STATE 20: CALIFORNIA, PART II
[PLEASE BE PATIENT AS BEAUTIFUL IMAGES LOAD]
Because there were over 1,600 edited images from our journey throughout California (and that’s after rounds editing them down), it had to be broken up into two part blog posts — view Part I.
With three [HAS HEART] projects in Cali, we did a lot zig-zagging up and over nearly the entire state. We didn’t know how likely it’d be if we’d ever be able to get to many of these places again, so we made every effort to drive the extra miles to make the most of our time in The Golden State.
Big Sur was incredible. But giant, and I mean GIANT, trees are even more mind-boggling than we imagined they would be — and older, like over 3,000 years old. We made it to camp on a rainy afternoon and found a site at Potwisha Campground. We had enough daylight left to drive up the mountainside to the Giant Forest, first pulling-off to witness the snowstorm thousands of feet above that we were about to drive through to get there, which looked more intimidating than it actually was — thankfully.
Our first stop was a short hike to view the star tree, the General Sherman, which is the largest tree in the world. Yes, the largest in THE WORLD. Mind-blowing. It’s no wonder that Sequoia was the second national park to be federally protected way back in 1890. It was created to protect the giant sequoia trees from logging, making it the first national park formed to protect a living organism: Sequoiadendron giganteum.
The next morning the weather couldn’t be any more different. The snow and clouds cleared to sun and blue skies. There were still traces of snow, especially in the shadows, but it we had our new hiking shoes and were ready for it.
Pictures just don’t do these gentle giants justice.
After a very quick stay in Sequoia, we continued heading north. Our next stop: Yosemite National Park.
We had two route options, or so we thought. Unfortunately due to recent forest fires and flooding, the route around the park was closed, forcing us to drive through Yosemite to get to our campsite on the other side at Yosemite Lakes RV Resort. What started off as rain, quickly became snow the higher and higher we climbed.
With knuckles whiter than the snow itself, it was a race against the Mother Nature. Then I felt the worst feeling you’d ever want to feel pulling your life behind you: the road was becoming so slippery, that our Airstream started pulling us backwards down the mountain. Although it only slide back down a few feet, it felt like we were dangling from the mountainside. Just like that, we were stuck in the middle of the road halfway up a mountainside.
Without flares or emergency cones, we set out anything and everything we could to make sure we wouldn’t get hit from cars going up or down. As the snow got heavier and heavier, we became more and more invisible. After about 20-30 minutes, a park ranger drove up and checked on us, making sure we were safe and protected. Turned out, there was a car accident ahead and they were closing the highway. They said to wait it out inside the trailer with the heat on, and they’d send a tow truck and chain gang as soon as we could. About another 30-45 minutes, we got an assisting tow up the hill to a pull-out area and about $500 later, got chains put on two truck tires and two trailer tires.
Even with chains, the final 20+ miles to our campsite wasn’t a cakewalk. But of course, the next day the sun was out and the melting snow made for a beautiful backdrop for our first day in Yosemite. With dry roads, it was a much more enjoyable drive into Yosemite Valley.
We were welcomed into the Valley by none other than El Capitan, the 3,000ft. high granite wall that was recently climbed without ropes by Alex Honnold as evidenced in the breathtaking documentary, Free Solo.
Instead of risking our lives to climb a rock wall, we opted to keep our feet on solid ground and walk the valley beneath Half Dome, where Kendra just had to touch all the moss she could reach.
Fortunately for us, recent rains and melted snow from the Winter meant flowing waterfalls. It was a good thing we were layered up in sweatshirts and our Alpha Industries jackets though, because that mist was COLD.
We decided to spend our final morning hiking around Hetch Hetchy, the glacial valley turned into a reservoir water system that supplies the San Francisco bay area 167 miles downstream.
We then had to begin working our way towards San Francisco for our third and final state project. But before we made it to the big city, we were able to find a bit more peace and quiet at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, just outside of Napa Valley.
Fans of a nice glass of wine, we were even bigger fans of wine country. Rolling hills covered in trees and grape vines, what else could you ask for?
