3,200 road miles around the West
In mid-August I receive a call from my uncle Tim asking if I wanted to go on an adventure. It was my great aunt’s 100th birthday celebration in Mendicino, California and he wanted to drive out there and see friends along the way. So I said what the hell, and went for it. It ended up being a trip I won’t forget.
We left on August 22 around 6am from my house. We stopped past the grocery store to grab snacks and food for the trip. Our first overnight stop was Salt Lake City, Utah. On the way there, we drop through Craig, Colorado and met up with one of Tim’s friends from the oil business, and then headed out toward Dinosaur National Monument. Unfortunately the road we wanted to go on was closed, and was a much further distance from the highway than we initially suspected. We ended up checking out the visitor center, and then eating lunch before hitting the road again toward Salt Lake.
We arrived at my brother Ron’s house in Salt Lake City around 6pm, toured his office a bit after and met up with his girlfriend Jessica. After the tour, we headed out for dinner and drinks to a brewery in town, which had excellent beer. After dinner, we headed back to Ron’s and had some drinks (specifically some beer Ron had and some red wine that Tim brought), listened to some music, and watched Jessica sing and play the piano. We got to sleep around 1am after a good night of catching up and good stories.
The next morning we woke around 6:45am, showered, packed up, and were on the road by 8:30am or so. We stopped to get gas and some snacks, and then headed west toward Reno. We stopped over in Wendover along the Nevada border to see where Tim used to work back in the 70′s, and also to get some postcards. After crossing the border, we drove for several hours, stopping at a few visitor centers/museums along the way. Tim has a passion for history of the western US, so we stopped to look into a lot of that. We arrived in Reno around 7pm and met up with our hosts, Sam and Gale. Both were good friends of Tim’s who he worked with in Houston back in the 70′s. We were welcomed with some ice cold local brew, and shortly after they began cooking dinner. They had a real nice house with a beautiful backyard and they grilled some excellent teriyaki steak kebabs for us. After dinner we just talked about life and plans, and before we knew it, it was time for them to get to bed since they had a full day of work. We got to bed around 10:30pm or so.
We woke the next morning around 6:30am, showered, and grabbed some excellent blueberry pancakes that Sam cooked for us. Sam had to drive up toward northern California as well so he was packing for that trip. We hit the road by 8am, and our first stop was Lake Tahoe. It was a decent ways off course, but since I had never seen it, it was worth the stop. It was crystal clear
water, with an average depth of 1,000 ft. The water temperature was comfortable, and the sun was shining. We stopped there for an hour or so, ate some lunch, and then hit the road again. Before we knew it, the sun was setting, and we were crossing the weaving roads of the redwood forests nearing the coastline of Fort Brag, California. Upon arriving, we met Tim’s cousin Jary at the local market, and he guided us to the farm house where we would stay for the next 2 nights. After unpacking, we met up with all the people who were staying there, talked with my great Aunt Betty for a bit, ate an excellent salmon dinner, and then just relaxed talking and drinking wine. Around midnight Tim and I got the sleep.
After a couple long days of driving, we finally were able to have a day with little driving and more relaxing. We woke somewhat early to catch the shower before it got crowded, had some coffee, and ended up hanging out while everyone else was getting ready. Before we knew it, the party was about to start. I was put in charge of cutting the massive cake and serving ice cream. The basic setup was the 20 or so of us relatives who were visiting from out of state, and then about 30-40 of Betty’s local friends came by to say hello. I ended up meeting a few people, but most of my time was spent with the cake. Around 5pm, it was dinner time and we had soup and salad, which was excellent. During dinner, people presented their gifts/words to Betty for her 100th, and we sang some songs. Before we knew it, it was 7:30pm, and everyone was off to relax and/or go home. Tim and I decided to head to Fort Bragg to the North Coast Brewery Company for a beer. There we asked what the oldest bar in Fort Bragg was, and decided to head there afterward – it was called the Golden West Saloon. Although it was a Saturday night, the town was practically empty, as were the bars. After a beer there, we drove 2 blocks to Jary’s and had a beer with him and his wife, while having some good oil/gas conversations. Around 11pm, we left Jary’s and we decided since it was our last night in the area before leaving, we should go to one other bar. Upon driving through Fort Bragg, we found that everything was still empty. It was a long shot, but we decided to drive to Mendocino to see if anything was open there. We found 1 bar open there, and it was packed. Apparently everyone who was out within a 30 mile radius came to this bar. We played darts there and had a beer for an hour, and then headed back to the farm to sleep.
The next day, August 26th, we helped cleanup everything at the farm, and then headed over to Betty’s house to talk to her a bit more. She told us stories, showed us pictures, and we had a great time. Around noon, about 2 hours later, we headed to Fort Bragg for some lunch, and then hit the highway south toward Hendy Woods. Betty and a few others suggested walking around Hendy Woods to see the massive redwoods, which ended up being spectacular. We considered camping there, but it cost $40, which was too much. So we paid the $8 to hike in there, and really had a great time for an hour or two as the sun was going down. After leaving there, we headed south and began looking for a place to camp. We ended up coming across a place quite close to Hendy Woods in Indian Creek County Park, and camped in a campground for $20, surrounded by massive redwoods and a nice little creek. We cooked dinner on the fire, drank some fine beer and whiskey, and slept very well. The crazy thing about the redwood forests is that they are very silent. The needles from the trees fall to the ground, and when they disintegrate, they are slightly acidic, so no little brush or weeds grow. Because of that, there are very few insects, and because there are no insects, there are no birds. It makes the forests even more spectacular.
