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The blog of Elias & Theresa Carlson

Tag: California

Joshua Tree, California: A Most Excellent Getaway Spot

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We found it odd. The way the chipmunk staggered woozily from the brush like the town drunk in a bad Western. Perhaps he’d nibbled his way into some camper’s stash of peyote. Maybe he was just a little dehydrated. But then we noticed the leg. It dragged lifeless behind him as he crossed the pathway and collapsed, tiny rib cage heaving, at the base of a small boulder.

I looked at Joseph, “Oh man, that’s sad. I wonder what happened to him. I hope some jerk camper didn’t slingshot him for fun.”

We took a few steps closer.

“I think maybe that’s a bite mark,” Joseph said, observing a small gash in the chipmunk’s left hindquarter. We watched as a crimson stain seeped through brown fur.

As the light in the little eyes grew dimmer, the ragged gasps for breath shallower, we looked at each other and knew:

“It has to be a rattlesnake.”

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Everyone needs a Most Excellent Getaway Spot Preferably Not More Than Three Hours Away (MEGS-PNMTTHA). Henceforth referred to as MEGS for the sake of brevity.

For most of my life my MEGS of choice was “The Place” – a rustic cabin on the Eastern side of Washington’s North Cascades, nestled amongst the pines just off a dusty gravel road within earshot of Lost River. It’s the kind of place where you wake to songbirds and pine squirrels to find bucks with velvet antlers off the back porch. For years this patch of forest and river bank has been my escape. A place of rest and restoration, and a vital point of connection to the natural world. Everyone needs a Most Excellent Getaway Spot.

Now, an ideal MEGS carefully blends several attributes into one location. The first of these is accessibility. Your place should be no more than four hours distance by car from your current residence. This is far enough to remove you from the distractions of normal life and makes it the perfect choice for long weekends, or mid-Friday getaways. Second, it must provide access to an outstanding natural area. It doesn’t have to be Yosemite, but it must bring you joy. It can be a lake, a river, an ocean, or a desert. The most important thing is that it be a little wilder, a little freer, and that it inspire you to be the same. It must also be peaceful. You should find yourself slowing down, unwinding, and breathing more deeply in the comfort of your MEGS. And finally, it should accommodate a group of 2-5 comfortably. The reason for this is simple: adventures are often best when shared.

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My first experience with Joshua Tree was at the age of 13 on a month-long road trip from Seattle to San Antonio and back. My parents piled enough camping gear, granola bars, and fruit snacks to supply a family of seven into our big black GMC van and we hit the road. It was the kind of youth-defining All-American road trip that sticks with you for the rest of your life, and while I have several vivid memories from it – shitting furiously, puking, shitting furiously again, then dry-heaving repeatedly over a decrepit toilet somewhere near the edge of the Grand Canyon being a particular gem – one of my favorites occurred in Joshua Tree.

Like most red-blooded American boys I was (am) obsessed with all things scaly. The capture and close examination of any fish, lizard, or snake representing the zenith of my youthful aspirations (an obsession I’m proud to say I’ve not entirely outgrown). I had in my possession at the time a copy of Peterson Field Guides: Western Reptiles and Amphibians which I pored over with the a religious fervor as the family van rumbled its way South. With each passing state – Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico – I noted the various reptiles that might be found and formulated grandiose plans for their capture.

Of all the reptiles in my book, none captured my imagination like the rattlesnake. Beautiful, deadly, bordering on mythical, there are few creatures an adventurous boy would rather encounter (from a safe distance at least).

On the return trip to Seattle, my parents took us West through New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Our stop in Joshua Tree was brief. More of a drive-through on our way to bigger better things (Disneyland! Yosemite!) than a proper visit. But I’ll never forget the rattlesnake.

It was my brother Joseph who spotted it first, coiled and sleek, in a deep cleft between two large boulders. We marveled wide-eyed from our perch atop the rocks, hearts thrilling with our proximity to coiled death. The snake was unconcerned, brow furrowed in a perpetual scowl, tongue gently flicking the desert air.

Our encounter lasted no more than 5 minutes. But the memory lingers still. For 21 years whenever someone mentions Joshua Tree, the image of that little rattlesnake pops into my head, as clear as the blue sky.

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Which brings us back to the demise of our drunken chipmunk.

“If it’s a rattlesnake, that means he was JUST bitten. Which means it must be nearby.”

Joseph and I glanced at each other and immediately began searching the surrounding rocks and desert shrubs for signs of the cold-blooded assassin. To no avail. After ten minutes we were ready to admit defeat, turning to head back to the main pathway, when I saw it.

It was a small Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake. No more than 2 or 3 feet in length. It emerged from the brush and probed its way methodically up and over a small boulder, delicately tasting the air for the scent of its fallen prey. As we watched in awe, I was struck by the sophistication of the snake’s design; perfectly equipped for its deadly task.

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For more Rattlesnake info visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Joseph and I quickly realized that it was going to take the snake at least another 15 minutes to sniff its way to the chipmunk, which had fallen alongside the main footpath. In the name of safety – both the snake’s and future hiker’s – we decided to intervene. Joseph scooped up the lifeless rodent with a pair of sticks and gently plopped it down a few feet from the snake which quickly located it and began the gruesome yet fascinating process of consuming it.

For the next twenty minutes I was 11 again. We watched with rapt attention as the rattlesnake sniffed the length of the chipmunk, located the head, unhinged its jaw and slowly, inch by inch, swallowed it whole. I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed anything weirder, or more fascinating in nature.

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This remarkable encounter solidified what had become increasingly clear to me over three brilliant days in the high desert: I may have temporarily lost my Northwest MEGS, but until fate or good fortune finds me back amongst the pines Joshua Tree will make for a fine substitute.

If you live within driving distance, or if you’re road-tripping through Southern California, a night or two under the innumerable Joshua Tree stars will be well worth your time. Just make sure you come prepared.

A few quick tips on that note:

  1. Bring lots of water. This is the desert, there is no running water in the campgrounds. I’d recommend 1 gallon per person per day. That will probably be more than you need, but that’s OK.
  2. Bring portable shade. Joshua Tree is incredible during the first few hours of the day, and the last few. But during the high heat of midday it can be witheringly hot. We pack a large tarp which we string up wherever we can. Or you can look for shady slot canyons where you can get in a bit of bouldering in the cool shadows provided by the rocks.
  3. Bring lightweight breathable desert attire during the day, and a few warmer layers for the night. You’ll want as few clothes on as possible between 11-3 and you’ll probably want long pants and a warm jacket once the sun goes down.
  4. Bring appropriate footwear. Cacti, sharp rocks, and rattlesnakes abound in JT. This is not flip-flip country. Good sturdy tennis shoes or an appropriate outdoor shoe of some kind are a must.
  5. Bring firewood. There’s nothing better than roasting marshmallows or drinking beers by the fire beneath the starry night sky.
  6. Bring a camera. Desert sunsets are unforgettable. The harsh flat colors of the daytime retreat with the sun and a world awash in pastels – oranges, minty greens, purples, and blues – emerges from the dust.

Whatever city, state, or country you find yourself in, I encourage you to discover your own MEGS. Find yourself a little patch of forest, a favorite stream, or perhaps an entire mountain range, and make it yours. To quote the poet of The Sierra, John Muir,

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

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California So Far

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We have now lived in California for a little over three months. I think it is safe to say that we love it here!

So far: It has rained about four times – We have felt one earthquake – We have gone camping in Joshua tree (post coming up, when we get photos back from the lab!) – We have taken up skateboarding – We live in shorts and tank tops – We are tan, and its only May – We have a favorite taco stand, and we eat there at least once a week – We have friends that we can call up to hang out – We have seen five whales and numerous dolphins – We have developed a particular fondness for Bougainvillea and Jacaranda – The temperature has reached 100 degrees – We have gone to the beach most afternoons.

