Exploring Parts of the Western U.S.

While waiting to hear back from PA schools regarding interviews, Steven and I decided to take a little road trip and explore parts of the Western U.S. we had yet to see. Our first stop was for pizza in Las Vegas. Steven, the self-proclaimed pizza connoisseur had a place in mind he found after scavenging the internet for the best pizza places in the area. We grabbed a slice to eat at Secret Pizza, a surreptitiously unmarked pizza joint located at the end of a dark hallway on the third floor of the Cosmopolitan. This place was a godsend for this hangry girlfriend who didn’t want to want in a long line. Their pizza was probably the best New York-style pizza I’ve had since moving out west.

Processed with VSCO with h4 preset
Processed with VSCO with h4 preset

Driving through Las Vegas during the day might have been the most depressing thing I’ve seen in a while. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about paid-for entertainment and glittery money-grabs combined with washed-up celebrities doing routine shows for drunk, desperate audiences that just leaves me feeling really sad for humanity. I get the same feeling whenever I see an action film in theaters or watch ads for Disneyland or Seaworld.

The Nevada desert is expansive and desolate. I can see why aliens come to visit. There’s absolutely nothing for miles. No cities, no people, no anything. Aliens could easily hide in the mountains of Nevada and never be seen by a single soul.

After hours of driving through the maddening expanse of the Nevada desert, we spotted what we thought might me a mirage. In the middle of the brown, jagged landscape was an oasis of lush greenery. Since we hadn’t found a place to camp yet and the sun was quickly setting, we set up camp at the Pahranagat Nature Preserve. Luckily, camping was free and there was no one else around to compete with for the bathroom! This place was so surreal. There were birds and trees and water and wildlife in what seemed like an uninhabitable part of the desert. We spent the night camping under the clear night sky, watching the stars twinkle.

The next morning we woke up early to start the long haul through Nevada to end up in Lake Almanor which is nestled right in the middle of Lassen Volcanic National Park. After leaving the nature preserve, we made our way to the Extraterrestrial Highway and traveled on it until we came upon The Little A’Le’Inn for a late breakfast.

We drove for hours and finally landed at Rocky Point Campground to set up before the sun set. We spent two nights here exploring the surrounding area and hiking around the lake. Remnants of old volcanoes could be seen in the distance. At one point we set up chairs on the shore and relaxed in the sun. The blue water and evergreen trees were a welcome break from the brown monotony of the arid desert.

After two nights camping under the stars at Lake Almanor, we made our way to Klamath Falls in Oregon and stayed at a hotel for the night to shower and sleep in a bed. Klamath Falls felt a little bit like Ithaca. We hiked around Upper Klamath Lake which reminded me a little of Cayuga Lake. For dinner, we ate at Klamath Basin Brewery which was located conveniently close to our hotel. The brewery has a great selection of beer and vegetarian dishes.

Our next stop in Oregon was to Crater Lake National Park. The last time I had been there was before my sister was born, and I honestly didn’t remember much about the lake itself. Nevertheless, it was breathtaking! The water was arguably the bluest and purest water I had ever seen. Steven and I ended up driving around the whole thing, stopping to see every angle along the way. At one point during our stay at Crater Lake, I as overcome with joy as I breathed in the familiar smell of the forest and felt a cool breeze on my face. I wanted to burst out of my skin with excitement and love in that moment. I was back in the wilderness where I belong.

Camping at Crater Lake was surprisingly chilly and buggy. It didn’t matter, though, because I was just happy to be there. Steven ended up doing most of the wood gathering and chopping while I set up camp. The next day/night was spent in the Ithaca-esque college town of Eugene, Oregon. The day was spent exploring what Eugene had to offer. At one point, as we climbed Spencer Butte and looked out over the whole town of Eugene, I saw a man wearing an Ithaca is Gorges t-shirt and I knew immediately I was in exactly the right place at the right time. Eugene is a quirky town with lots to offer, and I wish we had more time to explore the area.

The next morning we set out for the Oregon Sand Dunes. This was what Steven had been waiting for. He had just finished reading Frank Herbert’s Dune and was itching to see the dunes that inspired arguably the greatest work in science fiction. The dunes were nice, but I was just happy to see the ocean again.

From the dunes, we started our journey on the Pacific Coast Highway. The highway snaked along the coast as it hugged the jagged edges of the continent. Every now and again I would remind myself that I was at the edge of the United States. It was the furthest west that I could be in the contiguous U.S. and it felt so freeing. The Pacific Coast Highway led us through some pretty awesome sights of the coast. We ended up camping at Elk Prairie Campground in California.

Our next stop in our road trip was at the Redwood National Forest. Oh my God, the trees were huge! This was one of my favorite stops of the trip for obvious reasons. I couldn’t take a picture that I felt captured the massiveness of these beautiful giants, so I just soaked it all in with my eyes instead. I committed to memory how small I felt against the trees that seemed to go on upward forever. I couldn’t get enough! I was in awe the whole time and can’t adequately express how happy I was just being in the presence of these trees. That night we camped on the coast at Salt Point State Park. We got there just in time to enjoy the sunset over the ocean. The views were just sublime.

More driving down the coast took us along the California coast line to see the prettiest coastal views. That morning we saw the fog rolling in along the rocks as we zigzagged along the coast. We camped again that night after a long day in the car. Montana de Oro State Park was our stopping point. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

For the final leg of the trip, Steven and I drove from the coast through L.A. (it was a clusterf$ck) and back to Phoenix. The whole trip took us 10 days.

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