the roadtrip

joshua tree » zion » arches » bryce canyon » grand tetons » crater lake

Day 1 // Joshua Tree NP, CA // May 25, 2018, 11 pm PT

We started the drive around 6:45 this morning. Kevin installed the pod on top of the roof racks on my car, which pretty much doubled the size of my trunk. That Prius is so loaded with stuff…

We made pretty good on time and got to town around 2 pm. Our first stop was the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum. It was kind of like a glorified junkyard, endearingly. Noah had taken all these old metal and wood pieces and created structures with them, “decorated” with old computers, TVs, books, tiles, chairs, clocks, clothes. He created mini homes with scraps, theaters, an igloo, bathrooms with old bathroom hardware.

It was eerie being in the desert, just us three at this makeshift gallery, where all we could hear when we stayed still was the sound of the sand blowing up, hitting other foliage and art structures. Still had 4G though.

About an hour later, we headed into Joshua Tree. The weather’s not so bad right now for being in the desert. It’s about 50 degrees now, and it was 80s earlier. There was a nice cool breeze too. 

We went to listen to the ranger talk at sunset and learned more about the animals, plants, and history of the park. It’s sad to hear that the Joshua Tree might be an endangered species in the next century or so because of the higher than usual lack of water. More long-term signs of the California drought. There is a tree called the ocotillo I learned about that has extreme responses to the weather - intentionally suspends growth in warm, hot weather, and restarts growth when the rain starts coming down again. It reminds me of a Phoenix bird. 

Tomorrow, exploring more J Tree. 

Day 2 // Joshua Tree NP, CA // May 26, 2018, 8:30 pm PT

Being here feels like being on another planet. Again, I feel so small and vulnerable, and the environment surrounding envelopes me. This time, it’s endless, rolling mountains of old magma, broken crumbled rock, cacti, and dirt. At some point on our walk today, I got a little nervous being out in the middle of the desert without any water and so far from any vegetation. I've never felt the slightest worry like that, even when we’d gone backpacking.

After the hike, we drove into Pioneertown for drinks and lunch at Pappy and Harriet’s, an old kitschy saloon that’s also a music venue - Elton John, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant…

Kev and I went on a walk to the rocks again to watch the sunset in ultimate pure solitude. It was a beautiful blue lavender salmon gradient. 

Feeling gratitude for not having much at all to worry about right now. 

Day 3 // Zion NP, UT // May 28, 2018, 12 am MT

We made it to Utah. Left JT around 9 this morning and got way ahead of schedule. We passed through Nevada, and on the way we hopped onto a 2 lane freeway through an area called Desert Flatts (not CA) - about 60 miles of somewhat untouched land. Mountains miles out into the distance and flat lands of cactus, Joshua trees, and other foliage.

There was a railroad that lined the road we were on and we also passed by an old gas station that people transformed into some kind of sneaker stop. Shoes were thrown all over - up on the roof, hanging from the top, littered everywhere.

We had to drive through Las Vegas to get to Zion and took a shower at a gas station right past the Nevada border. It was 10 bucks for an unlimited time, so we all shared 2. 

I already know this was the highlight of my trip.

Driving through Arizona and Utah has been unreal. It was my first time driving through a tall, narrow gorge like that, brown and auburn rocks framing our car. I've never seen anything like this landscape. I’m not used to it, and I can understand the fascination with these soaring cliffs, why people love to explore, hike, climb, camp, ride in this area.

We set up camp at Zion West Ranch - a self-serve, drive-up campground about 20 minutes from the park. It's 1,200 acres of open farmland, porta potties, and incredible views of the Utah landscape. We're one of maybe 5-6 campers also in our area, but everyone's about a half mile to a mile away from us. The moonlight illuminates the ranch in a haunting way, and the other campers have their campfires going. Seeing their tiny embers out in the distance reminds me of soldiers lighting up their fires at a fort.

Dave’s got a really cool set up and basically could run away from home with his jeep. Tonight we talked about aliens and ghosts which I didn’t really like. My imagination runs wild being isolated at this camp in the darkness.

Day 4 // Zion NP, UT // May 28, 2018, 11:30 pm MT

Today we hiked Angel’s Landing and went swimming in the Narrows. Angel’s Landing was about 5 miles RT, mostly a bunch of switchbacks on the way up and chains lining the cliff-side part of the route. Lots of people. The walk up the mountain ridges was sketchy and fun but basically try not to be dumb, fall off and die.

