Eleanor: My sister, Rachel, and I arrived in Seattle from England, jet lagged but running on pure excitement. We had done next to no research on Seattle specifically. Our road trip plan for the month was written on a map, but we came with no preconceptions of what would happen, and that’s why it turned out to be one of the best trips. We had known Chrissie for years through the internet, our photography, and mutual friends (and Rookie!), and sometimes when you meet people in “real life,” things can be very different.
Our road trip began: We left Seattle via Snoqualmie, Washington, before spending a night at Chrissie and Elvia’s friend Sammie’s place in Olympia. Then we headed towards the Hoh Rainforest about four hours from there, on the Olympic Peninsula. Already, we managed to get off track; we took the scenic route, and drove along roads carved into the sides of rocky mountains to our left and open lakes and forests to our right. One of our chance findings en route was a little ice cream parlor and pizza place inside a bunch of old train cars by the side of the road. Chrissie and Elvia got the biggest sherbet-flavored cone I’d ever seen (despite it being the menu’s smallest option). They accidentally dropped it on the floor, and the dude working there gave them another, free of charge. In this photo, they are holding on to the second incarnation with a lot of care while driving.
Eleanor: We arrived at the Hoh Rainforest after dark. We worked out how to put up our higgledy-piggledy tent without light or a fire, but the full moon gave us enough light to shuffle about in the darkness, and we managed to work Chrissie’s antique stove to make a curry. Then we snuggled up for our first night sleeping under the stars. I found Chrissie’s advice for camping to be very true: There is no such thing as cold weather when you are camping, only lack of preparation. We slept in about five layers of clothing each, with a sleeping bag and a blanket over us.
In the morning, we woke to the sound of a running creek nearby, and a few other fellow camping families waking up. We saw children make friends with other children, and then drag their new friends’ parents over to their own parents, bringing the older generation together with their innocent lack of inhibitions.
In the morning sunlight, we could properly see the full beauty of the forest: soft carpets of moss cushioned the woodland floor, and moss dripped off the tree branches like soggy jackets hung up to dry. It was immensely fairytale-like.
Chrissie: Oregon’s Ruby Beach was the perfect pit stop on the way back from the rainforest. This beach is a rocky, sunny paradise surrounded by tall green trees, which served as a reminder that we were still in the Pacific Northwest. Elvia meditated on the waves crashing in front of her feet, and Eleanor started dancing.
Chrissie: We traveled south from Washington and spent the next night with a friend in a little college town in Oregon called McMinnville. The next morning we made pancakes, climbed trees, and watched a softball game. Our destination for that day was about three hours away, and we made it there just in time for sunset. Ignoring the cold breeze, Eleanor stripped off her clothes and went running towards the waves in a happy burst of freedom, while Rachel and I agreed on the excellent quality of the sunset that evening.
Chrissie: Earlier this day, we told each other that we would not make any more stops because we needed to be at our destination before the sun went down. Then we passed this place, which was the most magical beach we had seen so far. We couldn’t resist stopping after all.
Eleanor: Chrissie took a photo of a bird on another of Oregon’s beautiful beaches. To get here, we had to scramble up and down rocks before running across smooth sand, to rock pools that were full of turquoise anemones.
Chrissie: We camped at Jedediah Smith Redwoods in California with our favorite trees. That night, we stayed up late playing music with a big campfire (thanks Elvia!), and our new friends, Andrew, and his dog. We called our band the Forest Femmes and howled at the stars. In the morning, I asked Andrew where he was going to go next, and he replied “Well, I was thinking of turning right out of the campground and after that…I don’t really know.” For a moment I was envious of his freedom, but the feeling quickly subsided when someone yelled at me about the time. We jumped in our Subaru and cruised towards the campground exit.
Rachel: This is Eleanor looking tiny at the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California. The redwood trees’ trunks were so large that, as a group holding hands, we couldn’t even put our arms around half of a trunk.
Eleanor: After our longest session of driving yet, we arrived in San Francisco at night. We stayed with Kaitlin, a friend of some of my friends in London, and she was an absolute sweetheart. Her apartment was beautiful, and very much what I would expect of San Francisco, from what I had seen in the movies. She had the tiniest bedroom, but she had truly made it her own. A few days later she was moving to Los Angeles—she would be working her way down the coast at a similar rate to us—which I found somewhat serendipitous.
Eleanor: The next morning we sat on Kaitlin’s roof and read her horoscopes and Enneagram books. Here is a photo of some of Kaitlin’s stick-and-poke tattoos. I didn’t get a photo of my favorite one, but it said “FAIRY LIQUID.” She said our friends did it with her when she visited London. She liked that, like when people say “Kleenex” instead of just “tissues” for example, Fairy liquid, a popular dishwashing liquid in the U.K., was an example of a brand name becoming a word that people used in preference over just saying “dish soap”—and that Fairy liquid sounded magical. I had never thought of this at all, and that is something that I love about traveling: the curiosity and wonder you get as a tourist that is absent when you are a native.
