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Dispatches from the Road

A selection of travel logs from both near and far.

Filtering by Category: California


Laurel Dailey

The view from the pier at Bechers Bay.

The view from the pier at Bechers Bay.

Of California’s nine national parks, Channel Islands is one of the least visited. Receiving just 366,250 visitors across all five islands in 2018, Channel Islands feels remote, removed, and isolated. By comparison, consider that Yosemite National Park welcomed 4,009,436 guests in 2018. Four million.

Statistics are one thing, but being in the presence of pristine land is quite another. Especially when that reclaimed wilderness is off a portion of the coastline that straddles central and southern California.

I’ve begun, then erased, then tried again several portions of this dispatch. Mainly I’m grasping at the filaments of recent memory, hoping to weave them into something sturdy, informative, and guide book-ish. Part of the reason so many of these facts glitter just under the surface is because when I heard them, I was distracted. I was in a fugue brought on by buffeting wind; hypnotized by water; lulled by the rhythmic shush of grasses.

So I’m beginning again—erasing the facts, leaving them as the ephemera of recent memory. They, too, will be swept away and dissolved into the past. And anyway, a cursory web search will unearth hundreds more of these tidbits than I could ever hope to remember. You didn’t come here for a research paper, after all, and I’m not here to write one.

The view from our tent at Water Canyon Campground, with Santa Cruz Island in the distance.

The view from our tent at Water Canyon Campground, with Santa Cruz Island in the distance.

On Santa Rosa Island, lacking the trappings of civilization—reception, WiFi, paved roads, vehicles, trash cans, power lines, leaf blowers—presence is something else entirely. For one thing, what most people tend to associate with wilderness is silence. But Santa Rosa is far from silent—from the warning caw of a nesting falcon in Lobo Canyon to the syncopated slapping of wind against my tent.


Neither is it very peaceful. After a surprisingly grueling trek to Lobo Canyon (grueling only insofar as my lack of preparedness left me with a quartet of blisters and one very bruised ego), with sweat pooling and muscles aching, I finally collapsed into my tent and the thought—fleeting, a whisper—came to me: Was it worth it? But the body remembers beauty, even if, in the moment, it was hedging itself against the elements.

What I kept returning to, time and again, was that spending time in such a place felt like a privilege. What an immense honor to spy the endemic island fox with his intentions set on some unknowable goal. What a privilege to observe so many wildflowers—lupine, poppy, yarrow, thistle, seaside daisy, dudleya, buckwheat, red paintbrush, morning glory, et al. It felt both fleeting and ancient, fragile and sure-footed. California’s lousy with national parks (for which I am grateful!), but next time you’re looking to go off grid, consider taking refuge on one of the Channel Islands.


Laurel Dailey


It starts in February.

In the last days of the month, you have a pretty good indication of the kind of winter it’s been. Mild, sure, that’s a given for much of California. But specifically: how much rain has there been? The bulk of our rains soak the grounds in January and February, so by the end of the second month, you start asking the inevitable question: What about the wildflowers?

And what about them? They’re finicky, to be sure—prone to fits and starts like any delicate thing. It can neither be too hot or too cold, and timing is everything. But the most important element is rain. The best blooms happen when there’s a whole lotta rain—buckets of it.


The winter of 2018-19 produced just such a scenario wherein a super bloom was likely. Beginning in February, I was checking the DesertUSA report daily, monitoring the bloom along with thousands of other flower nerds. By late march, Carrizo Plain National Monument was nearing its peak.

It was worth the 4.5-hour trek to the grasslands east of San Luis Obispo to see these hills awash in vibrant yellow—bursting with it, oozing with it. Positively resplendent.

Come February 2020, you’ll know where to find me: feverishly hitting refresh on my browser and asking that crucial question: What about the wildflowers?

The view of Soda Lake

The view of Soda Lake

MALIBU CREEK | After the Fire

Laurel Dailey


The Woolsey Fire swept through the Malibu hills in November 2018, decimating nearly everything in its path. There’s a curious result of the destruction, though: the fire actually cultivated a scenario in which wildflowers flourished the following spring. The heat above ground melted the protective casings surrounding flower seeds buried deep in the soil, and the following winter rains prompted those seeds to germinate. The charred hillsides are now covered in abundant new life. The images you see today were taken at dawn in Malibu Creek State Park in March.


There are times—usually every six months or so—where I’ll feel intensely claustrophobic living in Southern California. The sprawl, like a creeping dread. People stacked on top of one another, cars woven into the unending plait of traffic, space a premium whose cost only ever rises. It’s a lot to take sometimes.

The first time I discovered it was in college. Feeling stir-crazy, I set out to drive until I was the only car on roads winding through lonely countryside, just like I’d done growing up. Except it never ended, the sprawl. The houses never thinned. The grid flexed itself tighter as I crept along a busy avenue, feeling panicked.

So every few months, the feeling materializes, and with it, all the resignation and revulsion one might feel about a latent sore throat or the first stomach-dropping flip of the flu. Except that now, I have better coping skills.

Now, I know that one of the ways to fight That Old Feeling is to wake before the sun and sacrifice sleep for that breathless hush of dawn. It means I plan ahead and do some research before I set out for an adventure. A certain kind of wandering spontaneity is lost, sure, but it matters less when what’s gained is a view like this one, barely removed from the grind, yet still miles away from That Old Feeling.


“Wow,” I said to my hiking companion. Wow, to the sunrise. Wow, to the lupine-blanketed hillsides. Wow, to the bare trees, limbs still charred. Wow, to the golden creek wending its way through the valley below. Wow to all of it, wow because no other words came close.


Laurel Dailey

Round Valley, California

Round Valley, California

Visiting the Sierra in winter is a study in patience and preparation. Sections of the road were open and dry, with only the mountains cloaked in snow to indicate winter’s true conditions. But other times, that snow marched right down the mountain, clambering right up to the windows of our car as it inched through a canyon formed by ice.

Sometimes, the skies were blue, wide open and optimistic. Other times, the clouds closed in, pressing closer and closer to the ground until blurring into the horizon. Visibility was fine and then visibility was zero, then okay, then not okay.

Dawn in the Alabama Hills

Dawn in the Alabama Hills

We might’ve spent a good portion of the crawling drive reciting the Lord’s Prayer while ice formed on the windshield. We made it through, though, out of the pass and into the Round Valley, where we took a random turnout onto a random road just grateful to be able to see again.

Other pre-dawn adventures were frigid—waiting for the sun to light up the Sierra, wind slicing straight to the bone. And even then, only the faintest blush of alpenglow bloomed on those mountains, the ones closest to us, as their towering brethren waited behind a murky cloud cover.

The best early morning adventures, however, occurred in the steam of the hot springs. 140 degree water at its source, it flows (and cools) on its serpentine path till it meets several campsites and tiled or redwood tubs at a perfect 100-ish degrees. They say it’s some of the purest water in the world, and who am I to argue?

It was worth the planning, worth the plotting, worth the preparation.

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Laurel Dailey

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I’ve driven the beloved highway 395 many a-time, and each time as I head north, a bald cinder mound signals the end of the Mojave and the beginning of mountains. In reality, the transition happens further south, before ever hopping on the 395. But the Fossil Falls and Red Hill area always signals to me that I can finally breathe a little deeper, and that adventure is just around the next bend in the road.


So why cruise on by when a worthy exploration can be found right here, right now? Red Hill’s pumice and lava rock terrain (and distinctive hue) feel miles away from anywhere familiar. With the snow-dusted Sierra as a backdrop, this pit stop might just become a must-stop.

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BIG SUR | New Years

Laurel Dailey


Here’s a fun fact about New Years in the U.S.: Wherever the hotel or Airbnb, you’re guaranteed to pay an arm and a leg booking a spot to sing “Auld Lang Syne” with your kin. Things get booked months in advance, and it’s generally a lot more difficult to wrangle your wiliest friends to commit to ringing in the new year when it’s barely months into the current one.

Faint sunbeams have me thinking about the early weeks of every new year. You find yourself wondering, “Is this how the year will be?” Squinting into the future, as ever, in futility.

Faint sunbeams have me thinking about the early weeks of every new year. You find yourself wondering, “Is this how the year will be?” Squinting into the future, as ever, in futility.

But here’s another fun fact: New Years is, of course, in the dead of winter. Which means that campsites aren’t nearly as packed and plans don’t have to be decided upon eight months out. In California, where the winters (at least in certain areas) tend to be milder, taking advantage of a few extra days off means there are even more campsites to choose from.

In kind, I celebrated the advent of 2019 in Big Sur, waking up under the trees with my nearest and dearest. It isn’t a bad way to ring in the new year, and I’m making good on my forever resolution to #getouttadodge.