July 19, 2009 – ... with no particular destination in mind, sort of like my life. (There are a huge number of photos here, so it may take a while to load.)
By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond
I’m not sure if anyone will find this interesting or not. It may be as boring as watching someone’s slide show of photos from their trip, or it may be of interest to people planning a trip to any of these places. I don’t know. It was fun for me to compile, however, because even though I’ve taken many such long trips, I’ve never attempted to document any of them. So this is sort of an exercise for me, which unintentionally sort of morphed into a photographic journal. Finally, all these small photos have larger siblings. Just click on any of the small ones to see the larger version.
Photos from the San Diego Zoo – I love that rainbow colored lizard. He spends his whole day chasing other lizards off his rock.
I embarked on a little road trip today. Even in this day of dwindling energy and prosperity, I still find it refreshing to take to the road, aimlessly and carefree. Departing San Diego around noon, I felt I’d be able to skate through Los Angeles between the lunchtime and evening rush hours. What a fantasy! I should have recalled that rush hour in Los Angeles runs all day and all night long, merely segueing from intolerable to sanity-taxing during the barely discernible “rush hours.” The only time I can recall getting through Los Angeles without coming to numerous complete stops on the freeway was once about fifteen years ago around three in the morning.
Inching along ten lanes of parking lot for an hour or so gives one plenty of time to ponder some of life’s weighty questions, such as what good is the $300,000 sports car to my left, capable of going 200 MPH, in a mess like this? Or the utility of the gargantuan SUV on my other side, preposterously jacked up three feet off the ground, apparently so it can drive right over mountains. Its dust-free, sparkling detail job belies such speculation, however, suggesting instead that about the closest that hulking SUV will ever get to climbing over a mountain is cresting the Mulholland grade, many miles ahead yet. Then there’s the unfinished skeleton of a massive new building smooshed right up against the jam-packed freeway, so close it could literally topple onto the freeway in a strong earthquake. The irony of more development beside an already over-congested freeway evidently escapes those responsible for such development.
The worst thing about driving through Los Angeles in heavy traffic is the uncertainty of it all. Is the stop-and-go ride going to last just a few miles, or will it persist for sixty miles? Not that one really has any alternatives if they are simply passing through like me. In an effort to address this uncertainty the city has installed computerized displays along the freeway, which kindly inform drivers how many minutes it will take to reach a particular landmark ahead. The only trouble is that they are spaced so far apart that in heavy traffic like this one only passes one of these signs every half hour or so, which doesn’t do much to ameliorate one’s uncertainty. One would think that a city known for glitz, glamor and the movies could come up with a snazzier, more entertaining system for keeping drivers informed, especially since drivers here spend so much time sitting in their idling cars with nothing to do except inhale exhaust fumes. The advertising potential with such a captive audience would easily pay for the capital investment required!
Gaviota rest stop – notice the fog creeping over the tops of the hills
Once one finally emerges from the traffic nightmare, well north of Los Angeles, they find their self in a world that’s almost diametrically opposed to that which they just left, a world of pacific shores, laid back beach living, fog and cool, fresh air. One can feel the stress of the prior madness melting away, even more so after passing the first sign indicating the distance to San Francisco: 394 miles. I’ve always loved this stretch of coast, up around Ventura. I love seeing the signs announcing the distance to San Francisco appearing with increasing frequency, while simultaneously the roads narrow and become less congested, as if inviting one to a special place. Of course, since I lived in San Francisco for many years, those road signs were like welcome home signs to me.
I love the way the oak trees carpet the summer-brown grass hills of central California
Finally able to use the car’s cruise control, I set the speed, leaned back and listened to music as I continued heading north. As the highway zigzags back and forth between the coast and the inland, the temperatures zigzag in concert, from 67 F along the coast, to 95 inland, back to 65 along the coast, back to 85 inland, and finally a cool 64 along the coast again, all the way to San Luis Obispo, my stopping point for the night.
