All the greens. Every shade. The Pacific Coast smells of green and rain. It rains, even if the forecast doesn’t call for it. The weather is a wicked stubborn child doing exactly the opposite of the predictions. The desert weather could be clocked like a train. Clouds came on time, rain started punctually. Not here. Clouds and wet come meandering in and out faithlessly. We left the ocean for a minute camping in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. We followed the dirt road out the long way the next day. Wind up and down a mountain. Once on pavement we headed out towards the coast again camping in Siuslaw National Forest that night.
Things I noticed:
Gold claims along the river. Some just official signage, others clever names. At one a man was there at his claim panning in the river bank.
The gradient of the trees dissolving into the low hanging clouds before the sun burned them off.
Small waterfalls everywhere. Water dashing downhill being hugged by moss covered rocks and fallen trees.
I kept thinking there must surely be something (big and bright) flowering? The only striking wild flowers were yellow and growing on a coastal evergreen bush (as far as I’ve made out). Otherwise the flowering trees and bushes have been cultivated in yards.
Green life growing everywhere. Green things growing on top of green things on top of green things.
The old bridges. There are these amazing old Gothic/Art Deco river bridges. Some concrete, some a combination of concrete and painted moss green steel.
So far the southwest coast of Oregon is very small town. The towns all feel comfortable to visit.
The word Oregon tastes like air in the mouth. We made it to exactly the the same spot as last year before the world started shutting down, just across the California border. This feels like a milestone. We are here and the states aren’t shutting their doors and windows in our faces. So we stopped to rest. To breath. To relax.
Things about Oregon so far:
$6,250 is the fine for littering
You aren’t allowed to pump your own gas
Lincoln City, on the coast, squirrel away glass floats on the beaches for a game of finders/keepers.
When they say marijuana is legal… there are shops.
I was approached on the beach by a middle age woman with the gift of gab and some painful ideas. She regurgitated ideas from memes like the virus would disappear one day and come back in ten years. I tried to keep my space and assist her in reality. My husband had his own conversation with a teacher where he learned that the local population holds beliefs about this being a part of God’s plan and the end times. There being excitement in the religious population to embrace current events and little desire to change habits.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020: Clear Lake State Park, California
The first night. We changed direction and pace to make our way home, traveling by mostly interstate instead of scenic backroads. We had to drive south to go east because a winter storm was sweeping through the Rocky Mountains, Plains and Midwest. We found this state park about an hour from where we stopped for supplies. Restaurants were starting to move to take out only by force in some places and by choice in others. It was dark and late when my phone, blue-toothed into the radio, blasted out the warning declaring a shelter-in-place order for Sonoma County. Then mid-morning a park employee accompanied by California Park Police came through to inform us they were closing the State Parks and to give us advice about where to try to stay.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020: Rabbit Island, California
Rabbit Island, a familiar camping spot for us in a National Forest, we stopped at before going to the Sequoia National Forest. Again we rolled in well after dark. And in the morning there were no cows to greet us. The news? Pennsylvania was shutting down rest stops. Someone else traveling from Florida to Michigan reported on Facebook finding hotels closing up behind and ahead of them. The Canadian/American border is closed to unnecessary travel.
Thursday, March 19, 2020: Mojave Desert Preserve, California
We stopped before dark. Finding resting spots on wild lands is too challenging after dark. Part of me was happy to see the desert again, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. A spring rain storm swept through. In the morning President Trump announces closing the southern border and sending asylum seekers back to their countries. I weep for the cruelty.
Friday, March 20, 2020: Thirty Minutes Outside Kingman, Arizona
Supplies. We’ve carried minimum supplies. After the troubles in Death Valley I started stocking up on dry foods (that was traumatic, food deserts are real), but we still kept minimal dog food and paper supplies because of the minimal space. Now we cannot find toilet paper (three states later). Getting dog food and meds filled just over the Arizona border. Getting pet food. Errands take time, checking for toilet paper and some groceries while we wait for the scripts to fill.
Illinois under stay-at-home order beginning tomorrow at 5:00pm.
Made it about thirty minutes south of Kingman, Arizona. We originally planned to cross Arizona at Flagstaff, but that city was getting cold and snow so we are going the more southern route and swinging past Phoenix. Between Phoenix and Flagstaff are mountains and twisty roads we don’t want to get tangled in right now. I’ll get to say hello to the Saguaros for a brief moment.
Saturday, March 21, 2020: Navajo National Monument
Home is probably still snowed in. Can’t stay here. Can’t get there. One day at a time. Uncertainty rocks the world. Humanity is in crisis. May we walk through this fire and come out better for it. Here, now, communities rally together finding creative ways to support each other, while our governments make cruel decisions and we let them.
We traveled. Stopped in a small town for a couple staples, tried again for toilet paper: nope. Wanted to take a break from the road and reality by stopping at the Grand Canyon. There were more people than we anticipated and a young woman up on her soap box. She stood on a rock, all attitude in her cocked hip, yelling into her phone about the people not keeping six feet apart and everyone was going to die infecting her small village. Too much. When I realized she was filming, that’s when the panic attack set in. To be clear I was able to be there without being in anyone’s space. And it took some cognitive processing to manage it.
We headed SE on 64 (Desert View Dr.) into the Navajo Nation lands. All their roadside stands were vacant and scenic points closed.
We found a place to camp for the night just before sunset in the beautiful Navajo National Monument.
Sunday, March 22, 2020: Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
The night before we discussed staying a day or two to catch our breath, but in the morning (late morning) we both felt ready to go on. No sooner had I stepped out of the camper, then a park officer rolled up in his truck, decked out with a regular surgical mask, to inform me the park was closed and we had to leave. Not that it was closing, closed, note: there was no one to pay for the site last last night and the park was half full.
I’ve tempered my desires to stop for photographs in exchange for eating more pavement. This was harder driving through the harsh and beautiful Navajo lands of Arizona and New Mexico. Passing on Monument Valley and Shiprock. Along with local flavor like homemade signs; “I Eat Pilgrims” and “Tourist Go Home.” Also passed up (I believe) a Native mural depicting a face with respirator “Beware Covid-19.”
We thought we had found National Forest land to camp on twenty minutes outside of Taos, New Mexico. Found it gated and the road snowed in. I was tortured with the drive through Taos to get there. Knowing no matter how much I wanted to see the town, circumstances were out of my control.
New Mexico’s decision to close state parks became, clearly, more of a challenge than anticipated as the sun set. I made my husband pull over (despite his insistence the signs demanded a pass to park) to eat and stretch before we did this stretch of road in the dark (and hopefully find an easy place to stop for sleep off of I-25 or before. A rest stop, Cracker Barrel or Walmart would do.
Or… a wildlife refuge.
Monday, March 23, 2020: Stapleton, Nebraska
Morning came on slow and mild. The morning plan: north to Nebraska via Kansas to avoid the storm systems. Ever North and East.
Michigan, our destination: Stay Home, Stay Safe Order; in effect at midnight.
Rolled through the Kansas plains while the news cascaded on by the minute. What inevitable choices would our leaders make? I worry for us more now than I did after 9/11. As much as I’d dreamed of seeing this country and then maybe the world, now I want to curl up in the forgotten forests of the southern shores of Lake Superior. Where our winters are harsh, but the people are strong. Where the world can forget to send it’s problems and we can carry on.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota
Home was closer, but still too far away. Woke up to a cloud of starlings filling the air and spring fields with sound. Word came that the road to our home was narrowly plowed with tall crusty snow banks. Two hard days of travel or linger and hope for a melt? Linger and what new developments would occur in the country? Linger and be subjected to unknown tides. Or go on?
Thank you Nebraska gas station, finally scavenged a roll of toilet paper. Situation critical. By this measure, Tuesday was a good day. By others, I don’t know. On this day the United States President switched his rhetoric from being a war time president to seeing churches packed for Easter and reopening the economy while we crossed the American heartland.
Drove by a rural bar in South Dakota with a full parking lot. What will history sound like?
We had made reservations for a campground in Minnesota. I was stoked upon arrival to check out the showers. I practically skipped over to the building, to find each door locked.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota
A great long deep breath and stood still while the world turned.
Hoped to shower. Dashed.
Hoped to do laundry. Failed to rally the effort and energy.
My husband went to procure supplies from the nearby town while I could barely keep my eyes open. The other camper left. We saw many campers and RV’s on the road this week, more than we had seen moving before.
News: Wisconsin: “Safer at Home” went into effect for 30 days. Waiting for news on the governments passing the relief bill. India locked down.
Thursday, March 26, 2020: Home, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
We left the campground before sunrise. Drove through fog and drizzle, I reflected on the desert. A place still relatively wild and free because of its harsh climate, like home.
News: Minnesota “Stay at Home Order” ordered and in effect Friday, March 27. We passed a huddle of smokers outside a pretzel factory and saw people sitting down to eat at a gas station diner. News about New York grows worse daily. New Orleans. Georgia. Washington state. Florida. San Francisco.
Home. I know these roads and trees. For hours now I’ve known these roads. We are going to pass near where we bought the camper soon. (It is coming apart again). The snow banks are still high. The trees are small and grow densely together. Boreal Forest. 35 degrees. No cactus. No Border Patrol. No surreal landscapes. No starfish. No whale plumes. To reach a big metropolitan area one has to drive at least six hours. To reach a major city, eight to nine hours.
News: the United States has surpassed Italy and China in Covid-19 cases.
Update: after crawling across the snow bank with a cat in my arm and sliding down into the dark recesses of my cold dark home, I waited while my husband hit the switches on the circuit breaker. Heat and hot water would be mine soon. My cat wandered the dark rooms calling. Light! Glorious light. Which dimmed… and flicked and died away. We are back in the camper for the night. Dreams of long hot showers without pressing buttons every thirty seconds will have to wait on the power company.
A driveway stay for a little over a week. Long enough to completely scatter our things across the camper. A breath of stability and exploration of the coast.
There were challenges finding the correct location of the tide pools. Challenges, I say.
Attempt no. 1 brought us to this beautiful bay we could park right next to and waltz up to the shoreline. We arrived just before sunset at low tide.
Attempt no. 2 “I think it’s this way.” We parked and had a few choices on trails to take through the low shoreline scrub brush leading into the cascading dunes. I followed, blindly, my husband up and down the coastal dunes (sand mountains?) to a dead end with rubber legs. And back up I slogged through the sand. We tried another trail. Up and down the dunes to the tide pools.
Attempt no. 3, with new directions, we tried again following a reasonable trail down through the shore vegetation to the tide pools.
I can’t forget visiting Morro Bay and Otters…
Elephant Seal Rookery, San Simeon
Near Hearst Castle the Elephant Seals gather for the breeding season. Thousands. Hundreds were on the beach and so many more were in the water. Mostly they lay on the sand barely moving, flipping sand across their backs on occasion. We followed the sounds down the beach to where an older male was chasing away an interloper and the yearlings and pups were playing.
After leaving the main beach we stopped at another roadside pullout. My husband thought it was a regular beach (signage was in not apparent) and just before reaching the beach I stopped him from coming face to face with a young male elephant seal.
Los Padres National Forest
Big Sur. We stayed on the south side for two nights and it rained in California. For a brief moment the sun shined and we took a walk to the ocean cliffs. Where I was quickly about the abundance of poison oak in the state of California. I made it out of California unscathed.
We left the campground in Los Padres National Forest and followed 1 up the coast to Monterey. We camped at Laguna Seca with it’s epic green views and racetrack. Racetrack. Yes we camped to the sounds of race cars zooming all day.
250 years old with a literary and canning past, Monterey sits by the ocean with its gem the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ve never been to one so I have no comparison. All I can say is it was spectacular and inspiring. When we arrived the octopus was active and moving around it’s tank. Swelling and swirling his arms. In addition to the real Octopi there was another beautiful multimedia exhibit dedicated to how octopi and squid were historically depicted. There were schools of fish swimming in current tanks, jellyfish dancing. rescued shore birds, touch tanks, sharks, a green sea turtle, and art exhibited by artists dedicated to bringing awareness to the problem of plastics in the ocean.
Unfortunately for me I was the recipient of an ignorant and hostile public policing effort at the Octopus tank. A young mother, with a brood of homeschool kids, took it upon herself to attack me for my camera’s meter light because the sign said no flash. Then there was a mob reaction. Another woman chimed in with: “haven’t you taken enough photographs, you can stop so the rest of us can enjoy the exhibit.”
I was so frustrated and angry. Not one of those women felt the need to say a single word to my husband who was also photographing. And a guy next to me flashed the octopus with his iPhone, but he just “made a mistake.”
It took a male staff member to step in and set the mob straight. And as an artist I’ve been singled out more than once in my life for not following the rules as other people, and often, women see them. And more than once I’ve had to stand my ground, hold my breath and carry on knowing that I’m on a different path they don’t understand, I’M NOT WRONG I AM AN ARTIST.
We made a stop an hour outside of San Francisco so I could attempt to make contact with someone in the city. We crossed over the Golden Gate for fun (not fun) and later the Bay Bridge for me to search a six story public library with no luck on finding this person. My heart breaks for this country of haves and have nots. I wish others understood, or tried, a little, to understand how fragile mental and financial stability are.
Northern California & Touching Oregon
Its sort of a blur now. I’m writing this and it is still recent history. That wasn’t even days ago I was in San Francisco and now its under a Shelter in Place order. The thing about the old truck was we didn’t have a radio. We couldn’t listen to any news in the truck and we were often places with poor service. History is now catching up so fast now that we have the news available in the new truck. When we were driving up the California Coast to Oregon the Covid-19 troubles seemed distant. By the time we landed in Brookings, Oregon it was obvious that we needed to head home. Now California is shutting down state parks. New Mexico already shut them down.
With great sadness, my feet kissed the Pacific Northwest and turned tail. We are heading south to head east because it is still winter in the Rocky Mountains. It is time to go home. The world is out of our control and it’s time to go home to the roads we know.
The rest of this tale will hopefully be of the long road home.