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Our Great American Road Trip


Adventure, text and photos by Clarisa, Paloma and Justin Friedman

On the road

This is a love story. It’s a story about the love of family, the love of nature, the love of wildness, the love of adventure, and yes, the love of birds.  Starting the first week of June, we began our journey from Tucson, practically the southwestern most point in the U.S.,  to nearly the northwestern most point in Washington state and back.  Racking up over 5,000 miles, we spent almost a month on the road, and saw much of the American west coast. This is a photo essay of our adventures. Our hope is that our journey will inspire you to get outside and experience everything our beautiful country has to offer.

Paloma at Santa Monica

“The First Stop On The Road”
By Justin Friedman

She greets the end
Of Highway Ten
With a wide embrace
The Pacific Ocean gives back
A thousand fold
Wave after wave
She stands arms open
Marveling at the immensity
Curious and afraid
She laughs with glee

Big Sur
Los Padres National Forest was our first camping spot. Kerouac, Ferlenghetti , their beatnik friends as well as many other writers and artists spent time there and the place lends itself to poetry. Lush, picturesque coastlines overwhelm the eyes. Beautiful creeks flow out from the Santa Lucia Mountains into the rocky 90 mile stretch of the Pacific Ocean.  Kirk Creek offered up the Band Tailed Pigeon, an unassuming name for such a large, colorful bird. We saw them from a great distance away and being so different from their city cousins, it was difficult to make a correct ID at first. We could make out 8 or 10 birds weighing down the branches of a tree. They had a yellow and black beak and displayed a large white band on the tail. Could they be some kind of hawk? No, the shape is wrong. So, we took a ride up Nacimiento Road and came to the exact oak tree for a very good look at them. Their shiny, blue-green iridescence at the back of their necks became apparent. Some of them displayed a pinkish tinge on their breast. They were a small beautiful flock of gentle, dove-like birds.

Further up the coast, we made a stop at the Sand Dollar Beach.  We weren’t really birding that day, just enjoying the beach.  Up above the cliffs, there were 6 or 8 Turkey Vultures. Among the vultures was a dark black bird that dwarfed them.  It didn’t have the “V” shape of a Vulture.  Instead, it had flat wings with fingers.  We couldn’t believe our eyes.  We were seeing the almost mythical California Condor! Since we didn’t have our binoculars we spotted a fellow birder and asked them if we could borrow theirs. We got a much better view of the bird and together, we confirmed the sighting of the bird with largest wingspan in North America. The California Condor had been on the brink of extinction due to shooting and poisoning and has been reintroduced to the central coast in recent years by the Ventana Wildlife Society. We felt so fortunate to be able to witness this amazing bird soaring so freely above the Pacific coast.

“On soft Spring nights I’ll stand in the yard under the stars- Something good will come out of all things yet – And it will be golden and eternal just like that – There’s no need to say another word.” – Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

Big Sur Sunset

View from Kirk Creek

Pfeiffer Burns Beach

Northern California
We stopped in Occidental for what was supposed to be one night but ended up being four. We stayed at a property owned by a Gurdjieff group that my mother was a member of.  The land was beautiful, the people kind, and the buildings rustic.  The three of us felt unusually at home there.  We used the land as a base to sightsee San Francisco, Sonoma County wine country, the Russian river, and most impressively a 3,000 acre grove of Redwoods called Armstrong Woods.


“Vanishing Point”
By Justin Friedman

Stumbling through Armstrong’s woods
Necks craned back
To the impossible task
Of glimpsing the end
Visions of the primordial subconscious
Half remembered dreams
Thousands of years old
The California Redwoods
Remind us
There was a before

Baby Tree Swallows

Russian River

Gurdjeiff Land

Goat Rock Beach

Armstrong Woods

Unexpected Finds
It was about this point in the trip that we abandoned our schedule. As a result, we came upon some unexpected delights.  We stopped for a night in Arcata, CA. It was a convenient place to stop on our way to the Smith River and it was also named one of the “hippiest towns in America”.  In the morning, we found ourselves in a great little birding spot called the Arcata Marsh.  This is a 307 acre wastewater treatment facility wetland and wildlife sanctuary. The interesting marsh /sanctuary area is run by the City of Arcata at the northern end of Humbolt Bay and is located along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory route for thousands of birds. We ran into a local birder who showed us around. She helped us identify some of the gulls we were seeing.  The Gulls’ plumage changes frequently, so making correct ID’s was a challenge for us desert dwellers.  With the help of the local birder we confirmed that we saw the California Gull, Western Gull, and Laughing Gull (a rarity). Some other notable birds we saw were Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Breasted Chat, Black Capped Chickadee, Great Egrets, Double Crested Cormorants, Marbled Godwits, and Curlews.

Cedar Waxwing

Arcata Marsh

Egrets and Cormorants

Another unexpected find was Arizona Beach.  We stopped because of the name and found ourselves in a beautiful lagoon. The beach gets its name because of the warm climate because it is book ended by two large rock outcrops on the beach that shelter it from cool pacific winds. We were surrounded by hundreds of Swallows. Tree Swallows, Violet- green Swallows, and Barn Swallows went zipping by us, putting on a show of aerial acrobatics. The habitat also provided sightings of Cormorants and different water fowl.

