A beautiful message spread over Salvation Mountain that welcomes visitors to the famous yet unbelievable Slab City. This off grid city that resembles a post-apocalyptic movie was first introduced to us on our second day on the road. We met a young couple at a rest stop in Utah who told us about a place in the desert where travelers meet up. Their description was a bit vague and inaccurate, and did not prepare us for what we encountered.
Slab City has made its appearance in popular culture to where even those who wouldn’t dare live on the road or ever visit this place has heard of it. If you have ever read or watched “Into the Wild”, the movie about a guy who leaves his life behind and dies in a bus in Alaska… Slab City was one of his stops.
Our plans to head north to Alaska made a sudden change in December when we realized we were sick of the cold. Alaska sounded awesome, but I needed some sunshine in my life and I was itching to see Arizona again. The sudden change of plans was a bit scary. We were supposed to spend the summer in Alaska to work so we had money to continue traveling. Heading south meant we needed to figure out another way to obtain some income. I had faith we’d figure it out, but in the meantime, we needed a free spot to park and Slab City sounded like the perfect place.
We spent out first night in the desert in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Brawley, California. Brawley is where civilization is at…they have a Starbucks, a Wal-Mart, a hospital. We headed into Slab City the next day carefully watching the homemade signs that directed us to the right place. We were greeted by a small building that was painted with several messages. The message that stuck out the most was “The Last Free Place” and boy, does that make you think.
I could probably write a book just on our two weeks in Slab City. Our time there was an experience that can never be duplicated. We met some cool people and some strange ones too. Actually, one of the strange guys was traveling in a brand new Airstream so always keep in mind to never judge a book by its cover!
Here are some highlights:
Salvation Mountain: This “mountain” built with straw and adobe on a hillside and covered with multicolored paint reminded us of a page in a Dr. Seuss book. As we walked around and admired the colors, there are messages about God and Love. The messages are beautiful and could speak to anyone, of any denomination. As I walked around, I thought about the man who dedicated his life to building this mountain and spreading the message of God’s love. I usually find my connection to God in nature, among the trees or on a mountaintop. But this… this colorful structure visited by thousands of people… this felt spiritual and I felt love.
East Jesus: An interesting collection of recycled artwork that conveyed messages about our society. My favorite was the display of televisions with short phrases as to how the media controls our thoughts and relationships. We also climbed and played on some things. The guys running the place were more than happy to show us around.
The Range: Every weekend, the stage is set for performers to show their musical talent in front of a large crowd. We showed up with no expectations and again, an open mind. The acts ranged from really talented to really terrible. The crowd consisted of a diverse group of people from Slab City residents to people who were obvious tourists. There were also several children present which eased my anxieties about bringing Riley along. We bought a soda, kept away from the smoke and made conversation with several people. It was a good time for all of us.
I tell everybody that “The Last Free Place” needs to be experienced by everyone. We get so caught up on what is “normal” in our society that we have found ourselves among people who would panic over the inability to have a smart phone, cable and internet, or a latte every morning. We have become a society of instant gratification and convenience that we have lost our basic instincts. Being among people who had no running water or electricity, things we consider very basic and often take for granted, helped me see the possibilities of a simpler life.
I remember looking around The Range and watching the interactions between people. Everyone was filled with joy. You could see it illuminating from their faces and it was kind of beautiful. And they were all so friendly and welcoming, even though I was different and I was an outsider, they allowed me to feel like I belonged. What an incredible feeling that was when the world I know is full of labels and criticism and exclusive groups that look down on those who are different.
Would I ever give up my comforts to live in Slab City? That’s a definite no! But, they have something figured out, an inner light filled with peace that I admire and that I felt while I was there. I try to hold onto that feeling while I’m here in the real world.
My advice is, get out there and learn something from Slab City. Open your heart and open your mind and you might come away with something incredible to bring home. And while you’re doing that, stay away from the Slab City hot spring! It’s more like a mud hole and I warned you…
I’ve mentioned several times on this trip how the feeling of insignificance constantly emerges whenever we go sightseeing. I can still say that the most intense feeling of insignificance was definitely during our trip to see the Redwoods in northern California.
Standing at the foot of these trees and looking up a couple hundred feet with the knowledge that many of these giants existed before Christ is a mind-blowing experience. Seriously, I just stood there several times and couldn’t wrap my head around it. Our existence as human beings is nothing compared to these trees. As we walked around, we talked about the changes of humanity since these trees made their first appearance on Earth. How many human beings have passed the redwoods, looking up in amazement as we did? It’s a crazy concept.
Our first stop was at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Upon entering, there are signs that warn visitors against entering with towed trailers and RV’s. Lucky for us, Bear is small and has big tires so we were able to ride on through without any issues.
Our plans to camp while exploring this area changed when we arrived in Crescent City, CA after dark. We headed to the local Wal-Mart and saw several people camped out in the parking lot, even people with rooftop tents! They were open 24 hours and had a coffee shop inside so ultimately it was an easy decision to make Wal-Mart home for a couple days.
The following day, we drove over to Trees of Mystery in Klamath, a private park with a gondala ride that takes you through the trees. We saw our first billboard for this place around central Oregon and Riley would not stop asking about it. The billboards continued and Riley kept asking, so we promised to take him. When we stopped at the Visitor Center in Crescent City, the lady who worked there said it wasn’t worth visiting, but I disagree.
You can’t miss this place. It’s right on highway 101 and there is a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe at the entrance. The price of admission wasn’t outrageous, but it also helped that Riley got in for free. They are also pet friendly so Jack got to go inside the gift shop and ride the gondola! Overall, we thought it was a fun, touristy place to visit. We enjoyed seeing some of the strange trees and Riley loved the gondola. I think it’s a fun place to check out especially if you have kids.
Next stop, “The Last Free Place” Slab City, California.
After we left Newport, we had no idea where we were spending the night. Driving along I-5, we had so many rest areas to choose from, but highway 101 had nothing. Well, nothing free. We stumbled upon a campsite along the highway that had a few RV’s parked. Initially, we thought we got lucky then saw it cost $30/night. It was really hard to justify spending $30 for a place to park when we just spent $40 on a motel room. I said to Clayton, “I’m pretty sure there’s a casino in Florence, let’s just drive there and see if we can park.”
My parking senses must have been tingling because yes, there was a casino and yes, they offered free RV parking.
We found ourselves at 3 Rivers Casino located a couple miles down highway 26. The casino offers 4 nights of free parking for RV’s and if you obtain a player’s card and gain 100 points, you can have an additional 4 nights. Initially, we thought this was awesome. They offered free coffee, hot chocolate, hot water, and soda. They also had free Wi-Fi and charging stations in the lobby.
When a business offers free parking, we will spend our money there as a way to say thank you. Our first night, we dined at the World Market Buffet. Sounds legit, right? It was a Wednesday and dinner prices were $13.99 per adult. Verdict? The food was terrible. Like fast food, frozen dinner terrible. We probably should have taken a look at the food first, but it was too late to get our money back so might as well get our money’s worth! So I ate, I ate a lot and paid the consequences the next morning.
Our second night, we wanted a beer with dinner so we decided to grab food at the Blue Bills Sports Bar and Taproom. It was around 6:20 when we approached the door and saw a sign that said minors are not allowed inside after 6. We thought that seemed a bit early, but rules are rules, so we headed over next door to Sunset Grille.
The hostess informed us there was a long wait for Sunset Grille then suggested we head next door to Blue Bills. We ask the hostess about the sign and she says “oh they don’t really enforce that unless the band is playing. You can still eat in there”. We returned to the Sports Bar and Clayton went inside first to double check and was given the green light by 2 more employees. We went inside and it was pretty dead. I looked around and noticed that about every patron was over the age of 65. Everyone appeared to be a local since the only waitress chatted with them and asked how their families were doing. The setting looked more innocent than an Applebee’s.
We sat down and I noticed that we weren’t immediately greeted. Clayton walked around to see if we could find a menu somewhere. Finally, our waitress approaches and says “you know you’re past the time limit” and points at Riley. I was taken aback by how rude she was, but we explained that the hostess from Sunset Grille told us to come in and that we double checked with her co-workers. She responds, “well, they told you wrong. I just want to let you know that.” WTF? Should we leave then? We sat there in silence, but she goes ahead and asks about our drinks. I assume at this point, it’s okay for us to stay. Since I wanted a beer, I ask what beers they have on tap since they advertise craft beers. She quickly rambles off a list of 5 beers, “coors, coors light, bud light…” and doesn’t even mention the craft beers. I let out a laugh because she was obviously not in the mood to help us.
We ask for water and time to look at our menu which subsequently turns our bitchy waitress into Flash Gordon. She immediately brings the waters and asks what we’re ordering. We ask again for more time and not even kidding, I read 2 items off the menu and she’s back! I can’t even tell you what kind of food this place serves if you asked me.
