Samuel H Boardman

After our lovely time in the redwoods, we made our way to the coast of southern Oregon. We found a nice rest area near Brookings to park overnight while we explored some beautiful beaches and viewpoints along the shore. The rugged coast dotted with rocky outcroppings and sea stacks was incredibly beautiful and I highly recommend this spot to anyone who is in the area!

 

Harris Beach State Park

Our first evening, we went across the street from the rest area to Harris Beach State Park where we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. It started with the sun lighting up the sea stacks and bathing them in golden light.

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Golden Hour at Harris Beach State Park

We waited and watched as the scene kept changing as the sun sank below the horizon. Suddenly pink puffy clouds spread across the sky and reflected in the ocean over the incredible and unique rocky coast. This was an unforgettable sunset.

 

Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor

The next morning we woke up early to explore Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor. I had been wanting to see this area for a long time after seeing some incredible photos on Instagram, and the amazing scenery we found did not disappoint! Many of the viewpoints were easily accessible and we found pit toilets and picnic tables at the Arch Rock Viewpoint.

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Natural Bridges

We started with the breathtaking Natural Bridges area. There was a small sign indicating the parking area, but no other signage was to be found. We first walked the short trail on the left to the viewing platform. Unfortunately, the view from the platform was not great as it was quite far from the natural bridges and there were many trees blocking the view. I also noticed that this was not the angle I had seen in other photos.

We returned to the car and then followed the unmarked path on the right side of the parking lot which took us down a narrow trail through the woods. The trail was steep, muddy, and challenging (and surrounded by poison oak). We slid and scrambled down toward the shore, so please be careful if you attempt this descent. Finally we got down to the rocky outcroppings and were blown away by the scenery. This was the view we were looking for! We spent a few hours here, taking photos and soaking in the beauty.

This was my favorite photo from the day!

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Me and Steve at Natural Bridges

 

Arch Rock Viewpoint

We hiked back out and continued driving down the main road, stopping at various pull-off spots and viewpoints. We enjoyed a nice meal at the picnic area at the Arch Rock Viewpoint. There was a very short and easy trail to some lovely views (but we had to hop the fence in order to get unobstructed views of the rocky coasts and sea stacks).

 

Secret Beach

Our last stop was Secret Beach. We did not see signs for this spot, but had read on a different blog to find the parking area behind a guardrail that was on the right as you head south from Arch Rock (the blog said it was the third pull-off but we counted that it was the second). We parked in the unmarked dirt area and took the short, slippery path down to the beach. The views when we got down there were some of my favorite views of all time. Wow. We went at low tide and were able to walk the length of the beach. It was incredible to walk among the towering sea stacks rather than seeing them from above!

 

Overall, Samuel H. Boardman was a very beautiful area and I highly recommend it! Our next stop is to head back to California, where we reserved campsites at Yosemite National Park. If you have any recommendations on what to see and do in Yosemite, please leave me a message on here or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).

 

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The California Redwoods

Hello again!

After a few wonderful days driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, we took some time to explore the amazing redwood forests of California. I had never seen redwood trees before and I was completely blown away. They are such incredibly beautiful trees and it was a magical experience driving and walking through the forests.

First I want to quickly thank everyone who left thoughtful and insightful comments and messages about my blog post on the new Instagram algorithm (Click here to see it). It was nice to know that I am not alone in struggling with the Instagram platform lately!

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Looking up at Redwoods

 

Redwood Grove & Picnic Area

After hitting the road early, we were on the lookout for a picnic spot to make our usual morning coffee and breakfast. We happened to come across a really lovely clearing on the side of the road next to a wonderful redwood grove. There were picnic tables in the shade of the tall trees surrounded by ferns and lush greenery as well as a port-o-potty. It was just what we were looking for! We enjoyed our morning routine in this beautiful spot and took a short walk on the shady path through the grove before hitting the road again.

 

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree

Our next stop was the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree in Leggett, CA. While Steve and I know that cutting a giant hole out of an ancient and majestic tree is a terrible idea, we still wanted to check out this famous spot. It cost $5 to enter the small area and we were pretty bummed out that our van was too large to drive through the tree. Still, it was a pretty neat experience to stand inside the tree and it gave us a true sense of the scale of the amazing redwoods.

