I left Denver on a wednesday evening, pushing to get to Moab, UT as quickly as possible. I wanted to be able to see the tall red walls of the canyons early in the morning, before the sun became a raging desert beast with the sole intent of wrecking me. I’m pretty heat sensitive, so during the summer I tend to stay indoors a great deal. This whole running about when it’s bloody hot outside is still sort of new to me. I stayed on I-70 through the Rockies, still captivated by how beautiful and overwhelming they are. Their towering presence loomed overhead as I followed the winding road throughout canyons and over the tops of mountains.
I saw several ski areas peppered along the sides of various mountains before driving through Vale. I kept expecting Julie Andrews to pop out from behind the bushes to croon various songs from the Sound of Music. Vale is filled with Alpine style houses, both large and small. Just a really beautiful setting. Hell, it almost made me want to come back to go skiing at some point, and I loathe skiing. I was also reminded of the yodeling guy from the Price is Right as I drove through.
Welcome to Utah!
I was about an hour away from Moab when I stopped for the night at a highway “Welcome to Utah!” stop. Light hills and colorful buttes greeted me in the morning. Desert hills as far as the eye could see, with the Rockies off in the distance. Most of the dirt was off-white, with ribbons of color running through the surrounding buttes.
Along the road through Arches National Park in Utah
The drive out to Moab was fine until I turned off I 70 onto 191. There was a surprising amount of construction on the road, starting with a major holdup on the offramp. After sitting for 15 minutes, waiting for the lady with the STOP sign to wave me on, I was finally able to turn onto the road itself, encountering patches of road that were being resurfaced. After a quick stop in Moab for breakfast, it was on to Arches National Park. Once past ranger station in the canyon, Arches Entrance Road winds up and along the side of the canyon. The vistas are spectacular; tall red peaks, mixed with a variety of other colors.
There are lots of places along the road where you can pull a single car over to the side of the road and check out the view. The first actual pullover with parking spaces, has a hiking trial that snakes down and through a canyon with spires of red rock and small balanced rock formations at the tops of the canyon walls. The second pullover features an egg shaped rock seemingly precariously balanced on a rock spire. To your left of the spire you can see the ‘windows’, fair shaped holes in stone, carved out by the elements.
Balancing Rock – Arches National Park, Utah
The last point along the road that I visited was the famous Delicate Arch. This is the arch that’s proudly displayed on the Welcome to Utah signs at the various rest stops along the highway and on the state’s license plates. There are two separate parking areas to either view or to hike to the arch. The first one has VERY few parking spaces, and the hike directly out to the arch itself is about a mile and a half. It was already getting supremely hot out, so I just drove out to the viewpoint. Even the walk up to the viewpoint itself was taxing, but I got to see little ant sized people walking around the arch that looked as if it was several miles away. It’s worth noting that there are bathrooms at both parking locations, for which I was surpremely grateful.
Green tinted hills – Arches National Park – Utah
The surrounding hills have veins of minerals that have a greenish tint to them, and no plants grow in these areas. I believe that these are deposits of serpentine, but I’m not quite sure.
I then headed back down to the car and pressed on to my second destination, Zion National Park in southwestern Utah, a little over 6 hours away. While I was about an hour and a half away from Goblin Valley State Park as I drove along I-70, I didn’t really have the time to take a detour to see it. I did, however, drive through the San Rafael Reef Swell, a place with these enormous peaks of rock that jut diagonally out of the earth at dramatic angles. The Swell itself looks a bit unearthly, and apparently parts of the Swell resemble Mars.
San Rafael Reef Swell along I-70 – Utah
I stopped at several canyons along the route, Black Dragon Canyon being the most picturesque. I also stopped at the Salt Wash View Area off of I-70; there’s a wonderfully twisty, dry juniper tree there that had sparse springs of green at the tips of the branches. I ended up having to crash for a few hours in a gas station parking lot when I drove through Richland, UT. I was exhausted and needed a nap, and got about an hour or so of sleep, but the temperatures became unbearably hot in the van and I had to get up and move on.
Black Dragon Canyon – Utah
I ended up arriving near Zion National Park at around 6 or 7pm, but realized that I really wouldn’t have much time to check the place out in the morning. I really needed to get to my destination in Northern California by Sunday afternoon, so I had to beat feet. Figuring that I wanted to get to bed fairly early this time, I pulled into a Pilot gas station in St. George, UT, but it was still 90+ degrees out – even as the sun just beginning to set behind the mountains. It was far too hot to sleep in the van, and after two hours of trying and sweating miserably, I gave up and drove to a Motel 6 for the night. Ah, sleeping in AC 🙂 It’s a good thing.
Here are some of the pictures of the trip through Utah.
I woke up at 5am the next morning, still a little groggy, but just wanting to get through the desert as quickly as possible. Temps in Las Vegas were listed as a high of 108, and it made me pretty nervous about the trip. Got on the road at 5:22am after filling the tank and getting a couple of gallons of water. Yeah, it’s not a trek through the Sahara on foot or anything, but the idea of breaking down in the middle of the Mojave in that heat with no provisions was a little daunting.
Salt Wash View Area I-70 Utah
This being said, the trip itself was nowhere near as bad as I thought it’d be. There were enough restrooms along the way to keep me from having to break out the Go Girl ‘device’. The Mojave is also spectacular. It’s been very interesting to see the differences in terrain and plant life between the various deserts that I’d been through in the last two months or so. There were also a fair number of places to get gas and snacks, if needed, which was reassuring. There were a couple of long abandoned places that looked really interesting, but it was too damned hot for me to want to climb out of the safety of Matilda and explore/investigate them. I was already fairly tired and I didn’t want to overdo it, since I felt that I’d push myself into actual sickness if I did.