Departing mid-morning – unlike me, my companion is not an early morning person – we embarked on the long drive east from San Luis Obispo to the eastern side of Yosemite park. It was a scenic drive all the way through the park, save for the haziness in much of Yosemite valley, largely due to deliberate controlled burns of the forest! The myriad tourists, mostly from Europe, didn’t seem to object to the hazy conditions, however. My companion and I, however, were miffed at the lack of picture-perfect crystal clarity, which is possible, especially because the smoke filling the valley was caused deliberately. In the photo below one can barely discern a diminutive Half Dome in the distance.
Water and smoke haze fills Yosemite Valley
I’ve hiked to the top of pretty much all these peaks over the years, including Half Dome. I remember one such hike, when my companion and I were burdened down with heavy backpacks full of food and water, and we saw this ancient guy carrying nothing but a plastic cup. Not only did the guy look to be about a century old, he looked like he was going to keel over any minute. Nevertheless, as we were coming down from Half Dome, here comes this old guy, determinedly trudging up the hill, with his cup. We couldn’t help but admire his fortitude, so we talked to him briefly and he informed us he’d been climbing Half Dome every year for decades, since the 1930s if I recall correctly, using his cup to fish water from whatever stream he happened to encounter. I guess that just goes to show that one cannot judge a book from its cover!
Vernal Fall as seen from the bridge over the river
Seeking to maximize the use of our time, my companion and I took our time driving through Yosemite, stopping frequently to take photographs, even though the conditions were poor for that. We even took a brief walk to Vernal Fall, which is worthwhile – we’ve done it before – but which pales in comparison to the falls we would see the next day. Also, it’s far more enjoyable to hike to the top of Vernal Fall instead of just the base, if one has the time. It’s a scenic hike and there’s a nice pool at the top in which people swim – foolish people, that is. The placidity of the pool above is deceptive, as all one needs to do is get caught up in a little water current, and before they know it they’ll be slipping over the smooth rock edge of the falls.
Our motel in the town of Lee Vining closes its office at 8 PM, after which time I guess one is out of luck with respect to getting into their motel room which they have reserved and paid for. Our dallying in Yosemite valley caused us to arrive in Lee Vining at 7:30 PM, which sounds as though we arrived with time to spare, except that according to the map provided by an online mapping service, our motel was on the opposite side of Mono Lake, almost a half-hour drive from Lee Vining. So we blindly headed off in the direction shown on the map printout, increasingly perplexed and concerned by the steadily diminishing signs of civilization. When we saw a sign announcing the distance to the Nevada border we finally allowed our evidently not-so-common sense to overrule the computer’s map and headed back the way we came. After several failed attempts to call the motel for directions, we finally got close enough for one of our cell phones to operate and got hold of the motel manager, two minutes before the office was to close. The manager sounded amused at our folly, informing us that the motel is right in town, which, as she bemusedly put it, “is only two blocks long.” (I could picture her muttering “Stupid tourists” to herself after hanging up the phone.) Indeed, when we got back to town, there was the motel, plain as day! Our experience demonstrates the peril of blindly relying on a computer for directions.
Today is the day of our planned twelve mile hike near Tuolumne Meadows. Before heading out, and since my companion was still sleeping, I decided to take a stroll around this town of three hundred some odd people. Away from the highway that passes through town is a serene, pleasant community, which reminds me of so many small towns across America.
The town of Lee Vining is situated at an elevation of around 6,000 feet and overlooks the desolate Mono Lake. Quite honestly, I don’t understand why people think Mono Lake is so interesting, as it is barren and otherworldly. June Lake, a few miles south, is far more beautiful, reminiscent of a miniature Lake Tahoe.
Power shovel from the 1920s
The town of Lee Vining boasts a museum of sorts. Since it was early in the morning and the museum wasn’t open, I didn’t bother to ascertain what kind of museum it was. Besides, I was intrigued by the outdoor displays of ancient mining equipment, especially this power shovel dating from the 1920s. In real life it’s larger than it looks in the photo, as the treads are waist high.
