CALIFORN-I-A: THE B SIDES

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Being a resident of San Francisco for the last five years has brought us access to some of the best weekend road trips imaginable; Yosemite, Napa, Russian River Valley, Tomales Bay, Big Sur, Lake Tahoe and so on and so forth. The “downside” to this, is that you have to make more of an effort to hit up the quirky little towns that dot the rest of the state.

Eureka

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Prior to visiting this section of Redwood country, the main thing I knew about these counties is that they grow some bodacious herb. There is reference to this all over in the many “Private Property” and “No Trespassing”  signs, and the numerous people we saw wandering the highways and byways. It was prime picking season, so we guessed that they were moving from one job to the next during the harvest. After our visit though, we know that aside from their wild greenery, there is much to see in these parts. The avian population is abundant, and you could spend whole days posted up on the coast with a pair of binoculars, and never get bored.

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While in Eureka, we dropped in on Lost Coast Brewery, and enjoyed a flight of their finest beer. The city hosts an art event on the first Saturday of the month called ‘Arts Alive’, where all of the galleries and shops in the Old Town stay open late and offer food and drink to their patrons.The Saturday we were there was a special_on_special event for the city because it was Día de Los Muertos. As we were perusing through an old bookstore, Anne came running by and grabbed my hand. She lead me running towards the street where a mind-blowing parade of costumed characters, and giant skeleton puppets were dancing to a live marching band. The parade ended in front of a huge candle filled alter, where they performed a special dance, and everyone was lighting candles in memory of loved ones lost. It was one of those moments where you truly feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, and we spent the rest of the evening in a back alley speakeasy, dancing the night away.

Stone Lagoon

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Anne had been dying to try upright paddle boarding, or ‘SUP’ing for the duration of this trip, and the calm lagoons of Humboldt county seemed like the perfect place to give it a whirl. This stop ended up being a two part adventure, because the place we stayed that night boasted that it was home to the largest herd of Roosevelt Elk in the world. We saw two that evening as dusk, and while they were magical, we felt a bit duped.

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The next morning, Anne popped out of the van to walk the dogs sans contacts, and with blurry eyes came rushing back to have me double check that there were in fact dozens of elk not a hundred feet from our van. It was an incredible sight, and we enjoyed that mornings coffee with a NatGeo like view of them dining on grass, and interacting with one another as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky.

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After we’d had our fill, we headed over to the rental facility and the whole family suited up for a water adventure. Simon and Zoe were outfitted with life jackets, and they joined me in a kayak. We headed out into the water and after a few near tips, found our balance and spent the next hour cruising around while Ms. A fulfilled her dream of bird watching while paddling a lagoon. It was just the four of us out there that morning, and I enjoyed feeling like we had the world to ourselves.

Lost Coast

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Sometimes it feels like everyone got the memo that California is a righteous place to live, and we find ourselves itching for a place to roam free. Enter the Lost Coast: a pristine slice of California that was slated to be a part of the coastal highway system. This section of coastline proved to be too geologically challenging and expensive, so they rerouted the road to a less extreme area further inland, isolating this part of the state from the outside world. Driving a 12 foot tall campervan can be a bit of a challenge in windy situations, and the route to the coast was the most extreme we’d seen to date. I felt like I was in an advanced game of Mario as I dodged cows in the road, endless jumbo potholes, sand drifts, a few one lane squeezes due to road slides, and the most fun of all… one way bridges that possessed a few blind turns. After I’d nearly sweat through my clothes and doubted many times over our decision to head to the LC, we turned down the road to the Mattole BLM campground. It was a make-the-day or break-the-day moment for our family, and after twenty more minutes of dodging potholes at dusk, we rounded the bend, and entered heaven.

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There were a few other campervans on site, and one of them contained our friends from Alaska! We joined them for a campfire and beers that night, and were all treated to the most magnificent starry sky. They were headed out early the next morning so we bid them adieu, and spent the next two days hiking some of the LC trail, beach combing, and cooking over the fire.

