By Lillooet, the landscape becomes drier, the Coastal Range having blocked moisture and rainfall from reaching this area. Here the lakes aren’t as common, the stunning blue at the foot of a pine-covered mountain missing. But the highway winds along a steep canyon cut by a river, mountains on both sides. But they’re bare and dusty, brown rock exposed in many places.
Vancouver is chill. People hang out along a vibrant waterfront by the entrance to Stanley Park, dogs swim, a soccer game goes on. Vancouver is in many ways the Canadian San Francisco, both in scenery and in attitude.
Not long from the top, we turned into an open view of the mountains and pulled over. We walked around, took in the air, traced a trail. The range in the distance was snow-covered at the top, smaller pine-forested mountains in the foreground. Banks of clouds sat tightly over some of them, others exposed to a bright blue sky. My mom couldn’t stop grinning. It was cold up here but neither of us seemed to care; discomfort doesn’t register when the senses are so overtaken.
The waterfront stood still at 6:10 am that Sunday morning. The sun peeked over the mountains to the east, a warm orange lighting up parts of Puget Sound to the east. I’d walked up a quiet waterfront a few minutes earlier, the parking lots empty, the stalls closed. The original Starbucks, a small, simple looking storefront was empty, not opening until later that morning. The original Seattle’s Best was around the corner and I walked up there. It was empty too, stools sitting upside down on tables.
Much of this part of Oregon is like this. Hilly but not mountainous, exceptionally green and lush. This was my first real introduction to the northwest and I started to believe all I’d heard. This is what you get from all that rain, apparently.
This is what the coastline looks like for the next several miles. In Oregon, 101 doesn’t hug the coastline like PCH does in most of California. Here, every mile or two, there are pull-offs where you can drive and park and get out of your car and admire the cliffs and waves crashing below. The experience becomes less immersive, stretches of road interrupted by dramatic glimpses of ocean and coast rather than a non-stop ride along it.
I walked by the little boy and his dad, the former standing on the shoulders of the latter inside the partially hollowed out trunk of a giant redwood as mom took a picture. How many such awestruck visitors had stopped by that tree, I wondered. From native peoples to early settlers, from those out to make a fortune in the gold rush to hungry loggers, from geologist to wanderer to father to child, many must have similarly looked up and futilely contemplated where exactly that coarse, wet, stringy deep red trunk tapered off to a point, or exactly how long it had actually been around.
In many ways, an ideal return to the road this day had become, a clean break from stolen bikes and locked keys and difficult parking and familiarity. I was back on the road, every mile a new one once again.
I wanted to visit all the same great restaurants and coffeeshops and bars and bookstores and parks and scenic spots. And then I wanted to do much more. I had plenty of neighborhoods to explore, new people to meet, more day trips to take, food and drink to try. And I’d budgeted three full weeks – how could I not do all there was to do here in three full weeks, I thought.
The neighbor next door had his door propped open and seemed to be on his way to work. I knocked and asked if he had a quarter – he did! I jubilantly took it, thanked him, walked back to my apartment, noticed my door was slightly ajar and pulled it shut, realizing at that very moment that my pocket held my wallet, 6 quarters, and no keys.
Rain here seems to take this form; downpours are rare. It’s only this soft series of raindrops that makes you not want to open your umbrella but leaves you wet enough to regret that decision.
The car was where I’d left it the night before but there was no hole in the rear window, no shards of tinted glass scattered around. There was a bike in the car last night; there wasn’t one there this morning.
I stood on a rock and looked down. 400 feet down, with a tumble of jagged rocks in between, waves crashed against the cliff wall. The Pacific Ocean began there and went on as far as I could see, meeting the sky at a distant horizon. The cliffs, though, were the story.
It stretches from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, hugging the dramatic western coastline nearly all the way. Towards the south, it’s more gentle, featuring some of the more famous beaches and beach towns in the country: La Jolla, Santa Monica, Malibu. The dramatic cliffs of Big Sur interrupt for a mind-numbingly beautiful stretch before the white sands of Monterey and the surfers of Santa Cruz.
Thursday became an explore LA day because I’d found what looked like a nice beach house in Redondo Beach to spend the night. I wondered if that would bring a different side of LA.
People who fly into LAX get to see Los Angeles beach-first, which beats the unending suburban sprawl I faced as I drove into town from the east. Nearly sixty miles outside the city, strip malls and housing developments start showing up.
I took the long way there, driving first down into the Strip and its madness. It was 11pm on Sunday night and I wasn’t expecting a calm scene but not quite this. People milled about everywhere, tourists clamored as if it were the night before, cabs honked, music blared, lights flashed. Vegas.
Along the rim trail, with the sky a blue as rich as any I’d seen, clouds shrouding the mountains in the distance, the hoodoo-filled orange canyon falling away a foot in front of me, I knew I’d made the right call.
It was gigantic, expansive, unending, so deep, so broad, so inconsistent. I just stood there as people walked around me. I tried to take pictures but they fell flat relative to what stood before me.
They tower majestically, rising up from the valley floor gradually in numerous shapes and configurations. One, named Bell Rock, looks more like the bulbous minarets on a mosque. Courthouse Butte next door is a broad, proud block. Other formations appear throughout the canyon among which a resort town has spread.
There are mountains. Already sitting at 7,300 feet, you see them climb a few thousand feet higher, their bold blueish hue framing nearly every view, their snowcapped peaks a beacon, their alpine slopes providing texture, life. Clouds hang softly across them, boldly tower over them and softly float above them depending on what the weather wants. As I walked back to my room on Thursday evening, big fluffy snowflakes dropped softly from the sky. The next morning, the mountains were bathed in white.