on the opposite side of the field were moving steadily out of the park now and I knew it would only be time before the darkness would finish clearing everyone out. I made myself a sandwich, watched the deer meander by, and waited for the sun to finish falling.

window-deer
Herd of deer

It seemed like only minutes before the daylight disappeared and the last of the headlights leaving the park vanished through the trees. I was able to get a signal on my phone here if I pressed it up against the car window, so I took this time to search for a place to stay for the night. My trusty freecampsites.net website came back with several options surrounding the park. There was no camping allowed inside the park so all of the options required a bit of a drive. I chose a campsite that appeared to be the closest to me, plugged in the coordinates, and headed out of the park. Although I did not have any traffic to contend with at this time of night, the drive still took the better side of thirty minutes, maybe longer. I eventually passed by the park entrance and merged to the right at the first fork in the road. I followed this winding road for several miles until the GPS spat me out at the entrance to a campsite with a large sign stating: NO ENTRY-CAMPGROUND FULL. It was late and the only place I knew of with cell service to search for another campsite was back in the valley were I just came from. Judging by the amount of traffic I witnessed earlier on in the day I had my doubts I would find anything available within any reasonable distance, so I drove past the sign and hoped for the best. The campsite was laid out in a big circle with the entrance and the exit meeting each other at a single point. I began the drive around the one-way loop and noticed tents, lanterns, and campfires blanketing the area. It appeared that each section of five campsites had a designated group of parking spaces to share. I circled around to a sign indicating parking for campsites six through ten and I wedged in between a car on the end of the row and a tree. I was glad I wasn’t toting around a camper or anything else large and conspicuous, otherwise I would not have been able to sneak into a spot for the night undetected.

I woke up early the next morning and immediately had flashbacks of the traffic I dealt with the day before. I quickly got dressed and hit the road, hoping to beat any onslaught of visitors to the park. The drive into the valley was much more pleasant than the day before. I found parking without a problem and I stopped by the visitor’s center for a map along with some advice on what to see. I started off my tour by driving up the road to the Mirror Lake trailhead. I took my mountain bike off the roof of my car and reattached the front wheel which was stored behind the front passenger seat. After packing up some water and snacks I hit the trail. I covered a lot of ground quickly on the bike as I sped along the rocky path feeling the rush of wind on my face as I leaned hard around the sharp corners of the trail. I had my doubts about whether or not I was actually allowed to be biking along this particular trail but I reasoned with myself that it was early, I had beat the crowds, I had a lot of park to cover in a short amount of time, and I was simply having too much fun. The path followed the course of a river, passing by a couple of small falls before arriving at an area which opened up into a motionless lake covered with what appeared to be a sheet of glass. The still waters gave off a flawless reflection of the tall mountains and trees surrounding it.

visitor center- bear trap
Yosemite visitor center
mirror lake
Mirror Lake

I made my way back to the car and after arriving I loosened the quick release of my front bike wheel in order to remove it. I leaned the wheel up against the rear bumper of my car as I hoisted the bike back onto its rack. My mind drifted to where I needed to go next as I secured the bike down. I jumped down off the running boards and hopped behind the driver’s seat, eager to get to the next stop. As I slowly turned the steering wheel while backing out of the parking space, I heard a slight clunking noise somewhere in the general area between me and the engine compartment. Given the fact I had been essentially torture testing my vehicle over the last month, I just thought it was finally starting to complain a little bit and I hoped the noise would be an isolated incident.

My next stop was Yosemite Falls. I parked at the trailhead and hiked to the base of these enormous cascading wonders. The upper falls shot off a high hanging cliff above and landed on a level area halfway up the mountain before falling from a second cliff, creating the lower falls. The upper falls were roughly twice the length of the very impressive lower falls and the combination was quite a sight to behold.

both falls
Yosemite Falls
lower falls 2
Lower Yosemite Falls
lower falls
Lower Yosemite Falls

Before leaving the park I made my way to a trail promising great views of the famous El Capitan rock formation. Once considered an impossible climb, it is now a worldwide standard for elite rock climbers. The smooth granite face slopes inward halfway up before gradually sloping back out, daring even the most competent climber to ascend it. I graciously bowed out and made my way back to the trailhead from whence I came.

el capitan
El Capitan

With Glacier Point being closed and having seen the major sights in the park, I made my way out of Yosemite and started the six hour drive to Las Vegas, Nevada. Three hours into the drive I noticed the slab of Maple I picked up at a woodshop in Southern Oregon and the air pump for my bike, both sitting behind the front passenger seat, were shifting wildly back and forth whenever I applied the brakes. Coming to the realization this was an annoyance I did not have before, I reached behind the seat to examine what had changed. It took me a second and then I realized what was missing; my front bike wheel. I thought back to the suspicious clunking noise I heard when backing out of the parking space at Yosemite and it became clear this was the crunching sound of a lightweight alloy bike wheel being smashed, not complaints coming from the engine compartment. I briefly ran through my options in my head and decided not to turn around. Even if the wheel had not been destroyed, the additional six hours of driving was not worth the effort to retrieve it.

 

It’s your life. Demand adventure.

-Jon

 

Westbound: Redwood National Park, CA

Redwood National Park entrance

There is something magical about the sea crashing up against the mountains. These two remarkable wonders of the world are so rarely found coexisting together in one place that it creates something truly awe-inspiring. I found such magic when I arrived in the Redwood Forest. But let me start from the beginning.

I was making my way through southern Oregon, heading to California, when I looked over and caught a glimpse of a woodworking shop with a colorful sign displaying “It’s a Burl Gallery” on its face. I hit the brakes after merging to the side of the road and I made a quick u-turn to return to this intriguing place. I’m not sure what exactly caught my eye initially. It could have been the life size wooden unicorn on the front porch, the brightly painted classic car alongside the road, several expertly crafted tree houses, or maybe it was all the intricately detailed wood sculptures scattered throughout the property. Whatever it was, it looked fascinating! I parked my car in a space between some trees and I got out to inspect what they had. There were several different buildings on the premises including two different buildings for working on the wood, two separate buildings that served as an eccentric indoor gallery for various finished pieces, several sheds that contained sectioned wood of all shapes and sizes from an array of different types of trees, and finally the main house which appeared as though it was also crafted out of wood by the same artisan; having a wrap around porch littered with more completed works of wooden art.

I walked around the grounds for at least an hour trying to envision what I could build with the beautiful pieces of rough cut wood. I started off with an interesting slab that I considered transforming into a coffee table. I looked at it several times from every angle before setting it aside and looking for something I could use as a base for the table. I inspected every piece of wood, trying to visualize how I could make the pieces work together. After spending an embarrassing amount of time doing this, I ended up negotiating a price for a small slab of maple that I intend to turn into a side table once I do a little work on the wood and either find or make just the right base for it. I use the term “negotiated” loosely, as my initial offer was twenty-five dollars and my new friend, Lynn, smiled at me and said he would take twenty.

Tons of burl samples at It’s A Burl
Woodshop and gallery

 

Woodshop and gallery

I entered into the Redwood Forest soon after crossing into California. I passed by the heads of several trails where the giant trees dwarfed the cars parked nearby. I did not do any hiking initially because I wanted to drive through the area and get my bearings. I hit U.S. 101 and the network of side roads attached to it and toured the coastline. The lush forested mountains on one side of my car met up with the ocean on the other side. The roads took me high up on cliffs overlooking dramatic drop offs and gave me unparalleled views of the rocky coastline filled with sea lions playing in the gentle breaks that seemed to go on for miles.

Overlooking the Pacific from Redwood National Park
California state line

 

Massive trees
More of the Pacific coast

Around four thirty in the afternoon I found myself high atop one of the many magnificent cliffs and I pulled into a clearing off the roadway. I backed up to the edge in order to create the best panoramic view of the ocean as possible. I decided to set up camp for the day because I had been traveling at a pretty good pace and I needed a little down time. The cliff side was thick with bright flowers and a variety of green plants. Tall trees growing at an extreme angle to keep upright bordered my vision on either side. The drop off ended abruptly at the rocky start of the ocean waters. A pointed rock formation almost qualifying as a mountain in size jutted out of the water at the base of my view. I could see for miles across the vast ocean and would occasionally see something large breach the water in the distance which had to be the whales who were still migrating this time of year. The sound of sea lions barking at each other as they played in the waves below soothed me as I took it all in. As if the moment could not get any better, a bald eagle flew overhead on two separate occasions before the sun began to set, creating an orange glow over the horizon.

Campsite on a cliff

The next morning I made my way to the visitor center in order to pick up a map and plan out the route I would take. I spoke with a young man behind the counter and asked him where he suggested I hike for the day. He took out a large map, unfolded it across the table, and began rattling off information about areas located in every which direction. I had to stop him at one point to regain focus as I explained once more that I was not familiar with the area and was looking for a route to see the best sights in the park. We finally decided on a large loop that promised to take the majority of the day and cover several different trails. The young man then asked me to excuse him so he could grab a marker in the back room in order to mark the map. When he returned he was holding a green highlighter and proceeded to give me more directions. The more he talked the more apparent the volunteer patch affixed to his chest became. He went on saying that I should start at such and such a trail, follow it to the right and then make two lefts, cross by the tree with a notch in it, come to a creek which you make a right turn directly before and not after reaching it, followed by a creek you make a left turn directly after and not before it, reaching a fork in the road named such and such that once had a sign marking it but no longer does, until this trail turns into that trail and that trail turns into this trail. I stared at him with a blank look for what seemed like all morning and watched as he used the green highlighter all over a map of a national forest, which just so happened to be tinted the same shade of green. I am convinced this individual is either color blind or a significant amount of inbreeding is taking place here.

After leaving the visitor center slightly more confused then when I arrived, I found a trailhead nearby and began my hike. The forest surrounded me with enormous redwood trees growing well over three hundred feet tall. These giants appear as if they have been growing for hundreds of years, having weathered the unforgiving forces of both time and elements, they stand tall as patriarchs of the forest. The mind simply cannot process the sheer size of these trees when first coming into contact with them. You have to walk up to them, touch them, and sit starring at them before you can start to comprehend just how big they are. After spending hours walking among them, you adjust. These trees become the new norm and it starts to feel as if all trees should be this big.

Standing in a tree
Towering bark

 

Forest giants

Flying insects constantly made their presence known by buzzing around me. Sweat dripped from my forehead as the backpack I was carrying became increasingly heavy. It suddenly dawned on me why the price of backpacking gear sharply increases as the weight minimally decreases. When you are in the wilderness, dollars don’t mean anything, ounces do.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”                                                          – John Muir

Once I completed the long loop I made it back to my car and headed towards Fern Canyon. The poorly maintained dirt road leading to the trail hugged the coast and had several areas where rising water levels had created deep creeks across the roadway. Between crossing over water, trying to miss large potholes, and avoiding elk crossing the roadway, I wasn’t sure if my vehicle was going to get me where I wanted to go. The SUV begrudgingly chugged along and I made it to the entrance of the trail. I followed a swiftly flowing creek back into the forest where it opened up into fifty foot canyon walls on either side. Water trickled down from the top feeding thousands of green ferns and mosses which blanketed the walls. Branches and stones were scattered in the cold clear water to provide a crude pathway through the valley. Large trees had fallen into the canyon, over the creek, adding obstacles to the hike. The area was absolutely beautiful and the challenging drive in was well worth the effort.

Elk crossing

 

Elk herd

 

Fern Canyon

 

Fern Canyon

 

Fern Canyon

I returned to the cliffside I had camped at the night before and settled in for one more breathtaking sunset. After another good nights sleep on what felt like the top of the world, I made my way back down through the forest to U.S. 101 and headed south for San Francisco. About an hour in to this extremely pleasant drive along the coast I saw signs for Avenue of the Giants and I swerved over the empty highway to make the exit, as it sounded like somewhere I needed to be. I checked my GPS and confirmed that this road headed south, parallel with U.S. 101. The drive was spectacular with the giant timbers lining the narrow two lane asphalt. It was not long into the detour that I suddenly saw basketball sized boulders rolling across the road in front of me. I looked out my passenger window and watched in disbelief as a rock slide was coming down the bare cliff face beside me. This was something I had heard of and seen pictures of but never thought that I would find myself in the middle of such an unlikely timed event. Without having enough time to stop before reaching the falling rocks, I swerved around the reasonably spaced balls of rolling destruction and came out the other end surprisingly unscathed. It was one of those rare special moments that gets you firing on all cylinders and delicately teeters on incredible and incredibly bad.

