About a month ago I went on a road/camping trip with my best friend, Nick, who I've known for a very long time. I didn't post anything during the trip because I rarely had a good phone signal, and immediately afterwards I went to Spain for two weeks for work (I'll write up something about that another time). Needless to say, it was an exciting three weeks filled with experiences that have certainly changed me.
I took a lot of pictures (a lot for a normal person, which amounts to a ridiculous amount for me), and have included many throughout this post. None of the photos capture the grandeur and truly awesome feel of seeing these places in person, but I hope that they inspire you to seek out similar experiences for yourself.
Yosemite National Park - CA
Yosemite is one of those places that a lot of people talk about, and before going there I really wasn't sure what to expect. It felt like the popular movie of national parks - everybody says it's amazing and not like anything you've ever seen, and that once you go you'll never want to leave. But in all seriousness, it IS that amazing, and it IS a place that I didn't want to leave. The scale alone is impossible to convey, but I will say that the granite faces, boulders and waterfalls are about ten times larger than what I was used to. And I do mean that literally.
Upper Yosemite Falls & Yosemite Point
We camped at Camp 4 for two nights, and did this hike the second day we were there. According to the National Park Service, our hike was about 8.8 mi / 14.2 km round trip and 3000 ft / 920 m elevation gain. According to some website I found, that's about like hiking up the Empire State Building twice. We actually went a little further and higher than Yosemite Point, and got to around 7300 ft / 2220 m above sea level. The views, as you can see below, were incredible. I would say more, but I don't think I could do it justice.
To put things in some bit of perspective, the place where we are sitting on the left is the top of those cliffs in the background on the right.
On our way out of Yosemite we stopped by Tuolumne Grove to see the sequoias. At the time it was awe inspiring, as it was the first time Nick and I had seen sequoias, but I think the groves we saw later left a greater impression in my mind. Still, it is worthwhile to take an hour or so and see these trees in person.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park - CA
After Yosemite we went north and stopped by Calaveras to see more sequoias. The scale of these trees is difficult to describe, and I hope the pictures do some justice to this. The largest of the standing trees are well over 10 ft / 3 m in diameter at the base, and the stump of the Discovery Tree, which you can walk on, is about 25 ft / 7.5 m in diameter. The color of the trees is a very rich reddish-brown, that is similarly challenging to capture.
What set this apart from both Tuolumne and my previous visits to Muir Woods, is that the trees are everywhere. It doesn't feel like a special, secluded grove of giant trees, surrounded by normal trees. There are certainly parts that feel like tourist attractions, but most of the trails aren't like that. It feels like you just walked into a forest and a bunch of the trees are four times the width of the others, and everywhere you look there are more of them.
I would like to take a moment to talk about this photo. This is a sequoia that has only a single branch left alive. The rest of the tree has died because of human activity, including the trunk being cut open and people damaging the shallow root system from walking close to the base of it. When you go to these parks, pay attention to the rules because they are there for a reason, and never believe that you are an exception.
And now for a brief interlude of photos of mountains from the car...
Jedediah Smith State Park - CA
This park is to redwoods what Calaveras is to sequoias (and yes, there is a difference). The trees here aren't as wide (though still much, much broader than anything you find normally), but they make up for that in height. Personally, I like the texture and environment of the redwood parks, but to each their own.
When we first got here, it was after a very long day in the car and we were a little upset at the entry fee and seeming lack of trails. The campsite was nice, and had a sort of magical mossy forest thing going on, but it all seemed very small. It wasn't until we got to explore more the next day that we understood how impressive this park is.
The camping part of Jedediah Smith is small and relatively secluded. There are bathrooms with showers and cabins for people who want that kind of thing, but the best part is the incredible amount of trails in the area. Only a few of these go through the campsites, but there are many miles of trails that you can access through understated trailheads on the sides of the roads. Redwoods are so commonplace on these trails that we started to get used to them. That's very a weird feeling.
