Exploring the Detour: Santa Cruz & the Redwoods

With a full week that was suppose to be spent at Yosemite cancelled due to forest fires, we had to find a plan B. Once we left Yosemite we started driving west towards the coast to get out of the smoke and ash. I (Whitney) had done a girls glamping trip in Big Sur for my bachelorette party the year before, so I called the campground we stayed at but they were full. Everyone was full. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones with Yosemite plans ruined and forced to retreat to the coast. So I started making calls. After about 15 calls and mini melt down, wouldn’t you know it we finally found an opening at Smithwoods RV park near Santa Cruz. 

Neither of us get to worked up about having to change our plans, we are actually pretty easy going, but we still like to have a plan and be in control of the situation. When Yosemite didn’t work out, the places in Big Sur were full, and we were forced to stay somewhere with “RV park” in the title we were discouraged. So, when we finally got to Smithwoods the fact that it was the cutest little place among the redwoods and we got one of the best spots ( I should also add the staff was so nice and helpful) we couldn’t help but laugh. The push and pull with wanting to control a situation is a constant theme in our lives. However, most often than not, when we surrender control, things end up working out better than we could have ever planned.

Walking distance from Henry Cowell State Park, we spent the next few days hiking in the mystifying redwoods and relaxing at our little piece of home nestled in the biggest trees we had ever seen. We liked Smithwoods so much that we extended our reservations and canceled our next stop at Mount Diablo. Richard had to fly home for work for a few days and my sister, Kelly, was going to come and replace him, so we wanted to share this little gem we discovered with her too. We had to move around to a few different spots to ensure our stay but the staff was super helpful in getting us into open or cancelled reservation spots and for us it was well worth it.

As expected, Kelly loved it too. With cool mornings and sunny afternoons we relaxed in the park pool following explorations in the Redwoods. As a film lover, she especially loved seeing sites where scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo were filmed. One day we rode a 100 year old steam engine down to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. While aboard the impeccably preserved train they informed us this was how the Vanderbilt’s and high society of old went camping. Now Ive been to a few boardwalks but this place was the real deal. Shops, rides, games, food booths and the beach! What else do you need? Oh and a wharf with a posse of sea lions putting on a show to boot! While in Santa Cruz, my film loving sister also got to witness the house that Bates Motel was inspired by. Now part of a retirement home, oddly enough. A day trip to Davenport also made our itinerary. Strong winds, crisp air and some of the most amazing ocean views. This was also the first day Rosie got to see the ocean. She had to stay on her leash but finally got to feel the sand between her little doggy toes.

When I exchanged my sister for my husband at the San Francisco airport, Richard and I spent our last day down at Moss Landing. Both being suckers for adorable marine mammals we went there to see the otters, and they did not disappoint. 500 pictures and about 2,000 “awwws” we were in heaven. We watched the cuddly creatures bathe themselves and play with one another. Seals we also an unexpected surprised and we couldn’t help but think they resembled a very lazy Rosie.

Im sure Yosemite would have been jaw dropping but our week was definitely not wasted. I think sometimes we focus so much on visiting National Parks to check off that invisible box in our heads, that we forget how many amazing little hidden gems and unexpected attractions there are along the way.

Smithwoods RV Park | Felton, CA | $55/night
wildlife spotted: otters, seals, coastal birds, sea lions, chipmunks

Caverns, Mountains, & Boon-docking

Along with this being our first out of state and long adventure in Red, we also decided to try boon-docking. Boon-docking, or dispersed camping, is totally free camping on public land operated by the Bureau of Land Management. We pay taxes on this land so we may as well take advantage of it. Not to mention, you can experience some pretty incredible camping spots. Now don’t expect a water or electricity hookups but you can find sites with fire rings. We plan to do quite a bit of boon-docking on our trip and found the Campendium app to be really helpful so far. You can search free camping sites, read reviews and view pictures of the grounds. 

Using the Campendium app we stayed at our first boon-docking site, Fence Canyon in White City, New Mexico. This was the perfect place to start our trip. A little bumpy getting to the top of a hill but once we were there we were the only people and had the most amazing views. The night time was so peaceful with a sky full of stars. Our first night we were star gazing and heard something moving in the distance, so we got out our head lamps and we found cows grazing all around us. For our first night, it was pretty exciting. I should also mention we had great cell phone service (AT&T).

Fence Canyon is located 10 minutes from Carlsbad Caverns, so we headed out to the National Park on our first day. We were both excited, but the caverns were even better than expected. The size of the caverns alone surprised us. We spent the day exploring the world below and trying to identify stalactites and stalagmites while on a search for spelunkers. The park rangers there helped us get an America the Beautiful pass, which was $80, but will grant us access to all the National Parks and provide discounts on camping for a full year. They go by month and not exact date so if you do this make sure to purchase one at the beginning of the month.

Two nights at Fence Canyon then we headed to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park on our way to the Gila National Forest. The Guadalupe Mountains, like the caverns, were much more impressive than we expected and had us taking a million pictures of El Capitan. We only spent an hour or so exploring then headed on our way.

In the Gila National forest we boon-docked at the Cosmic Campground. It is a dark sky sanctuary and people come from all over to photograph the stars. There are even round concrete telescope pads. We were only there for one night and we loved how level the ground was, allowing us to easily back in and pull out in the morning. Heads up though, fires were not permitted when we were there and this a no service zone. We also took this time to test out our outdoor shower. Two things we learned: 1) We switched up the hot and cold water handles (figuring out why we weren’t getting hot water took us a while..) and 2) showing outside in nature is our new favorite thing. A full day of driving, followed by a hot shower and we slept like babies that night. Sadly, the sky was too cloudy for us to experience any stars but the views during the day were breathtaking. 

So far both of our camping spots have been incredible and we’ve had a great start to our trip. The days leading up to leaving were filled with stress but having time to enjoy each other and the outdoors is allowing for those weights to be lifted.

Fence Canyon, White City, New Mexico | Price: FREE
Wildlife spotted: jackrabbits, cows, frogs, caterpillars
Cosmic Campground, Gila National Forest, New Mexico | Price: FREE
Wildlife spotted: jackrabbits, birds, elk, deer