Usually, when preparing a West Coast tour, there is a tendency to set up stages and itineraries according to fairly pre-established methods: we try to enter cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco (and why not, even San Diego) and the most popular national parks, for example the Grand Canyon, the Monument Valley, Yosemite Park, Bryce Canyon or Sequoia Park.
Nothing contrary to these stages, they are simply breathtaking! However, for those planning a trip to the USA, it might be interesting to know that in America there are many unusual and wonderful natural attractions (yes, the ones that leave you speechless), and some very little known.
It is to this type of stage that I dedicate today's article, a itinerary in 3 parts designed to explore the most bizarre natural wonders and unusual, but at the same time not as famous. Perhaps these tips could be useful for you to make a West Coast itinerary personalized and at the same time original.
- Are you ready? Where we go?
- Stage 1: Racetrack Playa, the beach of moving stones
- Stage 2: Mono Lake, a science fiction lake
- Stage 3: Fly Geyser, the story of a well that has become a geyser
Are you ready? Where we go?
As mentioned, the theme of the itinerary is based on the most bizarre and unknown natural wonders of the States, therefore no city or metropolis, only nature and many kilometers to grind!
We will cover 5 states: California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming. The kilometers traveled will be about 3000, feasible in 15/20 days, with a total driving time of 39 hours. There are 10 stages in all. What are we waiting for? Let's rent a car and go!
Stage 1: Racetrack Playa, the beach of moving stones
Well yes, in this dried up lake of the Death Valley you can witness a natural phenomenon that will leave you speechless, one of those events in front of which science remains unanswered: rocks that move by themselves!
To reach Racetrack Playa, a little traveled area of Death Valley, a standard car will not suffice, but you will need a 4 × 4, as the road is bumpy and bumpy. If you want to reach the best observation point, bring a good supply of water with you and follow the directions of the National Park Service:
To see the moving rocks, drive two miles south of the Grandstand parking area. Walk at least half a mile to the southeast corner of Racetrack Playa to get the best view of the rocks and tracks they have left. […] Some of the moving stones are very large and have traveled up to 1.500 feet.
But be careful! If you are already thrilled at the idea of witnessing the movement of the rocks in real time with your eyes, know that this is not what you will see. The movement of the stones is so imperceptible that it cannot be noticed instantly, however you will notice the paths (incredibly straight!) That the rocks leave behind, all this in one of the most evocative natural landscapes in the world, that of the Death Valley!
To find out what other wonders the valley has in store for you and how to organize a visit between overnight stays and timing, you can read our guide on Death Valley.
Stage 2: Mono Lake, a science fiction lake
Head north up California along the Nevada border and in about 5 hours by car you will be in monkey lake (or Mono lake), a strange lake that, due to the unique tuff formations that emerged from the bottom after the opening of the Los Angeles aqueduct, recalls a science fiction landscape, worthy of the most bizarre fantasies of writers and cartoonists.
The lake is immense, over 2000 square km, and is located on Highway 395, 13km east of Yosemite Park, near the town of Lee Vining. The best way to visit it is to take a canoe or kayak tour of the lake (available only in summer), which will allow you to admire the bizarre tuff conformations up close, certainly less spectacular from the mainland. The possible activities to be carried out at the Mono lake are many; to learn more about how to visit it and where to stay overnight in the area take a look at our article on how to visit Mono Lake.
Stage 3: Fly Geyser, the story of a well that has become a geyser
We expect another 5 hours of driving (but also 2 more if you choose the area that I recommend for the overnight stay), we will cross Nevada to arrive in Washoe County, where something even more unheard of awaits us: the Fly Geyser, a well created by man but transformed by nature into a real geyser. How could such a transformation take place?
When the well was built in 1964 to explore sources of geothermal energy, it was probably not capped properly, or perhaps it was simply left open. In any case, the dissolved minerals began to accumulate and grow, creating the current mound of travertine on which the geyser still releases its massive water spills. The particular color of the geyser is due not only to the many minerals present, but also to a particular alga.
The geyser is located on a private property (Fly Geyser Ranch), but it is also visible from the street. Before you could see it up close, you had to pop into Gerlach's Bruno's restaurant, where they would put you in touch with the ranch owners for a day tour, but now the site has been open to the public. Here are some indications to visit it:
The geyser can be seen from the State Route 34 north of the town of Gerlach. Guided tours and tours are also available from Friday to Sunday (check the official website anyway). The tour includes a walk in a portion of the 3800-acre property, which includes many hot and cold water springs, three geysers, and interesting sites. No photographs are allowed during the walk and reservations are required. To search for accommodation in the vicinity and according to the itinerary, the best choice is the area of Lake Tahoe, a splendid lake to which it is worthwhile to dedicate a thorough stage and which is more or less halfway between Fly Geyser and Mono Lake. For advice on accommodation and how to visit the attraction, read our driving to Lake Tahoe.
Our first part of the itinerary ends here (you can see a recap above). With the next steps we will move to Oregon where nature, once again, will not stop surprising us… see you next time!
Read the second part of this itinerary: From Crater Lake to Lava Lands: An Unusual West Coast Itinerary Part 2