Adventures with Frosty – Northern CA & The Redwoods

Since my boyfriend and I drove from San Francisco towards the redwoods last September, I have been dreaming of a dense fog that hangs in the trees and blocks out the ocean. Having grown up in Arizona, something about that wet, heavy air of the Northwest stayed with me. I sometimes close my eyes at night and pretend I’m back on those misty roads winding through the old growth, the fog slipping away at the last second just long enough to see what’s up ahead.

Did I mention we were in a sleeper van with a giant snowman painted on the side of it?

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This baby was our ride and our hotel, and it was probably the best decision I’d made that year. (Although, my boyfriend would tell you I bitched a little bit about the lack of creature comforts.)

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One particular foggy day, the thick white seemed to follow us wherever we went. It hung close and tight, creating a blank backdrop where the blue of the ocean should have been. We’d drive through winding roads with dense overhang, the leaves changing from grey to green as our trusty snowman-van plowed through the fog. It’s cloudy fingers clawing the countryside, beckoning us to follow.

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This is my favorite way to travel. In a world full of plans and deadlines, it’s nice to have none every once in a while.

For anyone curious:

Uniquely inspired sleeper van:  Escape Camper Vans

Our route started in San Francisco and stayed close to HWY 1 all the way up to The Redwood National Forest. Hugging the highway the entire time, we took several small detours along the way. One of my favorites was Cuffey’s Cove, a ghost town of a former settlement from the late 1800’s. I can’t stress enough just how much this place sucked me in. It’s what I see when I close my eyes and imagine that lingering fog closing in.

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Also, I am one of those cemetery freaks. No better way to experience a piece of history than to spend a moment among those who lived it.

 

The AZ Strip

ARIZONA STRIP

I’m not talking about the beauty of a topless dancer’s ability to separate lesser men from their cash. I’m talking about the strip of Arizona most tourists never see.

We are talking red rock canyon country. Arid, lonely land that makes me want to get high and sing America’s “A Horse with No Name.” I mean, how else are you supposed to relate to such lyrics as: there were plants and birds and rocks and things? Preach!

The AZ Strip

Only I didn’t do any of that because this place is so otherworldly beautiful, you feel alive just looking at it. If you visit the popular South Rim of the Grand Canyon, this is your only access to the North Rim … which is why so many people skip it. Well, don’t do that. Make the time to take this part of the country in. Trust me, you’ll be very glad you did and your Instagram will be filled with envious images of the iconic Southwest.

If natural beauty isn’t your thing, may I suggest one last persuasion? It will take you to polygamist country.

I don’t mean to be insensitive, but driving through Colorado City was just plain interesting. People warned me that I might get followed or intimidated if I was seen taking pictures, but none of that happened. Mostly, as I drove slowly along, people just scattered inside and stared back at me in their 19th century pioneer inspired clothing. The whole time it seemed as though the town had this eerie fog running through it, like invisible power lines. I didn’t want to stay long, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave after one pass either.

A large abandoned home reminded me of the “castle” from my great-great (maybe one more great, these things get complicated) grandmother’s memoir. The castle of her childhood was a run-down mansion in Sweden full of impoverished families. Multiple generations were resigned to live in one room, like a hotel for the poor. They were prisoners of poverty inside their “castle”, but they survived together as a small community. Colorado City seemed to be full of similar prisons. I started to feel guilty for treating these people as something to gawk at, but doesn’t everyone want to be seen? Right or wrong, I at least wanted to see them.

Colorado City

Wasteland – The Mojave Desert

Salvation Mountain

About three years ago, my boyfriend and I found ourselves on a last minute road trip from Phoenix, AZ to Brawley, CA. Unfortunately, this was not the kind of happy-go-lucky road trip of people stricken with spontaneous wanderlust. We were headed to one of the most touching and emotional funerals I have ever been to.

On the drive home, we decided to take the road less traveled. As we made our way through the desert sandwiched between California and Arizona, in the soaring temperatures of June heat, we discovered places that refuse to leave my memory. Places that are seared in so deep they haven’t begun to fade. I think this is what happens the first time you explore without expectations, especially when the motivation springs from a reminder that life is a fleeting and beautifully terrifying thing.

These places aren’t secrets, but they will surprise you.

For the curious:

South of the Salton Sea is the town of Niland, CA. There you’ll find Salvation Mountain and Slab City. A kind of wild refuge for off-gridders. A squatter’s dream. A mirage in the desert.

From the Salton Sea to Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and Joshua Tree

It also hosts some interesting art.

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In the town of Quartzite, AZ you’ll find Hi Jolly’s tomb and the The Naked Bookseller. It’s the kind of quirky stop that will embarrass your dad. (I’d rather post my shot with the bookseller, but I felt it would have been in bad taste since you could see through his little wiener sock … yes, I sad wiener sock. Also, I probably shouldn’t use the word little. Ain’t nothing little in that sock.)

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Felicity, CA claims to be the center of the world. It’s a strange pit-stop full of odd monuments. You’ll find a pyramid, a 15 ft sundial shaped like Michelangelo’s Arm of God, a museum etched in granite, and an elevated church overlooking it all. The spirit of Felicity is an eclectic mix of eccentricity.

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Drive through Joshua Tree if only because everyone should see it once. Or stay and take advantage of the dark night sky, perfect for stargazing and whispering sweet nothings into your lover’s ear.

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