It was obvious we weren’t welcome there and she was making it clear that she wanted us out. I order the fish and chips, and mac and cheese for Riley. I tell Clayton that we should just share because I was no longer in the mood to spend money there. Clayton gets up to look at the craft beers on tap and I tell him to buy beer at Safeway and to get our food to go. I don’t appreciate people being disrespectful to me and my family.
We had dinner in the trailer and I hate to say it, but the fish and chips were delicious.
The next day, we headed over to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and checked out the beach. It seemed like a cool place to ride the dunes in the summer time. We just ran around and took pictures until it started to rain.
Coos Bay was such a memorable part of our Oregon adventure. We found free camping at Bastendorff Beach and it was unbelievable. Seriously, we had a million dollar view for free. There is a bit of a downside to this area: it is rarely patrolled and there are many permanent residents here aka homeless folks. But really, we didn’t have a problem and found the homeless people to be pretty nice. We even left our stuff unattended and no one touched it! I think this is an amazing spot for scenic boondocking.
I’ll just let the pictures tell the story:
We also stopped at a brewery called 7 Devils Brewing Company. They had vegetarian poutin with giant pieces of cheese curds. I still dream about this dish!
I can’t remember the exact town or beach we took the following pictures. It was really south, going back towards California. On our drive, the rain stopped and when the sun peaked through the clouds, it created the most beautiful golden light. It was too good not to photograph, so enjoy the ending to our Oregon adventure…
Our Oregon Coast adventure was such a whirlwind of events that I had to split it up into two parts. I took about 400 photos and had to narrow it down to a special few because “ain’t nobody got time for that!” I’m starting to think I need to treat my DSLR like an old camera with film to limit the amount of pictures I take. But really, who could blame me? Oregon is so beautiful!
After Crater Lake, we headed north on I-5 and made our way towards Corvallis then McMinnville to visit family. Touring Oregon’s wine country was on our to-do list, but the rain was relentless so we scratched that idea and headed towards the coast where we planned on taking highway 101 back to San Francisco.
(Quick Tip: Oregon rest areas allow 12 hours of parking so we didn’t have a problem finding a place to park for the night while we drove along I-5, wohoo!)
Depoe Bay was our first stop along the coast. The nonstop rain was hard to deal with so I asked Clayton if we could treat ourselves to a nice motel room for the night. A hot shower sounded like a dream. He agreed, so I got on Hotwire and booked a room at the Four Winds Motel for $40. The motel was clean and fairly old, but we had an amazing view of the ocean so the price was a steal compared to other places in town.
The next morning, there was a break in the rain so we walked along the 101 and checked out the little shops. Since it was winter, it was quiet and many of the stores were closed. We found amusement in the waterholes shooting out massive amounts of ocean water onto the sidewalk. We learned that Depoe Bay is also a big whale watching destination. There weren’t any whales while we were there, but if you visit during the right time of year, apparently it’s a great place to go. I guess we’ll just have to come back in the summer!
Motel info: Four Winds Motel, rated 2 stars 356 US-101, Depoe Bay, OR 97341
We headed south on the 101 towards Newport to visit my grandmother’s grave and walk along Newport’s Historic Bayfront. I know I already mentioned how relentless the rain was, but seriously, by this time we couldn’t remember the last time we saw the sun. The color of the sky is gray, right? Although we struggled with the lack of vitamin D, there was a part of me that had hope for sunshine that day.
As we entered Newport, Riley had no idea that we had a special treasure hunt planned for him. This wasn’t a random idea, it was actually a request he made after crossing the Oregon Border. My son LOVES The Goonies and he kept asking if we were going to the “Goonies beach”. We had no intention of traveling all the way north to Astoria, so we figured we’ll just tell him the Goonies beach is in Newport and have a treasure hunt. (Hey, we still plan on taking him to the real place when he’s older!)
The treasure hunt was a success. We pulled it off by buying a tiny bag of “pirate gold” from one of the shops in Depoe Bay. Clayton ran ahead of us, buried the bag under a pile of rocks and made an “X” out of sticks. He was super pumped when he found the treasure. His genuine smile and excitement almost brought me to tears. A simple idea turned into a memorable event for all of us. These moments are what I love about this trip.
Remember that hope I had about the sun coming out that day? After the treasure hunt, we headed towards the cemetery to visit my Grandma Flo. You see, my grandma died when I was only 6 months old, but I’ve always had a very strong connection to her… a connection that I’ve never fully understood. When I was a child, I always felt her presence and talked to her almost everyday. I was like that weird kid from The Sixth Sense.
