The Great West Coast Roadtrip 2015

My wife, Sarah, and I had never taken a "real" roadtrip together.

I like to think that a year-long period of driving bi-weekly between my Eastern Washington desert and her Emerald City sound counted for something, but one thing it didn't count for was an expansive, we're-out-of-audiobooks-and-cell-reception West Coast experience. So we set out to correct that no later than six months into our marriage. Road trips offer fantastic perspective We booked our way south from Richland, WA (our home-base for the present), and made it to a friends' place in Winters, CA by dinnertime. Skipping San Francisco, we drove south along the central California Coast, popping off the 101 at Morro Bay (great spot -- we'd love to spend some time there). We spent about four days in Solana Beach, and then headed up the east side of CA, NV, and OR through the High Sierras and the Eastern Oregon desert.

Especially recommended camping spots:

  • Montaña de Oro – near Morro Bay, CA. This one gets packed, so be sure to reserve ahead of time. We could have stayed here for a week.
  • Red Rock Canyon State Park – not the one in Nevada. This campground was stunning.
  • Buckeye Hot Springs – can't speak for the springs themselves (we were too beat to make the hike that night), but camping by the river was splendid.

There's really nothing at all like driving through the expanse of the West Coast. You're driving through landscape riddled with contrast: the dry eastern slope butressed against rainforests to the west; flat sagebrush plains dotted with high buttes and mesas; roiling, unchained mountain streams and calm, muzzled rivers. Each new scene presents you with a new question: the underlying tension between the "settled" folks and the "pioneers" (both in the city and without); the timely questions of drought and agricultural responsibility; the simultaneous heritage of Manifest Destiny and John Muir.

Growing up in small-town Eastern Washington, I thought I had a pretty good perspective on the plight of Rural America. I've had my fair share of sideways looks. I've had to move to a bigger town for work, and I don't know when I'll be able to move back. The vast expanse of nothingness in Eastern California and Oregon, however, is quite remarkable. Small towns, full of people (by comparison to others), sometimes hundreds of miles from other towns the same size or smaller. Thousands of miles of road with just a scant handful of metropolitain areas – the whole expanse as good as forgotten to the rest of the country.

We made a conscientious effort to unplug – turn off our cell phones (we didn't have reception for a good long stretch anyway), and experience the scenery and each other. The space that left in our minds was filled up by deeper conversations and some mild soul-searching. I couldn't really recommend it more.

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