California itinerary: the Golden State

23/09/2018

 

We made it to the Golden State! Another emblem of the country, like New York, the Grand Canyon and burgers. Although I did not see the golden bodies on the beaches of Malibu (maybe because I was traveling in winter), I have to say that expectations were met by much. A wild coastline, amazing deserts in the south, gigantic mountains in the Sierra Nevada, the unique style of San Francisco... All that and much more, including a lovely people that I met along the way. Highlights:

 

MOJAVE DESERT NATIONAL PRESERVE

 

The dry southeast of California awaits with immense expanses of deserts and this reserve is a fantastic place to live from within this curious ecosystem. Here you can walk among cactus of all sizes and colors, the endemic Joshua Tree and desert shrubs; climb a hill and glimpse the immensity; run through beautiful sand dunes; visit some lava tunnels; listen to the coyotes and feel chills at night; camp under a densely starry sky…

 

 

Dogs are welcome in this Reserve. If you come with your buddy, it is advisable to hike at the first and last hour of the day, and make sure she does not get close to the cactus... With a car two days should be enough to see everything. If you have no car take it more calmly. There are several campsites in the Par, but nothing will happen if you pitch your tent somewhere apart.

 

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

 

 

It owes its name to this endemic species of tree that seems more typical of the African savannas than anything else. The Park is so cool, with very diverse areas: extensions of Joshua trees, viewpoints with spectacular valley views, ravines and vertical walls, cactus "forests"…

 

Two or three days should be fine to see everything. Dogs can come to the Park but not doing any hike (just viewpoints and campgrounds). There are three or four campsites in total (cheaper if you camp just before the entrance). A highly recommended excursion outside the Park is to Pioneertown, a town decorated like in the old days of the Wild West.

 

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

 

 

The famous Death Valley is a giant Park (second largest in the USA I believe) that houses amazing deserts, dunes, mountains, strange geological formations, points below sea level (here is the lowest point of the USA, - 85 masl), and even some small waterfall. Here there have been some phenomena that could be classified as paranormal. The best known is that of giant rocks that move apparently by themselves. On the surface of a dry lake with a cracked surface (the Racetrack Playa) large rocks move leaving behind strange marks on the surface. The theories range from more scientific stuff (rain that forms mud and then the rocks are pushed with the wind) to others of Martians and UFOs. Let's stick these ones better!

 

As I said, the Park is huge, with many sections to discover. There are short excursions of a few kilometers and others of several days, so if you want to see everything you will need a lot of time. But for the "standard" traveler, let's say 3 or 4 days are ok. There are many campsites, some of them free: Emigrant, Wildrose, Thorndike, Mahogany Flat (the last two only open from spring to November). Free camping is also allowed for long hikes. They are pretty dog friendly in Death Valley so your buddy will be able to join you in many hikes.

 

ROUTE 395 (DEATH VALLEY TO LAKE TAHOE)

 

 

An amazing road that runs parallel to the Sierra Nevada from south to north, leaving behind glacial lakes, powerful rivers, monumental peaks, beautiful little towns... And in parallel to sensational National Parks such as Yosemite or Sequoia (although the latter does not have access from here). We will focus on the journey from Death Valley to Lake Tahoe. The first section runs through the valley, with the imposing mountains on the left (to the right if you come the other way). Once past Bishop begins a dramatic ascent, reaching heights close to 2500 m (Conway Summit is the highest point). Most of these places are dog friendly. Practically the whole route is worth a stop, here are some of the best places to stretch your legs along the way:

 

Lone Pine and Alabama Hills. This population of wooden houses with splendid views of the Sierra Nevada is perfect for exploring the mountains. No shortage of attractions, of course. Starting with the presence of the highest peak in the USA outside of Alaska: Mount Whitney (4421 m). The start of the trail is barely 20 km from Lone Pine, but getting a permit is tough, since access is restricted to a few people. That is, if you do not book well in advance you will not be able to do it. But there is another excursion more accessible for everyone: the Alabama Hills. These are hills of a strange beauty (they seem to be from another planet) that have attracted the attention of different filmmakers: Bonanza, Gladiator, Iron Man or Django Unchained had scenes filmed in the Alabama Hills. The best plan once here is to climb any hill and look around. Endless expanses of inhospitable land at your feet.

 

 

You can also do some hiking. For example in the Mobius Arch Loop Trail you will see a set of strange formations among which a beautiful arch stands out. Finally, this area is an Eden for camping. There is a campground I am in love with called Turtle Creek campground, at the foot of the Sierra and next to a stream (the best melody to take a nap). The views are amazing and it costs only $ 5 PER TENT. Enjoy the offer!

 

Manzanar National Historic Site. There is also room to get rich culturally on this route. Here more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were held prisoner after the Second World War. That is, a concentration camp like those of the Nazis in Europe... Ok, maybe a little more light. It is an interesting tour with rooms set in the time, old objects, photos of the people who were there... And a beautiful monument. All this with the imposing figure of the Sierra Nevada as a backdrop. 

 

 

By the way, if you have additional time, there is a very nice lake area on the other side of the road.

 

June Lake. Picturesque "swiss" village of wooden houses embedded in a fabulous mountain environment. It is next to a beautiful lake, even more when totally frozen. It is popular among ski lovers, as this area enjoys abundant snow-capped peaks and slopes. But also for those who like hiking, or simply for those who want to have a breath of fresh air in a place of incomparable beauty. There is a nice circular road that goes through the mountains and forests, passing through other very cool lakes (Silver and Grand Lake), being able to make some small walks in the area (closed route in winter). Also, further south, there is Mammoth Lakes ski resort.

 

 

Mono Lake. Near the height summit, we have this beautiful lake right on the road. At this same latitude is Yosemite NP, less than 40 miles to the west. To get there, you need to take the Tioga Road (or Highway 120). Closed in winter.

 

Lake Tahoe. On the border between California and Nevada lies this giant lake of clean and clear waters. It is very popular both in summer and in winter, always bringing together many people who come from the neraby cities to spend a nice day in nature.

 

 

Route 395 is connected to Yosemite National Park (route closed in winter). However, there is no access from the east side to Sequoia National Park or King Canyon National Park. To get to these two you would need to take a big turn. I did not go to any of these three Parks because it was February and I was already exhausted from the cold in Arizona and Utah (it is very bad to travel in winter without a car in this part of the world!), but I needed to include them in these itineraries because they have an incomparable natural value..

 

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

 

Photo by Denali Daniels 

 

One of the most famous Parks in the world. Here there are not only bears and sequoias. Internationally recognized for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, crystal clear rivers, giant sequoia forests and great biological diversity (about 95% of the Park is wild area). Most visitors come to the Yosemite Valley area, but the possibilities of landscapes are much greater (immense), with dozens of hikes for those of us who like to walk. Dogs can only do a couple of small trails.

 

SEQUOIA NP AND KING CANYON NP

 

These two connected Parks are wonderful. In both resides the largest (but no highest) tree on the planet, which gives its name to the first one: the sequoia! And in large quantity. But there is much more to do: beautiful walks, a path through a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon, caves, waterfalls, wildlife... Add that they are way less visited than their neighbor to the north Yosemite, so you will enjoy them with no hordes of tourists. Savor them, they are all yours. It can only be accessed from the west, since there is no road from route 395. Dogs also have no access to almost any trail in these two Parks.

 

NOTE ASIDE, THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

 

Photo taken from pcta.org

 

This is only for the craziest and most adventurous ones. A journey that departs from the border between Mexico and the USA, crossing California, Oregon and Washington through the wildest areas to set foot in Canada. A total of 2650 miles. That is 4265 kilometers... Nothing at all! To make matters worse, the topograpghy and geology do not make things easier, having to hike through deserts, mountains and glaciers, far from civilization almost the entire journey. You must be very motivated and prepare well for this route. And have money, because you will spend a few dollars between permits, equipment and special meals. The reward: wild lands of a stratospheric beauty and the feeling of returning to the ancestral roots of the nomads, in which you are against nature. The whole thing usually takes between 5 and 6 months for most mortals. Another option is to do part of it, nobody forces you to do the 2650 miles... Have a look on the official web: https://www.pcta.org/

 

An interesting book to read is "The Cactus Eaters", which tells the adventures of a new couple in the world of hiking embarking on this exciting route. You can also watch the movie "Wild", which is about a young woman who does this route entirely on her own. Some parts are dog friendly while others are not.

 

SAN FRANCISCO

 

 

San Francisco should be a must for anyone who is doing the west coast route. Even for those of us who are not especially interested in urban areas... San Francisco is different friends. San Francisco work it out! Here you will probably experience many sensations, asthis is the scenario of greatness, technology and glamor: the skyscrapers, Silicon Valley, the film industry, people dressed in cool clothes, the Warriors... But it is also the scene of very important social revolutions: the gold rush and, most recently, the hippy and gay liberation movement with the Summer of Love (the summer of 1967). This was the beginning of a world revolution for the rights of homosexuals, (also at the musical level). Greatness and history, two things that do not seem to match, but they do it perfectly in San Francisco. You definitely have to come and feel like you are in a movie.

