When Trev and I first discussed taking a cross-country road trip, the locations we wanted to visit were more metropolitan. We wanted to see New Orleans and Austin and Los Angeles. When we decided to bring the dogs along, things changed. Our trip turned into more of a family and friends outdoor excursion. I know Trev was disappointed about this turn, but I have to say I was excited to see the country in a new way. When I travelled for work, I got to see a lot of cities and small towns, but not a lot of nature. The complication of having two dogs in tow wasn’t always easy, but it was a fun challenge to navigate. One of the first places I thought would be just right for this kind of trip is Yosemite National Park.
One thing to know if you’re planning a trip like this with pets is that most national parks are not pet-friendly. That was a surprise to me since it seems like the perfect place to take a dog. It made sense when I started reading about how bringing pets to a park like this can change the natural ecosystem, nevermind the pets who may get attacked by bears and other wild animals living in the deep woods. Luckily, there were still enough fun things to do with the pups at Yosemite. Our biggest challenge was finding short hikes with great views so that our elderpup, Buffy, could still trot alongside us.
The trip from Phoenix to Yosemite took us through just about every climate. We drove through the city of Phoenix, the Arizona desert, and into the southern California desert. I was surprised the California desert was even more desolate than in New Mexico and Arizona. As we passed through Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, the temperatures topped 100. We had to close the windows and crank the A/C for the first time. The thought of spending a weekend out there at a music festival baking in the sun seemed like hell on Earth, temperature-wise if nothing else. Another notable site was the Palm Springs windmill farm, which was huge and unexpected. We didn’t know about it, but we’ve found out that just about everyone else does since then. We also skirted the outer edge of Joshua Tree National Park. I hadn’t realized we’d be that close, but it was a great surprise and very cool to see.
From the desert, we gradually started seeing more green until we reached Coarsgold, CA that evening. Another small but notable victory: this was our last long drive on our trip! All our drives from this point on would be four hours or less. We planned to stay at a KOA campground for the night and had a minor panic attack when we realized no one was manning the office. We were relieved to finally realize they left our key and check in information out for us. Our cabin was small and rustic but pretty nice. I’d stayed at a KOA before with my parents in upstate NY and remember it as exactly that: the bare minimum you need to spend a few nights in comfort. Buffy found herself a nook under the TV to sleep in and Hobbes loved that we were practically living in the woods.
The next morning we set off on a short hike. I have to give credit to my good friend Whitney here. I was so busy trying to plan the logistics of this trip, I did very little research on things to do in each place. This is very unlike me. Whitney happened to be going to Yosemite and Big Sur about two weeks before I left, so she did a big chunk of my research for me. She was the one who told me about the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, which was at the south end of the park where we were staying. Of course once I knew about them, I had to see them. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the park trail. I did some late night Googling when we arrived and found a trail on the way to the park that was pet-friendly where we could see redwoods and giant sequoias. It was a short mile-long hike through the woods, perfect for Buffy and a great way for us to ease into our Yosemite morning.
After hiking the Shadow of the Giants trail, we entered Yosemite proper, driving the main road to Yosemite Village. Our plan was to mostly drive and stop as desired for pictures. We did pick one more short hike for the dogs. I was kind of bummed to have to see the park from the car, but it ended up being so stunning in person I wasn’t disappointed. I’d love to go back some time and do some of the longer hikes. We saw the important stuff: El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Tunnel View, and the Yosemite Valley. The general store in Yosemite Valley really makes the park self-contained, you could go there for a week and not need to leave the park at all. Our other short hike is well known as the most bang for your buck in the park. We did the short walk to Yosemite Lower Falls. It was worth the stop. The waterfall was beautiful and Hobbes even got the chance to go swimming.
I knew this stop would be a fun, outdoorsy bonding experience. What I couldn’t have prepared myself for was how breathtaking and moving it all was. It really drove home the feeling I had in Phoenix of needing a physical life change. It also proved that for me, nothing compares to nature. I could see every city in the world and never feel the way I do spending time outside. There would be many more moments after Yosemite that prove this, some you’ll hear about in the next few weeks. We’re sneaking up closer to that life changing moment I mentioned in my first post, and no surprise, it happened outside. What’s interesting is I could have been outside in New England, I just didn’t want to be. It was too cold and I made excuses at every turn. When I pressed pause on my life and took a flying leap into the unknown, it helped me find what had been missing. Nature is truly revitalizing and this new life is all the proof I need.