Eleanor: Kaitlin in her room, and outside a pretty house on the streets of San Francisco.
Eleanor: While exploring San Francisco with Kaitlin, we gazed into the window of a beautiful house (we’d been stopping every few seconds to admire each house’s idiosyncrasies, in a distracted manner that was becoming all too regular). The owner of the house then was heading up to the front door to let himself in, and then he saw us. I noticed that he had a parrot on his shoulder, and started chatting to him about her, and his beautiful house. He asked if I would like her to sit on my shoulder, and I said yes. She perched next to me, slowly shuffled up to my face, and then slipped her beak through some strands of hair, and said into my ear, in the most adorable and cheerful voice, “Hello!”
Eleanor: I can never get over the kindness of strangers. Laura, a friend of Elvia’s friend, got in touch to let us know that we were welcome to stay with her in Yosemite if we needed a bed for the night. By this point, the idea of a mattress was a luxury. With camping at the bottom of the pecking order, and above that sleeping on the floor of a friend’s, Laura’s house was a five-star experience.
As usual, we arrived at night, with no idea what to expect. We got out of the car, and looking up at the sky, we found an endless blanket of stars above us. Like usual, Orion was the first constellation I saw as I looked up—always guiding us. I knew it was a good sign.
Laura is one of the most passionate, inspiring, and hardworking people I have ever met. She lives on her ranch with countless adorable rescue dogs, and her mules. In the morning, we wake up, look outside, and realize that we are in paradise. We feel so endlessly grateful for her hospitality and to have met someone like her. Here I am on her porch, and on the bed in her gorgeous boat-themed spare room.
Chrissie: We expected to find some solitude in the chilly weather at Yosemite, but spring break was happening and there were people everywhere. It turned out that only one campground was open in the park, and camping spaces were limited. We resigned to camp right next to the toilets because that was the only spot left; and it turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. Our tent location lent itself to some interesting people-watching. Most notably, the big groups of people going into the restrooms to charge their laptops, a grumpy old man in plaid who was swearing like a sailor all night, and two guys (whom we befriended) blasting reggae music and eating stale Cheetos for dinner. That night, I tripped over a metal fire-pit and put a heart-shaped hole in my leg, Eleanor impressed us with her free-styling skills, and our new Yosemite-friends told us about their dreams of traveling.
Eleanor: This photo was one of many of Chrissie’s beautiful long exposures of the stars. I photobombed it by placing my face in front of the camera mid-exposure.
Eleanor: Elvia being a forest nymph at Yosemite, and Chrissie’s bandaged knee. Each new day saw an addition to Chrissie’s timeline of bruises and scrapes.
Chrissie: Yosemite cliffs reflected in the rear window of our Subaru, and our underwear drying on the dashboard.
Eleanor: Los Angeles was another of those cities where I went with few expectations. I had seen so many movies, and heard so many different opinions, but I was so pleasantly surprised. The warmth there just permeates into everything, and radiates out as this chilled, happy aura. On the left picking oranges is Lucas, one of the most cheerful and curious people I have ever met. At one point we walked past a rather dull, desolate parking lot, and he exclaimed “Look at that! It’s WONDERFUL!” His enthusiasm made us all feel beyond happy.
Chrissie: The second day in Los Angeles was spent eating tacos, playing in waves, and building sand castles at Venice Beach. In the evening, we headed over to our friend Taryn’s childhood home. She grew up on the most beautiful ranch and has a love affair with horses.
Rachel: Taryn with one of her horses.
Eleanor: Our next planned stop outside of Los Angeles was Salvation Mountain in Niland, California, followed by Joshua Tree. It seemed to us that as soon as we got off the coastline, curiosity overrode any kind of schedule, and we simply followed our instincts. Here are Chrissie’s feet sticking out the car window, as we got lost en route and stopped for some serious map revising.
Olivia had told us of a town called Bombay Beach that is en route to Salvation Mountain. Bombay Beach is located by the manmade Salton Sea, at 223 feet below sea level. We were told that the fluctuating water levels meant that the place was a sort of beach resort a few decades ago, during the 1950s development boom, but now the water is shallow, birds paddle in its stagnant waters, and the population is just under 300 people. Everyone who lives there rides around in golf carts because the nearest gas station is 20 miles away.
Eleanor: We met the dude in the bottom photo in Niland the next day, on our way to Salvation Mountain. His name was Cuervo, and he lived in Slab City, California, with his two horses.