Around 3:30 we finished the hike and took the shuttle to the Narrows. Zion is like a theme park. Lots of family folk, narrated shuttle rides to every single attraction, and probably one of the more commercial gift shops I've seen at a National Park. I don't mind it. It's been easy to get around.

Marcus’ foot wasn’t feeling too good after Angel’s Landing, so we stopped off a little early on the trail and went swimming in the Virgin River. It felt nice to swim in the cold water, rinse off the day’s sweat and dirt, and to soak our feet. Kevin went on to hike in the Narrows where he got in about thigh deep. Gotta come back another time. 

Zion is beautiful. Steep, red brown, maroon colored canyons all created by the Virgin River, which is honestly unassuming but still powerful. While we were here, it wasn’t raging as fast as I’ve seen the Eel River, Kaweah, or even the American River. That's what I've got for reference. But it wore down hundreds of years of this vast park, tall mountains…that’s crazy. This place is more lush than Joshua Tree and I love that they’ve been so different that way. 

Just 2 days ago, we were in a desert with light sand, rock formations made of magma, Joshua trees, flat lands. And today, it’s sweeping towers of red rock.

We’re not sick of each other yet, I think it must be a good sign. 

Tomorrow, Bryce Canyon and Arches. 

Day 5 // Bryce Canyon and Arches NP, UT // May 29, 2018 11:40 pm MT

This morning we packed up Zion West camp and headed to Bryce Canyon, about 2.5 hours out of ZNP. Being there felt like what I’d imagine Mars is like. Tall, narrow, crumbly rock structures in gradients of pearl, sand, autumn, and a similar light red that make up the canyons. We did the Navajo/Queens Garden Trail. Do it counterclockwise, unlike what the park guide recommends, to avoid finishing on a steep, nasty incline.

Down in the canyon, it was sandy and warm, and everyone's voice echoed from up top to the canyon floor. Looking up, the canyon reminded me of the rock formations at Joshua Tree, except more red, frail (looking), and taller. At the top of the hike, looking out into the distance, I saw miles of these phallic red rock structures layering the land. Yeah it's like nothing I’ve ever seen. 

We drove about six hours to continue on to Arches, stopping over in Green River for some bomb tacos at a Mexican food truck parked at an old gas station. The food truck owners also took over the inside of what was the Shell convenience store, transforming it into an extended kitchen, extra seats, and an area for salsa, condiments, and utensils.

On the way, we passed through rolling hills of Utah’s rural backcountry. Open grazing roads, kids ATVing and small towns here and there. Now we’re posted up at a camp spot near Arches. This one's more of an RV park and there are some flat-tire RVs here with outdoor living room setups, here for the longer run. Tomorrow, more hiking, then we’re driving off to Tetons - Wyoming. 

Day 6 // Arches National Park, UT // May 30, 2018, 5 pm MT

I’m pretty tired. Arches is a relatively small park but there’s a lot to see. It took 30 minutes for us to get through the entrance, and every site we went to had a good amount of people.

Our last stop was Delicate Arch. Kevin and I hiked up a pretty steep, gradual incline on these long flatbeds and up to the rocks. Out in the distance, we saw more arches and these U-shaped plateaus hollowed out by water with trees and bushes growing in them. As we got closer to the Arch, the winds got really strong and small dust particles would go flying into my face and sandwich. 

The Arch was a tall 60 foot structure like a roller coaster loop without the loop. It started drizzling while we were about to leave and I ended up slipping and twisting my ankle, and knocking my knee pretty bad on the rock. 

Now, we’ve all just showered and we’re doing our own things before we drive out for dinner in Moab. Really glad this camp has showers and laundry, if we wanted to do it.

Earlier on in the trip, we experienced the beauty of Utah liquor laws. Drinks sold at grocery/convenience stores don't have an ABV higher than 3.25%. I learned breweries make specific beer batches with lower ABV content for Utah. Higher ABV drinks (over 3.25%) are sold at full service liquor stores and some restaurants. 