I don’t feel connected to my Grandma anymore, but that day I spoke to her. I actually didn’t hope the sun would come out, I knew for a fact it would. And behold, the photo above, as soon as I placed the flowers on her grave, the sun peaked through the clouds and stayed in sight for the remainder of the day. Once again, I got emotional. Thanks for looking out, Grandma!
We drove to the Historic Bayfront and since it was mid-week, we were able to find close parking for the truck and trailer. This turned out to be a wonderful afternoon for us. At the pier, the sea lions hanging out by the docks were super entertaining. I think we could have stood there all day watching them bark at each other while trying to secure a spot to sunbathe.
We decided to have lunch at Port Dock One which had a big window where we continued watching the sea lions. We also had this amazing view of Yaquina bridge and Riley had a blast watching the fishing boats go in and out. We shared a bowl of clam chowder and it was ah-mazing. (I just checked Yelp and apparently this restaurant has closed down! But no worries, there are plenty of other places on the same street to find clam chowder)
Southern Oregon is a definite spot on our list that we would love to visit again. We are no strangers to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest was my home until my teens. It wasn’t until this trip that I had no idea how unfamiliar I was with the southern part of the state.
Our first stop was in Ashland where one of our good friend’s, Christian, moved from the SF Bay Area. Like us, Christian needed an adventure, so he left his life behind in California and found a job through WWOOF on a biodynamic farm. Not familiar with WWOOF-ing? It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The jist is, you pay a one-time fee for a book filled with locations of organic farms around the world. If you contact a farm and agree to work for them, you will be provided with free meals and a place to live in exchange for your work. I’ve heard of people working on vineyards in Europe as a way to travel through the continent without paying for food or lodging. In Christian’s case, he lived in a small off grid cabin on the farm’s property. When the season was over and his work was done, he loved Ashland so much he decided to stay. When we visited, he was living in an apartment and working at a local restaurant. Thanks to Christian, we got to experience the way the locals eat and drink, and it was pretty awesome.
Here is what we did in Ashland:
Mihama Teriyaki Grill 1253-B Siskiyou Blvd. Ashland, OR 97520
We almost ate at Mihama every night we were in Ashland. The prices were incredibly cheap and the food was bomb. They had delicious Udon bowls, a good children’s menu, and it was vegetarian/pescetarian friendly. They also had toys and coloring pages to keep the kiddo’s occupied. Highly recommend this place!
Ruby’s Neighborhood Restaurant 163 N Pioneer St. Ashland, OR 97520
We had breakfast at Ruby’s one morning and it was a great find. We had vegetarian breakfast burritos and the ingredients tasted very fresh and healthy. Ruby’s is located inside a cozy little building where it feels like you’re having a meal at a friend’s house! The food is not the cheapest, but we were happy to pay for good quality food.
Elmer’s Restaurant Medford, OR (Several locations along I-5)
We stopped at Elmer’s for breakfast before heading out to Crater Lake. Elmer’s is your typical American fare, but we enjoyed our food and the service was very friendly. The servers were very sweet towards Riley! They have several locations in Oregon, many along the freeway. It’s definitely a step up from Denny’s if you’re craving a good ol’ American breakfast.
The Growler Guy’s 345 Lithia Way Ashland, OR 97520
Very cool tap house with a ginormous selection of craft beers and ciders from all over the country. Downside is when you ask to taste the beer, the sample is super tiny, you can’t really get an idea of what you’re drinking. Other than that, it’s a cool place with a cool vibe. I had a peach cider (not sure what I was thinking there, I’m usually a dark beer kind of girl!) we sat by the fire on the patio where I met a fellow MSW (Master of Social Work) who was also on a road trip. Nice night with nice conversations. I think this place is worth checking out!
Case Coffee Roasters 1255 Siskiyou Blvd Ashland, OR 97520
Locally owned coffee shop with a simple menu, ridiculously delicious cold brew coffee, ah-mazing hot chocolate, and vegan donuts. This place feels super hipster, but that’s just a part of the Oregon experience. The service is super friendly, so even non hipsters (like myself) feel comfortable in this place. I still dream about their cold brew coffee… We’ll be stopping here on our next trip to Oregon!
