After 34-days on the beautiful Oregon coast, the day finally came for me to hit the road and begin making my way back to Wisconsin. To avoid driving in the mountains during winter, I mapped out a route south along the coast into California and east through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and finally to Wisconsin over roughly 2-weeks. I was excited to hit the road, check off some bucket list places, listen to music and audiobooks, spend some time with a friend and, eventually, sleep in my own bed again.
Day one on the road was primarily spent in Oregon along the coast. My first stop was at my favorite gift shop at the Fireside Motel in Yachats. Usually they always have cool t-shirts for sale so I was hoping they’d have something of interest to me to add to my travel apparel collection. Unfortunately, their stock was super low and there wasn’t much to choose from. They pointed me next door to the Overleaf Lodge, assuring me they had a great selection to choose from. Lucky for me, they did have an extensive collection of apparel as promised and I decided to buy a teal Yachats, Oregon hoodie which has quickly become one of my newest favorites. After walking back to put my purchase in the car, I grabbed my cameras and headed behind the motel to my favorite wave watching spot to see what the tide was doing. Lucky for me, it was high and there was plenty of wave action to photograph.
After getting more than my fair share of photographs, I got back on the road and made my way to Bastendorff Beach in Coos Bay. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember what originally drew my attention to this place thus adding it to my travel list so I ended up just walking around one particular area, which was still plenty pretty, and taking some photographs of the beach, birds and plant life I found there. I shared a seemingly meaningful moment while photographing a crow who appeared just as interested in me as I was in them. After a somewhat ominous looking set of clouds started rolling in, I decided it was time to get back on the road.
A made a couple of unplanned stops, first at an overlook to get a photograph of the Heceta Head Lighthouse, then another spot just off Highway 101 where I came across a beautiful lake mirroring the sky perfectly in it’s glasslike surface, and finally at an ocean overlook where there was a spectacular view of the coastline from high above the ocean.
Eventually, I arrived at my next planned stop in Bandon. My plan was to use a couple hours I had allotted in my schedule to walk the beach among the iconic giant sea stacks that area is known for but unfortunately, the sky started to cloud up not long after I arrived, making the high winds even chillier without the sun to help stay warm. I decided to settle for a few photographs from the overlook area above the beach and then to try to find something else between there and the hotel to explore.
When I got to Brookings, there was a lovely mix of sunshine and fog so I decided to stop at Harris Beach State Park. I had been there several times in the past and knew the spot to be quite good for capturing interesting foggy seascapes. I was lucky that the tide was out so there were also lots of beautiful tide pools this time to add to the ambiance of the afternoon (and my photo collection). After taking what felt like way too many photographs, I decided it was time to get back on the road so I could make it to Crescent City, California before the sunset.
Even though there were lots of beautiful moments along the drive that day, I couldn’t help the flood of memories that came to me of all the times Cole and I road tripped up and down the coast and all of the adventures we had exploring together. I was missing him big time that day and shed many tears as I drove by all our favorite places.
The next day I made my way toward Santa Rosa, California. Driving past the hotel Cole and I once stayed at in Eureka in 2020 right before the pandemic shut everything down, started the tear factory up once again. True to form, I still managed to find joy in the day as well. I came across a large herd of majestic elk along Highway 101 somewhere south of Eureka. Eventually I arrived at the beginning of Highway 1 and began the beautiful, winding, narrow drive along the scenic California coastline.
I stopped at a couple of random places to photograph the seascape and eventually arrived at my only planned stop at Pomo Bluffs Park. I was quite enamored with the colorful cliffs and plants in the area. Getting the photographs I wanted was difficult though due to the overcast sky. It didn’t help that I accidentally had one of my cameras on the wrong setting most of the day, unbeknownst to me. I suppose it was lucky that I use two cameras these days on my trips so the day wasn’t a total loss photographically speaking.
Point Reyes National Seashore
The next morning, I was excited to make my way to Point Reyes, one of those bucket list places I’ve been meaning to visit for quite some time. The landscape was unexpectedly breathtaking on my way out there but unfortunately there were not a lot of good places to stop for photographs. Like the day before, it was another overcast day, less than ideal for the photographs I wanted. At least it wasn’t raining, that’s what I kept trying to tell myself at least to find the silver lining. Once at Point Reyes, I first stopped at the Cypress Tree Tunnel which was quite the site. Along the drive toward the lighthouse, I made several stops and was delighted to see lots of wildlife including deer, hawks, crows, elk and even some cows. I was especially enamored with the green vistas and tall cliffside overlooks. In some ways, it reminded me of the Lost Coast section of the California coast just north of the area. I found Point Reyes to be peaceful and beautiful and in some ways, at times, it even reminded me of Scotland. I got so wrapped up in exploring that I lost track of time. I ended up spending “too much” time in one area of the park and didn’t have time to check out all the other spots I had planned on so unfortunately I had to hit the road incomplete.
