The rocky cliffs of the California Coast

Pacific Coast Van-Life

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The Pacific coast of the United States is a full sensory journey. It includes rugged coastlines, ancient trees, and craters that defied our understanding of blue.

After leaving Quartzite, a mecca in Nomadland, we stopped in northern LA to visit with Trin’s family. From North LA we drove up the Pacific coast to Seattle in our Mazda 5, experiencing some micro-van life.

Trin making dinner behind our Mazda 5
Dinner out of the back of the Mazda 5. Experiencing some micro-van life.

The Coastal Road

Two lanes of the Pacific Coast Highway tightly hug the outer edge of the steep California coast.  A thousand feet below us the ocean stretched out to the horizon. The road wound around the edge of the greenish-brown mountainsides. Tallgrass covering the mountainsides undulate back and forth in the wind as if imitating the ebb and flow of the sea below. 

We stopped at each viewpoint just to stand, stare, and of course, take a thousand pictures. The west coast is a journey of destinations. The sound of the waves crashing below played a song while the wind was ever-changing. At times the wind whispered of ships that passed long ago in the waters below. At other times it howled its tales of the mariners lost at sea on its rocky shores.

The long beach at Point Ryes
Years ago Trin saw a cool-looking peninsula from an airplane and thought it was cool. He decided someday he wanted to see it in person. Ten years later, we got to stand here at Point Reyes and see it from the ground.
Animals and coastline of California
California Coast

Trees of the Coast

We stopped to wander on a coastal trail. The evergreens around us leaned in their permanent wind-blown bow to the east. Spanish moss hung from each needle as if they were slender fingers reaching out to caress those who walk beneath her branches. When the fingers tickled my neck it sent a shiver down my spine.


Further north groves of eucalyptus line the coastal route. Their shredded bark revealed smooth multi-colored trunks. The sight of them stirred up my love for Australia that we left not long ago. Australia is a country primarily of eucalypti trees.

Rugged western pine trees lining the road in California.
Rugged Western Pines line the road

The Landlord of Time

Homes sit perilously close to the cliffs or cling to the hills along the shore. These homes have amazing views to fill their every waking hour. I imagine a sense of peace and awe these views could give to those who dwell within those walls.

As the waves below pounded out its metronome of time I reflected on the ownership. This land may be owned by evidence of a signed deed in the courthouse, but in reality, it is leased. The ocean is the true landlord.  Someday the sea may claim it by consuming it into the ocean. It might be erosion, a storm, or both. In the natural changing of the earth, we are but a vapor on the salty breath of its song.

Light House at Pigeon Point in Pescadero, California
Light House at Pigeon Point in Pescadero, California

Car Camping

Traveling in our Whizbanger Mazda 5 makes life simple. When the sun begins to fade we pull off the road to a free camping site, cook dinner on our camp stove, and turn in for the night. 

We utilize an app called iOverlander and sometimes freecampsites.net to find legal places to park overnight. Our goal is to find secluded places with privacy that include a great view. Sometimes we don’t find the great view and once we just parked overnight at a rest stop. It wasn’t our favorite but we both slept well and it is easy.

By car camping, we don’t have to waste time checking into a sterile hotel that is the same everywhere or lug our belongings in and out each day. All our belongings are organized under our bed. We are home wherever we are.

At night we lay down to the colors of the sunset fading and then enjoy the display of the sun rising each morning. We have sufficient privacy with our window coverings, but often we are parked in such secluded areas that we leave the windows and back hatch open. Trin sewed magnets on bug screens that cover the windows keeping us safe from the mosquitos.

Van-life secluded camping
Secluded camping πŸ’—
The morning sunlight shinning through the pine trees
Van-Life is waking up to this view.

Redwoods, the Tallest Trees in the World

If home had to be a place for me it would be among the trees. Maybe this is why walking among Redwoods, the tallest trees in the world, was a long-anticipated experience for me. 

The earthy smell of pine fills my lungs and my imagination. To me, the smell of the evergreen has always been an elixir of peace. The soft fibrous bark of the trees absorbs sound and worries from the outside world. A carpet of pine needles cushions every step giving me the stealth of moccasin-clad feet.

The giant trunks of the redwoods lift my gaze towards the heavens where filtered light descends in soft beams. The evergreen branches through which they pass glow far above my head. The air among the trees is cooled, a respite from the heat outside the forest.

Trin in front of the roots of a fallen tree in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
A fallen tree in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Water from the Mist 

The Redwood forest creates its own ecosystem. The trees retain cool air and gather moisture from sea fog. The forest averages 70 inches of rainfall each year, but the height of the trees allows them to capture an additional 40 inches of moisture.

The California coastal current and upwelling of colder waters have a major effect on the climate of the area and the amount of moisture that the fog carries inland for the trees to capture. The upwelling that occurs off the coast of California is one of five major currents affiliated with strong upwelling.

Fun Fact: One of the other currents impacted by an upwelling is the Humboldt current. Interestingly, in the bone dry region of the Atacama, a coastal desert beside the Humbold upwelling, humans have learned to capture water from the air much like the redwood have been doing for centuries.

Looking up at the tall trees in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California
Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world

Co-Dependent Ecosystem

Redwoods have a very shallow root system. One tree on its own would soon succumb to wind and topple over. But together, not only do they capture water from the air, but they also give each other strength to stand. The trees interlock their root systems providing the foundation to keep them upright. It is a wonderfully designed ecosystem that has kept the forest alive for thousands of years.

Other Redwoods forests: The only naturally growing population of Redwoods resides on the western coast of the United States. There is, however, a grove of planted Redwoods in Australia. The Aussie Redwoods are babies (less than 90 years old) compared to this forest with trees that are a couple of centuries old. To me, both forests elicited the same peaceful quietness and similar cool ecosystems.

