Mountain Peaks and the Valley *EOTWP*

30 August

Week 239
Hello again!

Let's get right to it, shall we? Okay! OMG, holiday getaway to California was all kinds of marvellously and breathtakingly absurd kinds of wonderment.

In mid-June, Zach and I flew out to California to meet with his family (and siblings! :D) to go camping at Lassen Volcanic National Park. This was followed up with a long drive down the central valley of Cali which contained an immensely interesting conversation with Zach's older brother Nate — whom I got to know really well on this drive. Great guy, that Nate. :) That drive led us to Zachary's hometown of Temecula, California; with Zach showing me the local flavours around town. And finally, we ended the trip with a visit to the San Diego Zoo! I love zoos! I love animals! That final day filled my heart with so much love, and it was already overflowing from the week and half prior during the camping excursion. <3

Day 1: Diving right in, we awoke early around 4 a.m. on the 16th of June to get to the Little Rock airport for our early morning flight. Zach and I tried to get some sleep that night, but I think we were both just too excited about the trip. Anyhoo, up and at it! We had a layover in Dallas — which, oh my goodness, our first flight got delayed and delayed and delayed even more due to thunderstorms moving through the Dallas area. We ended up boarding almost two hours later, and by the time we landed in Dallas to try and grab some food for a slightly late breakfast, our plane began boarding right as we were getting food. (Side note: thanks to the McDonald's employees in DFW for being super fast!) So yup, got our foodstuffs, boarded the plane, and then off to Reno, Nevada we went. VOOOOOOM.

Flying over the Rocky Mountains was an incredible sight for me once we got back under the clouds. Goodness. I was just so awestruck by how incredible it was to see actual mountains for the first time in my life. See, I'm from the drab, boring state of Arkansas, and we only have hills here. I mean, the central to western/northwestern side of the state is definitely more beautiful than the swampy-ass delta eastern and southern portions we have here — and they specifically label them as the Ouachita and Ozark Mountain ranges...but c'mon, mountains, they are not. Also, Crowley's Ridge...LOLOLOLs.
So...mountains! And...slot machines/gambling?? That was the strangest sight to behold stepping off of an aeroplane in Reno. But hey, it's Reno, so I suppose it made sense. So, yes, looking out of the windows at Reno-Tahoe and seeing the Sierra-Nevada mountains to my west was incredible. "I'm seeing mountains for the first time ever in my life, Zach. Wow." I'm sure I stated that to Zach many times over the course of this holiday getaway. I just couldn't believe it. It was all so beautiful.

At the airport, we met up with Zach's brother; Nate was picking us up from the airport to began our drive out to the campgrounds at Lassen Volcanic National Park. But first, lunch! And where do we go for lunch? Why, Anna's very first experience eating at an In-N-Out, that's where! LOLs.
Verdict? It was okay. Better than McDonald's at least!
Back in the car, we began our trek to Northern California and Lassen Park. I was so psyched. Everywhere I looked off to my west during the car ride, there were mountains. With snow on them. In June. IN JUNE. Yeah yeah, I know the elevation is higher on the mountain tops, duh, and that the air temperature is much colder...thus snow...but still. In June! I was loving every second of all the sights I was seeing.
From Reno-Tahoe to the campgrounds.

Also, was it ever so wonderful to finally be in the Pacific Time Zone. I'll talk more about this as I get to the camping part of the trip, but it felt good.

Driving through the Sierra-Nevadas and into the southernmost portion of the Cascades in northern California was such a delight (partially because I didn't have to drive it, but more so because the scenery change was extraordinary.) The landscape went from arid brown to mountains of green. Astonished, I believe is how one would describe how I felt during that drive. If only I knew what was waiting for me once I stepped foot out of that car, however...

Upon arriving to the campsite at Manzanita Lake, I wasn't prepared for what my lungs were about to take in. You see, I've always dealt with respiratory issues living in the South. It's one of just many reasons why I've always known I don't belong here. Granted, Little Rock is a wonderful city, and is honestly the only good thing about this forsaken state, but man...the humidity. This mucous-y, swamp-ass humidity (as I so lovingly call it these days) is a plague to my lungs and breathing. Before transitioning, breathing issues weren't as apparent for me, but post-transition, my lungs have a more difficult time handling the climate in the South. It's soupy air. It feels thick — almost as if you could reach out and grab a handful of it. And I can't handle it anymore.