Shortly after leaving the park, the sun came out and illuminated that beautiful countryside I referred to earlier, you know, the one with no good spots to pull over and take photographs. Such is life sometimes! I quickly began making my way toward Monterey in an effort to beat the sunset. I had planned to stop at the Golden Gate Vista to get some pictures of that infamous bridge that I had shakily rode a bike over a decade or so earlier, but unfortunately it was inaccessible from the southbound interstate and I didn’t have time to make my way back over via the northbound interstate so I decided to skip it and just keep going. Well, that is after getting through the nearly gridlocked San Francisco traffic that I love so much. To save time, I opted to take the fast route via the highway versus the scenic route along the coast hoping I could get to the hotel a little early and then maybe get some photographs down by the beach in Monterey. Of course as soon as I arrived in Monterey, the clouds rolled back in so I opted to call it a day and spent the rest of my day relaxing in the hotel room. Sadly, this hotel was less than comfortable, there were loud neighbors, barking dogs, shady people both in the hotel and roaming the parking lot, not to mention horrible wi-fi/cell signal which prohibited me from hopping on a call that I had scheduled that night. I also noticed that I had developed lots of new spots and swelling in my legs from my vasculitis. The one upside to this hotel was that I had a real tub instead of the tiny shower enclosure so I was able to soak my sore muscles from the days of driving leading up to that moment.
In the morning, I made my way back to Highway 1 to continue the beautiful, curvy, drive along the California coast. I got a late start that morning so I decided to skip the stop at Point Lobos and go straight to Big Sur. I had my eye on getting a photograph of the popular McWay Falls for some time and almost made it a few years earlier during a birthday trip to San Francisco but we ran out of daylight shortly before arriving. This time I actually had the opposite problem. I arrived too early so I didn’t get the sun position I needed to light up the falls the way I wanted but they were still gorgeous nonetheless. Like many places I visit, I find I need to come back at either a different time of year or, in this case, a different time of day. After trying my best to get the photographs just the way I wanted, I hopped back on Highway 1 and continued to make my way south, enjoying the beauty that comes with driving high up on those cliff sides above the ocean as the sun shines down warming the air and creating sparkles on the ocean’s surface as far as the eye can see. Not in any hurry to make the experience end sooner than it needed to, I wasn’t irritated when I got stuck in a line of cars behind one slow car that didn’t want to pull over to let everyone pass. One driver, a couple of cars behind me, who was a couple cars behind the slow car myself, decided that they needed to go faster and did the craziest thing I ever saw someone do in all my many miles of road tripping. They passed several cars on a blind curve, hundreds of feet up above the ocean on the narrow, winding road. I’m so thankful there wasn’t a car coming around the bend in the opposite direction or else we all could have easily ended up un-alive.
Once I reached Highway 46, it was time to say farewell to the Pacific Ocean and begin making my way east. I stopped at an overlook not too far down the way which offered a beautiful view of a surprisingly lush landscape for the area, apparently wine country. After getting a handful of photographs there, I continued east and as I made my way up over the raised elevation, a heavy fog rolled in and obscured most of the views the rest of the way but as I got closer to Mojave, the setting sun cast a hue into the fog that seemed to glow in spectacular colors around the wind turbines and mountain silhouettes. Before I knew it, I had arrived at my hotel in Mojave and was enjoying a delicious take-out Thai dinner in my room.