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Someone once told me that everything feels a little different out there, and having spent a few days on its shore, I’d have to agree. It feels swathed in mystery and magic, and I highly suggest you make the trek if you have the chance; just make sure you have some stellar four wheel drive for the bumpy route!

Avenue of the Giants

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We’ve been saying for years that we were going to hit up the Avenue to visit the tallest trees in the world. It’s a nice scenic drive, but unless you step out of your car and walk amongst the giants, you’ll miss out on the scents, sounds, and the stillness that surrounds you as you stand in the groves.

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Being some of the oldest living things on our planet, you can’t help but feel total awe and respect for their quiet strength and beauty. Their age is an amazing reminder of how brief our human lifetimes are, and to make the most of what we’ve been gifted.

Big Sur

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A favorite long weekend destination for many a bay area resident, Big Sur has been on our list of places to explore for years. While on a brief layover in San Francisco, we gathered advice from friends, and made a plan to spend a few days in this iconic CA locale. The coastal drive makes you sing the praises of the road engineers each time you dip around another gasp producing bend. It’s CA at it’s finest, and enroute to our planned destination, we nearly zipped past Kirk Creek Campground on our way to our original destination. The awe inspiring view forced a quick turn into the ground to scope out the scene. We quickly realized that this location was a special gem that we’d like to spend the next few nights, and unbeknownst to us at that moment, was recently voted one of the best campgrounds in the US by Sunset Magazine. We had initially planned to spend one night in BS but ended up spending three as our site backed right up to the wave crashing cliffs with a lookout spot that perfectly fit two chairs.

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We were treated to eighty degree weather, an incredible day of beach combing and bouldering at Sand Dollar Beach, and night after night of shut-your-mouth stunning sunsets. What was planned as a quick pass through ended up being some of our favorite days on the trip, and just another sign that we were in the right place, at the right time.

Big Bear

BigBearSmallAs we continued to make our way down the coast of California, we laid over in Los Angeles for a night with Anne’s sister and brother-in-law. We spent a fun evening out on the town before the four of us set out for some good ol’fashioned family bonding in the mountains around Big Bear Lake. We hiked the forest, soaked in the hot tub, cheersed to life, and cooked feasts fit for royalty. It’s always a blast to spend quality time with family away from all obligation, and this trip was no exception.

Salton Sea

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With our family tanks full, we headed south to weirdly wonderful Salton Sea. We both had pretty low expectations for this stop, as we’d read many a conflicting report on whether or not this place was worth a visit. As soon as we glimpsed the sheer size of the sea, we knew it was going to be the perfect stop for us. The area is mostly deserted, and in the park we overnighted in, it was eerily devoid of noise with the exception of the many sounds of the resident birds.

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The avian population is massive in the Salton Sea, as it’s a layover area as flocks head north or south during migration. You’ll immediately notice the large population of American White Pelicans, and we spent the evening hours watching them feed, swim, and fly. As you walk along the “beach” of the sea, you’ll quickly notice that the sand is actually an uncountable number of fish bones in different stages of decomposition.

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The sunset was one of the top ten of the trip, with an explosion of colors reflecting from the sea. The whole evening was elevated even higher when we realized it was a full moon, and we sat outside of the van sipping beers with the light so bright that we were able to watch the wildlife with perfect clarity.

Salvation Mountain 

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The next morning we woke up and headed further south along the sea, ending at Salvation Mountain. Once again, we went in not sure what to expect, and were totally blown away. The time, effort, heart, soul, and love that Leonard has put into his work is almost too much for words.

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We wandered the grounds, climbed the mountain, and met with the current caretaker to learn more about daily life in the area. With our minds and cameras full, we took one last look at this bright spot in the desert, pointed our car eastward, and headed out of California towards the next series of adventures…the American Southwest.

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