Last night at my cliffside campsite

 

Avenue of the Giants

It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon

Westbound: Olympic National Park, WA

If your undecided on where you want to travel or what you want to see, Olympic National Park may just be the spot for you. This diverse park covers a large area and includes mountain drives leading from green forests up into thick blankets of snow, coastal beaches, waterfalls, lakes, and even rain forests.

My journey this morning had me departing from Seattle, Washington and driving west to Olympic National Park. I entered in the name of the park on my trusty GPS and off I went. Aside from looking down at my screen to see where the next turn off is, I rarely ever check to see what route I’m taking or what I may be coming up on. After driving out of Seattle I found myself at a booth with an attendant asking for payment in order to drive my car on the next ferry that would soon be arriving. I was a little concerned that my GPS had finally misguided me because I did not start the morning off thinking I was going to be driving onto a ferry in order to get to my destination. I politely explained to the woman in the booth that I was blindly following my GPS and I was not sure if this was were I needed to be to get to Olympic National Park. She assured me this was the best route to take, so I went along with it.

After completing the thirty minute ferry ride, I drove off the boat and traveled another hour or so into Port Angeles. I was expecting a cool little pacific northwest town that I would enjoy exploring, but all I found was a somewhat depressing area that was arguably rundown. I was getting hungry for lunch at this point, and due to a little run in with a certain field mouse in Seattle, I no longer had any food on me. I checked the local Yelp reviews for a highly rated lunch spot and came across New Day Eatery. To make a long story short, the salad I ordered off the menu stated it was topped with salmon and it arrived topped with canned salmon, which doesn’t quite qualify as salmon to me. It was a very disappointing meal and I didn’t bother mentioning anything to the unfriendly waitress because I realized this may just be the best Port Angeles has to offer. It wasn’t until the next day when I was at a nearby river that a gentleman came walking up and asked if the salmon were jumping today. He went on to explain further that he was at this very spot the day before and large groups of salmon were making their trip up the falls, landing on the rocks, and flopping around until they landed back in the water. My mind brought me back to what I was doing the day before- choking down a painful meal of canned salmon. I could have literally drove down the road, picked up a salmon flopping around on the rocks, went back to the restaurant and delivered my very own locally caught salmon to the chef. Get it together New Day Eatery! I’m sure I’ll get over this disappointment with time.

After I ate lunch I walked over to the nearby bike store to look around and continue convincing myself that I need a new mountain bike. I talked bikes with the clerk for a few minutes and confirmed with him that there was in fact nothing of significance in town I was missing out on and I should continue on into nearby Olympic National Park. I left there and drove over to the park’s visitor center to pick up a map and plan out my day.

I decided to drive up to Hurricane Ridge which promised an abundance of snow; a stark contrast to the lush green forest I was surrounded by. The two lane road twisted and turned up the mountain and provided constantly changing scenery. The trees started off extremely green with mosses delicately draped over their branches. It seemed like in the blink of an eye a thick fog appeared and hovered over the tree line. As I continued to climb in altitude the fog dropped below me and deep snow covered the ground.

    

  

  

I returned back down the mountain and drove thirty minutes to Madison Falls. The road leading to the trail head ran parallel to a stream flowing with turquoise water. I unloaded my bike and began the ride to the waterfall. It was only a short distance up before I ran into the falls. What these falls lacked in size they more than made up for in brilliant colors and features. The water shot off the cliff above in a narrow stream, bordered by vibrant lime green moss growing off the rock face on either side. The clear water thundered as it landed harshly in the rocky pool at the base of the falls. Tall trees surrounded this little piece of paradise, creating a moment I never wanted to leave.

  

It was getting late and I decided to stay the night at a campground inside the park. After getting a restful nights sleep I woke up with purpose, knowing I had a lot of ground left to cover. I started off by locating the trail heads of Marymere Falls and Sol Duc Falls and hiking through the forest to see them. Each of the falls had their own unique beauty and the trek to find them was certainly worth it.

          

After seeing the falls, I drove west through the park towards the coast. My first stop was Second Beach, not to be confused with First Beach and Third Beach. This was officially my first time being on the actual pacific coast, and it was spectacular. I hiked through a rain forest-like area, past two hundred foot tall trees lining the sandy beaches before getting a glimpse of the ocean and the craggily peaks shooting out of the water. My expectations were immediately exceeded and I spent a couple hours exploring the coastline. The sun bleached remains of the fallen timber that once created a barrier between forest and surf lay mangled at the entrance to the sand. The huge tree trunks created a series of obstacles that only those answering the call of the crashing waves would cross. The huge cliffs rising out of the water provided a glimpse of the marvels hidden below. I continued my drive down the coast to Ruby Beach which provided even more of this dramatic landscape.

      

    
After I left the ocean behind, I made my way inland and visited the Hoh Rain Forest and the Quinault Rain Forest. Both areas provided a unique landscape I had never experienced before. The areas were lush with mosses, ferns, flowers, and trees growing on every square inch of the forest floor. Creeks slowly flowed by, feeding this delicate network with water so clear you could only tell from the reflection of the sun that it was even there. Greens of every shade overwhelmed the senses. Elk foraged nearby, disregarding me as I walked past them. There was so much life all around me that it suddenly became clear I am a very small member of a much larger, complex system.

            

It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon

Westbound: Glacier National Park, Montana


I made the short thirty-five mile drive to Glacier National Park from Whitefish, where I stayed the night before. The area takes a turn from stunning to breathtaking as you enter the park. The small two lane road hugs crystal clear lakes as you weave through the forest. Mountains proudly reflect off the surface of the waters they stand watch over. There are various types of trees and mosses covering the landscape, all with various shades of vibrant greens, full of life. The road tucked in and out of the thick foliage, giving me views of flowing creeks working on fulfilling their mission of feeding the lakes below.  

The road eventually came to a point where traffic was no longer permitted to pass and iron gates blocked the path. I parked my car and decided to bike the remainder of the way. As I biked up the middle of the deserted road my mind wandered back to what my cousin asked me with a grin several times the night before,”Do you have bear spray to take with you?” I got to know her well enough to realize she was not kidding and I think she got to know me well enough to realize not having it wasn’t going to deter me from going.

The road opened up into views of a raging river below. There were several opportunities to take paths down to admire the clear glacial water up close. I dipped my hand in, as I always do when I reach a body of water, to get a sense of whether going for a swim is worth the shock the cold river promised to deliver. It didn’t surprise me that I opted to stay dry for the moment.



The clouds began to roll in and it started to sprinkle, but I continued to bike up the mountain pass thinking any significant precipitation would surely become snow were I was going. While I was right about the heavy precipitation coming, I was very wrong about it being cold enough to snow where I was. The rains came down and turned my once fluffy, warm down jacket into a saggy, wet barrier between me and the constant rain. I continued up the mountain for a couple more miles figuring I couldn’t get any wetter. Once the scenery became more consistent and the hope of seeing something completely new around the next corner had faded, I began the ride back to my car. I was upset with myself as I road back down and felt the raindrops hit me and soak into my jacket. I had just bought a great packable Patagonia Alpine Houdini waterproof shell days before in Missoula, MT for these very circumstances. A good down jacket is hard to beat nine times out of ten because it is super light weight, very warm, keeps you comfortable over a wide range of temperatures, and packs into the size of a grapefruit. The down; however, meets its match when it gets wet because it loses its loft, and thus its warmth. The ideal pairing is a good packable rain jacket which creates an impenetrable fortress of dryness and warmth. This covers all your bases no matter what you find yourself in. Given that my rain jacket is so thin, weighing virtually nothing, there was simply no excuse not to have it. After making it back to the car, I dried off and got changed into a fresh set of clothes. I made the journey back out of the park, enjoying the scenery as much as I did on the way in, and promising myself I would return again in the future.