So, upon stepping foot out of Nate's nicely air-conditioned vehicle and into the fresh, immensely intoxicating mountain air, I became overwhelmed. It was a bit of a life-changing moment; because in that moment, my lungs opened up, and I could breathe so effortlessly and without any tension whatsoever. It felt staggeringly phenomenal. I could breathe. No, seriously, I could breathe. I kept taking in huge amounts of fresh air into my lungs. I probably looked a bit silly in doing so, but I didn't care. It was amazing. It had just finished raining, too — a heavy downpour, actually, to which Nate noted it typically doesn't rain like this in California. It's okay, I brought the rain with me. :) It was then I knew I didn't ever want to leave this place. And "place" wasn't necessarily northern California, or even Lassen National Park, but more specifically, the west coast.

I was home. And damn, did it feel good.

I was so happy to have finally arrived on the west coast (the best coast, mind you).

Shortly after we arrived, Zach's younger sister and her husband arrived (Zachary is the middle child, just like me, if you haven't guessed that by now). Kristen and Josh are two incredibly wonderful human beings. The five of us then began scoping out our camping grounds for proper tent locations. Because...of course. Zach and I picked out our spot, and shortly after, the parents arrived, too. We began pitching tents (which I had not done in a long time), but it was so much fun working as a team with Zach to do just that. We're awesome like that. (And you can't spell "awesome" without "me," right?) :P

Kristen and Josh made dinner for us during that first night, and it was super delicious. Oh wait wait...back up. Before all of the yummy dinner, all of us took a small hike out and around Manzanita Lake at the campgrounds. It was beautifully wondrous. There was a stillness to the lake that made me feel at peace with myself. I figured I wasn't going to have to take my anxiety meds that much throughout this entire trip. I was right. After dinner, we attempted to get a campfire going, but I suppose the recent rain put a literal damper on that event. But it wasn't a big deal! We sat around talking, laughing, and just enjoying each other's company. Once again...absolutely wonderful. <3 I thought to myself, "Well, damn...if this is how well the first night is going to go with the new family, then I don't know how I'm going to handle myself."

I think I fared fairly well in that regard — especially once I got some wine in me. :P

Day 2: Once everyone got up and around (and awake), we drove over to what is called the Devastated Area. With Lassen Peak's last eruption during a series of eruptions over the span of several days, it blew open one last time on 22 May 1915.
Lassen Peak, as viewed from the Devastated Area
In the Devastated Area (and miles of surrounding area, too), you can find volcanic rocks lying about. They're everywhere. I couldn't imagine how huge and loud Lassen's eruption must have been back over a hundred years ago. After trotting about the Devastated Area's trail, we headed down the closed road on foot to an area where I learnt a surprising new trait about myself — I thoroughly enjoy rock-climbing.

Queue up Barney Stinson's "challenge accepted" notation, and that's pretty much what was going through my head as I watched Nate, Kristen, and Josh start to clamber up a particular rocky hillside we stumbled upon. See, post-transition, I didn't know how my body would react to heavy exercise or strain. I seemed to handle it really well, actually, and I quickly discovered that I just wanted to climb everything. The whole event made me recall my adolescent days and climbing the tall pine trees in my parent's yard. I loved it. Every. Single. Fucking. Second. It was glorious — made me feel super empowered. And I needed that kind of thing...especially after having my own family make me feel incredibly worthless and subpar during the initial stages of my transition.
One of my favourite panoramas during the trip. Just look at Zach...all majestic-like.
Upon reaching the top of the area where the five of us were climbing, Nate and I made it to the top first, followed shortly by Kristen and Zach. It was here that Kristen took one of my favourite photos of the entire holiday trip.
Just look at us kids. So much fun getting to the top!
Back down on lower ground, we headed back to our vehicles at the Devastated Area, and headed over to another area with a special rock called the "Hot Rock." We climbed it, too, and took more photos. Zach and I could hear running water in the distance, and we hiked back a short distance to discover an incredibly cold creek. We even stumbled upon a funky, red fungus thingy. (I don't think I ever truly realised what that was called.)
Zachary and me. <3
Once we finished there, several of us went back to the campsite to relax for the rest of the day, while Nate and Kristen went hiking up to the Chaos Crags (Zach and I would do this hike later.) Back at the campgrounds, we chatted for a bit while preparing the fire for the evening. Once Nate and Kristen came back, dinner was on once again, followed up with sitting around a campfire while the sun set around us. Once again, wonderful. All of it. I couldn't ask for better company — filled my heart with so much love.

Day 3: Up and at it again! This time, the destination was an attempt at getting to Lassen Peak. So, I mentioned the closed road during the previous day's escapades, correct? Right, so there's a reason it was closed. Normally, from Manzanita Lake, you could take that road and drive a short distance up the mountain to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitors Centre, passing the Lassen Peak trailhead along the way (along with the Sulphur Works hotspot, too). Well, the road was apparently closed due to excessive snowfall that hit during mid-to-late May...which shut down the road, of course. The park staff was trying to clear everything out as quick as possible to open the road up, though. So instead, we had to drive the long way around Lassen Volcanic Park just to get to the day's events. This was fine by me, as it meant I got to see more of California. I was perfectly content with the discourse. :)

Let me state one thing clearly before I get to this next part. I dressed appropriately for the weather at the elevation our campgrounds were located. But elevation? Elevation doesn't give a shit how you dress. LOLs. When we got to the trailhead parking lot for Lassen Peak, it was SO bloody cold. SO. COLD. And unfortunately, we couldn't access the trailhead because there were, like, 16-foot snowdrifts around the entire parking lot. It must have snowed a megaton during the latter part of May. >_<
At the Lassen Peak trailhead parking lot. See those snow drifts?
We drove back down, and instead, stopped at Emerald Lake and Lake Helen (which were partially frozen over) to throw snowballs at each other...some of us in shorts. Yes, shorts. In the freezing cold. In mid-June. Snowballs. Icy lakes. Craziness.
Zach at a frozen (kinda) Emerald Lake.

Afterwards, we went back to the visitor's centre to have lunch and relax (and to get ourselves out of the hot sun...but wait, I thought it was cold? Ever gotten an icy sunburn? I have.) After lunch, the siblings and I (minus Josh) decided to attempt a hike nearby the visitor's centre. It was steep, it was slippery, and full of lots of snow. And it was SO much fun. We hiked all the way down to an area that looked like it was right out of The Legend of Zelda. I could hear the secret chime theme that plays in-game right as we stumbled upon this area of water (seriously, I bet if we could have found the switch that drained the pool, we would have found stairs leading down into a murky dungeon in the mountainside. So much fun.)

Exhausted, we headed back up through the snowy mountainside. I was so tired. Almost everything hurt, and that climb down and back up was more difficult on me than the rock climbing from the day before.
Zach and I on our way back up to the visitor's centre. Don't step in the bear poo, Anna! (photo courtesy of Kristen)
Once we got back to campgrounds after our long drive back, Zach and I rode bikes over to the Manzanita Lake visitor's centre and museum to check out the sights. There was even a nice film playing in the back room of the museum that detailed the origins of Lassen Volcanic National Park and its geological evolution. It was incredibly fascinating stuff. More dinner, but this time, more of the family had arrived, and it was family I was so excited to meet, too...Zach's aunts. <3 Aunt DeeDee (Diane), Mary, and Helen...all Ms. Claire's sisters. I was super excited to give them all hugs. It was so great to meet them all. Sitting around a warm campfire wearing fleece leggings and a jacket (it got cold at night in the mountains) and enjoying the company of a wonderful boyfriend and his family; day three ended, once again, wonderfully well.

Day 4: We weren't up near as early on this day, but that was never a problem for I'm a morning person anyway. Oh, right, I previously mentioned I would talk about being in the Pacific Time Zone. Yeah, so my body didn't really adjust to the two hour difference until probably day seven. I slept fine in a tent, but I kept waking up at like 4 a.m. because my body still thought it was two hours ahead of when it was actually. Drove me crazy that entire week. I didn't really get a good night's rest until maybe the final two days of camping — and that last day was spent in an actual bed in a cabin (more on that day later, of course.)