Chrissie: We had planned on camping in Joshua Tree after visiting Bombay Beach, but as we drove through Box Canyon, we were drawn to camp there instead. There were no regrets from anyone as we ate chili around the fire and fell into a relaxing awareness of the solitude that the rocky hills offered us. The sky was glowing orange that night, so I spent most of my time photographing the stars.
Chrissie: Box Canyon.
Chrissie: Eleanor took this photo of Salvation Mountain, which is located in California’s hot Colorado Desert. It was built by one man trying to spread his love for God—or more specifically, what he believed to be God’s love for all of us. It was a nice place to rest for half an hour outside of reality.
Eleanor: Rachel at Salvation Mountain.
Eleanor: Me at Salvation Mountain.
Chrissie: This photo, by Eleanor, is of me. It was after we left Niland and drove along empty roads that felt like roller coasters until we reached another town located outside of reality: Las Vegas, Nevada. One night there was more than enough for us, and we were not too sad to say goodbye to the bad rock music blaring outside of our hotel room, or the ashy casino air.
Eleanor: The saga of verging off-route continues. Initially, we intended to head for Utah’s Zion National Park straight after Las Vegas, but Elvia had heard of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, and marked it on the map as a potential brief pit stop. A man we met in Las Vegas the night before had reaffirmed that it was beautiful, and that we should go there. We spent the whole of that day—and the following day—exploring its rainbow vistas and studying its rocks. I would happily go back for a week alone to hike all of its trails.
Rachel: Nevada’s Valley of Fire.
Chrissie: The Valley of Fire is an absolute dream for anyone who loves rocks. There is nothing quite like driving through endless fields of rainbow stone.
Rachel: Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to be in Zion National Park in Utah, and it was really busy with spring breakers, but what we did see was spectacular. It was a hot day, without a cloud in the sky, and we made sure to at least do a short hike past some waterfalls and cliffs with inky black markings from the water.
Chrissie: We were fortunate enough to arrive in Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park right in time for sunset, which meant we didn’t have to pay because it was after 5 PM. When you are traveling on a budget, this small victory can make all the difference. It was cold out, and the canyon was filled with snow and a few dedicated hikers. A group of teenagers even gave me “mad props” while I was posing for this photo…and let me just say it was nice to feel some support while freezing my butt off.
Chrissie: After leaving Utah, we headed towards Arizona for more canyons and desert vistas. The night before reaching Flagstaff, Arizona, we camped in an RV park located somewhere off the side of the road. It was so windy that night that we couldn’t cook food on the stove. While the rest of us ate cold cereal and soup, Elvia made friends with a father and son who let her cook over their fire. For some reason, people are drawn to telling Elvia their secrets, and together we all discussed dreams and romance, and shared our life stories.
Chrissie: Arizona’s Antelope Canyon was possibly the most mysterious and unique place we encountered (although there were many). To gain entry, you must pay for a tour and walk with a member of the Navajo tribe, as it is their sacred ground. Our guide was a man of many jokes, and he called us the “Four Musketeers” because we were always lagging behind taking photos while he was guiding everyone else on the tour.
Chrissie: We arrived at White Sands in New Mexico for sunset and camped in the back country under a sky of endless stars. The sand here is made of gypsum crystals, which give it its snowy white color. This place is both eerie and magical…we all had a feeling that either aliens or the U.S. government were going to pop out of the sky and abduct us at any moment.
Eleanor: We then headed to Jemez, a fascinating little place in New Mexico. Soda Dam is a natural hot spring off the side of the road, consisting of unusual rock formations and a waterfall. When we climbed inside its little caves, we found a natural hot spring that was so warm it steamed up all our camera lenses.
Eleanor: Arches National Park is near the idyllic town of Moab in Utah. It is made up of thousands of natural sandstone arches that were formed back when this part of the earth was underwater.
Chrissie: Long before visiting this place, or even seeing photographs of it, Elvia said she had reoccurring dreams of swimming underwater through these arches. My theory is that she inhabited this place long ago and she finally had the chance to come home.
Chrissie: Our trip drew to a close at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho—a lava field so large that it can be seen from outer space. There were also lava tube caves formed out of rocks that appeared jet black at first glance, but in the light glistened like iridescent rainbows.
Rachel: A mobile home at our last campground in Oregon, before we returned to Seattle.
Eleanor: Being on the road feels amazing because you live each day in the moment, and all the weight of normal home life is pushed to the back of your mind. But it felt really good to sit on a sofa, and cook on a normal stove, and catch up with Dan and friends in Seattle. The stress of a month away caught up with Chrissie by our final day, and we had an epic journey back involving a lot of sick stops, but she pulled through like a real trouper. Here she is taking a nap the day after we returned, thankfully fully recovered!
Rachel: Elvia in the greenhouses in Seattle, the day after we got back.
Eleanor: When we came home, we made this playlist of the songs we listened to on repeat during our trip: