Western States Adventure

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Well hey friends. :) It’s a weird year, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who is missing more adventurous days. So if it helps, join me on a little virtual road trip to the West Coast and some other gorgeous destinations that direction.

In fall 2017, Lyssi and I did our first real big outdoorsy adventure, along with our bestie/sister Brie. Since that first thrilling and confidence-building journey, adventuring in the great outdoors has become a regular part of our lives. I hope you’ll do it, too. :)

So come along to Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah!

(Click on a picture in the mosaics to scroll through them full size.)

ARIZONA DRIVE

After an afternoon flight into Phoenix, we hopped in our rental and just started chasing the sunset west. Desert in the dark, California road signs warning of high winds, and, eventually, sprawling lights and speeding cars as we descended toward Palm Springs. One thing we didn’t really grasp ahead of time was the significance of “fire season” out west. A midnight drive through Los Angeles, a few detours for roads closed due to wildfires somewhere in town. When we hopped on the highway heading north, we saw orange blazes all over the hills in front and to the side. It was . . . strange. Heading north from Los Angeles in the dark was quite the way to whet our mountains-appetite, with steep winding ascents for miles. After a long night of driving and a couple hours at a rest stop, we passed through Sacramento and made the long drive up to Portland. Near the Oregon border, we drove up into green, green mountains and stopped to explore Lake Shasta. Around there, we began to realize the “haze” and “fog” we’d been seeing all day was just smoke from wildfires burning all over Oregon and northern Cali. Even closed in our car, it stung our eyes. Our second morning in Portland our car was covered in ash.

NESKOWIN OREGON & THE GHOST FOREST

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After a winding drive through woods of cedar trees, under a starry early-morning sky, we arrived in Neskowin at dawn. Walking out onto the beach to the sound of crashing waves was magical. We could hardly see around us, the mist was so heavy. As the mist rose and the tide slowly came in, a hundred ancient tree stumps covered in marine treasures sank slowly into the ocean. The “Ghost Forest.”

OREGON COAST DRIVE

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A smoky but incredible drive down the Oregon coast. Each bend in the road was incredible.

CALIFORNIA REDWOODS IN JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK

Towering redwoods that remind humans of their relative smallness and just how young we really are.

SECRET BEACH NEAR BROOKINGS OREGON

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So this was a little treasure some research uncovered before our trip. It’s not really a beach, it’s the ocean crashing on the rocks in a little cove. It’s just that when the tide goes all the way out, there’s a spot where you can pull off to the shoulder of the road and venture down to a “Secret Beach.” It did not disappoint. More wonder in this little spot than just about anywhere I’ve seen.

CENTRAL OREGON

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Oregon wasn’t exactly what we expected. I didn’t realize it had literally everything. Deserts, giant cliffs, mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, ocean, and even painted hills. And then these massive rolling grassy plains that I didn’t expect to be as breathtaking as they were. They came right after a drive through a massive, mountainous forest with a stop at Mount Hood–a forest that made me feel like I had found Home.

SMITH ROCK STATE PARK OREGON

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Smith Rock State Park is one of the most other-worldly, shockingly epic places I’ve been or even seen in my life. In the middle of not-too-mountainous central Oregon, a short drive from where we stayed in the adorable city of Bend, Smith Rock’s giant volcanic ash formations rise hundreds of feet straight out of the ground, offering views for miles around and some pretty spectacular and spectacularly-nerve-wracking hikes. We did the aptly named Misery Ridge route. Our views were a little faded with smoke from the wildfires that knocked all the forest, river, and hot springs hikes off our itinerary. But it was still incredible. Honestly, the smokiness just made it feel more enchanting. A highlight of Smith Rock is Monkey Face, a 350-foot narrow rock tower that rock climbers frequent. If you find yourself in Oregon, I can’t stress enough: Smith Rock. Incredible.

CLIFF JUMPING AT STEELHEAD FALLS

If you like cliff jumping, waterfalls, or both, Steelhead Falls near in Terrebonne is an awesome spot. Seemed like a fairly private spot. Easy hike. Absolutely gorgeous and a lot of fun.

PAINTED HILLS IN JOHN DAY FOSSIL BEDS

What can I say about the drives across Oregon?? . . . by the end of it, we had all but decided to move there. Anywhere in Oregon. It was all so beautiful! We drove from Bend straight down to Utah, and a good chunk of the first day we spent driving through John Day Fossil Beds (wow) and stopping for a while in the Painted Hills. It was like visiting another planet.

NEVADA DRIVE

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I did not expect the long, desolate drive across Nevada to be one of the best parts of our adventure. It. Was. Awesome. It started with a sign in south Oregon that said, if I remember correctly, “No Gas for 130 miles.” We were truly in the middle of nowhere. The occasional car would whiz by at 100mph, which meant that drivers didn’t have nearly as much time for passing in the opposite lane as they expected, and we were run off the road once by an oncoming truck. Once we got into Nevada, we drove for hours and hours on a long, straight highway lined with desert and ranches and Native American reservation towns and rows of mountains maybe 10 miles away on both sides. It was majestic.

Top five coolest life moments, for sure–doing 90 alone in the Nevada desert, we suddenly heard–I should say felt–this deafening BANG! Our car shook. What the hell just happened?!? We spun our heads looking for whatever just did that and saw a fighter jet that looked like it couldn’t be more than a hundred or so feet overhead. A second later, another bang shook the car and another fighter jet flew low overhead. It was one of the most exciting and thrilling and special moments ever. I bet the pilots get a kick out of doing that.

When darkness fell, we turned onto US-50, which is called “The Loneliest Road in America,” and for good reason. Vulnerable might be the word to describe that chunk of the adventure. I think we saw just one vehicle between dusk and midnight. But we also saw more jackrabbits and coyotes and deer than I’ve seen in my life. It was also like driving through a blizzard of bugs, unfortunately. And the strangest thing was that we seemed to be climbing. The air was starting to get very cold and sort of thin. Eventually the road began twisting and turning as we rapidly ascended. Eventually we made it to Ely where we turned in for the night.

Our drive the next morning was a bit of a shock. Turns out the steep twisty roads we’d driven in the dark were bordered by steep hills and drop offs, and we’d climbed thousands of feet into mountains we didn’t really know were there. Our daylight drive back down the mountains was a little slower and more cautious with no guardrails, and sort of thrilling to realize just what sort of scary drive we’d made the night before. 100% I would take another trip just to drive all around the state of Nevada.

ZION NATIONAL PARK

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Zion was indescribable. Our first legit mountain hike as outdoorsy adventurers–4 miles up, 4 miles down, 2000+ ft of elevation gain, through slot canyons and along winding and gusty precipices–took us to Observation Point and its mind-bending views. This little spot was one of the biggest perspective-giving places I’ve been in my life. Shortly after we got home, I wrote a little about why. Here you go: Observation Point, Zion National Park

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The next day we did Angel’s Landing. Have you done Angel’s Landing? If you have, you know what I mean when I say I have never been more sure we were going to die. But what an incredible and beautiful experience. Once in a lifetime. Long, steep switchbacks up to a lookout. What I saw when we reached the lookout literally made me sit down half-paralyzed. It took me a few real minutes to decide to go for it. All I could envision was watching one of my best friends slip. The next half-mile felt like an eternity, following a narrow ridge with 1000+ ft drop-offs on either side. Steep, slanted, sandy slabs where you hold for dear life onto chains. Stepping a little closer to the edge while you say a prayer, so another group of hikers can pass. Deciding which hiker holds the chain and which hiker just tries to keep their balance. Oh. My. Goodness. It was worth it and I want to do it again, but maybe without friends along to worry about or traffic to dodge. The summit of Angel’s Landing is spectacular.

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Our last big Zion hike was Canyon Overlook Trail, another kind of beauty.

Go. To. Zion. 100%.

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CLIFF DWELLERS ARIZONA

After we crossed from Utah into Arizona, we found a little spot to explore called Cliff Dwellers.

GRAND CANYON

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Just a way-too-brief stop at the Grand Canyon on my birthday.

SEDONA ARIZONA

If you ever go to Phoenix or the Grand Canyon, make the trip to Sedona. You’ve probably heard of it. It is so beautiful. Also, drive this route: 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona. You will not be disappointed! It’s gorgeous enough in itself, but our drive was especially beautiful as we wound back and forth in and out of sunshine and rainstorms.

ARIZONA DRIVE

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We kicked off our road trip with a long drive straight west from Phoenix through flat, hot, dry desert. And then we ended our trip coming back into Phoenix from the north, a much, much different drive. A long gradual descent of about 8000 ft. Mountains all around and big open sky. Our ~4-5000-mile adventure brought us just about every imaginable view. Thrills, hidden gems, climbs, lonely night skies, and dizzying heights. We saw a lot of world in a week and a half.

Remember, friends, that adventure is therapeutic and nature is healing and exploring the world opens doors you didn’t know existed. And sometimes it’s just an unusually long but surprisingly affordable road trip away.

Go adventure!

Love to you, fellow adventurers! :)

Observation Point, Zion National Park

Last month my wife and her sister and I drove 5000 miles around the western States. We experienced some incredible things. California’s redwoods, the great Grand Canyon, Painted Hills, The Loneliest Road in America, a Ghost Forest off the Oregon coast, and the beautiful paradise of Zion National Park. Oh, and a shocking low flyover by two fighter jets in the middle of nowhere.

There are so many stories to tell. But I want to share just one moment:

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Our first day in Zion, we hiked four miles of switchbacks, through narrow canyons and along sheer drop offs, all the way up to Observation Point. We could see the tiny paths we’d just come from over two thousand feet below. For a while we just sat at the top and breathed it in. It was so peaceful and beautiful.

Suddenly I found myself looking at life through a different perspective. For an amazing moment I saw all the little daily stresses and problems and dramas for what they were. Distractions. Life was not about who said that thing at work or whether my boss will still like me next year. It wasn’t about how much money I’d saved that month. Life was bigger than that. A lot bigger.

I spend most of the year working. Full time hours, narrowly focused, in a stressful environment. And while I sit at my desk I often find myself dreaming of that little corner of life that we call vacation. That thing that comes around once in a blue moon, where you get to go find a hidden gem somewhere to hang onto in your memory till the next vacation comes around.

But here, after several tough miles in the middle of nowhere (switchbacks put you in touch with your human self), I found myself glancing back at the little corner of life called a job. Sure, my work makes a difference, and jobs are important. But my job is just one tiny piece of this great big world that is mine for the taking. I can walk outside into a beautiful, real world whenever I choose. I can always live in that world I find on vacations. I just don’t always look.

My problems and stresses seemed about as small from the top of that cliff as the tiny trees that dotted the ground below. When I have to walk back down to the bottom and clock back in, those trees might look big again. But they’re not. And sometimes I have to remind myself of that. Sometimes I’ll need to step back and remember the freedom and perspective I found on the top of Observation Point, the freedom to live in a bigger world.

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