Caesar’s Palace, MGM Grand, and Circus Circus are synonymous with the Vegas strip.

…which is exactly why I avoided them like a mobster avoids the IRS.

From Jackson, Wyoming I made my way through Salt Lake City, down to Bryce Canyon National Park with its iconic Hoodoo formations, then through the Narrows in Zion National Park. Both parks were stunning, and on a tip from a local, I took the less-frequented Bryce Point Loop to see the Hoodoos. As promised, I didn’t see a soul until I got to the more-traversed Navajo Loop. Zion was a different story.

Grizzly 399, Where Are You?

“We saw her with her cubs last night,” Taylor explained as he drove us out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and headed towards Grand Teton National Park. “Let’s find her then. Her and a moose!” I said, mustering all my energy, as this was the first time on my feet after a stomach bug had knocked me out for 24 hours.

Wrangling Under the Big Sky

Wanda Wilcox is the real deal. She has an elk-tooth wedding ring, rides bulls, and eats their, ahem, manhood (which she claims is tasty). She’s the fifth generation of homesteaders who cut a trail from Oregon to “Big Sky” country.

A friendly Seattlite informed me that Washington received more snowfall than any other state this year, which, in the summer, translates to great white water rafting. I liked the sound of this.

I am not a coffee drinker. I usually prefer the leaf over the bean. But when I crossed from Bainbridge Island to Seattle via the ferry, I was very damp and very cold. Seattle was damp and cold too, which meant there was only one thing to do. When in Rome, right?

Photos: Olympic Vistas

When I finally reunited with the coast after leaving Portland, the weather went from hot and dry to wet and soggy. The trend continued as I made my way toward Olympic National Park, which gets an average of 150 inches (380 cm) of rain each year. Here are a few photos that capture my quick hop through the Olympic Peninsula.

Ghost-Dodging in Portland

“Some people swear they’ve seen her,” Ben the bartender said.

“One guy described her in detail, down to the bows on her shoes. He said he saw her sitting right there, in that chair next to you,” he added pointing to my right. “Sometimes, if I feel an eerie presence around, I’ll leave that chair down when I put the others up for the night. Just in case.”

Hoppy Times at Chatoe Rogue

Smoke. Dirtoir. OREgasmic.

That’s just a smidgeon of what you’ll encounter at Chatoe Rogue, Oregon’s best-known brewing company’s tasting room and working hop farm in Independence, Oregon.

Tipi-cal Life in Oregon

“This is what we call the chicken tunnel,” Susanne said, pointing at a few plucky hens as they scuttled from their outdoor pen to their coop. “Two paths converged — the people one and the chicken one,” she said. “So we figured we could have them go over or under.” I laughed as I pictured a chicken bridge. She was giving me a tour of the grounds where she and her partner Ken run the Tipi Village Retreat in the verdant Marcola, Oregon, just a half hour northeast of Eugene.

Wherefore Art Thou, Ashland?

A Comic-Con for Shakespeare freaks. People out in the street dressed up as their favorite characters — Hamlet, Othello, Juliet, Puck — verbally jousting with lines from their respective plays. That’s what I expected to find when I arrived at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. I quickly learned that I had underestimated the operation.

Fort Bragg: A Glass Act

Most coastal towns try to keep glass OFF their beaches. But not Fort Bragg. They’re fighting to keep theirs full of the stuff.

The Secret Garden in Bolinas

I was already twenty miles past it when I realized I’d missed the turn. The citizens of Bolinas had done it again. To be fair, I had been warned. A friend told me that the people who lived in the tiny unincorporated community were notorious for cutting down the highway sign that points “outsiders” towards their hamlet. Yet for some foolish reason I had looked for it anyway.

Happy Mistakes in the Mission

My friend told me about a monster drawing rally that was going down at the Verdi Club in San Francisco’s Mission District while I was in town, and I couldn’t believe my good luck. Artists competing to draw the most fantastical monsters imaginable? Sign me up.

The Heart of the Tenderloin

Vagrants, hookers, and drugs. That’s what used to come to mind when I heard people mention San Francisco’s “Tenderloin” district. But when I came across The Phoenix Hotel when I was looking for a place to stay in town, I found myself lured in by what its website promised — an “irreverent, mid-century motor lodge in San Francisco’s Tenderloin with a rock ‘n’ roll soul and more than a little edge” — and decided to put it (and its neighborhood) to the test.

A rusty Ford with a giant strawberry in its bed caught my eye. So I pulled off the Pacific Coast Highway, drove past an old barn with a green star on it, and parked in the gravel lot.

Monterey Bay: Tip to Tip

I had to do a few things before leaving Monterey Bay: 1) go diving in Monterey Canyon and 2) see the brand-spanking-new National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center on the other side of the bay.

How to Survive a Road Trip

Planning for a road trip can be overwhelming. When you don’t have to pay fifty bucks to check your luggage, it’s tempting to just throw it all in the car. But, after a few trips, I learned that going this route leaves you with a car full of stuff, none of which is at arm’s length when you need it. Now that I’m more than a week in to my epic National Geographic adventure, I wouldn’t call myself a road trip expert (yet), but if I had to boil down what’s currently in my car even further to the top 10 essentials, here’s what would make the cut.

The Lettuce of Wrath

Salinas is Monterey’s overlooked stepsister — the workhorse that produces $3.8 billion of lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and strawberries each year, earning it the nickname “The Salad Bowl Capital of the World.” But the town has had its fair share of fans, too. Most notably, John Steinbeck. He’s one of my favorite American authors, so I just had to zag inland for a side trip. And when I got to Main Street, I could understand why he had so much love for his hometown.

The New Napa?

When I knew I’d be passing through Monterey County, I thought Cannery Row, not wine. What I discovered was a “wine sleeper.” A grape-growing hotspot waiting for its time in the sun…

Follow Shannon’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer.

Off-Gridding in Big Sur

The most appealing thing about Big Sur’s wild coastline is that there’s no cell phone service — a rarity these days. Being out of range forced me to unplug and focus on one simple task: enjoying the natural world. And that’s what Big Sur is all about…

Follow Shannon’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer.

My Trip to Happy Town

After seven hours of slogging through L.A. traffic, coasting through Ventura and Santa Barbara, and rolling through the golden hills of central California, I arrived in San Luis Obispo with a sore bum and ready to stretch my legs. Why did I choose this city as my next stop? Because I’d recently learned it was dubbed the “happiest” in the nation by New York Times best-selling author (and National Geographic grantee) Dan Buettner.

Well…I hope not. But it’s the driving force behind this blog, which all began on a sunny, blue-sky day at the end of April, when I got the call of a lifetime. Would I like to do a month-long road trip around the western U.S. for the Intelligent Travel blog? I blinked a few times until it registered, then tried to rein in the school-girl-excitement that threatened to burst my body at the seams. Yes! Yes. Yes, I would like to do that.

Curiosity. It’s why the first explorers set sail, why we built a rocket to the moon, and what moves each and every one of us to travel. The opposite of being curious is being bored, and we think being curious is a lot more fun. That’s why we’re sending Nat Geo Young Explorer and award-winning photojournalist Shannon Switzer on a quest to uncover off-the-beaten-path treasures as she wends her way around the American West this summer. The adventure begins Monday, June 4th. Follow Shannon’s journey here on the blog, on Twitter @CuriousTraveler, and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer.