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So much raving about the desert. In reality, our excitement waned pretty fast. Being beach people, we got desert fever after barely a week. There’s only so much rocks and stones you can look at before they start to blur together into a reddish hue under the unrelenting sun. At Arches, we barely had any energy left after lunch whereas before, we would hike from sunrise to sunset. We decided to hit the gas pedal and bolt out of Utah. desert primitive camping, Escalante, Utah

road trip, America, Utah, open road Our time in Idaho was short but rather eventful. I wanted to head north to check out the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness. I had no idea what is there except that the name sounds badass, but all roads up north were blocked due to forest fires. We camped at a small park by a dam outside Boise before moving onto Oregon, and witnessed an unfortunate accident of a car falling into the dam that resulted in a dramatic helicopter rescue.

Shoshone Falls, Niagara of the West, Idaho

Shoshone Falls, advertised as Niagara of the West

In Oregon, we made a quick stop at Bend for me to go on the Deschutes factory tour and then headed to our last national park of the trip: Crater Lake. The cool air was a nice welcome after the desert and forest fires. There were still patches of ice covering the ground, in the middle of August. We actually didn’t have high expectations for the park since neither of us had heard much about it before. As it turned out, the main attraction of the park enchanted us as much as the desert did before. It’s the bluest of blue. I’d never known that blue could be so unyielding and mesmerizing, and I doubt any photos could do it justice. We later learned that Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US, the second deepest in North America, and the 9th deepest in the whole world. Not a bad record. Another reason for the water clarity is that it has no inlet or outlet and is refilled by direct precipitation.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, hiking

Crater Lake

Our trip concluded with leisure hiking and rafting with friends in southern Oregon and northern California.

whitewater rafting, Trinity River, California

On the Trinity

Goodbye national parks! You are what I admire most about the US, preserved undisturbed wilderness that is open to anyone with the time and energy to explore and enjoy and cultivate the love for nature, for the Earth.

But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need — if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us — if only we were worthy of it … Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself. – Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey.

August 2012,

Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear-the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break….I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun. – Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey

As we left California for Nevada and Utah, I started reading out loud “Desert Solitaire” to Col whenever we had a break, at lunch or after setting up camp before cooking dinner each night. I didn’t know then but I couldn’t have picked out a better companion for this leg of the trip. Abbey is so witty and opinionated – especially on his car-loving compatriots – and his prose reads like poetry. The whole book is quotable. He gave us the perfect introduction and explanation of the desert landscape, based on his experience as a seasonal park ranger at the Arches National Park.

Quite simply, I had never seen such a scenery before. It actually got me interested in that dreary sounding subject of geology. I could never have imagined that one day my jaw would drop looking at rocks! But how could you not? Looking at rocks of orange and pink and red layering on top of each other, flaming up as the sun sets, how could you not ask questions and want to learn to pronounce those prehistoric names of the Earth’s past?

Valley of Fire, Nevada, colored rocks, desert

Valley of Fire, Nevada

Valley of Fire, Nevada, colored rocks, desert

Valley of Fire, Nevada, colored rocks, desert, hieroglyph

Zion national park, Utah, cliffs

We went marveling, from the fire rocks at Valley of Fire to the colored cliffs and narrow gorge at Zion to delicate bridges and arches diligently carved through millions of years by water, sometimes in the form of rivers and other times as tiny droplets.

Zion National Park, Utah, The Narrows, gorge hiking

The Narrows, Zion NP

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

a natural bridge

balancing egg, Arches National Park, Utah

Balancing Egg, Arches NP

Double O Arch, Arches, National Park, Utah, hiking

Upper O of Double-O-Arch, Arches NP

But Bryce Canyon topped it all. Hoodoos, what the hell are those! It was surreal walking through this rock forest, each hoodoo a unique creation of nature.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, hoodoos, amphitheater, hiking

the amphitheater, Bryce Canyon NP

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, hoodoos, amphitheater, hiking

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, hoodoos, hiking  Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, hoodoos, hiking, desert tree

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, hoodoos, hiking, desert tree

July 2012, I never traveled much during my years in the US, except for a couple of trips along the two coasts where I stayed with friends and their families. It’s a vast country and everything is so far apart that it’d only make sense to travel if you can drive. I’m not a fan of driving. And I didn’t feel safe hitchhiking in the mainland either. In July, as I was getting ready to move back to Vietnam permanently, I thought here might be my last chance to try out the famous concept of an American roadtrip: open road with endless paths and opportunities. In Hawaii, you can’t roadtrip. You only drive around (literally). Col wanted to go as well and would take care of the driving. So out we flew, equipped with an edition of National Geographic North America Adventure Road Atlas borrowed from Nancy, a second-hand national parks annual pass I bought from a fellow Hale Manoa resident, a floppy one-person tent purchased at 50% off ($15) from Sports Authority, and lots of sunscreen. We landed in Oakland, where Col’s sister and a bunch of my friends from college lived. I had forgotten how chilly the mainland could be, so one of our first stops was a thrift store for me to pick up a sweater, and a cowboy hat. Our rental car came through Costco travel, a black Kia Rio, the smallest size and most fuel efficient available. And we hit the road. Did we know where we would end up? Only for the next day. And that’s the beauty of a mainland roadtrip. Each morning, we woke up and looked at the maps to see which trail we would hike and where we would drive to after. It was a bit of trouble in the beginning when we were still in California because all the parks were packed and there was not a single space open at campsites since reservations were made weeks, if not months in advance. But still, not held down by routines and itineraries, we felt free.

Yosemite National Park, car camping

what to do when you can’t find a campsite

Yosemite: Yosemite national park, hiking, cliff  Yosemite national park, hiking, cliff

Yosemite national park, hiking

Yosemite national park, hiking, cliff

Yosemite national park, hiking, waterfall

Sequoia:

Sequoia national park, giant dead sequoia tree root

Dead giant

Sequoia national park, giant sequoi tree

Living giant

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I had a pretty hectic couple of days when I first got to the Bay Area.

I flew from San Diego to San Francisco, accompanied by Duong. We took the BART, SF’s subway system, from the airport to Oakland, waited an hour at the subway station, took a cab in the end that cost $70 to go to Trang’s uncle’s place, 2.7 miles (4.5 kms) away. We thought we’d stay there but then decided to spend that night in SF instead, paid for two dorm beds in a hostel last-minute and ended up sleeping together in only one. Read the rest of this entry »

My old friend, Duong, came to pick me up at the San Diego airport on the 31st. Duong was, and still is in my group of close friends from middle school. We hadn’t seen each other for 4.5 years, since I left for college the summer of 2005 – how time flies. We left almost immediately with two more friends of hers. Direction: Las Vegas. So was *everyone* else. It took us 8 hours, instead of the usual 4. The traffic was absolutely insane – it was at times as bad as sitting in a cab in Times Square – it drives you nuts ’cause you are *not* going anywhere, and it seems like it’d be 5 times faster walking.

Back

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It’s cold here in Chicago. The feels-like temperature during the day hovers around 20F and sometimes dips down to 10F, -6C and -11C respectively. It’s not the weather for chilling outside, but if you have been to the beach in the winter, when the sky is endlessly gray and the wind keeps cutting into your face no matter how low you keep your head, you know that it is miserable, depressing, but the solitude at the same time is strangely irresistible.

We walked to the shore of lake Michigan, and visited a couple of parks. It didn’t feel like being in the third largest city in the U.S.

Lake Michigan:

view from above

on the way

Lincoln Park:

Grant Park (?)

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