Redwood Travel Tips

The Avenue of the Giants winds through groves of redwoods. There are also plenty of places to park and hike through the forest. Hiking is a must, even if the hike is short.

One of our favorite hikes was in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It seemed to have the perfect combination of massive trees and streams.

Our Mazda 5 parked by the redwoods in Avenue of the gods
Avenue of the Gods
Trin standing by redwood trees in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Moving on to Oregon

At the top of California, we drove inland to experience Crater Lake. It is still early in the season so only the West Rim Drive was cleared of snow and open. Seeing snow in the crater was pretty special.

Crater Lake, Oregon
My first glimpse of Crater Lake

Crater Lake

They say that blue is a color that can heal. It’s hard to prove scientifically but most of us can attest to feeling calm under a blue sky or next to blue waters. But today I saw a blue that took my breath away. A blue that reached into my soul and filled me.

This blue that so tantalized me was held in the waters of Crater Lake. I gasped when I reached the edge of the crater and the water below came into view.

This filling from the beauty of art is more than a mathematical equation. It is like looking at a painting that moves us. Something that we can quite pinpoint tells us that the artist possibly knew something we didn’t, something we needed to see that somehow brings us joy. Science can not explain why.

Stump by Crater Lake
How deep is Crater Lake?

The deepest point below the lake surface is 1,943 feet (592 meters).

What is the highest point in Crater Lake National Park?

Mount Scott overlooks Crater Lake. It’s elevation is 8,929 feet (2721 meters) and is the highest elevation in Crater Lake National Park. Many of the crater ridges are over 8,000 feet in elevation. The surface of Crater Lake itself is 6,173 feet (1882 meters).

Crater Lake reflecting the craters edge
Crater Lake, Oregon

Wizard Island

The crowd gathered at the overlook to Wizard Island. We waited our turn in line as people took selfie after selfie so that we could get to the edge and see the view. When our turn came, we took a photo or two of Wizard Island and then just as quickly we extracted ourselves from the crowd.

A desolate sidewalk partially covered with snow led off to the right so we followed it. It was the best view of all! 

Everyone had followed the crowd to the official lookout platform and they missed out on the best part.  From this trail, not only could we see the island but we also saw the shallow water between Wizard Island and the edge of the bigger crater in which it sits. The colors varied between blue and green, a contrast from the deep blue palate of the rest of the lake that was not visible from the official lookout.

I find this to be true in our travels and also life in general, that the best things are rarely found where the crowd is. The crowd just gathers at the places advertised the most. Many people feel secure in numbers believing that the crowd must be right, even when time and again history has proven crowds can be wrong.

Wizard Island, a crater mountain within Crater Lake

Meeting Friends

When we finally reached Seattle we stayed with Trin’s cousin George. He and his wife, Annie, made us feel completely at home. We spent a few days with Trin’s dad and other relatives eating, talking, eating, working on cars, and then eating some more.

We also got to meet up again with a couple we met in Villa De Leyva, Colombia. Just like the first time when we met them four years ago, our hours together were filled with laughter. We laughed till my face hurt and talked until the restaurant had long since closed. They even gave us some samples from their Cadee Distillery to enjoy later. They were so good!

Travel for us is not only the beauty of nature but the people we meet. They highlight each destination with precious memories.

Samples from Colin & Sandy from Cadee Distillery

Washington State Rainforest

From Seattle, we headed towards Idaho – my fiftieth state to explore! We made sure to stop for a few hikes on our way towards Idaho in the temperate rainforest of Washington State.

Moss, river, and waterfalls in the Washington Rainforest
Rain forest in Washington State

Finding Silence

When we worked in corporate America we managed every second to make sure it was productive. Every moment was filled with learning and doing. Sounds of conference calls, traffic, TV, and music filled our ears. Even at night the “quiet” was filled with the hum of electricity. The thing is productivity is a great thing, but it seemed that we had lost the skill of being still.

In our travels we have experienced absolute silence and natures sounds that have given us space to simply be. We have discovered our creative sides and reveled in the peace of being still.

No doubt we stay busy and have lots that we are still learning, but it is all on lists with reasonable timelines and plenty of room to explore beauty.

When was the last time you took a walk in the woods (without your music or podcasts!)? Do you take time to be still?

Blue door in Bolivia

Note: Ads on this site provide a small commission to 43BlueDoors. All proceeds are donated to supporting young girls rescued from human trafficking.

10 thoughts on “Pacific Coast Van-Life”

  1. I remember all the times we traveled across the country when growing up. Your travels are bringing back memories – good ones! The Redwood Forest is absolutely stunning. But as you are touching upon it, there is such peace about the ocean and the woods!

  2. I took a little holiday in April and went along the Great Ocean Road. I wanted to see the redwoods but missed out.
    Oh well! It just means that one day, I’ll have to go back. πŸ™‚

    1. There is so much to see it’s hard/impossible to fit it all in. The Great Ocean Road is amazing and the redwood grove is quite a way inland. You are still seeing so much beauty. <3

  3. Wow, Crater Lake looks beautiful! We were just up on the Oregon Coast, and loved it, but weren’t able to fit it in. But just wow. Loved seeing this and can’t wait to see your next adventure!

  4. Bonnie and Trin, I love your blog. The writing is so beautifully crafted. You take us on the journey with you! I know you didn’t originally plan to be in the US this year, but what a stunning detour!

    1. Thank you Julie! πŸ’™ We make plans and God laughs? It all works out, we will get to New Zealand eventually. Maybe that just means more time in Australia for us then too! πŸ™‚

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