Want more information on WWOOF-ing? Visit: WWOOF.net
“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
California is a place loved by many. Residents and visitors alike can go on for hours about the wonders of the Golden State and the various activities available for all. Many flock to the state each year, soaking up the sun, the beaches, and the mountains. It’s a paradise for city folks and nature lovers. When I tell people I grew up in California (SF Bay Area to be exact), I’m often told “Lucky you. It’s beautiful there.” And that’s usually followed up by, “why did you leave?” Now that, that is a long story. A quick synopsis would be something along the lines of: it’s too crowded, it’s too expensive, I’m afraid of earthquakes, we have family drama. Bottom line: California creates a ton of anxiety for both myself and my husband. As we made our way towards the coast, I said to Clayton “my chest hurts, I’m feeling anxious.” He nodded and said he was feeling the exact same way.
And that is where the Alain de Botton quote comes in. We had to change our mindset. I was certain this wouldn’t be the last time we’d feel uncomfortable while traveling. We had to come up with a plan, something we could revert to when we feel like this again. At that moment, we decided that a pep talk before hitting the road would get us through our travels in California. We’d discuss worst case scenarios and how we would handle them…”there’s going to be a lot of traffic. That’s okay, we’ll just talk about something fun and listen to the radio”, “gas is going to be very expensive. That’s okay, at least it will be cheaper when we visit other states”, “we might encounter negativity from our families. That’s fine, we can always leave if it gets bad.”
As salty as I was feeling (pun intended), I knew that everything was worse in my mind and if I approached this anxiety differently, everything would be fine. Why am I sharing this story? I like the quote above, and I feel it’s something we can all relate to. When we travel, I find that most of us will accentuate the negative like it needs to be paired with the positive. Think about it… when asking someone about a trip they’ve been on, they usually name the bad parts. “It was too hot”, “it was too cold”, “my flight got delayed and they lost my bags, I was so pissed”, “I got a million mosquitos bites, it was terrible”, “the food sucked”, “the people were rude”, and so on. I’ve recently started to notice this much more because when we tell people about places we want to visit, we often hear: “oh, I didn’t like it there…” (fill in the blank with specific reason), or “watch out, people are really racist there.” My thoughts are, we should try to cut down on the negativity and try to keep an open mind. In my case, I eventually saw the beauty in a place that makes me anxious. I took the bad parts and realized it was part of the experience. Travel isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, there are also hard times and that’s okay. That being said, I’m currently working on saying “California is a definitely an experience everyone should have” and I’ll follow that with a positive and honest comment like, “I LOVE San Diego!”
Now enough with the chatter. Here’s what we did:
Day 1:Arrived at Pismo Beach after sunset. Found a campground for $30/night with no amenities. Couldn’t justify the price so we headed to the nearest Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had signs everywhere stating that overnight parking was prohibited. We spoke to another RVer who stated that the city is pretty strict with that rule. We went inside and spoke to an employee. The employee stated they usually send people to K-Mart down the street. We headed to K-Mart and no signs were posted. We were exhausted and decided to opt out of asking a K-Mart employee if overnight parking was okay. If we were told no, then we’d have to leave. If we didn’t ask, then we honestly didn’t know. I’d rather get a couple hours sleep and get a knock at our window to leave rather than getting no sleep while trying to find a place.
Day 2:We woke up at 6am and grabbed coffee at Carl’s Jr in the same parking lot. As we were ready to leave, a police officer slowly circled us. I waited for him to wave or come out to talk to us, but he didn’t. He left and so did we. This day was also our wedding anniversary, so we had to do something special. We headed north on Highway 1 and made our way towards San Simeon and Hearst Castle.
I was super excited to see Hearst Castle even though we knew nothing about it. I heard about it growing up in northern California and always heard great things. We arrived at Hearst Castle and saw that the area is a California State Park. The place was busy and they only had port-a-potties due to the drought. We went inside to the information desk and I literally said “sooo.. what is this place all about?” The older man behind the counter laughed and gave us a brief yet in depth history of the castle. He also suggested that we visit the free museum. We headed over to the line at the ticket counter and found the prices for the tour were a bit high. $25 per adult and $12 for children over 5. We were not in the mood to spend $62 on a tour, so we grabbed food at the café then headed to the museum which was fairly empty. If you’re on a budget, skip the tour and head to the museum. It’s full of information and interesting exhibits.
View of castle from Visitors Center
You can look through the free binoculars
pictures from museum
artifacts from museum
picture of a picture!
SAN SIMEON STATE BEACH
We headed across the street to San Simeon State Beach. Beautiful place and dogs are allowed. We played around in the water for a bit. It was November, but it was warm and sunny. We had so much fun that we worked up an appetite, so we headed to our next destination down the street.