I like to think of that trunk above as the Great Deku Tree after shaving. Also, banana slugs are just as amazing in real life as you would expect, which is pretty amazing.
Crescent City - CA
We took a brief break from hiking to take in the ocean at a coastal town for a few hours. I did a bit of exploring and climbed around Whaler Island (which is accessible on foot, though it was probably an island at one point). This is also where I shattered my phone screen spectacularly, by dropping it from the dizzying height of 2 ft / 0.6 m onto a sidewalk. I will always remember this place for that (and the amazing views of lingering fog).
Bullards Beach State Park - OR
I don't have much to say about this place. It was a beach, it was mostly overcast, and I found some cool rocks (not pictured). I'm sure there are a lot of great things to do in Oregon, but I was not terribly impressed with what I saw there. To all of my Oregon-loving friends, I'm sorry. Also, please tell me what to visit the next time I'm there.
Paradise Point State Park - WA
This was a little nicer than Bullards Beach, but it was really just a place to camp and eat. We did see the Paradise Point for which the park is named, but after the other places I wasn't amazed enough to take a picture. The best part of this for me was talking to our campsite neighbors about where to go in Olympic National Park. I have no idea if they will ever see this, let alone remember that conversation, but their advice made for an incredible end to this trip.
Olympic National Park - WA
The last stop on our trip. Much like Yosemite, we spent two nights here, and did most of our hiking on the second day. While Yosemite is incredible, this place spoke to me in a way that I doubt I will ever forget. The forests, mountains, fog, and snow felt like old friends. Perhaps they just reminded me of home, but whatever the reason, it was the perfect end to our adventure.
The Campsite - Heart O' The Hills
This gets a special section because it was a beautiful campsite. It felt like an even more magical version of the Jedediah Smith site, and made for an excellent place to rest after a long journey. The site we selected immersed us in the forest, despite the car being right there the whole time (it was a drive-in campsite), and made for a great view to wake up to.
In the morning of our second day we drove up to the Hurricane Ridge visitors center. The road was blanketed in thick fog, and lined with walls of plowed snow as we reached the top. Due to the weather at that time of year, we had to hike on the road just to reach the trail head.
The ridge itself was beautiful, surrounded by snowy peaks and dark clouds. We ended up hiking on a lot of snow, which we weren't exactly prepared for, but I personally enjoyed. Though this trek was short compared to our others, I think it was my favorite. I felt at home with the snow, fog, and rocky peaks, which afforded a lot of reflection after a week of new sights.
On the way back, thick clouds rolled in and the visibility dropped to no more than a couple dozen feet. It started raining, and continued all the way back to the visitors center. Any normal person would have probably been miserable, but we loved it. Plus, we saw what looked like wild mountain quail (sadly, I have no photos, but I do have a video of their calls).
Neither of us had been to an actual rainforest before, so this marks yet another big personal achievement. Hoh is a temperate rainforest, with moss growing out of plants growing out of trees growing out of other trees. It was very wet, but in a misty fog sort of way. I had always assumed rainforests were tropical and leafy so this was quite different from what I expected, though definitely for the better.
I would say this is the most "alien" place we visited. While sequoias, redwoods, and Yosemite's massive granite walls are definitely out of the ordinary, they're kind of like scaled up versions of what I was used to. This was more like something out of a sci-fi movie, where I could recognize the individual pieces as familiar but the combination of them was new. It was easy to imagine a T. Rex bursting through the brush and eating the noisy children who were disrupting an otherwise beautiful place.
It's not a dinosaur, but it's the best we had at the time!
If you made it to the end of this, thank you for reading. This trip meant a lot to me, and I'm glad to be able to share it. If you read this and want to visit some of these places, or go on your own adventure to somewhere you've never been before, then I've done what I intended to do. It's not that hard to find places like this, you just have to go looking for them. Now if you'll excuse me, the mountains are calling and I must go.