Joshua Tree National Park
I was super excited to head to Joshua Tree National Park the next morning, another bucket list item I had long looked forward to. I found a Starbucks along the way to get my usual coffee and breakfast, this time in Barstow, California. I pulled into the parking lot and saw the drive thru up ahead. I noticed a car or two way off to the side but no one behind the car in line so I pulled up behind the car in line and immediately started hearing a car horn honking. I had no idea where it was coming from or what it meant. All of the sudden, I heard a lady yelling, in addition to the honking. She was screaming out her window “I was in line!” and pulled her car up and almost hit mine, I guess trying to get ahead of me but there was no way she could fit or that I could move to make her fit. I didn’t realize she was in line but there was nothing I could do about it at this point. There was a Starbucks employee standing near the order speaker taking orders in person. She looked like a deer in headlights since the lady behind me had not stopped honking and yelling yet. I explained to her what happened and asked if I should pull through and get back in line behind the car behind me and she said no, just to place my order and go through. I felt bad that I had inadvertently skipped in line but the woman’s reaction to it was over the top out of line and honestly screamed emotionally unstable. I’m hoping she was just having a really bad day (Week? Month? Year?). When I got to the window to pay for my order, I asked to pay for the lady behind me. The Starbucks employee exclaimed how nice that was, not knowing what had just happened, and it was all I could do to not explain that my motives were more “kill them with kindness” rather than “I’m doing this out of the goodness of my heart”. Either way, my hope is that the gesture would help turn that horrid energy around so she didn’t inflict it upon someone else that day going forward.
After getting back on the road, a bit shaken, I continued to make my way to Joshua Tree. I stopped for gas about a half hour or so before the park on the edge of the middle of nowhere at what turned out to be quite the shady gas station evidenced first by the creepy people lurking around the parking lot that I saw while pumping gas. When I went inside to use the restroom, I was directed by another shady person (staff) to walk through a stock area to a single bathroom with the door closed. I could hear someone talking inside so I waited. The person who came out turned out to be talking to themself, another bad sign. When I got back in my car, I quickly got back on the road and passed yet another strange, shady looking person conversing with the earlier shady person I saw while pumping gas. At that point I was absolutely sure that my credit card probably just got hacked and would not be surprised in the slightest if I got a fraud alert soon.
Not too long later, I finally arrived at the park. I was surprised to find that it was busier than I expected for a Monday in December but I had to remember that this was a popular national park which probably draws visitors from all corners of the country. My first order of business once I got into the park was to put on U2’s Joshua Tree album because that just seemed like the right thing to do. What better way to listen to that album than in the place that was such an inspiration for the music? I did find the landscape to add to the experience of the music and deepen my connection to it. I stopped at several points throughout the park as I am simply enamored with those Joshua Trees, I love them so much! I’m not sure exactly what draws me to them but before I even knew what they were, I remember being immediately compelled to photograph them. I love how their branches grow in wild directions in one of the most inhospitable of places with all their cute little spike-y leaves pointing out in all directions. After photographing a ton of trees and checking out an overlook and cactus garden, it was time to get back on the road and make my way to Mesa, Arizona for the night.
On the way, I had a strange encounter with someone on the freeway who decided it was a fun game to pass ahead then slowly slow down after a bit, let me pass, fall back quite a ways, and then speed up and pass ahead of me again. This happened several times over many miles, too many times for it just to be an inattentive driver or done on accident. I decided to exit the interstate for a bit to put some distance between us before getting back on and continuing my drive. I was happy to finally arrive at my hotel in Mesa but again, I was really not impressed with what I found. There were sirens frequently going off in the not far distance, shady people in the parking lot and in the rooms, few working lights in my room and no working air conditioning which led to a very warm night and little sleep. Oh the stories I could tell of my Motel 6 adventures!
Saguaro National Park
Early the next morning, it was time to hit the road again. I decided since I was in the desert, it was a good time to finally start listening to an audiobook I had been meaning to get around to for some time: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. It didn’t take long for me to recognize the irony in this book choice as Abbey had a strong distaste for those who chose to see, or in his opinion, not see, the country by car. In his opinion, which I can completely see, one has to get out of the car and walk on foot, bicycle or ride a horse/mule to really immerse themselves and experience the natural beauty of our country. I have been in an overcrowded park wishing it would not be so easy to access so as to enjoy it more (Yosemite, I’m thinking of you) but then again, I am part of that problem as I roll up in my car and congest a beautiful natural area that is better enjoyed with less signs of human life in it.
It didn’t seem to take long before I found myself back at Saguaro National Park, this time with much more pleasant temperatures to enjoy walking around and exploring this section of the desert. Unfortunately, I found it more difficult to photograph this time around. The areas I went to seemed so dense with cacti and other plant life that I found it difficult to compose the images in the style that I prefer. I spent several hours and did finally manage to find some sections that worked better for my creative eye. I was a bit sad that I only came across one lizard while walking around the desert, I saw so many the last time I was there. What it lacked in lizards, it made up for in Saguaro cacti though. Much like the Joshua Trees, I am drawn to these particular cacti. They, too, grow in random directions and some even twist and turn their arms around in ways that make them appear all too human. Perhaps that is why it is said by some that the Saguaro cacti are actually the spirits of our ancestors who stand in the desert as watchful guardians—providing shade and protecting the life-giving water. After several hours among these beautiful giant plants, it was time to hit the road again and make my way to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I was pleasantly surprised to find this Motel 6 to be in much better condition. The bed was super comfy as were the pillows and it seemed to be in a safe location with no nonsense happening in the parking lots or hallways. I was nervous to find though that the hotel staff were not masked nor were a lot of the guests. Lucky for me I hardly ever interact with people while traveling so it was fairly easy to keep my distance. I was able to get some work done but the internet stopped working at one point forcing me to call it quits for the night.
