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Taking the Scenic Route: My Summer Road Trip Out West

By: Denali Selent

Similar to most people, COVID-19 impacted the plans I had for the summer. I found myself at home, bored, and baking way too much banana bread for my own good. So when my dad, a high school teacher, suggested we go on a camping road trip, I was already halfway out of the door. On July 1, we hit the road in our trusty old Dodge Caravan with a stack of U.S. maps and an open schedule. There is no better place to socially distance than the great outdoors; we were armed with masks, sanitizer, and even a pop-up shower to stay safe during the pandemic. 

Within a few days, we had made it to the Grand Teton National Park near Jackson Hole. This photo captures the Grand Teton range illuminated by the golden evening sun behind a field of sagebrush frequented by elk and antelope. We camped in the backcountry, which was beautiful, but it proved to be a little nerve-wracking for someone who self-admittedly has an irrational fear of bears. Luckily, my dad didn’t point out the pile of grizzly bear droppings near our tent until our last day. 

A couple days (and stops) later, we set up camp near Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon. This was a favorite location of mine. The weather was cool and misty, and tall pine trees loomed over every road. A nagging check engine light on the car made the perfect excuse to spend a day checking out Portland, which included a stop by the famous Salt & Straw Ice Cream shop. Pictured here is their take on vegan mint chocolate chip, which was delicious. On our last day in Oregon, we hiked around Crater Lake, a deep, royal-blue lake formed from a collapsing volcano. 

Soon we had ventured our way down to the Redwoods in Northern California where we spent a couple of days. I was completely awestruck by the magnitude of the trees, and now I understand why they are often referred to as “the giants”. The forest floor was coated with a carpet of thick fern, and lush moss covered nearly every surface, making the landscape look like a scene from an enchanted forest. The forest ends right on a rocky beach where you can sit and watch sea otters float in kelp beds and seals dive around. Also pictured here is one of the many s’mores we enjoyed around the campfire at night, and now I’m wondering if “expert s’more artisan” belongs on a resume. 

Our next big adventure was hiking Mt. Tallac in Tahoe,Calif.. The hike is about a 10 mile round trip with 3,500 feet of elevation gain, giving way to a 360 degree view of Lake Tahoe that took my breath away, literally and figuratively. From here, we spent the next couple of weeks making our way down the Pacific Coast Highway. We spent time in Santa Barbara where, to my mom’s disappointment, I didn’t run into Oprah. Our days were spent hiking, biking and swimming in the chilly water. On a particular hike near Rattlesnake Canyon, I had a unique run-in with a coyote, which definitely got my adrenaline pumping, but was really cool nonetheless.

Before we knew it, we headed back east again. Our first stop was Bryce Canyon National Park in Southern Utah, known for its amazing geology and rock formations. The red and orange canyon was absolutely beautiful, but temperatures peaking near 110 degrees made me grateful for Ohio snow. The lack of light pollution and flat landscape made it the perfect place to stargaze. At night, we would wake up at 2 am, just when the moon was no longer visible, to look up at the night sky. We saw shooting stars, the Milky Way stretched across the sky, and even the International Space Station once. 

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Our last real stop was in Colorado, where we mostly explored the western half of the state. My favorite memory was hiking Crag’s Crest trail near Cedaredge because the wildflowers were in full bloom. Purple, yellow, red and orange flowers dotted the hillside, visited by butterflies and small chipmunks. From Boulder, we decided to make the 20 hour drive home in one go. We downloaded a bunch of podcasts on everything from regenerative agriculture to how to make the perfect grilled cheese, and set on our way. 

Right now is a difficult and unprecedented time in the world. I feel so grateful to have been able to experience so many unique landscapes, but have simultaneously grown so much to appreciate the natural beauty in my own backyard. I hope you all had awesome summers, GreenHawks!

All photos courtesy of Denali Selent