Several nights ago we shared a campfire with Bob, our camping neighbor in Pinnacles National Park. He is from Eugene, Oregon, but grew up in California. I too grew up in California. As we pondered life and traveling, Bob said, "traveling has made me fall in love with California again." What a note he struck.
I have fallen in love with California again -- the California I knew as a kid -- the territory I tromped through in my kid's bare, carefree, feet. The cities had no lure then and still have little. It's the backroads that entice us, almost beyond reason with their isolated, out of the way spots of beauty and intrigue.
The east-west roads, oh the wonder, as they wander through sparsely populated forests and grasslands. The elevations increase and then decrease. Hot switches to cold. Rain and fog are suddenly snow and ice. The flat lands turn to rolling hills. The rolling hill to jutting rocks. Oceans to orchards to mountains. Landscapes are kaleidoscope-like magic. And the people...ready to smile, talk, engage.
I imagine a trip, planning it in my head, dreaming... It would be from Washington to California, starting in Washington's Olympic National Forest. It would then proceed back-and-forth through the Oregon and California Coast Ranges. Zigzagging in a crazy fashion of enticing road and landscape beauty...east to west; west to east. The return trip would be north from the Mexican border. First, the ups and downs of the foothills and deserts, then venturing into the dizzying altitudes crisscrossing the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges, along east-west roads of scenic, isolated wonder.
Not only are the roads narrow, twisty and enchanting, the shrubs, trees and understory change in remarkable ways. And the views, oh, the views. And the wildlife. So far we've seen wild hogs, bobcats, turkey vultures, condors, quail, turkeys, turtles and, we think, wolves. Not to mention deer, elk, lizards and coyotes. Still waiting for that cougar, but we did see a herd of zebras (yep!) near Mendocino. And the meadow larks sing as the blue jays squawk.
After enjoying family and friends in the Bay Area, we moved north for two wonderful days with camping buddies at their Petaluma home...
We boondocked, hiked and explored Pt. Reyes, lunching in Bolinas, the town with no signs announcing it's presence to the world. Bolinas is approximately 13 miles northwest of San Francisco as the crow flies and is known for its reclusive residents. The roads are unmarked. All road signs into town have, over the years, been torn down by local residents. County officials became so frustrated they offered a ballot measure and the voters' choice was no signs.
The next day, Mendocino, where we walked the headlands…
Our night was spent boondocking on a side road off the Avenue of the Giants, next to a small river. It began to rain, our first for some time. Today we will explore Highway 96, up into the Siskiyou Wilderness, finding another boondocking site, or perhaps a National Forest campground. At one potential camping spot, just below the snow line, we were advised a cougar had been spotted and tracks seen along the Klamath River. "Watch out for your dog," was the warning. This is the second time on this trip we've received this warning. We will heed it. Although we hope to spot a cougar, we don't want to bait it with Benton. Our night turned out to be raucous, with the wind howling and the rain coming down in torrents. Thistle swayed and rocked on our Highway 96 "pull off". And, this morning, our question is, "is the road open?" We've only seen one vehicle, a logging truck, pass by.
The many miles from the Bay Area to the northern tip of California are spectacular, as were all the miles we traveled from Sacramento south. We have celebrated California from tip-to-toe and side-to-side. It's beauty, diversity, spirit, wineries, creameries, breweries, parks, markets, beaches, ranches, orchards, towns, coffee shops, rivers, lakes, and people have all captivated us and restored my childhood love.
We recommend a slow, wandering trip on California's backroads. Twist and turn and explore and you will find a California different than promoted or criticized. Be exploratory kids again!
"Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences."
~ Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane