As we crossed the Willamette River with downtown Portland on our right, I couldn’t help holding my phone up to the open window and trying to snap a shot between fences and railings and pillars. And of course, a second later, I had to upload the image to Instagram and play with the square cropping and the filters and the brightness until I was smiling at my accomplishment: a little 600×600-pixel souvenir uniquely mine.
I’m still not sure what it is about the filters and such that make me so addicted to Instagram. I often put my phone in airplane mode just so I can edit photos to my heart’s content without overwhelming the people who follow me (in airplane mode, Instagram saves the image to your phone but can’t update to the social media; this might be cheating, but I’m in favor of it). There’s something about choosing a “feel” and “tone” for each picture that makes me super happy.
So as I thought about how I could recap our five-day adventure, I thought Instagram might be a perfect way to show it.
We took an elevator down into a huge sea-lion cave, ate seafood on a pier, and camped in a round canvas-lined yurt near a lighthouse and a coast full of soft white sand dunes. The ocean was way too cold unless you had a full-body wetsuit, like the surfers we watched, but our kids had a fun time rolling down the hills while I searched for starfish and anemones along the jetty. No starfish found, but lots of squishy-looking sea-green anemones and spiral-shelled hermit crabs.
Here the beach sand was gray and coarse. It was strange to me how the trees actually didn’t seem much taller than they had in Oregon, maybe because I’d been expecting them to be even taller or maybe because my vantage point on the ground didn’t do them justice. At a coastal trail head we stopped at (but didn’t hike, since it was 10.5 miles round trip), the path was deep brown, almost muddy from all the moisture but still firm enough to walk on, and ferns and moss covered everything but the trail itself, some ferns shooting up into the air and others spreading out wide.
Avenue of the Giants
The forest here was drier than along the coast, giving plenty of places for walking around and exploring and poking at banana slugs. We also discovered plenty of tree houses or tunnels carved into redwood stumps for visitor amusement.
California Highway 1
South of the Avenue of the Giants, there’s a turnoff for a scenic drive that’s easy to miss. Highway 1 wound us through forests in a serpentine, nausea-inducing route until it suddenly opened to the coast, taking us along the ocean line high above the waves on grass-covered cliffs. Along the way we found little towns like Fort Bragg, where we stumbled on a classic car show while our pizza baked.
Our stay here was way too short, but we managed to squeeze in a drive down the windiest street and then dinner (our third day in a row of clam chowder!) and sightseeing on Pier 39. The view of San Francisco, Alcatraz, and a little herd of sea lions was awesome; even Instagram can’t do those justice.
This region wasn’t what I was expecting. The trees and plants were rougher, sort of scraggly looking as their jagged silhouettes jutted out to the sides. The rocky shores seemed as if someone had hacked at them with a huge dull knife that hadn’t cut all the way through, leaving plenty of cracks and crooked edges. And the houses were a mix of styles: some with the painted siding and wood shingles we were used to seeing all along the coast next to others with the red-tile roofs and stucco exteriors of a more deserty local.
At a marine reserve just south of Monterey we discovered a herd of thirteen harbor seals on a rock close to shore (in the first picture, it’s the little island on the left side in front of the cliff side). They were all different shades of brown and spotted darker or lighter (some of them had spots that were almost white) to blend in with the rocks. The shoreline was pebbled instead of sandy, the sea weed was glossy, the wildflowers short and small, but all of it was multicolored and beautiful. If only we could have gotten as close to the seals as to the squirrel that came begging for treats!
From Big Sur to Ventura
While we didn’t stay completely true to Highway 1 all the way down, we kept to it as much as possible. For long stretches the fog thwarted our view, making it feel pointless to be driving next to an ocean we couldn’t see. But every time the sky opened again we felt compelled to stop for more photos. We also stopped to watch goofy-looking creatures called elephant seals flip sand onto themselves as they lounged on a beach far from civilization. Sandy beaches for people were somewhat scarce, but we finally found a great place to stop in Santa Barbara: Leadbetter Beach with a great little cafe right on the sand. Wish I’d taken a picture of the yummiest shrimp tacos I’ve ever had.
Monday morning we had only a couple of hours to spare before rushing to LAX, but we stopped along the Walk of Fame to get pictures of El Capitan Theater and the little Disney ice cream shop next door. The street was blocked off for the premiere of Brave and the Disney store had tons of scaffolding outside for some kind of remodel, but I managed to click shots of a few details that I wanted.
University of Southern California
This stop was purely research, but the kids amused themselves at a fountain outside one of the libraries while I photographed the McCarthy Quad. I loved the landscape details of Los Angeles, like the huge strips of bark peeling off the eucalyptus trees, leaving them smooth and pale yellow and bare underneath; the scruffy beards of the palm trees; and the purple blossoms of the jacaranda trees that littered the lawn beneath them and infused the air with a gorgeous fragrance.
All in all, the photos don’t show enough of what it was like, especially the wildlife. The harbor seals were my favorite by far, watching me as attentively as I watched them. I wish I had pictures proving how ridiculous the noses of those elephant seals looked or audio of the strange roaring/honking/barking/growling of the sea lions (the wind obscured the sound every time I tried to record it).
But still, I love my little square souvenirs.