Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Nature Lover's Guide to California in the Summer

     California is a mecca for anyone who loves beauty and the outdoors.  What you see in the movies barely encapsulates all that California has to offer.  It has everything from big colorful cities to quaint oceanside towns.  From vast deserts to mellow islands, from stunning mountain ranges to temperate rainforest.  Highways that weave through wine country and preserved stretches of wilderness.  It has miles of protected coastline, scenic canyons, world-famous waterfalls, and is home to the world’s tallest, biggest, and oldest trees.  

     With Pinnacles added in 2013, California surpasses even Alaska as the leader in National Parks.  Its 9 big parks are more varied and unique from each other than in any other state.  There are also 270 State Parks as well as countless private conservation areas.  After counting up the acres of coastline, wetlands, rivers, beaches, dunes, mountain ranges, canyons, forest, and desert... it is estimated that nearly 47% of the entire state of California is protected.  Not too bad for the 3rd largest and most populous state in the US.  Not bad at all.     

     Where it would take several lifetimes to thoroughly explore and appreciate every piece of natural beauty contained by California, I had only a month.  Since I'm a zealous advocate of the National Parks, most of my stops concentrate around them.  But there are a few quiet little corners I managed to find as well.  If you are planning a trip I can safely assure you that each of these places is worth not just a stop but a trip within itself!  I found great camping, fine scenic byways, and glorious trails at each place.

     And if you're interested in this comprehensive account of my California Road Trip, take a look at a similar blog post I wrote about my adventures circling through the American Southwest.

     These rare plants can only be found at one place on earth and that is Joshua Tree National Park in the vast recesses of the Mojave Desert.

     A 2 hour ferry ride West from Los Angeles will take you to the chain of undeveloped Channel Islands.  Hike along the oceanside bluffs with only flowers and fog as your companions.

     If looking for that quintessential California Coast experience, head for Big Sur.  Chances are you'll come across some perfect beaches, spring-fed waterfalls, and even a redwood or two.

     I could plan a whole trip cruising the coast and exploring lighthouses.

     San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, due largely in part to its location on the Bay.  There aren't many places you can visit in the city and not see that sparkling water in the distance.  The city itself is filled stunning architecture such as the Palace of the Arts.  It has one of the biggest and most famous city parks in the US- Golden Gate Park, complete with Rose Garden.

     One of California's best kept secrets is Kirby Cove.  It is a quiet piece of land protected by the National Park Service just north of San Francisco.  There are four secluded campsites as well as a private beach which offers some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the City by the Bay.

     The few remaining groves of old-growth redwoods in the San Francisco area reside inside Muir Woods National Monument.  

     Point Reyes is one of the many beautiful sights you can experience along the NorCal Coast.  If you're lucky, you'll spot dozens of elk grazing upon rich hillsides in the fog.

     If you're in California, camping on the beach is a must.  We found a nice spot just north of the small town of Westport.

     Feel smaller than you ever have as you stand below the tallest trees in the world in one of my absolute favorite places on Earth in Redwood National Park.  Don't forget to notice the tiny details that make up the immense canopy of this temperate rainforest.

     Though it is often overlooked, the Northern California Coast has just as many treasures as the South.  Crescent City is home to one of my favorite lighthouses, Battery Point.  Surrounded by tide pools, expansive views, and mysterious sea stacks, the lighthouse can only be reached at low tide.

     Fern Canyon, which faithfully lives up to its name, is a mile long canyon covered with perpetual green leaves and mosses.  A clear stream runs though it.  Don't expect to go on this hike and not get wet, and not be amazed.

     Gem-like glacial lakes are just one example of the pure beauty that lies anything but dormant in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

     Glaciers, volcanoes, and crystalline springs are the components of one of my favorite waterfalls.  Burney Falls is 130 fall and at least twice as wide.

     Sequoia National Park is unreal.  Stand next to the biggest living thing on the planet and see if it doesn't change your perspective on life as you know it.  Some of these trees are nearly 4,000 years old.  

     If you desire a breathtaking drive through the Sierra without the Yosemite crowds, take the road less traveled through Kings Canyon National Park.   Just watch out for black bears and tarantulas! 

     And what is there to say that hasn't been said about Yosemite?  It is truly one of the most spectacular places on the entire planet, which might explain why it gets more than 4 million visitors from all over the world each year.

     As John Muir states during his first summer in the Sierra, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

     I planned this trip for the better part of a year, and 5 months after its end I'm just now finishing its last blog post.  Time spent on the road passes much too quickly, but time is only relative to the memories that live on forever inside of my mind.  These places become part of me, but there is always a trade- every time I take a photo I leave behind a piece of my heart.   

     The road is long, but the road is home.