HEARST RANCH WINERY/ THE TASTING ROOM AT SEBASTIAN’S
We walked over to Hearst Ranch Winery/Sebastian’s for some wine tasting to celebrate our anniversary. Wine tasting is $10 per person, but if a bottle is purchased, one tasting is waved. We told the bartender that we intended on purchasing a bottle, so he suggested that we share a tasting to save $10. The tasting room also serves as a café so we also ordered food and Riley went through 4 small cups of ice cream. We had a really great time and the folks at this place were incredibly friendly. We chatted with them for a while and told them about our roadtrip. It was cool to also hear about their travel stories and places they would love to visit. We left with a $32 bottle of Malbec which was half the price of a castle tour! The day ended up being perfect and a very memorable anniversary for us.
WILLOW CREEK ROAD DISPERSED CAMPING/ LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST
We headed north on Highway 1 and spent 4 nights at a free campsite with an amazing view of the ocean. We found this spot on freecampsites.net and it was a great find. The only downside was the amount of trash we found scattered in the bushes, but I’ve sadly come to expect that from people these days. Our time at this campsite was AMAZING. We had this incredible view, I couldn’t believe we were camping for free. People pay good money to have a view like this from their hotel room, yet there we were in our homebuilt teardrop, camping for free while watching the sunset on the horizon.
Day 3-7:HIKING-BEACH ACCESS
There are many spots right off the 1 to go hiking. We love finding trails on everytrail.com
Here is a link to a comprehensive list http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-big-sur-california
We took a mini hike behind the Ragged Point Inn and Resort. This trail leads to a small black sand beach that is open to the public, but is known as a “private” beach because it’s hidden and usually empty.I read that beach access north of this point is very rare, so it was a treat to find beach access in Big Sur. Head behind the cafe and you’ll see a warning sign at the start of the nature trail. The rugged trail is steep with switchbacks and drops 300 feet in 1/8th mile. It was a short yet heart pounding hike. I lost my footing a couple times, so I’d recommend a good pair of hiking boots. There were several people looking at the view from the top of the trail, but we were the only ones who hiked it. There was a family dressed in workout clothes at the trailhead, so I thought maybe they were going on a hike, but when their pre-teen kids asked to hike down, they were quickly reprimanded! That kind of gives you an idea of what this trail looks like. It’s definitely not for your average tourist, but it’s totally worth the views and having an entire beach to yourself.
View of steep trail
We found crawdads!
See, I told you California is an experience. Information is below!
*HIGHWAY 1 CAMPSITE – source: freecampsites.net
Willow Creek Rd
Big Sur, California
GPS: 35.886967, -121.45916
Website suggests rigs should not be longer than 30 feet.
Keep an eye out for the Treebones Resort, it’s the same road off Highway 1. Once you make the turn on Willow Springs, turn left for free camping because a right turn takes you towards the resort. You’ll see the National Forest signs with camp rules. We camped on one of the first pull outs up the hill. Initially, we kept driving up the steep hill and realized we lost our great view of the ocean. Turning around with the trailer took a bit of skill, but luckily Bear’s giant tires made it easy to turn around and head back down the hill. I would not recommend this site to big class A’s. You might get stuck!
The lowest point in North America is Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level.
The highest point in the lower 48 is Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet.
Did you know they are only 84.6 miles away from each other? Pretty crazy. Mother Nature is amazing.
It was November during our visit and it was cold. We stopped in Lone Pine after Death Valley for a night before continuing towards the coast. When we have the opportunity, we will visit Lone Pine again. I’d like to explore the Alabama Hills and take a hike on Mt. Whitney. I’ve read pretty amazing reviews on the hiking in the area, so if the weather is good, please go exploring!
During our one-night stay, we found a spot to park behind McDonald’s. We got the tip from freecampsites.net and the parking is fairly inconspicuous. You’ll see a large area behind the parking lot with unmarked spaces. A semi parked next to us for the night as well. In addition to the free place to stay, McDonald’s wifi can be reached from the outside. This McDonald’s also has several outlets so it’s a good spot to recharge devices as well. Lone Pine is a very small town, so you won’t miss McDonald’s right on the 395.
The morning we left, we went to the Visitor’s Center to obtain more information. I highly recommend stopping in so you have a general idea of what you want to do or see in the area.
