Up The Road: Great California Road Trip!

Aug 5, 2020

"Lonely as God and white as a winter moon," is how the 19th-century poet Joaquin Miller described Mount Shasta, a key feature of the Volcanic California Tour.
Credit Darron Birgenheier / Flickr Creative Commons


It’s clear that 2020 is the year of the Great American Road Trip. Roaming around in our own personal “safety bubbles,” be they family cars, funky campers, or travel trailers, fits our COVID-19-era need to control personal exposure to the virus while also seeing new or favorite places, and doing fun things. Having a life, however we define that, and embracing something close to “normal.” Of course, we all want that—and other options for making travel safe, including bike touring, say, or hiking from here to there, campground to campground.

If the concept of “school-year” suddenly seems less relevant, given the many public-health safety questions still unanswered, we still think of summer as the time to pack up and hit the road. Before school starts, even if that “start” will be online.

So: No wonder there’s suddenly a run on rental RVs, and vacation cabins or homes in California’s scenic outback, and endless demand for bikes, hiking boots, and camping equipment just about everywhere. No wonder California’s loneliest landscapes are starting to get crowded. We still need to keep our distance, but we also need novelty—new sights, new experiences—and with the Grim Reaper so busy everywhere around us, the sense is that there’s no time like the present.

So: In the weeks and months ahead, come along with Up the Road on some supreme California road trips—where to go, both general directions and very particular destinations, as we seek to meet the immense COVID-19 need for breathing room.

The Volcanic California Tour, for example, in the state’s great northeastern outback, seeing and doing the everyday wonders and vast vistas of geologic time. In addition to hiking volcanoes and spelunking down into lava caves, we’ll visit the volcanic battleground of the U.S. Army’s last major war against Native Americans—the one the Indians almost won.

Mount Shasta as seen from the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Credit Michael McCullough / Flickr Creative Commons

And the Eastern Sierra Nevada Tour, one of my own all-time favorites, skirting the edge of the Great Basin. I’m pretty sure no one tires of these Hwy. 395 panoramas—breathtaking in spring, yes, so much steep granite and glowing snow, but also bracing in autumn, when fall color paints the slopes. Or, how about touring California’s stunning Sierra Nevada passes? Host to the Markleeville Death Ride and other memorable adventures. Even today there are very few places where vehicles of any kind can get up and over California’s massive central mountain range—and most of those disappear once the snow flies.

Then there’s California’s Redwood Coast, where you can wander in awe among the world’s tallest trees, the last remnant of vast forests that spanned the globe five million years ago. And Central California’s Big Sur Coast, ruggedly scenic rocky coasts that rival any in the world. Big Sur was such a remote place, until engineers finally carved a highway into its stony face, that the California sea otter—thought to have been clubbed into extinction by fur hunters in the 1800s—staged a comeback there, against all odds. As did, nearby, the Northern Elephant seal.

And if you’re still road-tripping come winter, or plan to wait until then to start your great California adventure, don’t forget the state’s magnificent desert—actually, many different deserts, all of them quite inviting in the balmy winter months. Talk about wide open spaces.

Until next time, when we start mapping out key details of these and other California road trips.

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