Road Trip 6

California (Central & Southern)

January 2022

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I often say, "I'm a Californian, I ain't ever leaving this state!" And although life does bring about unexpected changes, this latest California adventure further confirmed that I am indeed a Cali girl. Rolling green hills dotted with roaming cattle, deep valleys with hidden rivers, rocky volcanos, steep sea cliffs, quaint farms, warm deserts, and the last frost of winter - I saw it all on this trip!

This is a 16 day road trip covering approximately 1,800 miles in a zig zag, loopy loop de loop across California. This trip was not efficient. I just had a blast traveling everywhere, seeing everything, and visiting everyone! Total cost was about $2,000 including food, lodging, travel, fun stuff, dog boarding & grooming, and souvenirs. I did crash on a couple couches, but the cost would have been about the same regardless (replace dog boarding & grooming with lodging).

Day 1 – Driving to Pinnacles National Park Campground

On our way to Pinnacles National Park we stopped to greet a herd of local cows. They were not impressed with us. Brie was a little saddened but was quickly placated by putting her head out the window. 

Hungry and tired, we arrived to Pinnacles. We had a quick snack then fell right to sleep at 7:00pm. The night was FREEZING cold!!!!! But the crisp air felt refreshing! Brie is a big furry bear of a heater. Her hair was long and warm, perfect for the unexpected 28 F temperatures we were about to face.

Day 2 – Exploring Pinnacles National Park

Neither of us woke up until 7:00am. We slept for TWELVE hours! I started on breakfast after the weather warmed up to 33 F. It was so cold that if you poured water into a container, the top layer would freeze instantly. I had to chop a hole in Brie’s icy doggie bowl so she could drink water!

Pinnacles National Park isn't very dog friendly so we were unable to see much (the main viewpoint was undergoing maintenance as well). But I already knew this in advanced and was looking forward to a chill, relaxing day. Our campground loop was fun to walk around, too. We saw different birds and heard tooooons of frogs croaking in the river.

Day 3 – Driving to Sacramento

For whatever reason, I seem to function exceptionally well on minimum sleep when camping. This is how I found myself up at 6:00am ready for the next long drive...... actually it was 1:00am!!! I was wide awake at 1:00am with all the energy of having slept for an entire night. Going back to sleep was not going to happen, though I did try! I took Brie out for a walk around our campground loop at 2:30am. She was annoyed at my need to blow some energy so early in the morning. Unfortunately my idea didn't work. With nothing else to do I started packing up in the dark.

The tent and tarps were covered in ice! I broke off what ice chunks I could, laid everything out to dry (no way was that going to happen in 28 F), and took a break in my car with Brie. We slept on/off until 5:30am. The crazy coyote howls kept waking us up. They must've been having a party! Finally at 7:30am we had a frozen breakfast and were off to Sacramento. 

Brie loves to stop at the vista points. Seemingly untamed lands can still be found throughout California!

Days 4-7 – Hanging out with friends and family in Sacramento

No adventuring happened these days. We visited friends, family, and got fat on loads of delicious food. I picked up Brie from her doggie boarding hotel. She was a bit dramatic.... Then we left to New Brighton State Beach!

Day 8 – New Brighton State Beach and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

I was so extremely excited to hike in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park! The redwood tree is my favorite tree. It's like a dream. So red and majestic with huge canopies in towering groves. Some trees are covered in a bright green moss, others a blackened bark burnt by fire. The contrast is fascinating! A decent portion of Henry Cowell is dog friendly. We parked on the west side at the Visitor's Center and hiked the Pipeline Trail to the Overlook for a lovely view of far off Santa Cruz.

At this point we were tired and hungry. Brie perked up at the mention of food! Back at our campsite in New Brighton we ate dinner before hunting for a good sunset photo spot. I found this gorgeous piece of scenery featuring the Santa Cruz Pier behind the sea cliffs of New Brighton.

Our fat and happy selves settled in for the night. Brie kept snuggling up to me while I was reading. She was ready as anything for lights out and cuddles. First her paws were on my arm. Shortly after she rested her nose in my hand. Soon her loud piggy snorts and snores filled the air. Brie, you are SO DARN CUTE!

Day 9 – Driving to Morro Bay State Park

I find great satisfaction in watching both the sunrise and sunset in the same location on my trips. Sooo up we rose early to see the Santa Cruz sunrise. Following that was my signature cheesy hash browns with toasted pecan coffee. We organized our food, did a quick doggie groom and Brook groom, and were ready to drive to Morro Bay State Park!

Morro Rock is attention grabbing! Its massive scale on the flat, still waters make an immediate impression. But exploring this cool looking rock would have to wait. It was getting dark fast! We set up camp in Morro Bay State Park, had dinner, and enjoyed a blissful ten hours of sleep despite the noisy campground.

Day 10 – Exploring Morro Bay

Breakfast was my staple toasted pecan coffee with oatmeal smothered in fruit, nuts, butter, and honey. Add in a dash of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice for something extra yummy! 

Today would be our thrift store shopping and farmer's market day! It's always fun to see what the locals like. I've picked up lots of unique items at thrift stores and farmer’s markets. My finds this time were crime mystery audiobooks and a cool purse.

Morro Rock is a volcanic plug, the remains of an extinct volcano. We first arrived at the southern side to spot local wildlife and explore the hundreds of cairns. Locals and tourists alike will add to the huge pile. The otters were just adorable! Afterwards we headed to the north side beach to watch the surfers. We decided this was a great place for a nap!

