Before visiting California, I had an ignorant impression of it. Stars and starstruck fans. Kitchy Hollywood and a lot of nose powderers and nose powderers. This being my third trip, I’ve obviously changed my opinion. There’s nothing like experiencing something firsthand to form an unbiased opinion about it. I feel like I’ve covered a lot on my first two trips and yet there is so much more to see in this incredible State that changes terrain and temperature like it’s going out of style.

Intending to visit Joshua Tree National Park on each trip, I finally made it this time around. It’s a desert landscape, extremely hot this time of year, so I kept the hikes to short walks. The tree the park is named after is extraordinary. Its twisted branches and pines a twin to Medusa. I stayed overnight inside the park at Jumbo Rocks Campground. What it lacked in amenities it made up for in beauty. My very own nook surrounded by huge boulders. I played my favourite ukulele songs as the sun went down, then tucked into my tent and slept soundly with my lungs full of campfire and a thick blanket of stars.

Salton Sea, an accidentally man-made lake, was once a popular resort spot. The water, now poisoned by agricultural runoff and high salt levels, has killed off many of the fish, birds and consequently, tourism. It’s hard to imagine that Sonny Bono and Frank Sinatra used to hang out in this stinky, mostly abandoned shithole.

I spent a couple of nights in San Diego walking along Sunset Cliffs and hanging out on Newport Road, where hippies and fire breathers flaunt their talents. I hit the world famous San Diego Zoo and am happy to report that Toronto Zoo is a close runner-up.

Los Angeles – first and foremost coffee with Nick! A dear friend and creative genius. I was in dire need of a reboot. A place to crash without a checkout time. I threw down a tent in his backyard and it felt like home for a few days. There is always good food, hearty laughter, and maybe a little sit down bocce ball with fallen lemons and oranges, when you’re with Nick. I’m indebted to him for the endless and selfless photographic advice and knowledge he has thrown my way in the few years that I’ve known him. We did a lot of gallivanting around the city. I was shocked to find out that LA has oil rigs smack dab in the middle of the city, covered up by the shells of buildings that are made to look a little corporate and inconspicuous to blend in with their surroundings, we found two of them on our adventures. Normally excited to be on my way and see the next big thing, I’m contrarily sad to leave here.

My scenic drive on a road called Rim of the World, through the San Bernardino Mountains, was cut short by a fire that managed to burn 30,000 acres of forest and took 2,200 firefighters and some long awaited rain to finally extinguish. The most I could see of the fire was a tuft of smoke above the trees in the distance.

A small fee gets you on to Lake El Mirage, a dry lakebed with no speed limit. I hesitated driving too fast, being unfamiliar with the terrain and literally questioning if I was about to drive into the mirage of a lake in the distance – what a wuss! I stopped for a few pictures and chuckled when a tumbleweed actually rolled by.

The next few days took me through more hot summer desert. I caught the sunset driving through the Mojave. Feeling inclined to tone down the photos, as if no one will believe the colours were real. But the sun was fuschia, the sky orange, and the mountains lavender. I stopped at the almost abandoned Amargosa Opera House and Hotel, seemingly in the middle of nowhere at Death Valley Junction, then made my way over to a few scenic overlooks at Death Valley National Park. Just outside of the park, even with the sun down, I sweat myself to sleep at 106°F, that’s 41°C for my fellow Canadians.

My heart quickened and tears brimmed on first sight of the burgundy streaked peaks at Yosemite National Park. I walked the circumference of Dog Lake while electric blue dragonflys danced around me, then breathlessly climbed to the top of Lembert Dome which I mistook for an easy hike. The smooth rock surface at the top is big enough to get lost on, and I did. I’m learning many life lessons on this adventure, like, never try to take a shortcut down a mountain, the mountain usually wins. I figured my way out in a dehydrated state and nearly kissed the man that gave me half his water. A total hike time of six hours, I’m sure glad I brought that apple and a handful of mixed nuts.

It was a victorious week for Americans with the confederate flag being banned, Obamacare put in place, and the Federal ruling to legalize same sex marriage. I felt so privileged to be here to experience the energy and chat with locals about the changes. What an incredible coincidence that I happened to be just driving through San Francisco during the Gay Pride Parade. The streets were packed and the good vibes contagious. The city has a lot of homeless. I’m ashamed to admit, although I don’t show it, my reflex reaction to them is one of fear and repulsion. It only lasts for a second, but it’s there. To combat my dis-ease, I picture them as young children, curled up to their mothers. It helps me remember that if you strip everything down, we stand as equals, the same manner of flesh and blood. Many of them mentally ill and more afraid of me, than I am of them.

Among the top five list of what I want to see on this trip are the Redwood Trees. A few of them 2000 years old, most on average 500 – 600 years old, and over 300 feet tall. There are two main parks, Humboldt State Park and Redwood National/State Park, both on par with each other. I put the camera on self-timer and ran into frame in order to give perspective to the size of the trees AND because it was a hell of a lot of fun posing like an idiot.

My sweet friends Lucy and Terry at Avalon Fine Jewellers, introduced me to Holly Yashi Jewelry, whose showroom and factory is located in Arcata, a cute little hipster town in the north. The sales reps coerced me into enjoying a cappuccino while I browsed and spent more money than I should have. The jewellery is unique in that it is made with a metal called niobium. The vibrant colours and gradients, which seem to be painted on, are actually created through oxidation at different temperatures, all done right on site.

Halfway through California I decided to stop being a lazy photographer. Instead of taking five pictures and walking away dissatisfied, I spent more time at each place and really tried to capture it. Used the tripod. Tried different compositions and camera settings. I’m so happy with the results. Instead of struggling to find photos that I like and want to post, I’m challenged with too many to choose from. I hope you enjoy a few of them.

zel xo

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