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Dispatches from the Road

A selection of travel logs from both near and far.

Filtering by Tag: Road trips


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


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.


PAGE, ARIZONA | Tiny Town, Big Views

Laurel Dailey


As far as towns go, there isn’t much to see: gas stations, diners, tour outfits, a smattering of two star motels. But what Page lacks in a lively downtown scene, it more than makes up for in its proximity to sandstone.

There’s a lot I could say about the influx of tourism or departure of industry in Page (or about Indigenous land). A lot has been said about hoards of people and permanent damage. My observations were fleeting, barely two days’ worth. Instead, I’m going to talk about what it’s like to see the sun touch the curvature of Horseshoe Bend at first light, and about the way the walls of a slot canyon breathe around you, swallowing you whole.


First, the Bend.

You wake in the bone-cold predawn hours and pick your way along a wide, sandy path. In the distance, you’ll see several dozen silhouetted figures perpendicular to the horizontal planes of the tableland. With toes at the very edge of the sandstone ledge and 800 feet beneath, you wait for the sun to warm your shoulders as its glow gradually melts over the mesa ahead. Below, the Colorado River meanders around Horseshoe Bend while those several dozen visitors angle their devices at unnatural degrees. All the photos will be similar, but here she is, nevertheless: Horseshoe Bend, March 24, 2018, 6:45AM.


Second, the Canyon.

Here’s another example of how research pays off. Antelope Canyon is a wonder to behold: a sinuous slot canyon cut deep into the earth. The light folds along its sandstone walls and slips gently to the canyon floor. To fit yourself into its grooves and walk its line is a breathtaking experience. Also, because I’m no more original than most of you, a number of folks also feel that way. Quite a lot of them. So the canyon is also notoriously crowded. Silence is replaced with selfies and the journey through the sandstone cathedral is more of a crawl.

For the trip, I decided to eschew the iconic stone ribbons of Upper or Lower Antelope, and instead chose a smaller tour outfit who guided us into a secret slot only called X. For hours, we threaded noiselessly through the canyon, marveling at its undulating curves and filtered light. The real crux of it, though, is that we were also in relative solitude. That aloneness was a gift I gratefully received.