We once again woke very early the next morning, and within 45 mintues, we were packed up and on the road again toward San Francisco. We stopped in Cloverdale and made some phone calls and grabbed some snacks, then continued south. We also stopped in Petaluma to confirm the best way to get to the Point Reyes Peninsula. One woman in the store told us one way, and after about 20 minutes of driving we weren’t sure it was the correct way, so we pulled over and asked people to confirm. The woman in the store gave us directions which worked, but they weren’t the most optimal. So we backtracked a bit, and within an hour or so we ended up at the Point Reyes National Seashore. Our first stop was the welcome center. After talking to a few people there, we drove out to the lighthouse right along the water. It was super foggy, which we knew it would be. It was quite interesting, nonetheless. When we arrived, about 30 teenage French-Canadians were huddled around because apparently 2 of them hopped over the fence so the poilce were talking to them. The fence basically protected the sidewalk from a 500 foot drop into the ice water ocean, so no idea who would climb over it. Anyways, after spending about 20 minutes there, we drove back to an old Oyster Farm that was apparently no longer operating (or at least not operating at this time of the year). Before we left the park, we headed back toward the visitor center to a small trail that walked along where the 1906 earthquake broke, which moved the entire Point Reyes peninsula 15-20 feet in about 80 seconds. It was quite spectacular to see.
After leaving Point Reyes around 3pm, we headed south along Stinston Beach, got stuck in traffic there for about 10 minutes, and then stopped at the north-east end of the Golden Gate bridge for about 30 minutes. We hiked up to the top of this little lookup, which wasn’t crowded at all, but was super windy. It provided spectaular views of the bridge and the city. It was cool seeing it from that side, since last year I walked from the exact opposite side and didn’t get these views. It brought back some good memories as well. After leaving there, we drove across the bridge and
through San Francisco, across the Bay Bridge. Our ultimate goal was Walnut Creek. However, coming off of the bridge, we must have taken a wrong turn because we ended up doing a massive loop around the cities and it took about an hour to get to Walnut Creek after getting off the Bay Bridge. Traffic didn’t help either. We arrived at our destination around 7pm.
This night we crashed with Jeff and Virginia, a few of Tim’s old friends who also knew my father well. They ended up taking us out to dinner to El Charro, where we had some excellent Mexican food and some margaritas. After dinner, we went back to their house, had some wine and some brew we got in Mendocino, and sat on the couch telling stories. It was excellent. We got to sleep around midnight/1am. By 6:15am, we were awake, Jeff went to work, I showered, and Virginia left about an hour later. We left around 30 minutes after they left and headed east back toward Colorado.
On the way east, we stopped at the oldest bar in California and had a beer at around 11am. It was about an hour west of entering Yosemite National Park. We wanted to go through Yosemite Valley since we were so close and I had yet been through it. Once in the valley, we walked around the visitor center, and over to the local lodge. After spending a couple hours hanging out around there and taking pictures, we continued east across Yosemite and into Nevada. We stopped over in Tonopah to get gas around 9pm, and also stopped into a hotel and casino to use the toilet. It had a very nice bar area, and had a lot of celebrity memorabilia, so we looked around there for around 20 minutes. After leaving there, we drove for another hour before driving down a small dirt road in the middle of the desert and laying a sleeping bags down to sleep for the night. The moon was bright, and the stars were incredible on a crystal clear, still night.
We woke around 6am the next morning, and within 30 minutes were back on the road heading east. We drove pretty much consistently across the rest of Nevada and all of Utah, and around 6pm we were coming into Grand Junction, Colorado. Tim’s good friend Steve lives there, so he called him up and we ended up stopping by. Since we were still a good 4 hours out of Denver, we decided to crash at Steve’s house. We went out to a brewery for some beer and dinner, and then went back to Steve’s to talk more and have a couple more beers. We got to bed around midnight. Tim and I shared a room – I had a nice pad on the floor and Tim took the bed. It was a very comfortable house and I slept excellent. We woke early the next morning, Steve made up some nice breakfast (green chile egg sandwich), and we were on the road by around 8am.
August 30th wrapped up our trip, which was around 3,200 miles. We left Grand Junction, and drove consistently until around 5 miles west of Glenwood Springs we stopped off to get into a nice natural hot spring (it was probably a mile off the highway and about a 1 minute walk off a dirt road). A few other people were there, but Tim and I got in and sat there for 20 minutes or so. The temp. was around 102F, though the inlet was closer to 110F. After leaving there, we continued east until Denver, and arrived in Denver around 1pm. Tim and I then ate some lunch at my house, played a game of Bocce ball, talked to John for a bit when he got home, and then Tim left. Later that night I gave John and a couple of his friends a ride to the airport since they were going to Europe for a week.
Overall, excellent trip. It was a much needed break from the computer, and it was also awesome to finally see California north of San Francisco. Highway 1 is awesome up there, there is a mass of vineyards, and the Redwoods are huge. It was also great seeing family again and meeting new people.