Arizona Beach---Cormorant

Birdwatching at Arizona Beach

Barn Swallow

Later in the trip, we came upon an Osprey nest driving down highway 62 between Crater Lake and Yosemite.  The nest was large and unmistakable, built atop a telephone pole. We screeched to a halt, as the road was nearly deserted close to Klamath Falls.  We observed the parents feeding a baby.  We watched them until the parents started to become agitated with us. The male screamed at us and flew close over our heads twice. We took that as our cue to leave.

Osprey on nest at Klamath

Our dear friend, Judy, was kind enough to offer us a place to stay in her own lovely sanctuary in Aurora, just outside of Portland. The four of us went out for some sightseeing one morning in the downtown area of Portland. We strolled through and sampled culinary delights at a bustling farmers market. We love books in our family and were delighted to visit a wonderful independent bookstore called Powell’s. But what we love to do most in big cities is just explore and walk. As we walked down the streets of the Pearl District we weren’t necessarily thinking about bird viewing as much as taking in all the new sights before us. Then we looked up in the sky as we noticed another large bird soaring overhead. The head and tail were clearly white in contrast to the dark brown body. We saw a Bald Eagle in Portland!

Portland---Judy's Backyard

Portland---River Walk

Olympic National Forest and the Great Northwest
Oregon and Washington are exceedingly beautiful states.  500 years ago, they must have been near Utopia.  Today, however, the logging industry has clear cut much of the old growth forest.  They continue to “harvest” our living natural resources at an alarming rate.  As nature lovers, it’s hard to accept the decimation of these increasingly rare natural habitats.  They clear cut entire mountains to make toilet paper, pizza boxes, and pencils.  Watching hundreds of logging trucks full to the brim with freshly cut trees zoom by was hard to bare.  I remember passing through these same forests as a kid. We’d go off on a dirt road looking for a camping spot.  Bouncing through pristine old growth forest, turn the corner, and it was nothing but stumps as far as the eye could see. I remember my mom’s tears as she cried for the forest.

Not much has changed, so we avoided those “forest” roads and headed straight for the main destination, namely the Olympic National Forest.  There are parts of the Olympic that show you what once was.  The Hoh rainforest is amazing!  Moss covered trees kissed by misty air, ferns, a wall of green. We came across Wood Ducks, Common Merganser, and Belted Kingfisher there. On the way to Hurricane Ridge, we spotted a Varied Thrush.  Hurricane Ridge is composed of glacial peaks and old growth forests.  We were told of some Puffins that you could see on the northernmost point of the peninsula, but they eluded us.

Olympic National Park--- Hurricane Ridge

Baby Ducks



Crater Lake
Some of the cleanest, bluest water ever is in Crater Lake. Formed by a collapsed volcano, it is around 2,000 feet deep making it the deepest in the United States.  Its formation was witnessed by Native Americans over 7700 years ago. For much of the year it is inaccessible.  There is a staircase equivalent to 70 flights of stairs that lead from the rim to the lake, but it was closed.  On the way there, many of the trees looked dead.  We asked the ranger why. She told us that they get over 45 feet of snow each year and many of the trees hadn’t come back yet.  We got a life bird at Crater Lake: the Gray Jay.  Some other notable birds were Clarke’s Nutcracker, Cassin’s Finch, and Western Bluebird.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Yosemite is one of the crown jewels of the National Park System.  We lucked out and got last minute reservations for Tuolumne Meadows – the high country.  The Yosemite Valley is a must see, bucket list place to go. Half Dome, El Capitan, and the falls are all spectacular.  It’s impossible to take a bad picture there.  However, you’ll be sharing the experience with millions and millions of people per year.  It’s easy to appreciate the beauty of Yosemite Falls, but hard to enjoy it with 400 people crowding around you. Tuolumne Meadows was much more enjoyable for us.  While slightly less dramatic, the scenery was stunning nonetheless and it was far less populated. After fighting the crowds all day in the valley, we stopped at Lake Tenaya for a dip on the way to the campground.  The lake is surrounded by humungous granite formations and forests. As we were washing away the stress of the day, a family of Bald Eagles joined us for a fishing expedition. A male, female, and first year juvenile kept us mesmerized while they fished and then disappeared into the tree line.

Yosemite Valley

Tenaya Lake

Yosemite Falls

Tuolumne Meadows



This family road trip provided us with invaluable experiences and memories. The places we saw, the people we met along the way, and the incredible wildlife set in beautiful landscapes gave us a new perspective on life and a much needed “reset” as we return to our daily lives. With a few National Parks under our belts as well as many national forests visited on this trip, we’ve broadened our horizons. This is a great country and we are so grateful for the opportunity to explore the lands of the west coast. We are so thankful we were in a position to be able to “drop out” for a month and take a short sabbatical from the Wild Bird Store. We extend our sincerest thanks to Jon, Matt and Merry for taking care of the day to day operations at the store so that we could be gypsies for a while. We come home with a renewed sense of wonder and awe of the natural world. And, of course, the birds enhanced all of our experiences on the road. From our family to you, we hope you can get outside and discover someplace new this summer and we wish you happy birding!

Justin, Clarisa and Paloma

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