 

Avenue of the Giants

Our next stop was the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This area was completely different from what I expected. I guess I was expecting it to be a quiet, secluded road that winds deep in the forest through long stretches of untouched redwoods. I am not sure why I imagined it this way. The phrase “Avenue of the Giants” just sounded so magical and wonderful. In reality, it’s a road parallel with the 101 highway that alternates between groves of redwoods and small towns with tourist attractions. The whole experience felt more commercial and less natural than I was expecting. However, each time we pulled over and wandered into the redwood groves, I absolutely loved it. Each grove was named after some one who had donated or help to preserve the forest. I am very thankful to the people throughout history who stepped up to protect these beautiful trees.

 

Trinidad Rest Area

There isn’t too much BLM or National Forest free dispersed camping in this area, but we enjoyed spending the night at the rest area in Trinidad. I couldn’t believe it but the rest area actually had a lovely redwood grove with picnic tables where we made dinner and breakfast. Sometimes you don’t need to take long treks to find some pretty wonderful scenery!

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Me standing in awe of the majestic redwoods

The next morning, we drove around the coast and came across one of the most beautiful foggy forest scenes I have ever witnessed just outside of Patrick’s Point State Park. We stopped for a bit to take photos and soak in the beautiful misty scenery.

 

Redwood National and State Parks

Our next stop was Redwood National and State Parks. Here we saw even more beautiful and old redwood groves that continued to leave me awestruck. We also saw huge elk roaming and grazing just near the visitor center! I am sure we could have spent a lot of time in this park, but we only had one day. We decided to check out Fern Canyon since it was on our list and looked very different from everything we had seen lately.

 

Fern Canyon

The drive to Fern Canyon was on a very bumpy and rough dirt road with a few stream crossings. Thankfully we had our high clearance van to drive over deep potholes and through the large puddles on the road! It was a really neat and very short 0.1 mile hike to the deep and shadowy canyon covered in thousands of ferns of several varieties. We hopped over streams and balanced on logs as we meandered through the incredible and lush canyon. It was truly a unique experience!

 

Klamath River Overlook

We then drove toward the Oregon coast. We made a quick stop at the very beautiful Klamath River Overlook. This was a beautiful viewpoint of where the Klamath River meats the Pacific Ocean. We looked for whales and didn’t see any, but the fog over the distant pine trees took my breath away!

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Klamath River Overlook

 

Trees of Mystery

Our last stop before Oregon was the Trees of Mystery parking lot. This tourist attraction was closed when we got there, but we only stopped there to see the famous giant statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the big blue ox anyway.

There were also some large bear statues, and I really love bears! We took some silly photos in the parking lot and then went on our way!

 

Warning!

A quick warning! If you plan to hike around this area, be on the lookout for Poison Oak! It was everywhere! Remember: “leaves of three, let it be.” Or just avoid touching any plants just to be safe!

 

Next Steps

Up next is Oregon and exploring the waterfalls and hiking trails of the beautiful Pacific Northwest! As always, feel free to send recommendations of hikes or viewpoints. The best ways to do that are through comments on my blog or a DM on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).

The Instagram Algorithm

Hello again!

Ahh Instagram. There’s a good chance you found this blog through my Instagram profile and if so, hello and welcome! If not, feel free to check out my profile and share your thoughts about this blog post (@carrieoutdoors). I have a lot of feelings about Instagram: some are good, some are bad. I’d like to share some of my thoughts and experiences below, especially as they relate to the changes to Instagram’s algorithm, and then I’d love to hear what you have to say about all of this!

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My Instagram Profile

 

What I Love about Instagram

I really do love Instagram and it has opened up a whole new world for me. Below I will discuss the amazing community I have found through Instagram as well as the unbelievable travel inspiration it has provided.

  • The Outdoorsy Community

Instagram has an awesome community of photographers, bloggers, nature lovers, hikers, and like-minded adventurers. I know there are other niches on Instagram (such as accounts based on food, celebrities, and fashion) but I really only spend time in the nature themed sections. Living in cities for the past 12 years (Syracuse, NYC and Boston) didn’t lead me to interact with too many outdoorsy people. However, on Instagram I have been able to connect with so many! It’s been wonderful and inspiring.

I love reading people’s photo captions and thinking “YES! THIS! EXACTLY MY THOUGHTS!” Whether it’s a caption about Leave No Trace and treating the wilderness with respect, adventuring safely, or just some inspiring words about a recent hike, I really enjoy reading what many Instagrammers have to say about exploring the outdoors and enjoying the beauty of nature. I feel like I have found my outdoors people. It’s so awesome.

