My partner and I set out to have an eventful year traveling and, now that we can look back on it all, it was life-altering in the best possible way.
We decided to explore the West Coast and relocate…hopefully. We also wanted to take some time and see every National Park, Forest and Point of Interest we could fathom. So, we packed our material things in storage units and headed out with our camping gear, some clothing, and our pet. It took a bit of prep and, while we certainly could have used more time, the spontaneity of the process is part of the joy. Get lost. Find your own way. Take a chance and you will most likely stumble into an adventure.
In total, we camped for two months. Our goal was to relocate out West, which we did–for a hot minute. (L.A., man. It’s super fun for a visit, I can say that.) After six months, we packed everything in the Subaru and trailer and, now basically professional road-trippers, set out along Route 66 for another cross-country journey where we hit up some amazing National Parks while en route back to the Southeast.
This is the synopsis of our year in the National Parks of the US during their Centennial Anniversary Year. I have never felt closer or more grounded to this planet of ours. It is amazing, the immense emotions that plain, old, basic nature and spending time outside can give you. If you ever need to find your center, my advice is to go outside, deep into a National Park and be still.
BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK // SOUTH DAKOTA
This part of the country was such a shock. The landscape shifts so drastically to accommodate these canyons and mountains that seem to lie under the earths crust. You drive for hours through rolling farmland that appears to continue forever…and then the earth seems to open to these red clay chasms. The park itself has one main road that winds around all the different terrains. In some moments, it looked like a red mountainous desert and then, in others, it appears like the meadow-filled clifftops you would find in Ireland. Big-horned sheep and prairie dogs were everywhere and we even spotted some bison in the distance. We camped in the “primitive” campgrounds, which meant only vault toilets were provided, no water, no utilities…no glamping. We stared at the stars as long as our eyes would let us and then fell asleep to the howling of coyote packs as they made their moves around us in the night. I will never forget it.
BLACK HILLS NATIONAL FOREST
We avoided the tourist traps as much as we could, so Mt. Rushmore was not on our list. Besides, carving a bunch of white dudes likenesses into a mountainside is a solid example of how we can scar the terrain we live in, just to call it ours. That said, the road that weaved through the Black Hills reminded me of my youth watching “North by Northwest” and just how amazing the forested mountains can be.
BIG HORN CANYON
This park was…cursed? Not sure, but we got hit with a massive sand/wind storm that destroyed our tent on our first day there. We spent the night in THE creepiest Econo Inn known to man. I am certain. Scarred from battle and cutting our losses, we decided to keep moving onto Yellowstone.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Well, this park is, like you would assume, on every American’s bucket list. It covers so much area that is so heavily forested, that you end up having to park your car and walk on foot paths to see any of the sites within. This past year had record high visitations at all the National Parks and it felt like every human had decided on Yellowstone that day. Also, dogs are not allowed in many areas of Yellowstone. It was hot and to be honest, we were more excited about getting lost within the Grand Tetons than being in LINE to see Old Faithful. What we did manage to see, as we drove through the park, was beyond breathtaking. It was super strange to see the colors formed when liquids and gasses find their way to the surface from an underground volcano. There is also something that REALLY creeps me out about the hot springs/geysers geology and make-up: the week after we left there was some tragedy where a man fell into one and I still am severely troubled by this. Maybe I am sharing it with you in hopes it get out of my head forever.
