Thanksgiving Week - California National Parks Road Trip
Growing up, my family didn’t really celebrate Thanksgiving at home. Sometimes we would order a turkey and all the fixings from Luby’s and just eat at home while watching the Cowboys game. Sometimes. Other times it would just come and go like any other day. Then again, some years our Christmas dinners were fried chicken in the living room so my family was never the traditional type, honestly.
Now that I’m on my own, I’ve tried to make my own traditions. I still like to spend Christmas with my mom, and even though I don’t get to every year, I try to when I can. Thanksgiving, however, anything goes! I’ve gone on road trips, visited family, not visited family, gone to Big Bear, done Friendsgiving, and even cooked my very own Thanksgiving dinner from scratch with Kristy for just the two of us. In 2001 I was actually on barracks duty, so yes – anything goes.
Since 2018, however, I’ve decided that I want to do something amazing every year for Thanksgiving week – yes, the whole week – and to me that means travel! We went to Costa Rica for Thanksgiving 2018 and to Cancun for Thanksgiving 2019. For 2020 my plan was to go to Hawaii or Florida, but COVID-19 had other plans and we didn’t get to do that. My dear friend Ashley was going to be in Playa del Carmen for a month and he invited us to go spend the week of Thanksgiving with him, but we didn’t plan early enough (and we’re still a little sketch about flying!) so we didn’t go. So, was I supposed to sit at home and mope since we didn’t have any other options? I don’t think so!
It’s on my list of “40 Things To Do Before I Turn 40” to visit all the National Parks in California. There are nine of them (as of the time I made the list, I’m not sure if more will be added later) and I have already been to two of them: Joshua Tree National Park and Channel Islands National Park. So, with the help of Jess and her scouring the website for availability at Yosemite Valley Lodge, we planned the trip around the dates we could stay at Yosemite and TA DAH! The California National Parks Road Trip was planned for the week of Thanksgiving 2020!
Johey took leave so she and Evan could join Jacob and I, and we set out on our road trip starting with Death Valley National Park. I had heard so much about it – particularly about Badwater Basin since I have some friends who have run Badwater 135 – so being there in person was amazing! I can officially say that I’ve been to the lowest point in the USA (Badwater Basin) and the highest summit (Mount Whitney). Pretty neat, eh?
Leaving Death Valley on the way to our next National Park, we made a quick pitstop to visit our dear friend David and his family. We hadn't seen him in a long time, but I love how we always pick right back up where we left off as if no time has passed!
The next stop was Sequoia National Park. I had read that we would need crampons but we didn’t – thank God! – and even though it was a little chilly, we all had a great time seeing all the big and beautiful trees all around us!
Our third stop was Kings Canyon National Park. I really liked it there and we took a lot of pictures. It was also cold, but nothing too crazy.
From there we drove to Yosemite National Park. We got there at night so we only saw a little bit before it was bedtime, but the next day we were up bright and early! Johey had the idea for us to sign up for America’s Turkey Trot and I said we should run it at Yosemite! It was a crisp and cold morning, but the sights were beautiful and it was worth every minute! We spent the whole day sightseeing and taking pictures and we hiked to Mirror Lake as well. Before we left the next morning, we stopped at Tunnel View and got a couple more pictures. I loved every bit of Yosemite and I can now see why it’s Jess’s favorite!
We had originally planned to go to Lassen Volcanic National Park next, but it was snowing there and not a lot was going to be open at the park. We were going to need cables (which we had) but I’m a sissy when it comes to driving in the ice/snow, so we rerouted instead. We spent Thanksgiving Day on the road from Yosemite to the coast and had Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant in Eureka, CA. Due to COVID-19 regulations, we had to eat outside and everything was good until they ran out of propane for the heaters, so that was our cue to leave! We stayed in Eureka for the night ready to take on the next park in the morning!
Our next stop was Redwood National and State Parks and I found it to be very beautiful! It’s just something about it being next to the ocean that makes it feel more Cali to me and I loved it. We didn’t drive too far into it, but we did get to drive through a tree (and I was scared shitless!) and – again – took a lot of pictures.
The drive from Redwood NP back to home is about 12-14 hours, so we decided that since Pinnacles National Park is kind of on the way, we might as well add it to the list and stop there! We drove about 6ish hours and spent the night at Gilroy, CA (the garlic capital of the world, what?!) and after four hotels were so ready to sleep in our own beds by now… One. More. Night!
In the morning, we drove about 45 minutes to Pinnacles National Park. It was a Saturday and the weather was great, so the place was packed! We did a little hike and got some souvenirs, but we barely got any photos before we got back on the road and headed home.
After six National Parks, five hotel stays, and over 2500 miles driven, our California National Parks Road Trip was done! I just love that we get to do this! Being at the lowest point in the US, climbing up Moro Rock with zero visibility, seeing General Grant and General Sherman in person, running a 5k in Yosemite, driving through a tree – it’s all so crazy!!! The craziest thing was driving up and down mountains - thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss. I’m so lucky Blue made it there and back in one piece!
After we got back, Johey and Evan drove home and Jacob and I unpacked and did laundry. I was glad we were back on a Saturday so we all had Sunday to catch up and recover before Johey and Jacob had to go back to work on Monday.
All in all, I had a great time with My Little Family and I cannot wait until we can visit Lassen Volcanic National Park. Hopefully in the spring! And now that I’ve been to all these other parks, I know that I definitely want to go back and visit again with more time. Hopefully soon!