I have created some personal connections with a handful of unbelievably inspiring accounts both large and small. Between comments and DMs, it’s been so amazing to connect with these awesome people and share adventures virtually! I have met a few of these people in real life and had some great hikes and conversations. I have also attended an Instameet in New Hampshire through The Northeast Collective where I was able to hike and explore in my favorite White Mountains with a group of excellent photographers, with whom I’ve been able to stay in touch!

 

  • Travel Inspiration 

The second reason I love Instagram is the travel inspiration. It is so much more personal than browsing random Pinterest boards or “top places to visit” websites and guidebooks. The photos on Instagram feel more real. These are real people posting real photos, often with real captions and stories to go with them. A lot of the time the people who took the photos are also willing to chat and answer questions about the particular location or how they took the photo. And they aren’t just the most popular scenic viewpoints either. I learn about hidden spots, lesser known hot springs, wonderful backcountry trails, and secret views. (Granted, many of these photos smartly don’t come with location tags, meaning I’ll have to do my homework to figure out where they are located – always a fun research project for me!). Here are some examples of how Instagram inspired and revolutionized my travels.

⇒ Norway Honeymoon

On our recent honeymoon to Norway, many of the places we visited were found through Instagram. The trip probably wouldn’t have been as epic without Instagram as a palette from which I found the colors to paint our beautiful honeymoon. For example, Bondhusvatnet and Lovatnet, two lesser known but absolutely stunning lakes in Norway, were spots we found through Instagram that we may not have visited otherwise! See our photos of the two lakes below.

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Bondhusvatnet
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Lovatnet

⇒ US Vanlife Road Trip

Our van trip around the United States has also been enhanced greatly by spots we have found on Instagram. I doubt we would have made the drive out to the Alabama Hills or explored around to find the Hot Creek viewpoint, if not for the inspiration we found on Instagram. See our photos of these two amazing spots below.

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The Alabama Hills
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Hot Creek Geological Site

⇒ Bucket List Additions

I have also fallen in love with new areas that quickly jumped to the top of my bucket list for future travels thanks to Instagram. These places include Patagonia, Argentina (inspired by @michaelmatti), the Cordillera Huayhuash trek in Peru (inspired by @everchanginghorizon), and the Faroe Islands (inspired by @reneeroaming). I honestly had no idea how incredibly beautiful these places were before seeing them on my Instagram feed and now I can’t wait to plan future trips!

 

The New Algorithm

As many of you probably know, Instagram changed something about its algorithm in the past year or so. It altered the Instagram feed so that posts no longer show in chronological order and makes it so some posts and users are more visible than others. I don’t really understand the details and I certainly don’t understand why they did this, but what I can tell you is that it has had a pretty noticeable negative effect on my Instagram experience for several reasons.

  • The weird order of posts

I don’t understand why the posts stopped being chronological! I think the new algorithm favors posts that are doing particularly well, and prioritize those in the feed. I don’t want that! I want to see everything my amazing Instagram friends are posting, in chronological order, not just the most popular stuff. Plus I am bound to see those super popular photos again and again as they are featured by all of the large hubs. It makes me sad that I am missing posts by some really talented friends and photographers, simply because they aren’t showing up in my feed. Sometimes I will click on a friend’s profile and realize that the past 5-10 posts never showed up for me and I missed their beautiful images. What else have I been missing out on!?

This also means my own photos are being seen less often by my followers. If some one is following a 200k follower account and also following me, I wonder whose photo is more likely to be seen in the feed… This has led to a striking decrease in engagement on my posts, which I will discuss below.

  • Lower Engagement = Missed Connections

The biggest downside to the changes are that my posts are seen by fewer people and therefore I simply connect with fewer people. Now you might be thinking “Ugh all she cares about is getting likes on Instagram, gross!” But honestly, that’s not it. I miss the connections. I miss new people finding my page, leaving a kind comment, letting me know they were inspired by something I posted, and in turn allowing me to discover their page and be inspired by them. This used to happen all the time, and now, only rarely. I have connected with and met some incredible people through Instagram and it makes me sad that those interactions are happening less frequently.

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I miss this level of engagement!
  • Fewer Opportunities

A lower engagement also means less opportunities to collaborate with brands and companies, who used to reach out a lot more often, but now seem to turn to the same top accounts time and time again. Also, I have really picked up my blog writing since the algorithm changed, and it makes me sad that fewer people will find my blog and read what I have to say. I imagine that people who make a living through blogging and social media must be taking a pretty big hit due to these changes. For me, this is just a hobby but I can see how this would be much more devastating if I were relying on my Instagram interactions to make a living.

 

Proof of the Changes

The numbers don’t lie. Around December, my most awesome Norway adventure photos were getting around 4,000 likes and 100 comments and my less exciting nature posts were getting 2,000 likes and 30 comments. Now, my best photos can barely crack 1,000 likes and maybe 15 comments, despite a pretty big increase in my number of followers. I haven’t really changed anything about the hashtags I use, the comments I write, or the time of day I post.  I’ve done a couple of experiments to compare similar photos posted in winter of 2016 versus now, and there is a clear discrepancy. I posted identical photos and the one posted in December 2016 got 2,993 likes and 97 comments while the same post from May 2017 got 2,031 likes and 79 comments.  That is quite a huge difference for almost the same picture, especially when considering that I gained almost 10,000 followers between those two photos!

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Knowing that approximately 1,000 less people are seeing and interacting with my content each time I post is disheartening. That’s thousands of missed connections! Especially as Steve and I travel around the country, it is a bummer that I’ll have less of a chance of finding awesome people to connect with in each region we visit.

 

How to Combat the New Algorithm?

I honestly don’t have an answer on how to combat the new algorithm and I do not have any solutions for how to get your photos noticed or how to gain followers. I will outline a few of the things that I do to try and improve my engagement, but honestly none of it seems to be working all that well. I now average 700 likes on a photo, even some pretty incredible scenery, which is around what I was getting on my posts back when I had half as many followers. I know that I’m not an amazing photographer, and I am not saying that I deserve thousands more followers or likes. I am simply comparing my engagement now to how it used to be and there has been a very noticeable change. Anyway, here are some tips that may or may not help.

  • Create the best possible content

This is kind of an obvious one, but I have taken more time to be sure that what I post is the best content that I can create. I suppose it has inspired me to find the most scenic views possible, to wake up extra early for the best possible lighting and has pushed me to learn more about photo editing to get better looking images. On the downside, the new algorithm encourages people to only photograph the same epic viewpoints and the same types of scenes that always seem to do well on Instagram. I also see many cookie cutter accounts with the same exact editing styles, as people copy the most popular accounts to try and gain followers. I think creativity both in the shooting and editing of photos has taken a hit. How unfortunate!

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I woke up early for this sunrise at Convict Lake!
  • Finding the best hashtags

Hashtags are one way that people can find your photos on Instagram. I try to maximize how many people will be seeing my posts by trying to find the best hashtags to use. Not all hashtags are equal! If a hashtag is too unpopular, then no one will likely see it (for example #goatonamountaintop has only 3 posts) but if a hashtag is too popular, your image will quickly get lost in a sea of thousands of photos (for example #wanderlust has 43 million posts). I try to keep a balance and have a mix of small, medium, and large hashtags.

I still don’t know how many hashtags are allowed. I used to do 60 tags (30 in a comment and 30 more in the caption). However, recently I heard that only 30 hashtags work and the other 30 are invisible so I switched back to 30. I have also heard about certain hashtags being banned or the idea of an account being “shadowbanned” for using broken hashtags without ever being notified. However, I really don’t know anything about these things. If you know more about this, let me know in the comments!

I always try to keep an eye our for weekly hashtag contests and weekend projects such as those on @PassionPassport and @REI as well as @Instagram’s WHP (Weekend Hashtag Project). Not only will I have a shot at winning the contest and be featured by a large account, it also means these specific hashtags are likely to be looked at as new people enter the contest and browse through the entries.

I try to choose hashtags appropriate to each individual photo, including location and regional tags, and I often try to choose hashtags that are associated with real brands or legitimate accounts. I also check that those accounts actually feature random people from Instagram and not just their own ambassadors, photographers, or employees. For example, National Geographic (@natgeo) typically features photos from official National Geographic photographers. On the other hand, Clif Bar (@clifbar) has featured a handful of my photos through the #FeedYourAdventure hashtag, which seems much more worth it! It is still a trial and error process. I’d love to hear any suggestions when it comes to the best hashtags!

  • Instagram “Pods”?

I have recently heard of something known as Instagram “Pods” where a group of big accounts has a secret chat room, either through Instagram DM or an outside chat app. Through this chat room, people announce when they post a new photo and then the rest of the people hop on Instagram to immediately like and comment on the new photo. Supposedly this boosts the photo’s ‘engagement rating’ or something like that, allowing the photo to then be seen by more people, getting more likes and comments, boosting its rating even higher, and the cycle continues.

I was invited to one of these “pods” before I knew what they were, and immediately left the chat group. It felt really strange and inauthentic. The idea of being pressured to comment on some one’s photo felt weird and wrong, as well as knowing that some of the comments on my photos were out of obligation rather than genuine compliments. This idea also makes me think of the incredibly talented photographers and Instagrammers out there who aren’t invited to “pods” who will struggle even more to get their photos noticed because the more popular posts are getting inflated by boosting each other up. It’s like a “rich get richer” scheme. I don’t like it!

 

Should I give up?

I am still thankful to the many people who I’ve connected with and who like, comment, DM, and inspire me every day with their photos and stories. Instagram still has a lot going for it and continues to be a really great community, so I haven’t given up, though I do feel less and less excitement to post and engage on Instagram these days. I hope that Instagram will listen to the backlash and criticism from their users and return to the old algorithm, or a new one that brings back the same spirit of connection that we had last year. I especially want this to happen for new and amazing accounts that got a late start on the game, and may feeling hampered or stagnant in their growth despite having outstanding and high quality content.

If you have a similar (or different!) experience with the new algorithm on Instagram, please let me know in a comment or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors). I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter! Especially if you have any ideas on how to “beat the algorithm” or tips for people who are new to Instagram!

 

❤ Carrie Outdoors

NorCal Coast

Hi again!

The adventures continue as Steve and I make our way north through California. There has been an incredible amount of beautiful scenery on the rugged coast and in the immense redwood forests. Keep reading to find out what we did and to see photos of our travels!

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After having a blast in the Eastern Sierra region (Alabama Hills and Mammoth Lakes) we drove west to the California coast. Our original plans had us exploring as much of the coast as possible, but some recent (and historically huge) landslides meant that we would have to start north of the slides and skip a chunk of the Big Sur area. Despite this setback, we saw some incredible scenery and drove on some amazing roads. Keep reading to see where we went!

 

Big Sur to Santa Cruz

We started by driving south along the coast on Route 1 to see how far we could get. We were able to get as far south as the town of Big Sur before running into the “road closed” signs.

As bummed as we were that Pfeiffer Beach and McWay Falls were inaccessible, the views we saw along our drive were some of the best I have ever seen! We stopped at almost every viewpoint and turnoff, trying to soak in the incredible beauty. The brilliant blue water of the Pacific Ocean shimmered far below steep cliffs covered in fields of yellow wildflowers. Here are just a handful of the many amazing photos we took along the California coast!

We also stopped by the famous Bixby Creek Bridge for some photos! There were a lot of other people there, but it was a beautiful viewpoint.

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Bixby Creek Bridge

And we took a selfie, for good measure!

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Selfie near Big Sur

 

Davenport Pier

After a lovely drive through the Big Sur area, we headed back north along the coast to Davenport to check out the old abandoned pier. This is an odd structure where a pier used to be, but now all that remained were the cement pylons that used to hold up the pier. We wandered around on the steep cliff above, looking down on the scene as the sun slowly set. There appeared to be a steep and treacherous-looking path down to the beach, but we chose not to take it and instead enjoyed the awesome views from above.

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Abandoned Davenport Pier

 

Shark Fin Cove

Another beautiful spot that we checked out near Davenport was Shark Fin Cove. Thankfully this was a pin on our custom Google Map, or we may have missed this incredible spot! There were no signs on the street and nothing indicating there was anything to see down below. We had done our research ahead of time and knew exactly which unmarked dirt pull-off spot was the correct parking area. There was a steep but short path of loose dirt that led down to the beach. If you go here, be sure to wear sneakers or boots and not flip flops on this trail!

Shark Fin Cove is named for the giant rock in the ocean which looks very much like a shark fin. We were there around sunset, but I think the scene may have been even more beautiful at some time in the morning when the sunlight would be lighting up the shark fin.

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Shark Fin Cove

This was a really beautiful cove, that also included a small cave that waves crashed in and out of.

We saw some really huge waves and enjoyed how the ocean sounds echoed off of the walls surrounding us. Unfortunately, this area was also very dirty and poorly maintained. There was a ton of trash that had been left behind by people and the rock walls were covered with graffiti. I was very disappointed to see such a beautiful place treated so poorly and covered in garbage. We all need to treat our natural places with more respect!

 

Glass Beach

Our next stop on the California coast was Glass Beach near Fort Bragg. This beach used to be a dump in the early 1900s and the town would literally push their trash into the ocean. Over the years, the waves broke apart and smoothed the glass from the trash into beautiful, colorful pieces of sea glass.

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The first evening when we arrived, we checked out the main beach, located just behind a parking lot with pit toilets. The main beach was a bit disappointing, as I was expecting fields of glass but it was mostly a rough, rocky beach.

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Glass Beach at high tide

The next morning we came back and found the other glass beach, just south of the main beach. This second beach, which is only accessible at low tide, has much more of the beautiful sea glass. Most of the glass is a cloudy white color but there are also green and brown pieces and occasionally you can find some lovely blue, teal, yellow, and pink!

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The signs around the beach said not to take any of the sea glass, which seems strange considering it’s actually just trash! However, at the Sea Glass Museum that we visited later in the day, there were signs saying that it is technically legal to take the glass but that you should replace it with “seed glass” that they sold at the gift shop. According to the museum, the sea glass has actually become a life-sustaining source in the ocean. The museum owner claimed that sea creatures feed off of the minerals from the glass and other animals make their home in the crevices between the glass stones. It is very tempting to take the beautiful pieces of glass, and I saw people collecting it by the bagful. I recommend checking out the museum first before going to the beach to decide if you want to take the glass.

 

 

 

 

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Sign on beach: “Leave glass at Glass Beach”
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Sign at museum: “It is perfectly legal to take the glass”
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Seed Glass for sale at the museum

The museum itself was really neat (and free!) with a huge and impressive collection of large glass pieces of glass in every color of the rainbow! There were also pieces of metal, pottery, animal bones, and other artifacts from the sea.

 

What’s Next?

After the NorCal coast, our next stop was the unbelievable redwoods and the stunning southern Oregon coast, but I will save those for my next blog post! In the meantime, please let me know if you have any suggestions for Oregon and Washington! Find me on Instagram: (@carrieoutdoors) and don’t forget to check out the amazing accounts I recommended at the top of my blog!

Mammoth Lakes

Hello again!

After the Alabama Hills, we drove north and had an amazing time in Mammoth Lakes. Despite some lingering snow from a harsh winter, we did some lovely hikes and saw some amazing views! I highly recommend checking out this incredibly beautiful area. Keep reading below to find out what we did!

The last blog post I wrote was about the Alabama Hills (click here to read it!), located in Eastern Sierra. Our original plan for this part of the trip was to quickly see the Alabama Hills and then rush west to the California coast. Our plans changed for a couple of reasons and we ended up spending a week in Eastern Sierra. First of all, we were absolutely in love with this area. For me personally, being surrounded by the snow-capped Sierras was waking up a part of my soul that had missed the mountains dearly. We weren’t ready to leave this amazing place. The second thing that changed our plan was that there was a historically huge landslide on Route 1 near Big Sur. We were planning on driving all the way up the Pacific Coast Highway but the landslide made this impossible since the road was closed in several spots. So we had to change plans, as often happens in life on the road. While we were pretty bummed that McWay Falls and a few other iconic spots in Big Sur were inaccessible (for at least a year!), we were also excited to head north and explore more of the Eastern Sierras.

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Steve and me at Hot Creek

 

Mammoth Lakes

We drove north up route 395 to an area called Mammoth Lakes. I had heard of this area as a ski town and that’s about it. I didn’t have any expectations going in and was very pleasantly surprised! The drive from Lone Pine to Mammoth was incredibly beautiful with more snow capped mountains popping up every few miles. Mammoth Lakes is a very adorable area. We stopped by the visitor center and got some great advice for what to do in the area. There were a multitude of free camping options: several spots with dispersed camping and even a real campground with pit toilets and fire pits, free of charge! This is an amazing area for van dwellers. Although some of the areas around Mammoth Lakes were inaccessible due to the snow that hadn’t melted yet, there were so many awesome spots we were able to check out. Keep reading to find out more!

