On The Road: The California Coast

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This Christmas I did something I had never done before and drove home to Washington. I had two weeks off from work, so I wanted to make the best of it by taking a road trip back down the California coast after the holiday. I’m not used to having that much time to explore, but California is so big that I still had to make some tough choices.

I knew for sure that I wanted to return to Redwood National Park. I only had a day to spend there in July and it wasn’t enough. The park is in pieces along a significant part of the coast, so my first stop was the beach in Crescent City. When I visited in the Summer, it was overcast and I never saw the sun.  This time I had beautiful weather.

I drove further down Highway 1 to Klamath Overlook. You drive through a residential area to reach a point where supposedly whales can sometimes be spotted. I don’t have the best vision: I thought I saw something and it turned out to be a rock. I put on my day pack and hiked down to the overlook below and continued along on the Coastal Trail.

I spent the night in Eureka and then headed to the Prairie Creek area to hike through the redwoods. It felt like I was in Mirkwood Forest, because I kept hiking and hiking, and though the trail wasn’t too difficult, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was worried about the setting sun, but wanted to make it to Fern Canyon. I crossed wood bridges and climbed broken stairs before arriving just in time to turn around.

I hiked the last mile in the dark, making it to the parking lot to see a creeping fog in the meadow. I think I was more scared of ghosts than people. My car was the only one in the parking lot and I climbed in it as quickly as possible.

I spent the next day driving down to Monterey. I had just been there in the Fall on a trip to Big Sur, and had seen Cannery Row, as well as the John Steinbeck Center on an earlier trip to Salinas, so this time I was focused strictly on hiking. My first stop was to return to Pinnacles National Park. It is the newest National Park.

When I visited Pinnacles in March, I went for a disaster of a hike where I ran out of water and got lost, so this time I was determined to redeem myself on the High Peaks Trail. I parked and then hiked up to Bear Gulch where the trail begins.  The hike to the High Peaks, though I took a slightly different route, was not as difficult as I remembered, and I loved ducking under rocks and holding onto the railing as I reached the very top. The National Park Service sure is creative.

Figuring I had just enough daylight left, I hiked quickly to Bear Gulch Reservoir, because it is one of those places I go to often in my mind, and I had to see it again in person. It somehow looks too perfect to be natural.

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I had planned to return to Big Sur, but so deep into a road trip, the thought of adding an extra two hours of driving was enough to make me reconsider my plans. I did some research and found Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which is just outside of Monterey. It was a lucky break, because Point Lobos was beautiful and unlike much of the coast that I had already seen. I hiked the trails with much of the Saturday crowd and took dozens of pictures.

My final stop was Morro Bay. After coming across pictures of Morro Rock, I had to see it for myself. I arrived around sunset and walked to Morro Rock, which is right on the water with beaches on each side. It so dominates the landscape that I kept looking up at it in awe. I like things on a big scale. I stood there and watched the sun go down with a bunch of strangers.

The next day was the last of my road trip, and I was disappointed not to find any long hikes in the area, so I settled for Cerro Cabrillo, which is one of the Nine Sisters (nine volcanic peaks, of which Morro Rock is one). It looked like nothing more than a hill from the ground, but as soon as the trail turned upward, I was in for a challenge. The trail is unmaintained and goes straight up, so whenever I wasn’t moving forward, I worried about sliding backward.

Once I reached the end of the trail, I understood what the description had meant by “light rock climbing required.” To get to the top, I climbed over boulders, sweating so much that sweat and sunscreen were stinging my eyes. Despite the low mileage, it was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve done, though within hours, my mind had transformed “grueling” to “fun!” I climbed back in my car with a smile on my face and drove the rest of the way home.

All week I felt like my days were a race against the setting of the sun. There are limits to traveling in Winter, but I tried to take advantage of them, hiking during the day and reading at night. The perfect road trip for those of us who don’t always feel compelled to talk to other people.

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