The most moving aspect of this outdoor display was its depiction of a bygone era. Every piece of equipment was proudly emblazoned with the name and place of its manufacture, in most cases cast right into the metal itself: a large cast steel box made by Union Iron Works, San Francisco, 1911; an air compressor made by Ingersoll-Rand, New York; another cast steel box of some sort made by B. F. Sturtevant Co., Boston, sometime after 1901; a motorized pump assembly made by Woodin & Little, San Francisco. Looking at these bygone relics of American industrial strength one could almost hear the din and feel the heat of the steel mills and forges, which, as indicated by the labels on the equipment, resided in the heart of America’s greatest cities. I happen to believe that exciting confluence of blue collar industriousness and white collar culture is what made those cities great to begin with. In place of the wealth producing factories that once existed in our great cities, today we have shopping malls and condo blocks.
Perfectly clear and still conditions – great for photos and hiking
After my wistful tour down America’s past we embarked on our hike, and the conditions could not have been better. The air at the roughly 9,000 foot elevation was cool and still and crystal clear, as evidenced by these photos of a reflective lake, which is actually at an elevation of about 9,500 feet.
Another photo of the same lake
There’s something alluring about water, especially on a long, hot hike. I’ve hiked in places where there was no water to be seen, and one was constantly aware of their declining provision of water in their backpack, always wondering if it would last the entire hike. On this hike, however, we were beside a copious river the entire way, and any concern about having sufficient water for the duration of the trip was nonexistent. We stopped a few times and waded into the water, still somewhat icy even in July. We refilled our water bottles from the river. It was comforting and carefree to know that water was always readily available to us.
River along the trail to Glen Aulin – trees grow on rock islands in the middle of the river
I remember another hike, a 17 mile trek to the top of El Capitan, when I was young and foolish. Between me and my hiking companion we had one apple and one bottle of water each, so by the time we got back from the hike, we were exhausted, dehydrated and starving. It’s a miracle that there wasn’t a Donner Party-type incident during that hike!
Still weary from the hike the day before, my companion and I decided to forgo another strenuous hike and take it easy. So we rented a motorboat and putted around June Lake, just south of Lee Vining. After returning the motorboat we learned that kayaks were also available and I wished we had rented those instead because they would have complemented the serene ambiance of the lake. Nevertheless, we turned off the motorboat engine periodically and floated placidly in the center of the lake, marveling at the serenity of the place. June Lake is like a little emerald jewel nestled in between a bunch of mountains. While picturesque to the eye, I didn’t feel I could photograph it satisfactorily, so I have no photos of it.
Leaving my hiking companion behind, I drove from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco, a city I called home for more than a decade. Sadly, the place has changed for the worse. When I moved there in the 1980s it still possessed a funky, friendly, festive yet mellow character. Following the twin housing bubbles of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the place became cold and sterile and clonish, and to a large extent so have the people. Sad to say, the place has lost its unique charm and now it’s just like any other city, or suburb for that matter, the familiar corporate logos just as prominent in San Francisco as in Temecula, a suburban bedroom community where I once lived. The shallow, trendy, materialistic clones one finds in San Francisco today are no different from those one finds in Los Angeles, although today’s San Franciscans would be loathe to admit that. Most of the artists, the musicians, the “different” people that once made the city interesting, have long since departed for cheaper locales.
The huge Morro Rock in the distance – unfortunately, one is not allowed to climb the rock
If one wants a town along the California coast with a bit more character, in terms of both people and architecture, smaller towns like Morro Bay are still appealing. As shown above, Morro Bay is landmarked by the massive Morro Rock guarding the entrance to the bay.
A couple of seals sunning themselves in the weak, fog-filtered sunlight, availing themselves of the convenient sun deck provided by humans
Further up the coast, a few miles north of Hearst Castle is a stretch of beach that the elephant seals are fond of. These creatures can weigh over 10,000 pounds! A decade ago one could walk right down to the beach and sit a few feet from the seals, but I guess the tourist crowds grew to unwieldy dimensions, so now the people are cordoned off with fences, well away from the seals.