I reached Bakersfield, CA a little after 1pm and decided to get some sleep at another Motel 6. I don’t really care that much about amenities when I’m tired – I just want a bed and air conditioning. Unfortunately, the first room they put me in had an A/C unit that functioned like a really weak fan. It was at least 100 degrees outside, and needless to say, simply a fan wasn’t cutting it. I called down to the front desk, and they transferred me to a room with a working air conditioner. I was finally able to actually nod off around 2pm. At around 6:30pm, I woke up, still just exhausted. I had the option of heading up to the Sequoia National Forest and then finding a truck stop after, but I would’ve gotten there past sunset at that point. I decided to get some dinner and return to the room, to stock up on rest. I’d been pushing myself pretty hard on traveling since Denver. It was completely the right decision to make.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed at 5am again the next day, I got up and got back on the road. The journey to the Sierra National Forest winds through a great many amber colored foothills that start out with sparse trees at first. They’re all deciduous with a smattering of pine here and there until you’re well up into the mountains. Lots of switchbacks had Matilda overheating at one point, and I pulled over and parked for about twenty minutes to give the engine time to cool down. As I walked around the small pulloff area, I noticed what looked an awful lot like a bear track. There were trails of hoofprints throughout the gravel, but that bear track really stood out. I went through a variety of both interesting and gruesome scenarios about the bear coming back while I waited there, but that particular excitement wasn’t mine to experience, apparently. For this, I’m both disappointed and grateful.
Waterfall in the Sequoia Mountains
It took me awhile to actually run across any redwoods, but once I did, I found myself at a ranger station with a small one. The ranger station was closed, thwarting my bathroom plans, so I continued on my journey. There was, however, a very educational guide about what to do if one encountered a mountain lion whilst hiking. Several times throughout the postings at the ranger’s office, hikers were encouraged to hike in a group, and to avoid hiking through the area alone. Ah, exciting 🙂 At a sizeable pulloff on the side of the road, I found a wonderful little mountain stream burbling happily along through rocks and around trees. I walked down into a small island in the middle of the stream and spotted another couple redwoods, mixed in with other coniferous trees. The area had a wonderful resonance and gave me a little energetic boost.
The stream in the Sequoia Mountains
A little while after that, I arrived at the Trail of 100 Giants monument. The sheer size of the trees completely blew my mind. I’d never seen such enormous trucks that tapered as the trees stretched towards the clouds. As a little girl, I remembered seeing photos of a tree with a trunk so large that a hole had to be cut into it so that cars could pass through it. I wanted desperately to see something like that, but sadly I didn’t have to time hit King’s Canyon as well, but do plan on checking it out on my trip back through California when I’m heading south for the winter. I was overwhelmed at the size of the trees, but also overjoyed at the song they sang. The wind through the treetops was almost magical. I felt very small, but protected, in the presence of these giants.
Trail of 100 Giants – “The Sisters”
There was a grove of five redwood trees, almost in a circle, past a large redwood that had fallen over. I started calling them the sisters, and I could hear happy laughter echoing in my head. Standing in the middle of these trees made my heart race as I looked up and around at my surroundings. Tree shadows made everything pleasantly dark, with patches of sunlight here and there along the forest floor. It took my breath away for a moment. I walked the whole loop, then waved goodbye to the trees as I headed back to the car, wishing that I could camp overnight and see them in the morning sunrise. Sadly, I had schedule to maintain.
On my way back down the mountain, I stopped at a little restaurant that had decent BLT’s before powering on down the mountains to Porterville, then across the varied landscape of western California as I headed over to the coast. I passed many different kinds of farms, before encountering a great expanse of amber hills, the Lost Hills, to be exact. The hills were almost bare of any trees or anything other than browning grass, but every once in awhile I could spot one here – one there. As I drove along I was reminded of walking through enormous sand dunes. The area is very aptly named, in my opinion. Almost every hill looks like the last one.
As I crested the final ridge of hills, I got my first view of the ocean after several months of desert and mountains. It was such a welcome, relieving sight. I believe my jaw actually dropped as I pulled over and got out of the car, checking out the panoramic view. Such a rush to see mama ocean again. I eventually popped out onto the Pacific Coast Highway near Cambria, CA and took it all the way up to Big Sur.
The Pacific Coast Highway
The dramatic drops and turns as the road threaded along the edges of the mountains and through the plains were gorgeous, if a little nerve wracking at times. Unfortunately, because I suck at thinking ahead and making reservations at any of the camping/RV sites along the routes I take, there was ‘no room at the inn’, so to speak. Big Sur was all booked up, which shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose. I ended up having to drive the rest of the way up to Carmel, then Monterey.
I dearly wanted to stay in the Motel 6 in Monterey at this point, but it would’ve been $89 a night, and I simply ain’t payin’ that much for Motel 6 quality. I went ahead and drove an additional 1 1/2 hours to the Loves Truck Stop in Santa Nella, CA, but the girls behind the registers kept saying that I needed to pull around back with the rigs for overnight parking. Yeah, right. Screw that. I’m not getting my ass beat for taking up an entire rig spot with an 18 foot conversion van. It ain’t that kinda party. I drove across the street to the TravelCenters of America rest stop instead, where they let me pull into a much more reasonable parking area to crash out in the back of the van for the rest of the night. I woke up at 7am, had a little breakfast, then headed north to Napa.
I got there in time to hang out with my friend, then head out with her to a SCA Fighter Practice cookout with my friend. I then proceeded to rest while consuming delicious tri-tip and desserts while watching men in armor beat on each other with padded sticks in a park downtown. Several redwood tress overlooked the proceedings as well, putting a splendid cap on the weekend.
I’ll be staying with my friend out in Napa, CA until the second weekend in July, when I begin my sojourn up to Oregon. 🙂
Here are the pics from the journey through California.