Road Tripping with a Film Camera

The trip was eight months ago, now. But nevermind the wait. We drove the coast — the famous PCH — from San Diego to San Francisco, with just a few hundred miles of detours along the way.

I brought with me an ancient film camera. I wanted to remember to be judicious. To focus before jumping in. To snap the photo I wanted, and no more. Of course, they didn’t all work out. But that just makes the good ones all the better.

Overlooking Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, California.

Starting with a National Park

We started in San Diego, but my first roll of film went wonk, so the first good photos showed up in Joshua Tree National Park — a place that’s like a sandbox for giants. The alien landscape felt simultaneously otherworldly and entirely familiar — dry, sandy, and scrambly. We got lost among the rocks, and it was the loveliest lost I’ve ever been.

Joshua Tree National Park.
Cairns in the distance at Joshua Tree National Park.

My Childhood Hills

After Joshua Tree, we went to Los Angeles. Well, truth be told, we stayed north of Los Angeles, in Burbank and Glendale and Hollywood. I grew up in these hills. And they’re even more beautiful than I remember.

A sidestreet in the Pacific Palisades.
A Wes Anderson film frame in real life.
Sunlight and shadows and cityscape views.

Up the Coast

Northward, along the coast, it was all mountainsides and ocean views. We hiked up canyons and along cliffs and down beaches and through coves.

We chased waterfalls and sunsets; we found them all, and every one blew me away.

Sunset over the Pacific at El Capitan Canyon.
Somewhere near Big Sur.
McWay Falls, Big Sur.
The bluest of blue, from a ridge above the PCH.
The last of the light at Pfeiffer Beach.
Ewoldsen Trail, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, just as the view gets good.
Creekside hikes.
Early morning light on the 17-Mile Drive, Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Sunlight and cypress trees, 17-Mile Drive, Carmel-by-the-Sea.
The day meets the ocean, 17-Mile Drive, Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Toward Another National Park

Cut away from the coast, and inland. Hours of flat land. Not much to see. Then you hit mountains. The road rises and weaves, mile after mile, on a slender road. Finally, the canyon opens into a valley. Yosemite Valley. And it is breathtaking.

The peaks of the greats: El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park.

We went in the winter, so much of the park was out of reach. But what we did see was awesome, in the truest meaning of the tired, overused term.

Half Dome, from Yosemite Valley.
Stone walls rising for days.
Cold, clear mountain water.
Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite National Park.
The mighty Yosemite Falls, from the snow-covered forest floor.
The road home.

Three-quarters of a year later, the west is calling again. Next up: Arizona. Can’t wait to get back on the road again.