Visitor’s Center: LonePineChamber.org, 120 South Main St. Lone Pine, CA 93545
McDonald’s address: 601 South Main St. Lone Pine, CA 93545
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the word.” -Gustave Flaubert
By the time we arrived at Death Valley, we had explored brightly colored rock formations and canyons that were so tall, we were often in disbelief. Now we were in the desert where the scenery was completely different, and yet we were feeling the exact same way as we did in Utah: small and insignificant. Almost every day, I reflect on that. I find it funny that we place negative connotation on those 2 words. We learn from a young age that being small is a temporary stage. As we age, that small feeling we had as a child begins to fade. Our culture teaches us that our size equals importance and as along as we don’t feel small, we can conquer the world. On an individual level, of course we are all significant. I like to think I am important and that the world somehow benefits from my presence. But I have come to understand that on a larger scale, I’m really not a big deal.
I now see that our exaggerate beliefs about the importance of our existence is detrimental to ourselves and to the world. The way we destroy land for buildings, destruct habitats for goods, or kill animals is justified because it provides us with something we “need”. I am guilty of being a part of that, but I am now grateful that I can see my place in a different light. If there is anything I appreciate on this trip, it’s the ability to feel small and insignificant. I stood on a hill in Death Valley and I accepted that. I am tiny. This desert will continue to live years and years after I am gone and I find that humbling. I am grateful for the ability to feel humility over and over again while we travel. With this humility, I am learning how to distinguish a “need” versus a “want” and my respect for Mother Nature continues to evolve and grow.
We found ourselves at Death Valley the day after we left Zion. The drive is about 4 1/2 hours total, but we split the drive in two by spending the night in Las Vegas. We unexpectedly found ourselves spending the night at a Love’s truck stop in the outskirts of Vegas when we couldn’t figure out where we were going to camp. It may sound a bit sketchy to those who aren’t familiar, but our night at Love’s was pretty legit. We appreciated the availability of restrooms, food and coffee right outside our trailer door. In a sense, the convenience was a bit luxurious compared to what we’ve been experiencing so far.
Love’s is known as a big truck stop and overnight stays are not uncommon. We did ask the workers inside if it was okay for us to park in the main parking lot even though we were certain there would be no issue. The next morning, we contemplated visiting the strip, but decided not to since it was early in the morning. We’ve visited Vegas many times before and figured we’d enjoy Death Valley much more.
The entrance fee for Death Valley is $20 for 7 days. Payment for the park can be accepted at self-service kiosks located at different areas in the park. There are also several campsites located throughout the park and some sites are free (check the NPS website for specific details). Since it was November, the park was fairly crowded. The sun felt warm, but the wind was cool. After experiencing freezing temps in Utah, it felt like summer time for us. We passed a couple campsites filled with RVs and the view looked very familiar. I pictured the scene from Independence Day when all of the RVs are driving through the desert to fight the aliens. The open desert was filled with several campers enjoying the sun.
We spent most our time in the Furnace Creek area. Zabriskie Point was definintely a favorite for us. It might have been because the badlands had awesome colors mixed in, but the view point was an incredible sight to take in. We stopped for lunch at the 49’er Café located on highway 190 in Furnace Creek. Our server was really friendly and also used to live in Colorado Springs! The prices were a bit high. We split a veggie burger and Riley ordered mac and cheese, making our bill over $20. Cooking our own food would have been more budget friendly, but the wind was blowing at 30mph making less than ideal cooking conditions.
Our recommendation when visiting Death Valley is to stop by the Visitor’s Center. There you can watch the orientation video to learn about the land and pick out which sights you want to see.
Interesting facts about Death Valley:
The lowest point in North America is Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level.
The highest ever recorded temperature in the US was in Death Valley, 134 degrees on 7/10/1913
On October 29th, we left our normal routine and headed on the biggest adventure of our lives. We pictured our departure as a day filled with nostalgia where we would give long and tearful goodbyes to our house, our city and our friends, but October 29th was not what we pictured. Here’s the background on our personal habits: My entire adult life has been consumed by procrastination. We’re always that family that is rushing to the airport barely missing our flight, we’re the family that always stands in the back of church because of a late arrival, and I’m not sure how I managed to do well in college and graduate school because when a paper was due at midnight, I was submitting it at 11:59. When it came to preparing for this roadtrip, I let procrastination get the best of me. On the morning of October 29th, we woke up at 5:00 AM, looked around the house and thought “oh shit, we need to rent a storage space.” Long story short, I’ll save this for another blog post on ways to gracefully get rid of your belongings and prepare for a long trip, we left our home in Colorado Springs at 9:30 PM, 8 hours behind schedule with our teardrop trailer filled to the ceiling. We felt and looked like traveling hoarders, but we had resevervations at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek waiting for us. Since we were using a comp night, we had to be present for the reservation or risk getting charged for the room. Now that we’re unemployed, we can’t take those kinds of risks!