GRAND TETONS NATIONAL PARK
The fact that, as you enter the park, you are so close to these dramatically high mountain peaks…well, it makes a difference. Surrounding them is meadowlands and water–it feels a bit otherworldly for sure. There were damn BISON just chilling in the meadows. Most of the time it felt as if it were all just too gorgeous to even take a photo, yet I managed to pull it together a snap a few 😉 We camped on the Snake River, literally on a sandy pad ON the river, I could not believe it. We hiked into the Tetons and over a mountain to search for a hidden lake with a beach (an outfitter employee said it was the locals spot to hang out). We had no idea how strenuous this hike was going to be until we reached the top of the mountain and saw the bluest of blue lakes down in a valley within the Rockefeller Preserve. We only saw a few other crazy folks like ourselves on the trail. One woman with her two daughters were singing really loudly as they approached us and then let us know that they just spotted a huge bear not far back the direction we were heading. Oh great. We will keep an eye out for it, so we know which direction to run the f*@% away! We carried bells and bear spray on us every time we wandered into nature – no messing around. The lake was majestic. We had a picnic, swam in the cold water and watched as our dog chased dragon flies. No bear sightings and, even though our bodies ached for a few days after, it was well worth it.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Okay, the gist of Glacier is that all other National Parks bow in comparison. It was just that good. No joke. I am not sure I even need to say much, just look at the photos. The day we drove all the way through the park (Going to the Sun Road – which makes sense when you are on it) you are cliffside driving with just an endless see of peaks and valleys and glaciers surrounding you. It was foggy and rainy and it felt perfect, to be honest.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
It was refreshing to be on water a lot as we hopped over to this park from Seattle via the San Juan Islands and ferries. We camped at Deception Pass which seemed super cool, until we realized we were basically on top of an air force base that had test jets fly over the campsite randomly almost every hour. Deafening. We laughed as we grilled, drank and ate all the while with ear plugs in. We did stumble upon an amazing lake on a day trip and decided that we should build a lake house there some day – Crescent Lake. Because it is far from most civilization, there is limited nitrogen buildup from run off. It is 625 feet deep and, because it is so crystal clear, you can see almost 100 feet down most days. We hiked to a private alcove and skinny dipped as we had no swimsuits. It was badass. Also, mary jane is recreational/legal in this neck of the woods. Not gonna lie, I inhaled…and it was fantastic 😉
As we drove down the California coast, Highway 101 lead us through the redwood trees more than a few times. My arms were sore one day after driving for hours on a winding, cliff-side road. We saw the famed Paul Bunyan and Babe, drove through a tree and stared at the sea for a few days – perfection. Then, we took an entire afternoon to explore the Sea Ranch development – this might be my favorite spot for architecture and just general vibe with nature, but that is another blog post subject, even though I feel like it should be a national park 😉
POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE
This area of the U.S. does NOT feel like anything in this country AT ALL. It reminds me of something that should be in Ireland or Scotland. It was another misty day of exploring in a foreign landscape filled with sea lions and whales. Yes, we actually saw multiple whales breaching the sea’s surface off the coast near the Point Reyes Lighthouse. I love it here.
Zion was the start to our trek back across the country as we left the West Coast behind. It felt weird but right. This, being the first National Park on our hit list, was on purpose. Everything feels really vast here. It is a massive and as otherworldly-feeling as Glacier, but the terrain and mountains are more Badlands/arid and red-like. This country has so many crazy geological areas. This is amongst the top three in my book. Can’t wait to get back here to rock climb. However, with a trailer in tow and our dog on a leash, that was not on the docket this visit. It was better to just take it all in this time, so absolutely no regrets, obvs. Utah is a place I could settle into for a long while. People don’t talk about it enough, I think it is a ploy to keep visitors away so they can keep it all to themselves. I understand – with the increase in visits lately, Zion only allows cars to drive through certain roads of the park and, to access most of the landmark spots within the park, you need to take a shuttle. We are a crazy destructive people and thankfully the parks services are responding to that. C’est la vie. Glad we got to drive through and it was the right time of year that allowed us to do so. We also hiked the only dog-friendly trail that runs along the river through the park. No bears in this area, so we left the bells in the car 😉
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK // LAKE POWELL
My friend Jenn has told me about Lake Powell a few times and how much fun it would be to rent a houseboat and hang out there for a week. Now I fully understand why–this place is amazing and no photos can do it justice. Can’t wait to get on that houseboat!
PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK // THE PAINTED DESERT
Man, I did not realize how inspiring and captivating Native American art and culture truly is. I suppose you have to be of a certain age or the right time in your life for some things to really hit you and then you feel it finally. I was really glad we got to explore a bit of Arizona and New Mexico because I now feel it all. The Hopi art is on my mind still. This was also the area that we got to see the Painted Desert Inn within the Petrified Forest National Park. THIS was were we learned about the Civilian Conservation Corps and the PARKitecture movement. In the 1930’s, we, as a country, were so damn badass. Establishing our National Parks and the structures within it, using the vernacular of the land/area in order to not disturb the landscape and blend in, as unobtrusively as possible while allowing masses of people to experience all these amazing areas is just SO DAMN COOL. I have never felt so proud of our country and government.
Looking forward to the next adventure…
Over and Out.
To see more photos and read more about this trip, go to:
Love it. Live it. Share it!