I can’t believe it has been nearly a year since I first embarked on this trip! So much has changed in the past eleven months, more than I ever could have imagined.
Month eleven has been a fun one with a lot of travel around the US, both to places I have been before as well as new ones.
The first ten days of the month saw me volunteering at a rustic Hostel/Lodge at Big Bear Lake which turned out to be really fun largely in part to all of the other volunteers and the two Managers.
During my time there when I wasn’t working I went on a few hikes in the area, chilled out in the hostel on snowy days watching movies and reading, bowled the best game of my life on a Staff outing, drank far too much (but had fun doing it) at the pre-Joshua Tree Music Festival party at the Lodge, checked out the very cute Big Bear Village and even fit in an adventure to natural hot springs with some of the other volunteers and one of the Lodge guests.
It was a really good time and I was sad to leave my hostel family. But it was time to be reunited with Toby and to hit the road again.
After spending a night back in Indio, we packed up and left the desert behind. Our first stop: Sequoia National Park.
The giant sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park were incredible in their grandeur and it was pretty cool to see the biggest tree in the world (by volume), the General Sherman. The weather wasn’t the greatest with a lot of low mist and cloud, but we had fun anyway.
We hiked to a beautiful waterfall, saw chipmunks and marmots, and marvelled at the gigantic trees. And the mist turned out to actually make the forest look surreal and quite beautiful. We even met a fun Canadian couple at our Camping ground and ended up sharing drinks and stories around the fire.
After a night in Sequoia it was time to hit Yosemite National Park, one of my favourites since I visited with my Dad on a West Coast road trip back in 2010. Unfortunately the rain set in and the mist stopped us seeing the spectacular rock mountains that the park is famous for although we did see a couple of the stunning waterfalls through the mist as we drove through.
We didn’t want to camp in the rain and freezing cold so decided to drive out of the park to find somewhere to stay but with ridiculous prices stopping us from staying at each place we stopped at, we ended up in the small and charming town of Mariposa, 90 minutes drive from the park.
The forecast wasn’t good for the next day so we reluctantly decided to give Yosemite a miss on this occasion and return sometime in the future instead.
Mariposa turned out to be a cool little historic town and I loved walking the quaint main street where we checked out the shops and had amazing apple pie a la mode at the Charles Street Dinner House.
From Mariposa we headed to San Francisco. We hadn’t planned on visiting but as we now had extra time due to skipping Yosemite and because Toby has a friend he met travelling in Colombia that lives there, we added it to our itinerary at the last minute. I am so glad we did.
The weather wasn’t great for the two days we spent in town but we hung out with Toby’s friend Ben who took us to some great eating spots and a couple of touristy sites and then we also visited the Golden Gate Bridge on the way further north. I love San Francisco!
Then it was time to hit highway 1, which we would follow for three days up to Oregon. I have driven part of Highway 1 between San Francisco and the Oregon border before but this time, we did the entire drive which involved a lot of tight corners and low-speed limits but rewarded us with charming small towns, loads of colourful wildflowers, offshore whale watching and an incredibly beautiful coastline.
We had a lot of fog but when the sun was shining, hell, even when it wasn’t, it was gorgeous and I was so happy to be there.
Oregon was next and we mainly stuck to the coastline, driving up to Portland over two days. I loved the Oregon coast when I drove it with my Dad back in 2010 and I was excited to show Toby as it was his first time there. It didn’t disappoint, even though we didn’t see a lot of sunshine. I love the rugged, forest framed beaches and picturesque lighthouses most of all.
Portland was our travel respite, well Camas to be exact, across the river from Portland. We stayed with Toby’s Auntie and Uncle and because it was rainy and cold for the three nights we were there, we pretty much just hung out and relaxed, soaking in their jacuzzi, eating amazing home-cooked breakfasts, watching movies and eating out around town. Just what we needed and so much fun.
We also happened to be there when Toby’s cousin Nicole was visiting her parents too, so I got to meet her and go with her and her Mum to look at wedding dresses for her wedding next year.
Before leaving the Portland area I had to grab donuts, eat at one of the food trucks downtown and browse the books at Powell’s City of Books because that’s what you do in Portland right?
Only an hour up the road we got to the tiny town of Cougar, Washington where our friend Johnny lives and works at the Lone Fir Resort with his partner Jeremy who owns and runs the place. They very kindly put us up in one of their cosy cabins for the night and plied us with local beer and delicious pizza that Johnny made us himself.
Cougar is the closest town to the southern entrance to Mount St. Helens National Monument. The weather wasn’t great and we didn’t have a lot of time so we didn’t visit the mountain but we did go to the Ape caves and hiked the 1.5 mile return hike in the lower caves.
The Ape caves are actually lava tubes and were the longest I have ever been in. On the way back to town we drove up a gravel road to a viewpoint over Cougar and the river.
The area is beautiful and I wish we could have spent longer there, but it was time to hit the road again.
Two epic days of driving followed, the first day along mountain roads and through the Columbia river gorge, all the way to the Idaho border then day two was straight through the heart of Idaho, past fields of purple wildflowers and snow-covered mountains.
We stopped to ogle at the moon-like landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument then camped just outside of Yellowstone National Park beside a beautiful lake in a free camping spot.
I had been looking forward to Yellowstone most of all the national parks that we would be visiting but unfortunately the two nights we spent there didn’t live up to my expectations. More on that below.
After Yellowstone we did a drive through of Grand Tetons, glimpsing the majestic Tetons themselves peeking out of the clouds, then stopped over for a quick look around Jackson Hole where there was a big outdoor Antler market going on, before the long drive to the small town of Dinosaur, Colorado on the edge of Dinosaur National Monument.
The last day of my month was spent hiking in the surprisingly beautiful Dinosaur National Monument then driving a couple of hours to the pretty resort town of Steamboat Springs which was in full bloom for spring with burgeoning cherry blossom trees lining the main street.
We wandered the town, checked out some shops and had some happy hour beers and fried pickles at the Old Town Pub, before heading up to the Strawberry Hot Springs, a natural hot springs complex with different rock pools nestled in a beautiful valley above a river. I love natural hot springs and this was a great one.
So that was my month in a nutshell. It was a pretty great one.
Now onto the Stats:
Countries Visited: USA
- California: Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead, Indio, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, Mariposa, San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore, Bodega Bay, Mendocino, Arcata, Redwoods National Park
- Oregon: Brookings, Bandon, Yachats, Newport, Tillamook, Portland, Pendleton, Ontario
- Washington: Vancouver, Camas, Cougar
- Idaho: Fairfield, Craters of the Moon National Monument
- Montana: West Yellowstone Village
- Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole
- Colorado: Dinosaur, Dinosaur National Monument, Steamboat Springs
Islands Visited: Like last month, no islands this month either 🙁
National Parks and Monuments Visited:
- Sequoia National Park, CA
- Yosemite National Park, CA
- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
- Redwoods National Park, CA
- Craters of the Moon National Preserve, ID
- Yellowstone National Park, WY
- Grand Teton National Park, WY
- Dinosaur National Monument, CO
Best Meal: Wow, so many! Chicken and waffles from Deschutes Brewery in Portland, Brussel sprouts with peanuts and sweet chilli sauce at Eureka Burger in Indio, Coconut cream pie at Blue Moon Cafe in Tillamook, Sushi in Richmond, San Francisco. The list could go on…
Worst Meal: Dumplings from Dump Truck food truck in Portland. They weren’t terrible but I had really been looking forward to dumplings and they fell flat. The flavour just wasn’t there and I didn’t really like the sauce they smothered on them.
Best Craft Beer: New Belgium Citradelic Tangerine IPA. Wow, so good! Very subtle hint of tangerine and not a super strong IPA. Very refreshing. Even Toby loved it and he usually likes the really hoppy IPAs.
- Woodland trail loop in Big Bear Lake1.5 miles/2.4km
- Cougar Crest trail return to PCT Junction near Big Bear Lake 4 miles/6.4km
- Pine Knot trail return in Big Bear Lake 7.5 miles/12km
- Hot Springs Trail return to Deep Creek Hot Springs near Lake Arrowhead 5 miles/8km
- General Sherman trail loop in Sequoia National Park 2 miles/3.2km
- Tokopah Falls trail return in Sequoia National Park 3.4 miles/5.2km
- Mendocino Headlands trail one way 2 miles/3.2km
- John Irvine trail loop in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park 6.5 miles/10.4km
- Heceta Head trail to Lighthouse return 1 mile/1.6km
- Lascamas Lake partial loop return in Camas 1 mile/1.6km
- Lower Ape Caves trail return near Cougar 1.5 miles/2.4km
- South Rim trail return in Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 2 miles/3.2km
- Harpers Corner trail in Dinosaur National Monument return 3 miles/4.8km
Reading: I read the most amazing book this month, one I have wanted to read for a while and finally found for a reasonable price, second-hand at a book shop in Big Bear. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is about a mild-mannered English retiree who has never done much in his life that decides on the spur of the moment to walk from one end of England to the other to visit an old friend who is dying of cancer. It is beautifully written and very inspiring, with Harold discovering courage and a side to himself that he never knew existed along the way. Very highly recommended.
Listening to: Little Black Submarine by the Black Keys. LOVE this song and can’t believe I haven’t discovered it earlier.
Snow in Big Bear
This could be a low light for a lot of people but I love snow and I don’t get to experience it much these days so it was definitely a highlight of my time in Big Bear, waking up to a fresh blanket of fluffy snow coating the ground, not once but twice. Everything looks prettier with a coating of virgin snow.
A New Travelling Family
My almost two weeks in Big Bear went way too fast and although I was looking forward to continuing the adventure, I was sad to say goodbye to the other six volunteers and the Managers who became friends and my short-term travel family during my time at the Lodge. I will miss the communal dinners, movie nights, and hiking adventures. The messy shared dorm – not so much.
Working Reception at the ITH Big Bear Mountain Adventure Lodge
After a couple of housekeeping shifts I was switched to Reception and I loved it. I mostly worked the morning shift from 6am till 12pm which included cooking the free breakfast for staff and guests. I didn’t love the 5.45am wake up call but once I was up I enjoyed being the only one awake in the quiet Lodge.
I learnt the reservations system, made reservations, checked people in and helped housekeeping with the washing and with stripping rooms. It was a simple job but one I took great joy from doing. I would love to own my own Lodge one day and every time I volunteer at one, it reaffirms to me that this is something I really want to do.
A Near Perfect Game of Bowling
I suck at pretty much any game or sport I try my hand at so when I started bowling strikes and spares on nearly every turn during a staff outing to a bowling alley, no one was more surprised than me. I finally got how bowling can be fun, if you are actually good at it it is far more enjoyable than when you are the worst player on the team (like I usually am).
I came a close second to one of the Manager’s that plays all the time – not bad at all. Unfortunately my luck didn’t last and for the second game my score was back down to one of the lowest. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
Missioning to the Deep Creek Hot Springs
The way the outing to Deep Creek Hot Springs began, it could have definitely ended up in the lowlights but luckily everything worked out in the end. The hot springs trailhead is an hour drive from Big Bear, followed by a 2.5 mile hike each way from the trailhead.
I set out with three of the other volunteers and one of the Lodge guests for a fun afternoon of hiking and soaking in natural hot springs which are popular with locals and PCT hikers.
We ended up being steered the wrong way twice, firstly by google then by a local dirt biker, up super sketchy dirt roads that didn’t get us where we wanted to go and had me super stressed that we were going to get the car stuck or damaged. Finally, after nearly two hours of being lost, we found someone who told us where the trailhead actually was and then we found it easily.
The hike was through semi desert and down a steep dirt trail to a stunning valley with tiered rock pools flowing into a river. The heavens opened as we descended into the valley but luckily the sun came out as we reached the springs and as soon as we got in that deliciously hot water, everything was worth it.
The most beautiful hot springs I have ever been to. We even caught up with a PCT hiker there that had been staying at the hostel a few days previous.
Returning to one of my Favourite Cities: San Francisco
I have been to San Francisco a couple of times, with both visits being far too brief. But even in the brief visits I recognised what an incredible city it is so I was excited that we got the chance to return there, especially after it hadn’t been in our original plans.
We only spent two nights in the city and the weather wasn’t great but I had a lot of fun anyway. Toby’s friend Ben was our host and took us to some great eating spots including amazing sushi in Richmond, brunch in the Dog Patch and incredible raspberry and chocolate/Banana croissants at B Patisserie.
We also did Karaoke, got Toby cleaned up with a hair cut and a beard trim in the Castro, walked down Lombard street, visited the seals of Fisherman’s Wharf and walked part of the way over the Golden Gate Bridge. Another great, short visit to one of my favourite cities in the world.
Driving Squiggly Highway 1 from San Francisco to Oregon
The section of highway 1 between San Francisco south to LA may be the most famous section to drive, and rightfully so as it is very beautiful, but I think that north from San Francisco to Oregon is also a fantastic drive with so much to see.
Driving it when we did in spring, there were wildflowers everywhere, and combined with the peaceful forests, small coastal towns and wild coastline, we thoroughly enjoyed our whole upper highway 1 experience.
Not many other people driving this section either compared to lower highway 1. Bodega Bay and Mendocino were the highlights for me as was spotting whales offshore on a daily basis, including a baby!
Rediscovering the Charms of Oregon’s Lighthouses
I fell in love with the Oregon coast when I drove it with my Dad as part of a six week West Coast road trip so I was excited for Toby to see it for the first time. Just like me, he fell in love with the friendly coastal towns serving up local brews and delicious clam chowder, the lush greenery of the forests, and the rocky islands and wild beaches of the coastline as we made our way north.
But my favourite part of Oregon: the Lighthouses. I know that the East Coast is more known for their lighthouses but I think the historic lighthouses along the Oregon coast rival them in beauty, both of the lighthouses themselves but also the surrounding landscape.
I have a bit of a thing for lighthouses and three of my favourites are located in Oregon and I got to revisit two of them on this trip.
Meeting More of Toby’s Family in Portland
One of the things Toby was looking forward to doing on his first visit to Oregon was visiting his Auntie Kathy who lives just outside of Portland. Technically she doesn’t actually live in Oregon at all but across the river in Camas, Washington but Portland is the closest big city.
We spent three nights staying with Kathy and her husband Tom and they made us feel so welcome. Their daughter Nicole, Toby’s cousin, was also visiting at the time and we ate big homemade breakfasts together, ate out at Deschutes Brewery in Portland and local places in and around Camas.
They took us to a beautiful local lake for a walk but due to the inclement weather we mainly hung out indoors watching movies and catching up. All of Toby’s family I have met so far are just great people and a lot of fun and Kathy, Tom and Nicole were no exception. I hope I get to see them again soon.
Browsing the Books at Powell’s City of Books
Somehow I missed visiting the world-famous and gigantic Powell’s City of Books when I first visited Portland so I made sure to get there this time around. It’s a Portland must after all. This insanely huge bookstore was wonderfully set out and I could have spent hours (and thousands of dollars) there.
Luckily Toby was with me and managed to drag me away after about an hour of browsing, I might still be there now otherwise. I came away with a book I have been wanting to read for a while ‘The Jade Peony’ which I am excited to get stuck into soon.
There were so many more I wanted to buy but on my strict budget, one had to do. I am going to allocate at least half a day, and more money to my next visit for sure.
All of the Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone may not have lived up to the hype for me (see more in lowlights below) but one thing I was super impressed by was the wildlife I was able to see, especially the bison as I don’t think I had even seen one before and by the time we left Yellowstone I had seen about 100, including being stuck in a few of the buffalo traffic jams that Yellowstone is known for.
There were also elk, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and loads of interesting birds. Usually I wouldn’t be able to see so much without hiking, but most of the wildlife we saw from the car along the main park roads.
Hiking in Dinosaur National Monument
I hadn’t even heard of Dinosaur National Monument until we were heading there after cancelling Grand Teton off our itinerary due to bad weather. I wasn’t that excited about visiting as dinosaurs don’t interest me so much these days and we weren’t even going to the part of the park that had the fossils anyway.
I thought a visit there was probably pointless but man was I wrong. We only did a short 3 mile return hike but the scenery was simply spectacular with an incredible rock cliff valley of red, orange and yellow.
It reminded me a lot of Zion National Park and was completely unexpected. I love travel discoveries like this and they usually happen when your expectations are low.
Visiting the Lovely Steamboat Springs
Pretty much since I first got over here and Toby talked about places he wanted to take me, Steamboat Springs was mentioned often. It is one of his favourite places in Colorado so when we had an extra night before we had to be back in Denver, we took a slower route that would take us through Steamboat. Turns out I love it too.
The tidy main street has lots of great places to eat including Winona’s with delicious cinnamon rolls the size of your head, awesome pizza from Brooklynn’s Pizzeria and the Old Town Pub with its super cheap happy hour and one of my favourite pub snacks – fried pickles. And the best bit: no chain restaurants in sight.
The locals are friendly and the town is so pretty, especially with the cherry blossoms in bloom. We went out to Strawberry hot springs for the evening and I loved the setting, in a wooded valley with a rushing river, very similar to Deep Creek but easier to get to as there was no hiking involved.
I would love to live in a little mountain town like this one day.
Bad Weather in the National Parks
I guess we asked for it travelling in spring, but man have we had bad luck with the weather, especially when we have been in the national parks. Sequoia was cold and misty, Yosemite was so wet and foggy we drove through and hardly saw a thing, Yellowstone was cold and wet with thunderstorms our entire visit and we skipped Grand Teton due to snow warnings, just driving through on the way back to Colorado.
Luckily we got a bit of sun in Craters of the Moon and the Redwoods but even then there were times where it was still socked in with cloud. It was all a bit disappointing although there isn’t much you can do when the weather doesn’t want to cooperate.
Struggling to Find Affordable Accommodation Around Yosemite
After driving through Yosemite in the rain and low clouds, we decided we didn’t want to be camping in such bad weather, especially as it was meant to drop down to freezing overnight. Instead we planned to get a motel outside the park then we could come back the next morning and give it another go.
We ended up driving ninety minutes out of the park until we found somewhere that wasn’t a complete rip off, which was too far from the park to be able to pop back in to see how the weather was the next day. We found California prices in general pretty ridiculous but most of all around Yosemite.
The Circus that is Yellowstone
As I mentioned above in the highlights, for seeing wildlife from the road Yellowstone was great but that is where my praise for the park ends. Due to the accessibility to points of interest in the park and the chance to see a lot of wildlife, Yellowstone is one of the most visited in the US.
We thought that visiting out of season would mean fewer people, and there probably were fewer people there than during the height of summer but it was still crazy. Unfortunately Yellowstone also seems to attract a lot of idiots with people walking right up to bison to take photos and stopping in the middle of the road and holding up traffic to take gawk at wildlife. There was very much an air of ‘everyone for themselves’ and I didn’t like it.
There is a massive backcountry that would be ripe for exploring (and where we could have gotten away from the idiots) but with daily thunderstorms and freezing weather while we were there, it wasn’t feasible to get out into it so we were stuck with exploring the very short trails along the parks roads with all of the other tourists.
Also, I think it is a beautiful park and I get why people love all the thermal activity (we have it in New Zealand so I am used to it) but I much prefer the scenery of Glacier, Yosemite and Zion which I found more spectacular. I’m not sure if I would go back to Yellowstone but if I do, it will surely be to explore the backcountry.
Too Much Driving
We covered a lot of miles in a short amount of time which led to many, many hours spent driving. I do enjoy road tripping but on this trip we spent more time in the car than exploring our destinations. Most places we only spent one night which meant setting up and taking down our tent on a daily basis which quickly became tiresome.
The more I travel the more I realise that I enjoy travelling slowly and this trip was certainly not that. With Toby’s work commitments we didn’t have a lot of choice but to move at the pace we did but on future road trips, I would definitely like to move much slower and not so often.
Running out of Time to see More of Washington, Idaho and Wyoming
As I mentioned above about too much driving, we barely got to explore Washington, Idaho and Wyoming at all as we were running out of time to get back to Denver for Toby to then travel to Oklahoma to work.
Washington I didn’t mind so much as I have travelled around the state before, but it was my first time in Idaho and Wyoming and I barely got to scratch the surface with the most time I was in each state being spent driving through them. Oh well, I guess I will just have to return.
So low this month due to volunteering in Big Bear, the kindness of friends and (Toby’s) family but most of all the kindness of my amazing boyfriend who is covering a lot of our travel costs because he is working at the moment and I am not. I hope to return the favour when he comes to see me in New Zealand at some point.
Low again thanks to free accommodation for 10 days in Big Bear, Toby’s Auntie and Uncle’s place and at the resort our friend Johnny works at. We mainly camped the rest of the time but did spend a few nights in cheap motels.
Food and Drink $460.50
Also lower (finally!) due in part to getting breakfast and dinner during my time volunteering in Big Bear. We have also been cooking when we can and were spoilt rotten for the three nights we stayed at Toby’s Uncle and Auntie’s place with amazing home-cooked breakfasts and lots of meals out.
- Toll $4
- Petrol $71
- Parking $3
- Taxi $5
- Strawberry Hot Springs $30 for two people
- Books $16.50
- One month US phone plan $30
- Toiletries $19.50
- DARE donation $5
- Campfire wood $4
- New wallet $13
What’s in Store for Next Month
Half of this next month will be spent on the road with the other half hanging out in Denver. I am back in Denver staying with a friend in Washington Park for the first week of month 12 while Toby is working a Hard Rock Festival called Rocklahoma. I was meant to be going with him but plans changed, more on that in next month’s round up.
Once we are reunited in Denver the plan is to spend two weeks, maybe more, travelling again, starting off at Toby’s Dad’s place in Espanola, New Mexico where we will stay for a few days, exploring Bandolier National Park, Santa Fe and Taos.
Next after New Mexico we will be back to Colorado, firstly to explore the south including Mesa Verde National Park, Durango and some of the other small mountain towns and hiking trails on offer, before maybe heading to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park, depending on how much time we have.
The last week of month twelve we will be back in Denver with Toby possibly flying out to work a job on the 15th June for a few days, and me just hanging out and enjoying the city and surrounds.
We plan on staying in Denver for summer and are hoping to get a sublet apartment or room in a house for three months from the middle or end of June. If you need a house sitter in or around Denver this summer or know someone who does, please let me know!
Oh, and I also have an exciting new announcement in next month’s edition. It’s not 100% yet but if it all works out, it will be a game-changer for me.
Very exciting times ahead!
To read additional Monthly Round Ups, you can find them here