We’ve just left California after eight weeks there. It was a long time in one state, but you can easily spend eight weeks in California and feel like you've visited eight different countries. We did explore six different national parks while we were there – Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Pinnacles, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yosemite and Redwood – but that’s just the beginning of the incredible diversity of the place.
California may be vast, but it's still almost impossible to reconcile the facts that the Mojave and Colorado deserts in the south and the old-growth coastal redwood forests in the north, where everything is green and sprouting and dripping with moss, are in the same state. Or that the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains quickly give way to the millions of acres of farmland in the Central Valley, where we passed billboard after billboard belonging to farmers protesting about water rights. Or that you can drive two hours from Sacramento to San Francisco and the temperature can drop 30 degrees.
There were other surprises too. We did not know, for example, that the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary contains an underwater canyon that is 12,713 feet deep in one spot, larger than the Grand Canyon, which you can reach less than half a mile off shore. We didn't realize that you have to drive six hours north from San Francisco to reach California's border with Oregon. We didn’t expect to see oil rigs from the beach where we camped in Huntington Beach, Orange County. And we were pretty amazed that in a state that is light years ahead of others in some areas of environmental protection, Los Angeles still has the worst traffic problems in the country and four of the most congested freeways in the world.
Back to the highlights. After Shane's post about Los Angeles, Death Valley, the Kern Valley, and Sequoia National Forest, we camped at Lake Kaweah while visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park before heading west to Pinnacles National Park and then on to the coast, where we explored the area between Carmel and Santa Cruz. We then headed north and east, crossing the state again to camp on the Merced River and visit Yosemite National Park, before heading back west to Sacramento and then on to San Francisco and Marin County. We then traveled north up Route 101 through Sonoma and into Mendocino, before making our very last stop just south of the Oregon border at Redwood National Park.
I could write a chronology of all the places we loved in that time, but that would be a loooong post, and we're already documenting our daily progress on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on the Live Route Mapper on this blog. Instead, along with a selection of photos in the gallery below, here’s an extremely potted version of our favorite California travel moments since leaving Sequoia National Forest. It's almost impossible to distill my kaleidoscope of memories from the last few weeks into a few brief points, but I'm going to try anyway:
A final highlight I should mention was exploring Steinbeck country right after reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, his account of the three-month US road trip he took in 1960 in a state-of-the-art truck camper, which he named Rocinante, with Charley his poodle at his side. Doing a very similar road trip ourselves, we can understand why he felt so much affection for his home on wheels, and we were also strangely reassured to learn that, just like us, even John Steinbeck suffered flat tires and plenty of other mundane camping setbacks.
Mostly, though, it was fascinating to read his observations of 1960s America and of California's Salinas Valley where he was born. Returning there after many years, he was shocked that Salinas, which he recalled having 4,000 citizens, had grown to 80,000 residents, and preferred to remember the Salinas Valley of his childhood, "the permanent and changeless past where my mother is always shooting a wildcat and my father is always burning his name with his love". I wonder what he’d make of the fact that Salinas now has over 150,000 residents, that its Main Street is now dominated by the National Steinbeck Center, and that Rocinante is one of its exhibits?
Either way, the National Steinbeck Center is really excellent and our unexpected encounter with the magnificent Rocinante there was yet another treat. We loved our California adventure.
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.