These photos are all the product of Elias’ various film cameras, no digital. He is so good at grabbing his camera whenever we go out, something I would often rather save for particularly epic adventures. I am so grateful that we have these snapshots of every-day life. I would recommend that you check out his personal tumblr where he shares big, beautiful photos on a regular basis. All photography is his own, minus one or two that I have taken of him.

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Kings Canyon in Three Parts (3/3)

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Part 3 by Joseph Carlson

“Good poetry has layers that take time to perceive and enjoy. So a person who reads a lot of good poetry has often learned patience and comes to take joy in growing slowly.”
–Tommy Givens

The forever-maddening part is being able to see them, the trout that is. The crystalline waters of the Kings River are particularly unforgiving in this respect. The aquamarine depths of even the largest pools yield themselves easily to an eager and educated eye. Similarly the clear, quick currents of the shallower runs were hosts to the shimmering’s of smaller trout. Beyond that, Kings Canyon just feels fishy. Like you should be getting into trout right and left. Tucked between Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, the LA Times once called it the “forgotten National Park”. To be perfectly honest, I’ll be more than happy if it stays that way; more trout for me and mine.

Anyway, back towards the trout. Long ago, I recall reading in a book, “If you can see the fish, they can see you.” Maybe, that was the reason Kings humbled us. Those clear mountain waters are surely a two-way window. Or, maybe it was the heat, or that last glass of whiskey the night before, or the extra sleep. Abandoning deep runs as dusk descends and choosing instead the evening hunt for prime spots to take photographs certainly doesn’t get one any closer to a full creel. Magic hour applies for photography just as much for fishing. Regardless, we saw plenty and caught few, and I’ve been haunted by the place ever since.

The Brown Trout I caught was the biggest I had ever hooked, nothing to brag about, but a healthy 17 inches. The one I lost after him was the biggest trout I’d hooked on a fly rod. He laughed at me after a bated-breath, ecstatic, and tremulous-1-minute stroll he took up the pool I hooked him in. I thought I was doing an exemplary job ‘playing’ a trout that was clearly out of my league when, with a flick of a palm-sized tail-fin he snapped my 6x tippet like it was gossamer and left me weakkneed and love-stricken. His nonchalance was the hardest part to swallow. Grieving that loss as I was for the rest of the trip did nothing to diminish my gratitude for each decidedly smaller fish I gently cradled, thanked, and relinquished back unto the river.

Granted, I never truly got into “fish-mode”, where one is fully baptized into the present moment, abandoning human cognition to adopt trout-like perspective. But, I doubt it would have made a difference; to catch fish on the Kings in those conditions you have to slow waaay down, and this trip was about brotherhood more than it was about fishing. It meant just as much to sit on the bank untangling knots for Jeremy, or rigging up two and three fly set-ups for Elias, or smiling to myself after they let me “coach” them on how to effectively nymph. Such are the layers of slow poetry. I’d be lying if I said that I’m a patient man when it comes to flyfishing, and so many other things, when measured against those who have dedicated themselves to the art. Yet, the prospect of being able to take joy in growing slowly when it comes to trout, mountains, rivers, and my brothers (either by blood or time), is a joy I’ll gladly sacrifice for.

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For the photography nerds: All photos taken with a Pentax Spotmatic on 35mm film.

Joseph is a man of many talents: singer-songwriter, fly-fisherman, writer, and deep-thinker. When he isn’t writing clever, thought-provoking blog articles he can be found over on tumblr waxing theological, sharing the latest great music, or spreading some form of truth, beauty, or justice. If he’s not there, you’d best check the nearest river.

Kings Canyon in Three Parts (2/3)

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Fishing the Run Well by Jeremy Spyridon

Let me tell you what happens when you fly-fish for the first time in your life. You will fall. You will hook more rocks than fish. You will catch your rod on branches. You will tangle your line into knots you never knew existed. Your skin will burn beneath a merciless sun. Your body will be beaten, your skin will be scraped, scratched and scarred. You will curse the name of God on a whim. And then you will have the audacity to look up as a hundred swallows ride currents rising from the canyon floor into the golden beams of a setting sun and wonder if it all was worth it. And not just this day, but each day that had come before it.