Cheaper wine tasting costs would be our answer. We were unpleasantly surprised how much it cost to taste wines at some of these wineries, and that’s only if you had a reservation to even get in to some of them. As an outsider, that’s the annoyance of the wine industry. It can be a bit elitist and snobbery.
Always on a budget, we split a tasting and called it that, enjoying our boxed wine back at our campsite in the comfort of our trailer and our sweats.
We only spent two nights in wine country before heading towards the Bay Area. We had an event with AIGA San Francisco that we needed to get to. What better place to prepare our presentation than from a hammock at Samuel P. Taylor State Park with a local Benny Gold x Four Barrel Coffee roast?
As busy and go-go-go as our lifestyle is, having these moments to ourselves is what we cherish most.
Cue the theme song from Full House, because we visited all the San Francisco sights we could, starting with the Golden Gate Bridge, The Painted Ladies, and one of the graphic designers that I’ve looked up to for nearly a decade, Benny Gold, who recently decided to close down his brand because it simply became larger than himself and more than he wanted it to become — which I respect and am glad I had the opportunity to visit before he made the announcement.
Driving these hills is no joke. I’m just glad we didn’t have our Airstream in tow behind us because that would have been a nervous nightmare. Can you imagine trying to drive those eight hairpin turns down Lombard Street, the “crookedest street in the world”?! That would have been impossible. Literally, impossible.
One of the countries I must want to visit is Japan. Without any near-future plans to make it there, the Japanese Tea Garden is probably one of the best stand-ins in the US, it’s also the oldest. It dates back to 1894 when it was planted for the upcoming World’s Fair by John McLaren and Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara.
From 1895-1942, Hagiwara and his family resided, cared for, and further developed the Japanese Tea Garden. Then Pearl Harbor happened and World War II was famously declared in President Roosevelt’s Infamy Speech. Makoto and his family were forced from their home and taken to concentration camps with over 120,00+ Japanese Americans.
Much of the garden was destroyed, sculptures vanished, and many plants succumbed from lack of care. It took years for the garden to come back into bloom and in 1953, a 9,000 pound Japanese offering called the Lantern of Peace was added as a symbol to ease the tensions associated with the past — if only it was that easy.
San Francisco is also very well known for its incredible Chinatown, the oldest in the country (established in 1848) which is home to the largest population of Chinese residents living outside of China. Having been to China numerous times visiting footwear factories and suppliers, it felt like I was transported back there but this time with enough English-translated signs to know where we were going.
Even if you know where you are, it’s still good to be at the right place at the right time. While walking up the streets, we smelled it. We didn’t know what it was yet, but we both were drawn to it like moths to a flame. We followed the smell and discovered it was egg custard tarts from within the Golden Gate Bakery. It’s so well known for its egg custard tarts and is apparently sold-out of them or even closed that it has its own fan-managed Facebook page and website to help safe people from the potential disappointment of not getting their tart-on.
Our last stop was by no means the least. To be honest, I actually think the Redwoods is Kendra’s favorite place in the entire United States. It’s not only home to the tallest trees on Earth, but it’s also along the northern Californian coast. Sequoia has the largest trees in terms of girth, but Redwoods are their taller cousins.
The beauty of the Redwoods is not just the trees, but the lush, tropical vegetation that fills its forest floors. It’s so lush that there’s an actual valley full of ferns that scale the cliff walls that guide a river out to the ocean. It’s fittingly called Fern Valley, and Kendra was in heaven.
I just wish my shoes were waterproof. Bring waterproof shoes.
We thought the Sequoias were tall, but the Redwoods are even taller. The weather was perfectly cool yet comfortable and you didn’t have to worry about running into bears, which brought us peace of mind knowing we wouldn’t die by bear.
On our last morning, we woke up at sunrise to get one last hike in. With coffee in hand, Kendra still one hand free to touch all the moss she could.
Then just like that, after about a month in California from San Diego on up (read Part I), we packed up our site and headed to our next STATE 21: Nevada.