So, yay, day four! This time, our excursion took us out to the Hat Creek Rim scenic viewpoint. From this vantage point, one can see Lassen Peak to the south and Mount Shasta to the north. See for yourself...
What a view!
From there, we drove over to Cinder Cone Mountain and Fantastic Lava Beds. That sounds like a title to a geological documentary film. :P

But man! Man, oh man. Cinder Cone...that...thing is a...bitch. When viewing the trail up the mountain from below, you'd think to yourself, "Nah, man. I got this. Piece a' cake."
Easy, right?
You'd be wrong. Bloody damn wrong. Cinder Cone will eat you alive. One step up, two steps back? Nah, mate. Try one half step up, three steps back. So, Cinder Cone is made up of tiny rocks and sand. It's considered a dome volcanic mountain. And it will let you know up close and personal that that's what it is. But once you do defeat it and make it to the top? What. A. View.
The view from the top of Cinder side of it, that is. (You can see the lava beds below.)
All of that darker coloured ground you see off-centre to the left in that panorama? Those are lava rocks that oozed out of Cinder Cone when it erupted previously. They didn't ooze out of the top, however. They came out from below and at the bottom of the mountain. It's really fascinating stuff to read about how it came to be. And on Google Maps, you can see two separated small lakes around Cinder Cone — one smaller one to the northeast, and a larger one to the south/southeast. These lakes, I believe were at one time one much bigger lake that ended up divided in two as the lava rocks filled in the area. So incredibly marvellous.

As the night came to a close once again after another wonderful dinner followed by campfire shenanigans, I nodded off to dreamland in a cold tent, sleeping next to Zach thinking to myself, "Goodness, Anna. Look what you've gone and gotten yourself involved in. Incredible people who love you for who you are at heart...not who you once were."  If this is what love is, I now finally know. It feels great, by the way. <3

Day 5: This was probably one of the most memorable days of the entire trip. Burney Falls! Oh my goodness, this area was beyond magnificent and beautiful.
The cool mist that spritzed off from the falls felt SO good.
There was so much to explore there while at the falls. Lots of incredible photos were taken as well. The falls formed into a small stream/creek that flowed along the path we walked. It was seriously full of all kinds of wonder and marvel there. I'll just let the photos do the talking on this one. (click on photos to see enlarged versions)



Fantastic, right? I couldn't get enough of the place. After we finished up at Burney Falls, we headed over to a local foodie place called JJ's Cafe. We ate outside since there were so many of us, and I ordered a delicious Reuben sandwich...topped off with a Mike's hard cranberry lemonade. Mmm mmm.
Zach said to wear protection from the sun. He's demonstrating appropriately.
After the most excellent meal at JJ's, we had a bit of extra time left, so we hopped over to the Lava Tube caves. This was super interesting! And dark. And cold! But very much welcomed after being in the hot sun for the first part of the day. The lava tubes/caves were formed about 30,000 years ago from lava that flowed under the earth. You can read more about them from the photos taken in my entire album set for this holiday trip (found below at the bottom of this blog entry.)
Lava tubes! (photo courtesy of Kristen)
Once the lava tub excursion was finished, we ventured back to the campgrounds once again.
Okay. One more Burney Falls pic. <3
From left to right: Josh, myself, Zach, Kristen, and Nate. (photo courtesy of Kristen)
So dinner, wasn't at the campgrounds this time. We drove out to where to a cabin where Zach's aunts were staying. They wanted to cook dinner for the lot of us this time, and afterwards, I kind of holed myself up on the end of a couch and tried falling asleep. Dinner was excellent, as I've discovered by this point, pretty much all Johnson family dinners are excellent. But yeah, sleep. With the time zone change, and the immense amount of activity from the day and previous two days, I wanted to just conk out and go to dreamland. I was kind of a recluse during this night, but I hope I didn't offend any family members there. I was just honestly so drained.

Day 6: This time, we had a lot of extra time left over in the day until dinner was to come around later that evening. We decided to go venture up the Chaos Crags! But instead of it being all the siblings, Zach, myself, his dad, uncle, and one of Zach's Uncle Terry's friends, Jim, came along for the hike. Man, this was a long one, too. It was a fairly easy and gradual climb — nothing too strenuous. This was much easier than the events at Cinder Cone two days prior. Ugh, Cinder Cone... *raises fist at mountain*
A lot of the trees were like this the entire way up to the Crags. *shrug*
I was amazed by how many downed trees there were along this path. I imagine there was probably a fire recently that took out a good portion of the forest; along with the heavy snowfall earlier months before that probably knocked down lots of forested area as well. It was kind of sad to see, honestly. I guess the park employees just aren't raking the grounds well enough. *snicker*

Anyway, the Crags! Yeah! At the top, there was this small, beautiful lake nestled between the peaks.
So pretty.
When we got to the top, apparently an incident had occurred. An older man had fallen ill, and he was lying on the ground with a park rescue member aiding him until a rescue helicopter could arrive. The problem with that, however, is that there was literally no safe area for a helicopter to land. Zach and I hung around a bit waiting to see if we could watch the rescue happen, but the helicopter just couldn't land. Other rescue members began showing up — yes, hiking the same path we took all the way to the top. We realised the time, however, and began making our way back down. Gotta make it back for dinner!

Dinner was at the cabin once more. So dinner wasn't just dinner. The whole reason for this family get-together at Lassen Park was for Ms. Claire's birthday (Zach's mother). And it was a wonderful birthday dinner, too! And we drove out with Zach's seriously funny and fun cousin, Beth. We got to know each other a bit on the drive out, and she came to a better understanding of my terrible past life. We connected, and I adore her. At Ms. Claire's b-day dinner, probably my most loved and favourite photo was taken during the night.
Fill my heart with love. Yes, please.
Also, side note: Ms. Claire, you totally do not look your age. Just so you know. :)

Also also second side note: When I get drunk off of 5 glasses of wine, I love and laugh at everything. I mean, everything. I had such an amazingly fun time at Ms. Claire's birthday dinner get-together. I partially remember at one point, I was laughing so hard at a story that Beth was telling, that Kristen looked over at me and burst out laughing, too. Alcohol does funny things to me. Yeah.

Day 7: The final day of our camping trip had arrived. This was incredibly unfortunate for me, as I knew time with the family was drawing to a close. Kristen and Josh headed back home to Portland that morning, and I didn't want any of this to end. I was immensely sad giving Kristen a goodbye hug. And it was super awesome meeting Josh, too. He's a really rad guy. But yeah, final day. This day was a free day, as we could just lounge around all day at the campsite if we wanted, or we could go out and do whatever hike or other thing we didn't get long as we went ourselves. I was super content just hanging out and playing my Switch at the campgrounds, and I believe Zach was, too, but Nate had a different plan for us.
Seriously. Watch out for bears.
He threw out the idea of doing one last hike, the seriously long Manzanita Creek trail — a supposed 3.3 mile (it wasn't, it was longer) trail that took a person to the backside of the Chaos Crags with an excellent view of Lassen Peak. The only problem with that is that the back end of the trail was immensely covered with snow and downed trees. And Lassen Park staff hadn't cleared the back end of the trail off yet.

We hiked it, and the entire time, I was spooked by the possibility of stumbling upon a bear. The entire hike was calm and quiet...which put me more on edge of a possible bear sighting. And it wasn't too bad of a hike either. Super easy and gradual, but the snow we discovered near the end of our point of turning back made it all worth the long hike. This entire area of northern California is just beyond gorgeous in ways I can't describe, but stumbling upon the flowing creek and then piles of snow and downed trees are all an incredible sight to see. There was literally nothing like this back in Arkansas.
Melting snow. In June. June! :D
I really didn't want this to end. But I knew it had to. I also knew I was one day away from finally seeing Zach's hometown of Temecula, and I was super looking forward to that. Also, Zach and Nate put a bunch of snow in their hats to keep their heads cool, and I thought that was hilarious. But also smart on them. Because it was hot on that last day, and I was burning up. Kudos to them.
Gotta love those Johnson boys. (I still think I look strange in a hat.)
When we got back to the campsite, things were somber for me. I felt like I could burst out in tears at any moment. But I held it together for the most part. Zach and I took down our tent, and bagged up all of our things. Because even though the parents were staying in the camper one last night at the campsite, Zach, Nate, and I had other plans. We were gonna drive over to the cabin to stay the night with the aunts and take actual, nice and hot, wonderful showers. Oh, goodness, was I ever looking forward to that. We said our goodbyes to the parents (yes, I cried), and then were on our way to the cabin.

Day 8: I awoke early in the morning to take my shower. Zach's aunts were getting up to make breakfast for the lot of us, too. It was a wonderful morning, and a fantastic stamp to the end of an amazing week with family. When we said our goodbyes to my new aunts, it hit me fairly hard here, too. Once in the car and on the road to Temecula, I lost it and just started crying constantly. Yes, I'm an emotional sap, but when people make such a brilliantly wonderful impression on my heart, it kinda does that to me. I cry. I'm a crier. It's just how it is. #sorrynotsorry 
Sunflower fields along the I-5.
We hit the I-5, and then began our trek south down the Central Valley of California. Mountains to the left of us, and mountains to the right of us...the valley is, well, flat. But you know what? It's still more freaking beautiful than Arkansas. We stopped in Stockton for lunch at my choosing. And what did I choose? Carl's Jr., of course. LOLs. Hey, I'd never had a Carl's Jr. burger before, and I wanted to see what it was all about. It was better than In-N-Out at least.
Outside of Stockton, just before the I-5 shifts directions slightly.
These golden hills you see in the photo above may not be an incredible sight to see for California natives, but it was a wonder for me.They lined the entire western side of the I-5 after leaving Stockton, and they stayed that way all the way until we hit Grapevine. Entering Grapevine, you're pretty much leaving the Central Valley. No more flat land...back to hills and mountainous terrain again. Yay!
I was slightly disappointed we didn't get to drive through Los Angeles, but I completely understood why we didn't. One word. Traffic. Temecula is a commuter town; a town wedged alongside Murrieta between Los Angeles and San Diego. Arriving in Temecula, we stopped by Nate's place first, and I got to meet his very exuberant doggo, Keira. She's a super sweet pup with gorgeous eyes. Zach, Nate, and I then headed over to Rubio's to get food for the night. Grabbed our takeaway, and ventured back to Zach's parents' place for the rest of our trip. Rubio's was good, but I think the spiciness upset my stomach later that night. Ugh. Zach stated that wasn't the good Rubio's location.

Day 9: Zach and I basically lounged around in his parents' place for part of the day, and then got out to show me around town. He showed me the lot of unused land where he said he always wanted to build a castle when he was a child. It was all so adorable cute, and I love my nerdy boyfriend so much. :P We went to the mall for a bit (they had an arcade :D) in search of a hat for me to wear to the zoo the next case it's bright and sunny outside, of course. Getting back, Nate brought over pizza for dinner from Temecula Pizza Co. So good. Kinda like Damgoode Pizza here in Little was good stuff. Zach and Nate also tried teaching me cribbage after pizza. (I still don't fully understand it. The only card games I really like are Uno and Skip-bo. And Cards Against, too...but I don't really consider that a card game.) :P After dinner and cards, we went over to Zach's childhood friend, Ryan's place for some gaming. (Ryan, you're a really cool dude, btw. Thanks for inviting me over.) It was great meeting you and your wife. :)
The Promenade at Temecula. Let's go to the!
Day 10: It's zoo day! Yay! Did I tell you I love zoos, and also did I tell you how important animal conservation of endangered species is? WELL IT IS, AND I DO. To the San Diego Zoo, we go! <3
On our way to San Diego!
My morning began fairly rough, however. Upset stomach, chills, trembling feelings, tension in my idea what was going on, but it was making me feel like 2018 had come back to say hi again. No no, go away, please. And as you can see from the photo above, it was an exceedingly cloudy day with lower temps — I don't think it got above 16°C all day. I actually got a bit cold wearing my dress to the zoo. I kind of wished I would have brought a cardigan with me. Oh well. To the zoo! I wasn't going to let an illness keep me from having a fun day. I chalked it up to being overly excited and anxious about going to the zoo. Anxiety sucks, you guys. It really does. :/

Seriously, scroll down, check out the entire photo album set of this holiday trip, and make sure to look at EVERY zoo photo I took. Hope you like snakes. There were a TON of them on display. The red panda was especially adorable. I had always heard that the San Diego Zoo was one of the best zoos in the entire world, and it completely did not disappoint. 