 

Surrounded by water everywhere, this beautiful city is connected by two bridges to the "rest of the earth": the Golden Gate leads north; and the San Francisco - Oakland Bridge, which as its name suggests goes to neighboring Oakland. You need to cross one of these bridges to get to the city. It has many hallmarks, but perhaps that beautiful bay with these two long, stylized bridges and the skyscrapers in the background is the image we all have before setting foot there.

The best thing about the city is that there are so many small hills, from which you can see the bay, bridges and skyscrapers from different perspectives. Great for photographers. A popular way of touring the city is by renting a bike, but we can also walk. Get ready, because there is a lot to do in the city:

 

Golden Gate Bridge. The most famous bridge in the world, which has appeared in so many films and we all know by heart. Being in front of it is a strange feeling, like every time you travel to a place you have seen many times in photos. It is as if you already knew it but not at the same time. You can see it from a lot of perspectives. My favorite is from Baker Beach.

 

 

Beaches and SF coast. And speaking of beaches… Baker Beach is very cool, with fine sand and with the San Francisco bridge gracing the big picture. Crissy Field Beach: beautiful beach with views of Alcatraz and also the Golden Gate from another side (it is full of dogs!). Ocean Beach Fire Pits: the most extensive and popular. It has access from Golden Gate Park. At its northern end you can walk along the cliffs and also through Sutro Baths, where there is a very cool cave and good views of the Pacific.

 

Haight-Ashbury. A historic neighborhood that gave rise to the idealist movement of the hippies and that today is decorated with colorful houses, interesting businesses, live music venues... And crazy colorful characters! It is near Golden Gate Park.

 

Golden Gate Park. The park is huge and very beautiful, perfect to get away from urban pollution. There are ponds, more manicured areas, wilder areas... There is a lot to do. You can even see bison in Golden Gate Park!

 

Financial District and Dock Area. Another cool area of SF. On the one hand you have all that financial area full of skyscrapers competing to see which is the highest. On the other the beautiful pier in the bay, from which if you turn around you will get a very nice view with all the buildings trying to reach the sky.

 

 

SF Viewpoints. SF has so many viewpoints that will take you to know the city from different angles, distances, altitudes, luminosity... It is amazing to see the changes that occur from one hill or another, or between a cloudy day and a sunny one. Or between the light of day or in the darkness of the night, with all those little lights decorating the city.

 

 

On the other hand, there are many cool things to do around San Francisco. Let's separate between the very close and the not so close ones. Maybe it's worth renting a car for a day or two and getting lost in the forests, rivers and beaches, especially in the northern area of Golden Gate, which is really beautiful. Most of the places named here are dog friendly. Recommended places very close to SF:

 

South SF Beaches. A little further south of San Francisco is South San Francisco, a quieter satellite city than its larger neighbor. The beaches here are very beautiful and less crowded. The farther south you go, the emptier the beaches. In addition, the route is beautiful, passing through viewpoints with cliffs that will leave you speechless.

 

 

Muir Woods National Monument. Just 11 miles past the Golden Gate, we have this forest of giant trees: the redwoods. You can get to see the tallest tree on the planet in many other places along the northern coast of California (and southern Oregon). But this place with walkways through the woods has a special charm. Visit it and you will not regret it. This activity cannot be done with a dog, unfortunately.

 

Mount Tamalpais. Near the Muir Woods is the beginning of the Temelpa Trail, an ascent to a peak from which you get a breathtaking view of the San Francisco Bay.

 

 

Bolinas. The beach is very beautiful with lush forests around. You can reach some waterfall from here.

 

Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Another huge Redwood Park, more to the north. Dogs are not welcome either.

 

Places not that close to SF:

 

  • Yosemite National Park. 3 hours by car.

  • Sequoia y King Canyon National Parks. 4 hours by car.

  • Route 1 to the south: Carmel, Monterrey… A route that will take you through golden beaches inhabited by wildlife such as sea lions.

  • Route 1 to the north. Small towns and wild coasts await over there.

 

REDWOOD PARKS

 

 

The coast of northern California and southern Oregon has the honor of housing immense forests of this giant sequoia species: the redwood. Neither more nor less than the tallest tree on the planet! The trunks extend endlessly towards the sky. They are very dense forests full of life (although the inhabitants are shameful and do not let you see them easily). Throughout these forests there are beautiful villages to stop for a while. There are several interesting Parks to see::

 

Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Perhaps the most famous because here is thAvenue of the Giants, a beautiful road that runs through a forest of particularly tall trees.

 

Redwood National and State Park. Be attentive to the deer, easier to see in this area (you can probably see them grazing in some field of a town in the area).

 

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Already very close to Oregon, where you can also enjoy the forest... And wonderful wild beaches. Also be attentive to the cervids.

 

 

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