White Sands National Park
In the morning, after loading up the car yet again, I started to make the 50-minute drive to White Sands National Park. Shortly before arriving at the park, I had to pass through a checkpoint where a uniformed man asked if I was a United States citizen in which I replied yes. Apparently that was satisfactory to him for I was not asked to produce any sort of proof of that fact. Once on my way again, I arrived at the beautiful white sanded park. I parked at the first parking lot and began the short loop hike I found there. The sky wasn’t entirely cooperating for the photographs I was hoping for of deep blue skies contrasted by the whitest of white sand. Instead I was met with light blue skies with sections overcast by a thin cloud layer. Alas, we can’t control nature so I rolled with it as much as I could but I was also having a hard time finding the right angles to compose the images I wanted. I started to wonder if my road trip had burned me out creatively speaking? Luckily for me, this was the last photo stop on my road trip so if I had to lose steam, I guess this was the time to do it. Regardless of the weather, the park was beautiful and the sand was so soft. I can see why this is a popular park and I hope to be able to return sometime to try my hand again at getting some more photos.
While driving to my next hotel in Guymon, Oklahoma, the time change caught up with me and I finally lost 2-hours, throwing my plans off of getting to the nice hotel early that I splurged on so I could enjoy some extra comfort for a change. Arriving at 7pm instead of 5pm, there was not a lot of time to enjoy my nice digs but I did sleep really well thanks to the super comfy bed and pillows, pillows so comfy in fact that I looked up if I could buy them and it turns out, I can! At $45 – $125 each though, they are going to have to wait a bit.
The next morning, I made the 7 ½ hour drive to Olathe, Kansas after sleeping in a bit to get a little extra time with those comfy pillows. The drive was mostly smooth and uneventful with no photo stops other than what I could capture with my cell phone through the car window. Other than a few slow trucks, nothing too exciting happened during this leg of the journey. Kansas does have interesting areas to explore, I know because I have seen them, but unfortunately none that I’m aware of that fell close to the efficient route I had mapped out to get to my destination as soon as possible. I did manage to make a split second mistake and missed my turn at the toll station which sent me 15-minutes in the wrong direction before I could exit the interstate and head back in the right direction, tacking on an extra 30-minutes to my drive. Despite the irritation, I was happy to be almost to my destination where I was looking forward to spending several days hanging out with my friend and enjoying not having to drive hundreds of miles each day to do it.
While in Kansas, my friend and I spent much time hanging out and talking about all sorts of life stuff. We ate lots of yummy foods, hung out with her pets, went for a walk at the Overland Park Arboretum, drove through a holiday lights display which had the strangest Christmas music we had ever heard but pretty lights nonetheless. We ran errands, worked on a puzzle, hung out on the deck, sat by the fire, and wrapped presents. I managed to squeeze in some work here and there and got to catch up on my laundry from the previous 7-days. Most interestingly, spending time with my friend’s pug reminded me of how wonderful the beginning of that relationship is and knowing all the adventures and memories that are ahead for them made me more receptive to the idea of someday maybe getting another pug…someday…maybe.
After several wonderful days hanging out, it was time to drive home to Wisconsin. After loading up my car and saying farewell to my friend, I hit the road to make the final 8-hour drive home. It was extremely smooth sailing with no traffic and no stops other than for gas and food. There were no road ragers, no Starbucks Karens, no shady gas stations, or wrong turns. I arrived home around 5pm, unloaded my car, talked with my sister and her fiance for a bit, grabbed my pile of mail and packages that had accumulated while I was gone and got to work putting things away. Before the night was over everything was in its place and I was able to sit down to catch up on some of my recorded shows before promptly passing out.
3627-miles, 2378-photos, 12-days, and 10-states: another grand adventure comes to a close. Not to worry though, another adventure is waiting just around the corner. Stay tuned…