Shortly thereafter we visited the Morro Bay Main Street Farmer's Market to grab lunch and dinner. I purchased a lovely, locally handcrafted mug. Road trip souvenir mugs will represent my entire trip. I will only buy one special mug that I particularly like. I liked Morro Bay quite a bit to have purchased my road trip souvenir mug here!

Lunch was avocado hummus, fried beans, and garlic chips from the market. I perused through the fresh meat vendor market for a cheap chuck to add in a mushroom stew for dinner. But the butcher was advertising a deliciously marbled rib eye that instantly caused my mouth to water and stomach to rumble. Pan seared rib eye it would be! And oh boy did it turn out to be a tasty choice topped with Irish butter and served with a side of sautéed oyster mushrooms, leeks, and loads upon loads of garlic. I think that's the fastest we fell sleep that night!

Day 11 – Driving to Madera

We woke up two hours before sunrise. I tried to quietly pack in the dark but accidently dropped Brie's metal food and water bowls, which CLANGED multiple times before I could grab them. I would have felt sorry for waking my neighbors had they not been yelling for hours at 2:00am. I figured this made us even!

Madera was our next stop to visit more family and friends. This is Brie after her doggie hotel and grooming! She was much happier all nice and clean.

Day 12 – Driving to Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park

I was delighted to wake with this beautiful sunrise peeking over the green hills and grazing cattle. 

What a good morning it was to drive to Joshua Tree National Park! And I was glad to have such a good morning to start with because the drive was long and boring. Crime mystery audiobooks kept me company while Brie slept. We arrived at around 7:00pm. Dinner was quick and I had decided we should sleep in the car since we'd be packing up again early next morning anyway. Also, I had accidentally purchased a walk-in site some distance uphill from my parked car and I didn't want to walk up there. Oops!

Day 13 – Exploring Joshua Tree National Park, Salton Sea, and driving to Borrego Springs

This was my first time at Joshua Tree National Park and I was fully determined to explore every dog friendly nook and cranny! Our first stop was Split Rock, a humongous boulder with a clean split straight through the middle. Next was Skull Rock (which obviously looks like a Skull). At Key's View Peak we could see the gorgeous Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains above us at 8,870 ft and 10,800 ft, and far below us the Salton see at -238 ft. It was soooo windy here and cooooooold. Even so this was my favorite spot at Joshua Tree! I loved the view. On the way out we saw the Cholla Cactus Garden, a unique fuzzy looking plant with spiky arms clumped together like coral reefs.

The story behind Salton Sea is more interesting than the sea itself. In 1905 the Colorado River floodwater breached an irrigation canal. It flowed into the Salton Sink, creating the Salton Sea. This terminal lake has no outlet. The salts will continue to concentrate over time. The salinity is currently 50% greater than that of the ocean. The fish in this lake have adapted to live in its overly salty waters and are unable to live anywhere else less salty. Unfortunately, they will soon not be able to live in this lake at all due to the ever rising salinity. The Salton Sea is unsustainable and will continue to deteriorate without outside interference.

Despite this gloomy and doomy prognosis, the contrast between Salton Sea's -238 ft elevation before the looming Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains enthralled me. I will have to return sometime for sunrise and sunset photos!

We arrived at Borrego Springs late. Dinner and camp setup was quick so we could plop down for a good night's rest. The coyotes had other plans, however, as they howled and rustled around our campsite. Brie snapped wide awake to guard me. She is a good guard dog! ....Except on Road Trip 4 when she failed to alert me to the mountain lion and bear outside my tent. Hah!

Day 14 – Exploring Borrego Springs

Galleta Meadows Estate was number one on our to-do list this morning. There are over 130 large metal art sculptures scattered throughout a large area. We stopped at our favorites for a few photos. The giant dragon was the coolest one. In the great desert winds it appears as though the dragon is breathing down on us!

Time for a quick nap, snack, and some light reading!

William Canyon Overlook Trail was my sunset spot. We would have stayed to stargaze but I was itching for bacon and beans for dinner.

Day 15 – Exploring Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs is a great thrifting town! Brie and I shopped at ALL the thrift stores. I found more audiobooks and a couple PS2 games for my PS2 (an excellent find). Today was our relax/rest day with a big siesta in preparation for the early morning stargazing. I snagged a NY steak for dinner to accompany the potatoes, carrots, and leeks mix marinated in beef broth. SO good.

Day 16 – Exploring Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs is hardcore into stargazing! It is a Designated Dark Sky Community, one of only 22-ish worldwide. Dark Sky Communities are dedicated to the preservation of the night sky. The entire community will work together to limit outside lighting and use special low light LEDs where needed. I tried to book a private, local stargazing tour with a high end telescope to see planets and galaxies, but they were booked solid! Something for next time.

At 4:15am we were bundled up in sleeping bags with the camera set up to capture the rise of the Milky Way. Sometimes life is only lived in the moment. My family calls that a "Walter Mitty Moment." It's a moment that can't be captured by any means, it can only be remembered. That's how this moment felt. Brie and I sat cuddled together on the soft desert sand. The only light in the near total blackness that enveloped us was from cities far away and the Milky Way. There was no wind, cars, animals, or even insect sounds. Completely silent, serene.

The sky grew darker and the air grew colder after the Milky Way set. We hurried back to our campsite to summit the small hill behind the campground. We finished the 1 mile hike to the top just in time to see a stunning panoramic view of the sunrise over Borrego Springs and Fonts Point. It felt like we were the only two souls in existence. A Walter Mitty Moment :)