This is a love letter to the California Road Trip, pure, simple and without apology. It can be no other way. California stuns you, beguiles you, seduces you, makes your heart race, your breath quicken, your soul soar. Gaze out over Yosemite Valley after a summer twilight rainstorm — waterfall tongues plummeting from heaven, fog wraiths rising from the pines, the day’s last fairy glow falling full on Half Dome’s bald face — and you will be forever changed.
There are places in this world that make you glad you’re alive. California possesses a wholly unfair share of them. If states were poems, California is the Iliad. If states were road trip songs, well, chose your own (for us, it’s a two way-tie between “Born to be Wild” and, yes, “Ventura Highway.”)
The moon, swollen and full, rising above a purpling desert, oddly crooked Joshua trees bent in respectful silence. The Alabama Hills at high noon, phantasmagoric rocks the size of tractor trailer trucks jumbled upon each other as if a giant lost interest in some great domino game. A Fall River fishing lodge, where old clocks tick loudly and nighttime yarns are spun slow as the golden trout brought to the surface that morning (or maybe not, depending on who is doing the lying). Country cafes, anywhere beyond the cities, where suspendered old timers wait on off kilter wood floors for a slice of Make Yo’ Mama Cry pecan pie and outside working trucks rumble past brick mercantiles with star spangled banners luffing in the breeze. Gold Country, its lovely road ribbons running beside quiet oaks and scrolling barbed wire fences with flower pots hanging on the posts for no reason other than the loveliness of flowers. The redwood forests, ferns the size of children overseen by stoic redwood parents and timeless hush. High Sierra meadows running with the wind. A Mammoth hot spring, lava-warmed and ideally suited for contemplating cloud shapes drifting above the ends of your toes. Breathing air you want to drink, gazing out across a world of butter-cream snow in Lassen National Park. Shasta Lake and the peace that descends on a houseboat at twilight as your family and their memories settle in for the night.
You have to see these places, for to see them is to have them walk along with you for the rest of your life.
And yes, Ventura, waves rising off an empty beach at dusk, their looping crests leaving wispy horse mane trails in the air. In the waning light, the ocean assumes a bruised blue. In the distance, the looming bulk of Santa Cruz Island is precisely the same color. A salt-laced, downy-soft nightfall.
There aren’t words for this sort of beauty and serenity.
It is like falling in love.
Yes we have seen hard times, and they aren’t over yet.
But know this. The ultimate road trip state waits, just around the bend.