Elephant seals napping on the beach, north of San Simeon
Still further north, all signs of human development except the highway disappear, leaving only nature’s beauty to enjoy. Driving along the famous California Highway 1, one feels like they are driving along the edge of the continent, and they are, as shown in the photo below!
California Highway 1 skirts along the edge of the continent
A town with even more character, Eureka, lies about 250 miles up the coast from San Francisco. It’s a town of about 28,000 people, but feels much larger, similar to the way that Paducah, Kentucky, which has about the same population feels much larger. Eureka has thankfully mostly escaped the curse of redevelopment and still retains a 19th century feel. Its Victorian style and cool, foggy perch on the Pacific coast always reminds me of a miniature San Francisco. For all these reasons Eureka is perhaps my favorite town in all of California.
The drive from San Francisco to Eureka was exceedingly pleasant, except for a detour around the town of Willits, which was hosting a perfunctory Forth of July parade. Frankly, in the 95 degree heat, the people attending the parade didn’t seem terribly jovial, one of them hurling some sort of epithet at me for attempting to drive through an intersection without stopping, which apparently interfered with his navigating his hulking pickup truck through the same congested intersection from the crossing direction. Evidently he didn’t realize that the highway had been detoured along the route I was driving and the stop signs facing me were covered up, meaning I did not have to stop. I stopped anyway, unwilling to let his less than fraternal attitude and barbed tongue spoil an otherwise pleasant drive.
Further on I stopped at perhaps the most beautiful highway rest stop I’ve ever stopped at, a quiet, heavily shaded, grassy spot, dotted with widely spaced picnic benches. I sat there in the cool shade for an hour, eating lunch, feeding bits of my sandwich bread to the birds and taking photos. Even though it was over 90 degrees outside the rest stop, it was perhaps ten degrees cooler and totally comfortable under the shade of the dense oak and pine trees.
Beautiful, shady rest stop on the way to Eureka
Reluctantly, I departed the rest stop and proceeded toward Eureka. Along the way I happened upon another tree-infested stopping point, Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Standing among these indescribably massive and ancient trees, some of which probably exceed 12 feet in trunk diameter, 200 feet in height and 2,000 years in age, one feels a sense of majestic awe, not to mention insignificance. Think about that, some of these trees – if not these, then certainly the ones in Sequoia National Park – have been around since the birth of Christ. Consider how much human history has elapsed during the reign of these trees.
A medium sized redwood tree along the Avenue of the Giants
It’s impossible to capture in a photograph the massive size of these trees, or the eerily quiet, yet comforting ambiance of being surrounded by them. To provide some scale, I parked my car beside one tree along the aptly named Avenue of the Giants. This tree is actually just a medium sized one; others have trunks nearly twice the width of this one! The branches of these suckers don’t even emerge until at least fifty feet above the ground.
In my many travels I’ve stayed in a lot of cheap motels, so I’ve come to recognize some common characteristics of them.
Indian-owned motels, which seem to be growing in number, are generally pretty shabby but have good Internet access. Chinese-owned motels are generally well maintained but seem to have poor Internet access. Caucasian-owned motels, which are dwindling in number, tend to be well maintained and have good Internet access, but are pricier. I’m staying in a Chinese-owned motel in Eureka right now and I have to move the table around the room to obtain a wireless Internet connection, which is then spotty at best, sometimes requiring me to tilt the computer on its corner, a form of geek acrobatics.
I mentioned above that Eureka, California and Paducah, Kentucky feel like larger towns than their populations would suggest. Of the two, however, Paducah is the classier town! Ignorant people mis-characterize people from Kentucky as backwoods “rednecks,” but let me tell you, you haven’t seen rednecks until you’ve seen some of the feral dudes around Eureka. Don’t get me wrong, I harbor no ill will toward “rednecks,” whether they hail from Kentucky or California. Actually, I think I’m one at heart, so I feel right at home here.