Such was my state of mind as I limped pitifully back up the canyon walls. In the end, it was not my smashed knee that slowed my pace. It was not the gear that clung to the sweat on my back. It wasn’t even my wounded pride. It was my will, my worth, my identity. For the first half of our journey back to the car, I was able to keep up with my companions. But as our ascent continued, my spirit dove deeper and deeper into shadow. Thankfully, Elias and Joseph did not wait for me and continued at their own determined pace. As they rounded the next switchback, I stopped and accepted my fate. I chose to be left behind.

As I looked down into the canyon, watching the swallows dance in the diminishing sunlight, I reflected on the day. It had worn on me in ways I could not have imagined. After 6 hours of fishing and not even a single bite, I decided to lay down my rod and rest beside the river. With my hand in the current, I recalled bass fishing with my Dad. I remembered the excitement of rising before the sun. I remembered the joy of being on the water. But then I remembered something else. I remembered enjoying casting, but always hoping I wouldn’t catch a fish. I remembered taking long breaks just to enjoy basking in the sunlight. I looked forward to the next can of Diet Coke, but rarely the next cove. And above all, I looked forward to the long drive home that included a stop at Pizza Hut and hours spent listening to The Blues Brothers. But I never wanted to catch a fish.

I wondered what that meant about me. Was it true that I didn’t want to catch a fish? All these years, was I truly not competitive? Or had this always been a way to protect myself from defeat? Am I weak? Is this why I fear intimacy? Am I going to die alone? Fuck. 28 and single. My gaze rested on the golden peaks surrounding me. How like life, to survive so much pain and suffering and loneliness and, in the end, all you get to take with you is a few faded memories of some nice views that will someday pass away with the rest of you. Deeper and deeper I dove. Here I was, in one of the most breathtaking places I had ever beheld, questioning my next breath. I suddenly resented Joseph’s passion for fishing. I coveted Elias’s obsession with film photography. I hated what I had become. And so I looked at my feet on the cliff’s edge and thought, “it’s just one step.”

It had all begun with a simple question. Somehow, asking myself if I wanted to catch a fish had led me to question living another day. Of course the thought was no more than a selfish, self-indulgent pity party, but it happened. And it wasn’t out of nowhere. There was a chain reaction of thoughts that led to that moment, and I ignited the fuse each step along the way. Like a game of telephone, lies become evidence for more lies, and in the end, you’re left with something that makes no sense at all. You see, the mind is a powerful thing and yet it can be so stupid. Did you know that your body cannot tell the difference between reality and imagination? It’s true. Your body reacts the same way to a real tragedy as it does when you speculate worst-case scenarios. You experience the same stress when you lose your job as when you worry about that unsettling look your boss gave you yesterday. Finding out a loved one has been in an accident leaves the same scar as when you wonder why they didn’t answer your phone call. The difference is, you can imagine the worst over and over and over again. And when you do, you’re literally traumatizing yourself. Over and over and over.

The next morning I awoke bruised and beaten, but with a miraculous hope for a fresh start. We would give the river one final go before beginning our journey out of the canyon. We followed the river and found the run we were looking for. This was it. I was going to catch a fish. I even prayed for it. And then, to the amusement of God and all His angels, my very first cast, I hooked the tree above me and broke the line. I began to curse… and then took a breath. I felt my thoughts getting away from me again, so I stopped. Like the rudder of a ship, the slightest degree can have you end up in Iceland or Africa.

I took my rod and broken line to an isolated area and sat for awhile. I remembered something Joseph had said the day before as we descended into the canyon. He spoke of “fishing the run well.” You only get one, maybe two, chances to get a fly in front of a fish before he knows you’re full of shit. You study the environment. You observe the insects nearby. The formation of the river. The structure beneath its surface. Each bend, each shadow, each ripple. You consider the life of the fish and where they might rest. You take this all in, make your judgement, and then commit. You comb the river, bit by bit. You lose yourself in being present. And you watch your line with all your might. Then you move to the next spot and do it all over again. You fish the run well. The context was fly-fishing, of course, but we all knew there was something greater at stake.

Sitting alone with my pitiful situation of a rod, I decided to take a moment to start over. I remembered the knots I had learned the day before and went to work. After some grueling moments of patience, my rod and my spirit were ready. I spent the rest of the morning fishing the river on my own, reading the current, choosing my strategy, and then deliberately executing it to the best of my ability. I fished that river well. Up and down, near and far. I began to understand my rod. I felt the fluidity of my movements. My fly began to land exactly where I’d intended. And I loved every second of it. I loved it so much, in fact, that I over-fished the same runs simply out of the sheer joy of being able to cast without catching every single branch, log and rock I came across. And I thanked God for it. I never did catch a trout, but I learned that fishing a run well has absolutely nothing to do with what you catch. At least it didn’t for me.

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For the photography nerds: All photos taken with an iPhone 4 and edited using VSCO.

Jeremy is a talented graphic designer by day. You should really check out his portfolio. He recently made a playlist called River Teeth inspired by our trip, which you can listen to over on his music blog, Icarus & Occident.

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Kings Canyon in Three Parts (1/3)

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In June my friend Jeremy and I decided to fly to California to pay my brother Joseph a visit and engage in some kind of fly-fishing based adventure. We found ourselves in Kings Canyon, somewhere between Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, deep in the Sierras. We have each undertaken to write about the trip from a more creative standpoint vs. the typical documentary style you might expect. Accompanying each of our writings are photographs taken by the author of that section, with a variety of cameras. Jeremy is a crack shot with an iPhone, Joseph’s battered old Pentax Spotmatic 35mm rarely leaves his side, and I insist on lugging around heavy medium format cameras on even the steepest hikes (seriously though, it’s so worth it).

We hope you enjoy our efforts.

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Part 1 by Elias Carlson

The light in Southern California is qualitatively different than the light in the Pacific Northwest. A warm, dry light, it pervades every corner of the landscape. Even the shadows can’t escape its influence. I’m convinced “The Golden State” moniker refers, not to the fabled gold rush, but to the gilded Californian light.

Before I continue, let me set a few things straight. As a Northwestern son, born and raised, evergreen sap and rain pumps through my veins. Cut me deeply and you may discover North Cascade granite where you might expect bone. The air I breathe is silver and cold, it is wet with fresh rain. I’ve been fortunate to travel far and wide, but I only begin to feel at home when my latitude nears 47 degrees.

Despite my dyed-in-the-wool Northwestern ways, California, and the Sierras in particular, have begun to carve out a warm golden niche in the corner of my heart. The language of glaciers and granite is my native tongue and the Sierras speak a familiar dialect. We’ve only just begun the conversation, but it’s clear we’re going to be fast friends.

Blame John Muir. The wily old prophet of the mountains first piqued my interest with his legendary memoir My First Summer in the Sierras. With a brother in Pasadena, it was only a matter of time before “The Range of Light” and I became acquainted. My first glimpse came last September on a five day fly-fishing road trip from Seattle to LA. As Joseph, Tuck, and I wound down the 395 at the foot of the Eastern Sierras I began to fall prey to the same spell that enchanted Muir. Even from a distance the siren song of the mountain range beckons.

My enchantment with the Sierras has only increased after three days in Kings Canyon. It is a photographer’s wonderland. Golden light ricochets between towering clefts of granite, each peak and crag daring you to capture its brazen majesty. These types of conditions are what I live for. They are my drug. Yet even in the midst of such staggering natural beauty lies conflict.

Perfect light, majestic scenery, and adventure aplenty combine to bring out the best and worst in me as a photographer. I find myself struggling to balance competing desires: How can I ever hope to create a truly meaningful picture when the grandeur before me is overwhelming to the point of numbness? How do I actually experience a place, or a person, when I’m constantly viewing life through a lens?

I fear I’ll always be chasing a cliche. I fear I’ll miss a truly great photograph because I’m only paying attention to the obviously good ones. I worry that I’m not being present with the people I love because I’m distracted by the light. I haven’t yet found a solution to these problems. Maybe that means I’ll never be a great photographer, doomed to dabble forever in the shallow end of the pool. Or perhaps struggling through these conflicts time and time again is the path to greatness. I don’t know. I suppose only time will tell. In the meantime, I’m sure enjoying the view.

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For the photography nerds: All photos taken with a 6×6 Minolta Autocord or 6×7 Bronica GS-1 on Kodak Portra 400, Kodak Ektar 100, or Fuji Pro 400H medium format (120) film.

Rivers and Roads

It feels a bit odd to be back in the city. Having spent the last five days road-tripping from Seattle to Los Angeles, hammock camping beneath the stars, and flyfishing from sun-up to sun-down, I’m suffering from a bit of culture shock and a sore right shoulder. The pain I carry as a badge of honor – hard won – the result of countless casts into the riffles and runs of the rivers scattered between Central Oregon and the Eastern Sierras of California. Though the pain will fade, a part of me has been changed permanently. Perhaps the waters of the Crooked River and the East Walker have seeped up through my toes and spread throughout my body, chemically altering my brain on some primal level. Maybe it was a result of time spent in the company of two of the finest men I know – Ryan Tuck, and my brother Joseph – kindred spirits, adventurers, and intellectuals. Whatever the cause, I know the waters of the Fall River, and the staggering beauty of the high desert will forever haunt me.

Aside from fishing, I also filmed quite a bit, and shot a fair number of still photos. My intention is to create short video about this trip in collaboration with my brother Joseph, who is writing an accompanying piece on our adventures. Hopefully I will find time to complete this project in the next month or so, but until then I thought you might enjoy a sneak peak, a handful of my favorite photos from the trip.

Hint: Click on the photos to see them a bit larger.

One more night in Hollywood

If you were worried we didn’t return from California, rest easy, we are back in Seattle enjoying cooler, damper, weather. We didn’t really WANT to come back but we had plane tickets. Besides, I don’t think I could convince Elias to stay in LA forever.

We both had very different trips so we will be sharing our stories in different posts. Elias’ will probably be more artistic than mine, full of landscape photos that only he could capture. Mine consists mostly of photos from a single photo shoot, the kind that only girls can do, many of which I did not even take. Please note that this is because I was having too much fun to bother.

This trip was sort of a reunion I suppose. I spent most of my time with my sister Andrea and two very dear friends, Audrey and Anna, who are also sisters. We have been friends since before we were born. Our mom’s were friends and did exciting things together, like taking trips to Mexico, and traveling with soccer teams they met on the beach. This was the first time that we have all gotten together for an extended period of time as “adults”.

We stayed at Audrey’s house in Hollywood with her husband Izzy and brother Aaron, though we did not see much of the boys. The girls and I concluded that each of us on our own get along well with boys, but when we get together we are somewhat of a force to be reckoned with, and can only be taken in small doses.

Needless to say we had a blast. We stayed up too late, talked for hours around mugs of coffee and tea, did lots of thrift store/flea market shopping, hiked up to the Hollywood sign at night, and of course played dress up for photo shoots, the kinds of things you can do with your first friends.

We are the feeling you get in the Golden State

Guess what we are doing after work? Going to California! This trip has been long anticipated and it is finally here. We are flying down to LA with Andrea (my sister), and Anna (probably my first friend, besides Andrea).

We sort of have separate vacations planned though we will get together from time to time through the weekend. Elias will head to Pasadena to stay with his brother Joseph and the girls are headed to Hollywood to stay with Audrey (Anna’s sister and probably Andrea’s first friend) and her husband Izzy. Adventures await.

Hope you have a wonderful Presidents Day weekend. We will come back with freckles on our cheeks and memories of the Golden State.

We’ll leave you with one of our favorite California themed songs by John Doe.
MP3: John Doe – The Golden State

Photo by Lionel Muñoz

Home again, home again

1,248 some odd miles and 5 days later we are home at last from the Redwoods. We arrived in Seattle late Saturday night worn out, and frustrated. As it turns out the Oregon Coast is packed out in the summer. Duh. Our plans to camp somewhere, anywhere near Lincoln City were thwarted when we discovered that every campground in a 150 mile radius was booked solid. To add insult to injury, 30 minutes in a parking lot on our iPhones yielded only the information that every hotel in the area was equally unavailable. Planning fail.

We may have failed to anticipate the weekend crush, but our decision to take the scenic route down Highway 101 was a brilliant tactical maneuver. Any of you that have driven long distances on I-5 know how intensely boring it is. Not so on the 101. It winds along the edge of the Oregon Coast for the better part of 230 miles until it spits you out in North California. Your eyes are assaulted with beauty along the entire stretch as you thread your way through quaint coastal towns, craggy ocean cliffs, fog, forests, and farmland.

Theresa and I have decided to try a little different approach in telling our story. Rather than attempting to describe our entire trip in detail for you, we thought it would be fun if we both wrote about our favorite part of the trip. And if a photo is worth a thousand words, we have about 25,000 words to help fill in the blanks.

Elias’ Favorite Things:
The Avenue of the Giants gets all the press when you do some preliminary trip research, and for good reason. They are epic and they are accessible. The Avenue is a 30 mile strip through the biggest trees you can possibly imagine. There are dozens of groves right along the road with short, usually 1 mile loops into the heart of the forest. You can park your car just off the road, and 50 feet into a grove you forget that roads exist. In fact cars seem out of place. It seems more plausible to encounter a pack of velociraptors, or a lonely T-Rex lurking amongst the trees.

Amazing as The Avenue was, Ladybird Johnson Grove in the north blew my mind. The Northern section of the Redwoods National Park is not as impressive as The Avenue at first blush. Driving through it there aren’t many big trees near the road. Many of the groves are several miles from Highway 101, so unless you “go out of your way” you never get to seem them. However, you’d be foolish to pass them up. Theresa and I arrived at the Ladybird Johnson Grove to find the parking lot enshrouded in fog. If you know what a fog junkie I am, you’ll know this is the best possible thing. An easy 1-mile loop took us through a foggy wonderland filled with trees rivaling those in The Avenue. To give you an idea of how much we enjoyed ourselves here, suffice it to say that it took us over 2 hours to make the 1 mile loop back to the parking lot.

To summarize, my favorite part of the trip was that we got to see two sides of the forest. In the South we found a prehistoric forest filled with light and warmth. In the North we found a mysterious cathedral, damp and haunting.

Theresa’s Favorite Things:
I have been going on road trips since before I could speak. Family vacations never started on an airplane. They started before sunrise in my pj’s, tucked into the back seat of the car with Andrea. Behind our seat was a wall of road trip essentials packed from floor to ceiling ensuring that our necessities would be taken care of for two weeks on the road. Road trips are are carved in my soul and close to my heart.

My favorite part about this adventure was sharing a road trip with Elias. A REAL road trip, not just a six hour drive. Heading out on the road and living from the car for days, this was something new for us. I love the freedom of a road trip. Pulling off the highway to watch the sunset, getting burgers at dives with the locals, stopping at the Gems and Minerals Museum… because we can…

I have a vivid memory of driving through the redwoods as a child, watching my Dad in awe of the giants alongside the road, Bruce Springsteen streaming through the speakers. We pulled over at a gift shop built into the root system of a massive redwood and selected a special gift for my Mom. Andrea and I hid the gift somewhere in the car only to reveal on the morning of her birthday when we woke up in the back seat of the car and presented her with that magical flowing sand art.

This time the trip was far more beautiful to me than it was back then. Beautiful in a different way I suppose. This time around I could truly appreciate the wonder of these giant trees surrounding us. I understood why my dad drove through those groves at 10 mph with his head out the window twisted up towards the sky.