We’d almost made it to the end of the trip! Feelings were mixed at this point – a lot of our fellow travellers had already been in the States and away from home for 2 months before the road trip had started due to their time as counsellors with Camp America, so tensions were riding high and a lot of people were feeling ready to go home. I was among them. Don’t get me wrong, I’d loved the trip and seen so many amazing things. But almost 3 weeks of travelling the US and doing something adventurous every day, as well as sleeping in tents on the cold hard ground most nights had taken its toll. I was definitely looking forward to getting back to Cayman to sleep in my own room in a real bed! Still, we had some adventures still awaiting us so soon enough we got on the road and left Vegas behind us.
A drive through the Sierra Nevadas awaited us and in an attempt to make the journey go faster, Ben replaced the road trip tunes with an audio book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, which detailed the journey of a 22 year old woman going through a turbulent time in her life who decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State and to do it alone. It made for pretty interesting listening (from what I caught in between my bus-naps) but seemed to be more about her drug-taking and sexual experiences than the actual hike. Still, it passed the time.
Death Valley is one of the hottest and driest places in the world, with summer temperatures that can reach up to 56 degrees C and droughts that last for months on end. Our trip was supposed to take us down into the valley and onto the famous salt flats where temperatures reach their peak, but due to it being the height of summer Ben elected that it was too dangerous for us to go there. Instead, we took a detour to some points of interest on the rim of the valley. First up was the town of Rhyolite.
In its heyday, the town was the largest town in the Death Valley area, as thousands of people flocked to the desert in the hope of striking it rich in the gold mines. Now it’s nothing more than an abandoned Ghost Town; a shadow of its former glory. There aren’t many buildings still intact – just the pub/bottle house and the train station are fully complete, but there were remains of a few houses as well as the bank and the jail dotted around the town. However most of this was sealed off from us in a private zone – the only part of the town we could really access was the bottle house. It was mega creepy and definitely felt like it was haunted – but still we couldn’t resist climbing in through the window for a better look. Old refridgerators were dotted around, and crates full of dusty, empty glass bottles, but most of the furniture was gone; probably moved or looted or just thrown out.
Down the road from Rhyolite, we were taken to the Goldwell Open Air Museum. I don’t even know how to begin to describe this place. It was just plain weird. The concept is that a group of Belgian artists decided to move to the middle of the Mojave desert to find inspiration for their art. Now, I don’t know if it was inspiration that they found or that the isolation and heat of the desert made them go a little bit crazy, but the art that is situated here is some of the most bizarre I’ve ever seen. From a ghostly recreation of the Last Supper; to a giant minecraft-esque statue of a blonde woman, every piece was unique and had its own story.
We didn’t spend very long at the museum as Ben wanted us to get back on the road so we could get back to camp in time to make the most of the remaining daylight. Our camp was refreshingly green after a week of dusty, rocky campsites. It was a real relief to pitch our tents on grass and not fight against the pegs whilst we hammered them into the dirt!
Today’s evening activity was something completely different to anything we’d done so far (no mean feat on this trip!) – we went to visit a natural hot springs! It was the perfect evening activity – the water was unbelievably hot, like stepping into a steaming hot bath only outside in the middle of nowhere. All my muscles and sore feet from our hiking earlier in the week felt like they were being melted and soothed back to normal – it was soooo relaxing! It made me feel so sleepy though – when we got back to camp everybody was making s’mores around the campfire and I could barely stay up long enough to have more than one. I mean…I still did. I’m a sugar addict and s’mores are freaking delicious.
California, here we come! We were finally headed to our final state of the trip and we were lucky enough to be getting to see Yosemite. Just weeks before, an enormous wildfire had spread through Yosemite National Park and large parts of it were closed off to the public. Luckily for us, the park started to reopen just days before we were due to arrive there. It was a long drive to California so we packed up camp very early and got on the road. I spent most of the journey craning my neck out of the window looking for bears and/or mountain lions, but sadly to no avail.
Our first stop when we finally reached Yosemite National Park was at a beautiful glacial lake called Lake Tenaya. The story goes that in 1851, the Ahwahneechee tribe and their Chief Tenaya were driven from Yosemite Valley by the Mariposa Battalion after the tribe had attacked two trading posts. The Ahwahneechee people kept returning back to their homeland but eventually, after his son was killed by the invading settlers, Chief Tenaya fled and his people never returned to Yosemite Valley. The settlers named the lake after him to mark the history of the valley. We stopped at the lake for lunch and for a swim – and let me tell you, the water was a shock to the system after the hot springs we’d experienced the previous night! It was FREEZING cold (the glacier should have clued me in) and it just never seemed to get warmer. I adjusted eventually though and felt refreshed after a short swim in the gorgeous surroundings.
The rest of our day in the park was spent descending further into the valley, stopping off at various viewpoints and climbing on big rocks. Yosemite really is mind-bogglingly beautiful. Our final stop for the day was reached when we got to the bottom of the valley – we were going to the Mariposa Grove to see the renowned giant sequoia trees. It was a long hike down to the grove where the trees lived, but it was worth the walk. The trees were epic and lived up to the name giant! A full 85 metres tall and up to 8 metres wide, they are the largest living thing on the planet and they were absolutely fantastic to look at. Some of the trees that we saw could have been as old as 4000 years, which is just ridiculous when you think about it. We left the grove in awe of the amazing trees and headed to our final campsite of the whole trip. We were back to hammering into dirt, it was small and isolated from everything, and worst of all there was no wifi! Still, it was only for 2 more nights and after that there would be no more camping. There was, however, a swimming pool so a group of us decided to chill out in the water before bed.
Our final day in Yosemite was supposed to be a hiking day, but hiking was the last thing I felt like doing. A small group of us took the opportunity to have a chilled day exploring the park in the shuttle buses and looking around the visitors centers. It was great to have a day to just take in the natural beauty of our surroundings. For the first time I didn’t feel rushed or that I needed to be watching the clock. I know I’ve already said it, but Yosemite really might be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I just wish I hadn’t been so exhausted. Eventually the day ended peacefully and we came back for our final night in camp, chatting around the campfire and reflecting on the last 3 weeks.
There isn’t really a whole lot for me to say about San Francisco, as unfortunately I didn’t get to spend a lot of time there on the trip. I had to be back to the rock the very next day after we arrived in SF so had a flight out of the city that very evening. Thankfully though, once we pulled into the city we had time for a brief tour and one stop – the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve never realised from pictures just how big this thing is! It’s a full mile across – I know this I walked the entire damn thing! Ben dropped us all off on one side, and drove to the other side to pick us all up allowing us to hike the length of the bridge. It gave beautiful views of the city, and thankfully we didn’t see anyone preparing to jump off of it (the bridge is one of the world’s most popular suicide spots). You can look down to the water below and see sea lions and even porpoises if you’re lucky. I saw the sea lions swimming about but no porpoises!
This was where my epic journey across the USA came to a close. I made it to the West Coast. It was one heck of an adventure – there were ups and downs, squabbles and giggles and tons of memories that will never leave me. Now I just have 34 more states left to visit!