Near the ski lift at the hotel
Hyatt even had a playground!
Cafe with lots of goodies!
The drive from Colorado Springs to the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is about 3 hours. I followed behind Clayton in our Jeep we planned on selling in California while Clayton drove the truck and the trailer. We pulled into the hotel after midnight looking like the Beverly Hillbillies. Although we were looking a little crazy, the staff was incredibly nice and even opened the cafe for us to have a late night snack. After eating, we quickly fell asleep and planned to organize everything in the morning. We woke up to find snow falling that morning and we were very impressed by how beauitful the hotel and the views were. I was a little bummed we couldn’t explore the hotel more, but we had to head to Home Depot to buy bins and get our lives together.
After we finished organizing, we headed towards Dinosaur National Monument which was another 3 and a half hour drive from Beaver Creek. Around 8 PM, we pulled into a rest area right off of Interstate 40 near the entrance of DMN and found another couple parked for the night in their RV. The rest area was a great stop for our first night in the trailer. The information desk was closed, but the inside was open where we found a ton of room to change and get cleaned up. It was also really clean and warm inside. We changed into our pajamas, cooked up some spaghetti and went to sleep. When we woke up, we found we were surrounded by incredible views. Riley and I ran around the rest area to take photos while Clayton made breakfast. After we were ready, we left the truck and the trailer to avoid paying 2 entrance fees and drove the jeep over to Dinosaur National Monument.
Some info on Dinosaur National Monument: $10 per private vehicle, but per the NPS website, the fee will be raised to $20 effective January 1, 2016. The park is on the border of Utah and Colorado. There is a shuttle that typically takes visitors from the Visitor Center to the Quarry Exhibit Hall, but on the day we went, the shuttle was not in service so we were able to drive ourselves. After obtaining some information from the Visitor Center, we decided to drive on the auto tour route to take pictures of the awesome rocky scenery. It was Halloween, so the park was a bit empty. The lack of other visitors gave us the opportunity to stop several times in the middle of the road and take pictures!
The highlight of the day was the Quarry Exhibit Hall where we were able to touch real dinosaur bones. The area where the Quarry is was once a river that flowed across the plains. A long drought killed many dinosaurs and their bodies stayed in the dry river bed. When the rain returned, the bodies of the dead dinosaurs were carried to the bottom of the river. The bones were then covered by sand and mud which eventually led to the piles of dinosaur bones we see today.
Overall, the day was filled with lots of beauty and it was very educational for all 3 of us. Riley was pretty upset about leaving and kept saying that he wanted to go hiking and find dinosaur bones. It would have been cool to stay a bit and do some hiking, but the plan was to stay in Park City for Halloween and we had reservations at the Escala Lodge waiting for us! Next stop Park City and the beginning of our exploration through beautiful Utah…
And there it is, our big announcement. October 29th, we are fulfilling our dream of full-time travel and hitting the road for an entire year. We had a little bit of fun with this photo announcement since we’ve never had the opportunity to do anything like this. We never had engagement photos, we eloped and kept our wedding photos to ourselves, and we never had birth announcements. To continue our streak of being unconventional, we thought a “quitting our jobs, leaving a normal life, and living in a teardrop trailer full-time” announcement would be fun!
October 23rd is my last day as a medical social worker. It may actually be my last day ever as a “professional” social worker. I’ve come to realize that there is more to life than advancing my career and I feel a bigger calling with this trip. Clayton ends his job in hospitality on October 28th although he hopes to find something similar along the way. Our first stop is Beaver Creek, Colorado then we will head into Utah for an entire week while slowly making our way to California. We plan on exploring northern California and Nevada for about 12 weeks then we will head to the Pacific Northwest.
We are so incredibly grateful for all of the support we’ve received since launching our blog. Please continue to follow us as we take our blog and Instagram followers with us on our journey!! We are so nervous and excited to explore North America for an entire year!
And to conclude this post, here are some quotes we’ve found online to be very inspirational!
“LIFE BEGINS AT THE END OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE”
“IN THE END, WE ONLY REGRET THE CHANCES WE DIDN’T TAKE”