 

Sherwin Lakes

The first thing we did in the area was the 6-mile roundtrip hike to Sherwin Lakes, sub-alpine lakes in the Muir Wilderness. The hike was really lovely. After being in the desert for so long, the sound of wind in the trees, the shady trails, and the forest smells were greatly appreciated.  We meandered through tall pine trees, across a rushing river, and up many gentle switchbacks to get to there. The path was mostly dry, though we did have to hike through a few snow patches, and quite easy. Surrounded by snow covered mountains, the lake was one of the loveliest sights from this whole trip. We spent a while exploring the shore, taking photos, and I waded into the chilly water out to a log propped up on some rocks (see below).

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Photo of me, taken by @walasavagephoto

We didn’t end up getting to the other lake because it was getting late, but overall this was an easy and awesome hike! The hike took us 3 hours total, including a long stop for photos and relaxing by the lake.

 

Convict Lake

The next day we woke up early in the morning to watch the sunrise at Convict Lake. This is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. It is named after an incident that occurred in 1871, when a group of convicts escaped from prison in Carson City and were caught near the lake. I am typically not a morning person and love sleeping in, but watching the sunrise in the mountains is always worth waking up for!

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Convict Lake at Sunrise

 

Hot Creek Geological Site

We then checked out Hot Creek Geological Site. There is a beautiful flowing river with brilliant blue steaming geothermal hot springs (NOT for swimming!) and beautiful mountain peaks in the background. When you follow Google Maps, it takes you to an area with a neat view of the steaming pools, some informative signs, and pit toilets. However, it was not obvious how to get the view in the photo below.

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Hot Creek Geological Site

The views from the marked area are nice, but the best view (seen in the photo above) is not well advertised. We had to wander around for a while to find this exact perspective. To get to this viewpoint you need to keep driving east on Hot Creek Hatchery Road past the pit toilets and gate at the far end of the geological site, and turn left down a dirt road with no signs. At the end of the road there is a small clearing with a stone fire pit (possibly a camp site!). There you will find this stunning view! See the map below, the approximate location of the viewpoint is indicated by the red circle.

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Driving the June Lake Loop

After the beauty of Hot Creek, we continued our drive north to the June Lake Loop.  This is a beautiful road that winds through mountains, cute towns, and several lovely lakes. June Lake itself looked very pretty from the road, but we didn’t find a good viewpoint so we continued driving.

We stopped at Silver Lake, which was really beautiful. Unfortunately, it was very windy so the water was choppy and full of waves. I think this spot would have looked even more beautiful with still, reflective water.

We also stopped by Grant Lake, a dazzling blue lake nestled in the mountains and rolling hills. This spot felt so similar to some of the hikes we did in the fjords of Norway!

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Grant Lake (photo by @walasavagephoto)

 

Parker Lake

After spending a couple hours on the lovely June Lake Loop, we drove down a bumpy dirt road to the trail head for a hike to Parker Lake. This was a relatively short and easy hike, only 3.6 miles roundtrip, and took us two hours. There were hardly any other people on the trail and it was a very peaceful hike. Just before getting to the lake, there is an amazing shallow river winding through a pine forest. It felt like something out of a magical fantasy world.

The lake itself was really beautiful. The water was a dazzling shade of turquoise and the tall rocky mountains loomed just behind the lake. I tried to wade in the freezing cold water, but the rocks were sharp and slippery- I almost fell in!

 

Leaving Mammoth Lakes

Aside from these lovely lakes and hikes, we enjoyed some tasters at the two local breweries: Mammoth Brewing Company, which had delicious beers and the best logo of a smiling black bear, and Black Doubt which is one of the more clever brewery names I have ever seen.

We also stopped briefly at Mono Lake on our way out, but we weren’t really feeling this area so we didn’t stay too long. Most of the mountain roads were closed so we had to drive north and then west to get over to the California coast.

 

What we skipped

One thing we did not explore in Mammoth Lakes was the hot springs. I have seen so many amazing photos of these springs and wanted to check them out. For some reason we were busy with all of the hiking and driving, we ended up not doing the hot springs. Sorry not to have any info on these! We also tried to spend some time at Lake Tahoe on our way out, but found it not to be very van-friendly. We saw some nice views as we drove around, but had trouble finding places to park or sleep for free. We will have to plan another trip to this area!

Since writing this blog post we have already explored much of the Califoria coast. I can’t wait to share photos and stories from our adventures on the Pacific Coast Highway and in the redwood forests! Until then, you can keep up-to-date by following along with my posts and stories on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).