My last sunset in California, the night before I met Oregon
So after a wonderful week with family celebrating Thanksgiving, I decided I could no longer ignore the call of new places. I left Las Vegas with a destination in mind, the entire Pacific coast. As soon as I crossed into California I realized this journey would be anything but expected. The normal route out of the Las Vegas area consists of crossing the wide dry Mojave desert, but this particular crossing was definitely not dry. Instead of being greeted by a blistering sun and the sight of no ground water, I received quite a different greeting.
For a hundred miles I drove through some of the nastiest rain storms I have ever been in. While my focus was obviously on trying not to slide off a road that sees less than 5 inches of rain a year, I still couldn’t help but notice every thing else going on around me. For maybe the only time in my life, I went to this fiercely dry desert and encountered nothing but rain and flooding. The desert I had driven through before a few times was all together a different place. The noises, the smells, the visuals; everything was different in a beautifully unique kind of way. There was something special about watching huge thunderstorms slowly move along the endless desert leaving behind nothing but water and flash floods. The middle of the day dark spots on the land, uncommon for a desert as sunny as the Mojave, also looked to be performing an elegant almost choreographed dance on the desert floor as the storms moved by casting down shadows the size of mountains.
Before I was able to escape the rain storms of the desert, night set in. Now instead of seeing a surrounding desert, I saw nothing but darkness. And not a darkness we city livers are used to, but rather a true darkness. Out in the Mojave there was no glows of far off lights or street lamps, just a 360 degree view of darkness. It wasn’t until the smell around me began to change that I first knew I was close to my destination.
Replacing the smell of fresh rain, was the smell of salt in the air. Within a few miles of this new smell, I arrived on the Pacific coast. My next few days were to be spent traveling up the coastline seeing what California had to offer. For me personally, this part of the coast was like stepping back into my home of South Texas. Every little city I passed through flashed the same common heritage I came to know of my home in San Antonio. Spanish missions and catholic churches occupied some part of almost every area I saw. To be able to see a common heritage occupy two completely different today’s in two completely different states was fascinating to me. The power of a couple hundred years of time showed me how one idea today can lead to an endless number of differing results in the future. It was during this period of historical cultural sightseeing that I stumbled into San Francisco.
I had never been to quite an international city such as San Francisco before. I’m not talking about a multi-cultural large city that you can find anywhere in America, but rather a city that was founded by 5-6 different cultures at the same time. No where else in my travels had I been to such a place. Today San Francisco is still a hugely international city full of a rooted diverse people happy to share with travelers what makes them so diverse. For two days I walked all over the peninsula, every street being a new place to explore. From Japantown to Chinatown and Russian hill to Little Italy, the whole city consistently caused me to see a city as something else than what I knew. I’m glad I entered the bay area with history on the mind because San Francisco isn’t truly seen until you see it for exactly what it is, an international city founded together. I think I could have stayed and wandered for many more days, but the coastline continued North and so I continued on.
While the entire coastline south of San Francisco was unique and special in it’s own way, it lacked the wild element that I seem to gravitate to. Northern California to me was a place I had been waiting for. The idea of huge redwoods and rocky coasts excited me for the chance to see an untouched wild California coastline. I got exactly what I was looking for after hiking a few miles through redwood forest to get to some untouched beach. I immediately knew I was on the right path when the smell of salt became evident and the far off noise of water crashing began to engulf my senses. And then all of a sudden there it was below me, a wild California beach. Once I got down out of the hills and onto the beach I looked both north and south. I was so happy that I saw untouched land for miles in either direction. Huge boulders dotted the grayish beach and there was little much else except for the occasional long sharp antlers of a Roosevelt Elk sticking out of some tall grass. This was what I came to the Pacific coast for, to see what happens at the boundary of the North American plate and Pacific Plate.
Looking back at the hills and forests I hiked through to get to this Northern California beach
Looking north on the first truly wild stretch of beach I encountered in California
Looking south on the first truly wild stretch of beach I encountered in California
Getting closer to the border of California/Oregon, the coastline slowly began to change
With high spirits I continued north along the coast. Now before I crossed the California/Oregon border, my history with Oregon consisted of only a quick drive through the state at night only to see a whole lot of darkness and highway. So I saw Oregon under sunlight for the first time after leaving California one early morning. Immediately past the usual border town you find everywhere, the scenery began to change drastically. Beach after beach came at me, each with unique personalities. Also the road began to climb and drop at higher grades as the hills of California became the mountains of Oregon. Everything around me was changing. The rivers became wider and slowed down. The forests became wetter. The fog became thicker. All around me, I witnessed a new place I hadn’t seen before. This all occurred to me within the first 50 miles. After a quick hike and climb on a beach of Oregon, I decided to continue on to see how the rest of the state could ever compare. I decided to follow a road going upstream of the first major river I encountered. This turned out to be an excellent idea because what started as a very windy paved road soon became a dirt road, but not the dirt road you might think. This wasn’t like the dirt roads of Colorado or Montana where traveling on them in a Ford Focus would be a horrible idea. This was basically a network of manageable dirt roads spanning the Coast mountains. My focus had no problems and I found that only my level of ambition and common sense would be my limit in this state.
Every beach of Oregon held a unique personality unlike anywhere I’d been before
The rivers of the Coast mountains. An outdoorsman’s paradise
By two in the afternoon I had come to a conclusion. I had pretty much 7 more days until I planned to tell myself to turn around and head southeast, but I realized I had nothing more to gain. I knew that 7 days would simply be spent becoming more and more frustrated that I would soon have to leave. All while becoming more and more interested by this new state. Oregon’s Pacific coast could not be summed up in a 7 day adventure. So I did what anyone would do in that situation, I immediately knew I’d be coming back. With this information in hand, my new daily goal was to go back to San Antonio and make that happen. As soon as I entered Oregon, I not only began to see new places but discovered new places within myself that I wanted. So I turned my path south and east by two in the afternoon, and began the journey home. (Passing through California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas)