Two years ago I dropped everything and went on a road trip that would change my life…
One year ago I started this blog as a way to share that experience with the world…
The lust to wander and live the life that I’ve chosen has only increased since then as I’ve traveled up, down and around the State of California. The journey I’ve taken with this blog has been gratifying in the least of ways and reformative in the most powerful of ways. I wanted to inspire people and showcase the many beautiful locations and campgrounds that can be found here in California and the West Coast as a whole. More personally, I wished to release the information and feelings I had stored within me. I wanted to showcase the sites I saw through my photographs and share my feelings through my words. This past year, I accomplished two goals I had set myself to write about: First, I wanted to transcribe my entire road trip from that fateful summer ’17 in a series of posts titled “Up & Down Again: A Coastal Adventure”. Secondly, I started my “Trails to Trudge” series highlighting all the recent hikes and sites I have seen from this past year of hiking and adventuring around the state.
Before this new year starts for my blog, I wanted to look back on the places I’ve been and the feelings I felt. This post you’re about to read will highlight my favorite sites, campgrounds and hikes. Each section is linked to the original blog post in case you’d like to take a deeper dive. I’ve organized it into 3 sections: Sea, Forest and Desert. I’ve seen some amazing sites in the past year so I hope you can look back on them with me and be inspired to hit the open road and do some adventuring of your own. Enjoy…
Starting off with McWay Falls seems appropriate. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures better than the one I took above but nothing compares to seeing it live and in person. Dumping directly into the Pacific Ocean, McWay Falls is a majestic monolith of natural proportions. Watching the water tumble to the ground is like observing a roaring lion in its natural habitat. Untethered and untouched by man, the falls feed directly into a lagoon that rolls right through to the Pacific Ocean. I’ve seen it twice now and it never ceases to amaze me.
Located in Los Osos, Montana De Oro is as idyllic a beach location as you can get. The water is pure and crisp and the sand coarse and rejuvenating. The beach is tucked away beneath the massive shadow of Valencia Peak. As you enter the park, you could drive by the beach without even knowing it’s there. In only a couple hours of visiting the Mountain of Gold you can go from hiking hundreds of feet up in the air on Valencia Peak to swimming in the cool waters of Spooner’s Cove before settling down in your campsite situated between the two settings. The combination of the two is what makes this place special and a must-see campsite.
Rising up out of the sea, Morro rock is a constant presence while visiting Morro Bay. Whether you’re hiking up Black Hill Trail or driving through town, you feel a comfort knowing that something so massive and sacred has survived the test of time. The State Park of Morro Bay is a campground worthy of staying at as California Condors soar above you and the sounds of the Bay reach your ears mere feet away. The stars shine bright above you and the camaraderie of the other campers is a welcome feeling as you ease into a peaceful sleep in one of the largest campsites the State of California has to offer.
El Capitan State Beach and the accompanying campground is where it all started. My first night on the road two years ago was spent at this location and also my last night of my 2017 road trip. Ever since those stops, I’ve visited it twice more and I plan on visiting it many more times throughout my life. The Captain has everything I could want. Sprawling private campgrounds, short walks down to the beach and a spot to watch the sunset that would make my Grandma say “Oh my Lawd!” It’s hard to put in words what this place means to me but I know it holds a special place deep in my heart and soul. My camping experience started here but I think more importantly, my writing originated and took form here. I still remember that cold morning waking up as the sun filtered through my camper shell. I remember taking that walk down to the wooden staircase and looking out at the ocean as I took my journal out for the first time and wrote down my thoughts and feelings. Moments like that stick with me and so has El Capitan.
The sun was scorching as we trudged higher and higher up the slopes of Mt. Baldy. We passed hikers of all ages and experience levels on our way up, all striving towards the same goal: the peak of Mt. San Antonio. Once you reach the top, everything is worth it. The pain in your legs, the sweat on your shirt and even the scrapes on your hands and knees. Once you take in that view and see the placard telling you that you’ve done it, nothing else matters. I remember plopping down right there in the dirt with an immense feeling of satisfaction and feeling like I was on top of the world. The hike is tough, it’s grueling and the summit will test your willpower… but I promise you the payoff is more than worth of admission.
Sometimes hikes come at you by accident. My friends and I hadn’t planned on doing this hike. In fact, we didn’t plan anything at all that day. We simply parked our car somewhere deep in the wilderness of Big Basin State Park in Santa Cruz and started walking. Along the way we crossed bridges made of fallen trees, took audio of running streams and drank beers on top of big rocks. We saw trees wider around than the three of us put together and we even saw a trio of Condor’s circle us as we reveled in our accomplishments on top of things at Buzzard’s roost. It was a day to remember as is Big Basin State Park. Staying the night there that night was just as gorgeous as the hike was during the day. The floor of the park is completely shaded by the enormous trees and while the sun was going down, rays of light poured in through the branches making the whole scene seem surreal.
As I rolled up to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, I saw the fateful sign: “campground full.” My stomach dropped but I thought ‘fuck it’, I’ll at least get a hike in and buy a day pass. As luck would have it though, a site had just opened up upon my arrival. Surrounded by towering redwoods, I parked my ’91 Tacoma in the shade, swung my backpack over my shoulder and began to slowly trudge my way up to the top of Buzzard’s Roost in the middle of Big Sur. Once at the top, you look West as the Pacific Ocean sits peacefully in front of you. It looks so close that you can almost hear and smell the waves even if they are miles away. Looking east, you see the great wilderness of Big Sur. Wild and untamed, Big Sur is nature at its most unforgiving but also its most beautiful. The Buzzard’s Roost hike punctuate that with an exclamation point.
One of the first hikes I did after I returned to “normal life” after my ’17 road trip was Big Horn Mine. It’s a mixture of history, mystery and fear of the unknown and it’s one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve encountered. The mine itself is nothing more than a tin roof with rotted wooden beams holding it up. It feels as if at any minute the whole thing could collapse and slide down the mountainside. Naturally, I climbed every inch of the decrepit wooden beams and came across what it was hiding… the mine. The mine is a dark tunnel going back farther than any eye or light beam can see delving deep into the mountain. Enter if you dare and at your own risk but always remember that “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” (Neale Donald Walsch).
Not for the squeamish nor the faint of heart, this was my first (and so far only) slot canyon I’ve hiked through. At times exhilarating and at others terrifying, the only option when hiking through Ladder Canyon in Mecca, CA is to keep moving forward. Up ladders, ropes and rocks and down the same way; you must put complete trust in your body and more importantly your mind. Like Deadpool, maximum effort is required to reach the end of such a place but I can guarantee accomplishing this goal is a feeling like none other.
Deep in the California desert lies one of California’s strangest natural monuments. Rising up out of the ground, the Trona Pinnacles are visible from miles away. On your approach, your mind goes back and forth from believing they’re real to believing it must be a mirage and a trick of your mind. I can assure you though, once you’re there amongst these giant monoliths; you’ll see just how real they are. Devoid of any life or any semblance of life, the Trona Pinnacles are what I imagine life on the Moon would be like. Hard land with little to no plants or water would seem like a shitty place to camp but I promise it was one of the coolest places I’ve ever spent the night at. The stars seem to shine brighter as if you’ve entered into a realm where the blending of reality and space are closer than you can imagine.
Like Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, Red Rock Canyon State Park evokes feelings of a classic western. Great red rocks fill your vision as you trudge through canyons with small alcoves and giants cliffs hanging above you. Native ambushes and outlaw shootouts aside, the area of Red Rock is stunning to behold. The campgrounds are private and each lies beneath hollow rocks that contain a multitude of caverns and passages within. Hiking and camping around this area was unlike any place I’d been before.
Walking through the scorching arid environment of the Mojave desert makes you wonder how anyone could have done it. How could anything survive in such a harsh climate? It’s dry and miserable yet the desert holds a certain beauty that nowhere else on this earth can claim. Deep in the middle of it, lies the Mojave Desert Lava Tube. Thousands of years ago, molten lava formed this natural wonder and sealed it into a cave for us all to enjoy. As you approach the tube; huge, black lava rocks begin to mark the side of the road signaling that you are getting close. After walking up a short hill, the rocks begin to cluster around a giant hole in the desert that looks eerily like what I would imagine “the sunken place” resembles. Deep I delved into the cave with nothing but my water bottle and a headlamp on my head. I had to climb through tight spaces and weave and contort my body until eventually I saw it: a huge room made of those same lava rocks dotting the roadside. Holes from the surface offer beams of light that illuminate the whole space allowing you to walk through and see the natural wonder that is the Lava Tube.