They had a large, and I do mean large, amount of Galapagos turtles that you could basically reach out and pat if they walked over closely enough to the railing. It was so cool! And the bird terrariums, oh man...there were so many of them. I loved every single one of them.
Turtle turtle. I <3 turtles. (Especially the teenage mutant ninja variety.)
The panda exhibit was closed, however, and Zach and I couldn't catch the snow leopard out and about. Those were pretty much the only small blights during the whole visit. The zoo was fantastic. Really, check out the photo set! I even got pooped on by a bird! So hilarious.
Bear is big. Girl is smol.
They had a massive amount of penguins, too! I love those little guys so much. Their exhibit was totally better than the Memphis Zoo's penguin exhibit by a landslide.
Penguins! <3 <3 <3
At the end of our visit, we road the sky tram back and forth - the first time take photos and video, and the final ride, I just sat and enjoyed the view of San Diego and the zoo below me. It was really fun.
Getting ready to board the sky trams!
The end of a very long, but rewarding day. <3
I had so much fun visiting the San Diego Zoo! I was exhausted by the end of it all, but it was so good. That was definitely an experience that I will never forget. And I got to go visit with the love of my life. I love that boy so much, and I love him even more after getting to know his family.

Getting back to Temecula, Zach and I stopped by the other Rubio's for dinner. It was much better this time. I can definitely see why Zach loves it so much. And just for kicks, we went into the Home Depot next door to Rubio's to look at the layout of their store to see how it differs from ours. It was slightly interesting, to say the least. :P I did take a fairly kick-ass photo of the clouds rolling in from the ocean and into the valley. It was quite a sight to see!
Our final holiday outing was coming to a close, though, and we ventured back to his parents' place to finish out the night. Ryan even came over to hang out with us and play video games, but I fell asleep next to Zach on the couch. Exhausted Anna is exhausted, I'm telling ya.

Day 11: The final day. Mainly, that day was all about getting back to Little Rock...even though, mentally, I wasn't ready for any of it. I cried as Nate drove us to the airport in San Diego. I cried after Nate hugged me and said goodbye to both of us. I was okay, for the most part, on the flight from San Diego to Houston — I played a lot of Smash Bros. on my Switch to keep my mind at bay. It wasn't until we boarded the plane in Houston going to Little Rock that things really hit me hard.
Inside the San Diego airport. So cool.
I sat down in my seat next to Zach, he held my hand, and I just lost it. I started tearing up badly. I didn't want to come back to Arkansas. I knew what I was coming back to — a racist, hate-filled, bigoted, and prejudiced South. I just spent over a week in very progressive California with a loving, accepting family who took me in, and I was heading back to the very opposite of all what I had just experienced.

When we descended back under the clouds and I saw Arkansas beneath me, I cried even more. Fuck, I'm starting to cry now as I write this just thinking about being in that same situation again. Zach kept trying to console me, reminding me that I was coming back to our kitties, and that they were going to be super happy to see us. And while I know that was true (and it was; Ty was super thrilled to see us), I still can't escape the fact that the South is just truly an awful world to live in. Arkansas ranks so low in every positive category one can think of — seriously, we're ranked 49th overall now when ranking economy, healthcare, education, etc. FORTY-NINTH. Out of 50 states. The only state worse than us is Mississippi. Lack of education leads to ignorance. Ignorance leads to hate. Hate breeds racism and bigotry. This is why I'm so ready to get the hell out of here and get moved to the Pacific northwest as soon as possible.

But yeah, it hit me hard. I cried. I cried while getting our luggage off the carousel. I cried when visiting Ruth at her place to give her gifts to her and to get my keys back to our place (they watched our kitties for us while we were gone...thanks, Ruth! <3)

I really don't like it here, and that tease of California set everything in stone for me that I belong on the west coast in a progressive city. Soon, Anna. Soon.

So, yeah. That's my California holiday getaway. It was a blast. I loved every single second of it. Be sure to check out all of the photos from the trip by clicking this link right here. Right here!

Be good, do good. Love!

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