It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon

Westbound: Yellowstone National Park, WY


I arrived at Yellowstone National Park as the sun was beginning to go down. I passed through the town of Cody, the eastern gateway to the park, and entered the thick of the mountains. The park covers a vast area and I knew by looking at the icon on the map indicating my campsite location, I had a long way to go. I drove for several miles as dusk began to approach. I was trying to match the speed limit in the area in order to cover some ground before it got too dark but I kept coming across groups of deer along the roadway. I would have to slow down as I passed them because I was afraid a deer through my windshield may put a damper on my trip. They would look at me as I passed, unsure whether to stay put or bolt across the roadway in front of my car. The species began to alternate from groups of deer to groups of elk. The packs quickly grew from the tens to what appeared to be hundreds. It seemed like every few feet I was having to slow to a crawl because the animals were either in the roadway or directly beside it, looking undecided on whether or not they wanted to walk across at the last minute. This went on mile after mile and what was an enjoyable experience at first quickly became a nuisance. Traveling across Yellowstone at a snails pace, the constant threat of an elk destroying your car, and visibility dropping as the sun disappeared was exhausting for the initial twenty miles. It was at this time I realized I had not plugged in the actual GPS coordinates for my campsite, I just had a general interior location of the park guiding me along. I pulled over and entered the new location. A map popped up with an icon placed over what appeared to be the middle of nowhere and the option to route. After opting to route the location, my GPS alerted me that no route to this location could be detected. I was surprised because this was the first time the GPS failed to provide a route for me. I have previously camped at sites where the patch of dirt barely qualifying as an access road disappeared into fields where the unmarked campsite promised to lay just beyond. Even in these circumstances my GPS never wavered. Regardless of the reason, my lifeline had failed and I was forced to make the slow journey back into town to regroup. I weaved through the same groups of wild animals as I did on the way in. I honked my horn, flashed my lights, anything to clear the road to where I didn’t have to stop every few minutes. This just seemed to make things worse because they would stop their leisurely stroll, raise their heads up, and stair at me with a confused look.

I eventually made it back to Cody and was able to secure a reliable signal on my phone. I looked up another campsite nearby, just bordering Cody and the east entrance of the park. I made my way there, turning off the main road onto a dirt path. At this point the sun was gone and it was completely dark. The path was roughly the same width as my car, give or take a foot, with the mountain on one side and a sheer drop off on the other. I immediately began a steep ascent along the mountain side and I could hear my engine straining against the climb. Even in low gear my tires would spin every so often. Several areas had large rocks along the path that I would have to strategically maneuver across in order to avoid bottoming out. My car moaned at the abuse I was putting it through, but the front wheel drive kept pulling me forward. A long drive up this mountain pass rewarded me with a turn off that flattened out into a rocky field with an unbeatable view of the surrounding mountains.


The next day I attempted to survive the descent on the grueling path I tackled the night before. Although I could see the path much better in the light, I could also see the unnerving view of the cliffside hugging my tires. After making it down safely I began the trip back into the park. The deer and elk had disappeared off the roadway leaving only a few herds farther out in the fields. Being able to do the speed limit made for a much more efficient trip. I passed alongside mountains and through long tunnels carved through the huge rock formations. Stunning views of lakes with tall mountains shooting up from their shorelines and reflections of their peaks in the water greeted me as I traveled deeper into the park. The park was unique with constantly changing scenery. You would go from an area of mountains filled with green pine trees, to beautiful lakes, to desert looking areas with large red rock formations and colorless shrubs, to snow covered fields with streams running through them. As I got deeper and deeper into the park, I eventually came up to a large road sign strategically placed across the majority of the two lane road. The sign read, “Road Closed”, so naturally I thought this must be a mistake and I went around it. I traveled several more miles up the road before coming to a gated area providing access to the interior of the park. The gates were closed, the booths were deserted, and large snow banks loomed in the distance. I stared at the obstacles, trying to calculate any options for continuing. Finally realizing I was defeated I turned around and began the scenic drive out of the park. Once in town I called the park service and they informed me the interior was closed due to snow accumulation. Although it was disappointing to not see some of the more iconic sights in the region, it allows me an excuse to come back in the future with my wife.


   


 


It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon

Westbound: Badlands National Park, SD

I am usually thrilled to drive through a state I have never been to before; however, the thought of driving through South Dakota did not exactly rouse me from sleep this morning. Truth be told, I reset my alarm for an additional twenty minutes after waking up because at that moment sleep actually sounded better than South Dakota. I guess I always assumed it was one of the many states that simply did not have anything interesting to offer. I never really heard anyone raving about their vacation in South Dakota nor have I seen travel magazines running articles about it being a hidden gem. But hey, maybe I’m talking to the wrong people and looking in the wrong places because to my surprise I actually enjoyed the long drive across this arguably bland state. It’s difficult to put my finger on it, but South Dakota has something special in its own little way. I think the overwhelming shadow of what’s not there consumes what is and what your left with is, well, South Dakota.


It is almost as if the hand of time has passed over South Dakota, leaving it to continue on exactly as it has for the last hundred years. The majority of the countryside is uninhabited; untouched and unaware of the masses that reside outside of its borders. The drive through was enjoyable and the landscape had a certain appeal to it. There were long roads that wound ever so gently through the endless rolling hills. The land was made up of endless prairie that turned from green irrigated farmland to grasslands as far as the eye can see. The terrain is smooth with beautiful scorched grasses all bent over to the will of the winds.

The state appeared rather consistent until I reached my destination at Badlands National Park. Valleys began to quickly appear in the earth and sharp canyon walls jutted into the sky. The aggressive lines and sharp points of the canyons were reminiscent of the old gothic stylings of cathedrals I have seen across Europe. The colors were unique and unlike any place I have seen before. Series of red lines run horizontal along many of the canyon walls. As I drove through the area I discovered the land would change from aggressive canyons to rounded mounds to open prairie and back again. Each area provided an assortment of colors splashed along its walls. The canyons had reds, the mounds had greens and yellows, and the prairies didn’t need the excitement of a myriad of colors because the senses were occupied with countless wild bison, deer, sheep, and prairie dogs roaming about. I noticed a sign warning visitors of bison, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and walk out into the field with them. I feel alive when communing with such strong beautiful creatures. I can see by the way they look at me they are not intimidated. We both recognize I am a visitor in their home, one that will simply be tolerated at a reasonable distance.





The excitement continued on into the evening. I looked up a location on freecampsites.net and found a nearby campsite just outside the park. I plugged in the GPS coordinates of 43.890031, -102.226789 and began to drive. Soon after exiting the park I took a sharp right onto what appeared to be a small dirt access road. I followed this small path for a short distance until the path ended and turned into prairie. A large metal tower, possibly a cell tower, sat on top of one of the many rolling hills. I drove past the tower, through the fields, and over to a large drop off. I parked my SUV as close as possible to the cliff and opened the back door to let the cool breeze flow in. Looking out the back as I lay there gave the impression I was floating. I could not see any earth beneath the back of my vehicle, only a drop off and distant canyons. You never know where your going to end up when you pick a random set of GPS coordinates of a “campsite” located near you. I couldn’t have asked for a better location. Remote, no roads, beautiful scenery- just the way I like it.

Night fell and the sun tucked behind the mountains in the distance creating an orange and red glow on the horizon. I unfolded my camping chair, made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sat along the cliff to enjoy the show. The sun’s rays eventually disappeared and made room for the darkness. The clear day made for a cloudless night. The absence of city lights created the deepest of blacks; a backdrop for the incredible amount of stars. More stars than I have ever seen. They blanketed the night sky as if to provide comfort and remind me I wasn’t alone.


It’s your life. Demand adventure.

– Jon