When we went to Moab Brewery to top off our day, it seemed like almost everything over 3.25% was canned, no draft. Someone tell me how that works? Is that like making me buy a can of Coke instead of letting me get the Coke Slurpee? Good thing we imported some stuff. It was funny when Dave got stoked on seeing Lime-A-Ritas at the 7-11 outside the park, then he caught the fine print.

Day 7 // Grand Tetons National Park, WY // May 31, 2018, 10:30 pm MT

We drove for almost 12 hours today from Utah.

Driving through Idaho and Wyoming has been much different than Utah. Lots of mountainous landscapes, rolling green hills, farmland, open ranges, random small streams, the Snake River (which was HUGE and fast - much bigger than the Virgin River. Who knows, maybe it’ll carve a canyon in a few hundred years), snow-capped ranges and many dense forests.

We drove mostly through Idaho to get from Utah to Wyoming. It must be about 40 degrees out now, and 70s when we got in. It’s nice that it’s a little bit of a weather change from the hotter days we’ve been having. 

Tomorrow it sounds like we’re taking a chill day driving through the Park, not a ton of hiking, which is cool with me. My knee is kinda painful today. 

Day 8 // Grand Tetons National Park, WY // June 1, 2018, 7:22 pm MT

Rain limited our plans for today, so we spent some time walking/driving to check out the views of the Tetons and take photos.

Luckily the view is mostly the same from the main road so after we drove around, we went to take a shower near the visitor center. Always feels nice to get clean. Taking every chance I get.

We’re all feeling pretty beat today and didn’t end up hiking. We spent the afternoon in downtown Jackson to grab lunch. 

We stopped off at this spot called Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a type of casino-esque/western style with red carpet, bright lights, horse saddle bar stools, Old Western scene art, bullhorn decorations and some pool tables. (Kanye West had his album release party this night, and apparently this is where the after party happened.) 

The drive from our camp to town must be bout 30 minutes or so and it passes through a long green field overlooking the Tetons. I saw some wild elk, deer and horses running in the fields. 

Now we’re cruising in the tent. It’s raining outside. I’m enjoying this down time to hang out in the tent, alone with Marcus, with no plans but just to wait for the weather to clear up. Then we’ll cook dinner.

We have a pretty early start tomorrow – our goal is to get on the road at 7:30 to hit Bend, Oregon.

Tomorrow night we sleep in beds.

Day 9 // Bend, OR // June 2, 2018, 11:45 pm PT

It was such a stretch getting here. After driving for 13 hours from Wyoming, we’re spending the night in Bend at an in-law, located on a local family's ranch. The shower is outdoors, right next to where the horses hang out. One of em hung out while I cleaned up. Pretty cool!

I tried to sleep through most of my turn being a passenger. When I did wake up and peek out the windows, I saw the Snake River again, which I saw start all the way back in Wyoming.

When we finally reached Oregon, there were about 3 or 4 of these small, somewhat deserted towns - restaurants, bars, stores, shoe repair shows, auto repair shops. I couldn’t tell if it was just low traffic or really empty towns. We caught the sunset as we finally got into Bend. 

The clouds started off all cotton ball shaped, then stringy, and then the violet, maroon, pumpkin gradient kicked in. It lit up all the pine trees in the field really nice. Our last day in the park/on the road is tomorrow. Crater Lake is about 2 hours from here. Then off to SF. 

Even with the seemingly low potential of getting hurt on a hike, cars breaking down, or yeah I guess not making it back home, I didn't worry much about anything on this trip. Most days before this, I spent much time with furrowed brows, an unhealthy amount of time reeling or being pessimistic about the future. Things were darker, I had my one good reason. The trip made me alright. When you're out on the road, engulfed by unfamiliar surroundings and kind people you want to doubt, you're forced to put yourself in the present to understand how to acclimate and react. Turns out, people are kind, no matter how many Trump bumper stickers and banners, and the one Confederate flag we saw. Mexican food is great in Utah. Trucker bathrooms are so practical and clean. Getting fed and drunk on the cheap happens outside of SF. The sunset is much better up on your own massive rock in the middle of the desert. Us four get along well and are ok eating PB&Js every day. Driving between states is fun and can be legally fast, with hundreds of miles of otherworldly flat, open, undeveloped land. The great outdoors is still magnificent, diverse, and sprawling beyond anything I can imagine.

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