In a previous post I lamented about the poor kids in Kentucky wasting their money on fireworks the last Fourth of July. Well, while having breakfast in a restaurant this morning I couldn’t help but overhear the guy at the next table talking about how he and his neighbor spent $1,000 on fireworks. Between the two of them they blew up $1,000 of their money! Never mind the questionable wisdom of detonating fireworks over the course of three hours in a densely wooded area such as this. Fortunately, the weather here is almost perpetually cool, damp and overcast, so the vegetation is probably not too combustible.
This afternoon I went on a boat cruise around Humboldt Bay. While I love being on the water under any circumstances, there wasn’t a whole lot to see, especially since the heavy overcast gave everything a dull, gray pallor. It was so cold that when I returned to my motel room I turned the heater on! In July! And don’t think that’s an anomaly either, because I did the same in San Francisco a couple of days ago.
Eureka as seen from Humboldt Bay
Eureka, pleasant though it is, lacks an attractive skyline such as San Francisco’s. Eureka is a working class town, where until quite recently fishing and lumber mills were big business around the area, but those are dwindling today.
Incredibly ornate Carson House in Eureka
As I said earlier, there are a lot of really nice Victorian houses in Eureka, the green one pictured above undoubtedly the finest. It was built by a lumber magnate in 1885 to give his workers something to do during an economic downturn. Supposedly, it took 100 carpenters an entire year to build the house pictured above. Across the street is this fine pink house, also apparently owned by the same man.
Another Carson House
A couple of blocks away is this massive and intriguing yellow house. All of these fine houses are within a few blocks of one another and also near the few blocks of the old downtown that is being gentrified, complete with horse-drawn carriage rides [gag]. Fortunately, our contemporary economic downturn seems to have stalled progress toward gentrifying Eureka, as if we need more art galleries and high end clothing stores anyway. Do people really think such stores improve a town? What is so wrong with keeping things the same?
Magnificent old house
I think our zeal to “redevelop” and “improve” everything is related to our zeal for perpetual economic growth. After all, when people “redevelop” and “improve” towns, what they are really aiming at is increasing revenues, either for their businesses or their government, or increasing asset values, or providing busy work for contractors. One way or another it boils down to increasing wealth, denominated in money terms. People seem only able to think in terms of money anymore, unable to appreciate the value of a town with a unique character, or the value of a place that dependably remains the same, or the value of a quiet place to live, a place that doesn’t constantly beckon money-laden tourists to come for weekend visits. I so love places that shun change and instead strive to remain the same.
Today I departed Eureka, destined for Yreka. Although the two towns are perhaps only a couple of hundred miles apart, it took me the whole day to drive from one to the other! Aside from my notorious slow driving pace, I deliberately took the slowest but most scenic route and stopped frequently along the way to take in the scenery, smell the fresh air, eat under a shady tree or take photographs.
Road wide enough for about one car, with rock face on one side (left) and sheer cliff on the other (right). Notice the absence of any painted dividing lines. That’s because the road is too narrow for two lanes.
One noteworthy aspect of this drive is the incredibly narrow, windy and treacherous road one has to navigate. As shown in the photo above, much of the road along a fifty mile stretch is wide enough for a single car. Fortunately, however, there’s not a lot of traffic, and one doesn’t see another car for twenty minutes or more.
Chasm along narrow road, river at bottom. It really is as straight down as it appears!
The road is so narrow and riddled with blind curves that one must often slow down to as little as 10 miles per hour when rounding some curves. The average speed along this stretch of road is only about 20 miles per hour. Should two approaching cars meet – it is actually a two directional road – one must find a wide spot and pull over so the other can pass. On one side is a rock face, but on the other side is a chasm varying from 100 to 400 feet deep, straight down to the river below (see photo above). This is sure not a road on which to swerve to avoid hitting a squirrel!
The nicest thing about this route is that it follows the Salmon River most of the time, affording plenty of opportunities to stop under a shady canopy of trees and walk down to the river’s edge.
Salmon River running a bit low
I’ve seen this river higher on previous visits. Perhaps it’s running low because it’s summer. Another appealing feature of this drive is the immense, steep mountains and the dense forests that carpet them.
Dense, lush forests cover the immense mountains of the Klamath Forest
Shortly before stopping at this spot, where ten minutes elapsed before another car came by, I dropped off a hitchhiker that I had picked up. When I picked him up he asked me if he could drink his beer in the car. I said I didn’t care but should a cop come along he’d better hide it. He replied that should a cop come along he was going to jump out of the car! He didn’t elaborate and I didn’t ask him to, but he turned out to be an intelligent and polite person with some interesting knowledge, and was genuinely appreciative of my giving him a ride.
Along the way he regaled me with stories about one friend who went over the edge and survived, floating down the river with a broken leg until he could land; about another friend who went over the edge and wasn’t so lucky; about an entire family that went over the edge and perished, their car still stuck on the rocks somewhere. I must say, his stories helped me focus my attention on the road! He also told me about a hippie commune in the area, which I might actually investigate. I could see myself living in a commune.
Today I set out to drive from Yreka to Oregon. I had a full itinerary of things to see along the way, including a stop at some property I own in Northern California and a stop at Crater Lake in Oregon, before reaching my destination. Unsurprisingly, I went slower than expected, taking all day to travel some 200 miles.
Iron Gate Lake reservoir
Iron Gate Lake is a water reservoir and the site of a power plant, hydroelectric I presume, and a fish hatchery. It’s about 25 miles northeast of Yreka. Back in the 1970s somebody got the bright idea of carving up the property surrounding the reservoir into large residential lots and selling them. They build dirt roads, put in street signs and lot markers, called the whole thing Iron Gate Lake Estates and waited for the buyers to come. For some reason, however, the place has remained largely undeveloped all these decades, and even today there are only a handful of houses on the hundreds of lots. It almost seems frozen in time, unchanged since it was built, yet it is a remarkably beautiful and serene spot, with a huge reservoir nearby that I believe people can take boats on.
I bought one of these lots back in 2001 and have gone up there about once a year ever since, always marveling at the serenity of the place and longing to build a house there for me to live in. I also thought it would be a good place to grow crops, what with the temperate climate and flat land with soil that looks pretty rich. There’s also a ton of large rocks in the soil – well, actually many tens of tons – that could be used to build a house. Imagine a house built entirely of rocks collected from the land.
View south, my lot in the foreground
From my lot, which resides on the plateau of a good sized hill, I have nearly a 360 degree view of the valley below and the surrounding mountains, including even Mount Shasta to the south.
14,000 foot high Mount Shasta looming behind some nearby mountains
Today it occurred to me for the first time that my own property, which is totally undeveloped, would be a fantastic place to camp! It’s remote, serene, flat, and the climate is temperate. And I could bring my kayak along and go kayaking on the reservoir. So I think before this summer is out I’ll be back up here, camping.
The reservoir is filled by the Klamath River, which looks sort of diminutive as it trickles out of the reservoir, as shown below.
Klamath River as it departs Iron Gate Lake
Although the Klamath River looks diminutive here, up north in Oregon before it enters Iron Gate Lake it looks rather impressive, as shown below.
Klamath River in Oregon
Since it was clearly impossible for me to get to both Crater Lake and my friends today, I decided to stop for the night in the interesting looking town of Klamath Falls, Oregon. The town has a nifty little downtown dotted with fine old buildings dating from at least the 1930s.
Klamath Falls architecture
The town seems like it would be an exceedingly pleasant place to live, offering a mixture of laid back, quiet living, nearby outdoor recreational venues, and some of the trappings of city life. To me, this community design, which prevailed throughout much of America until the advent of the automobile and suburbia in the 1950s, is the most ideal.
I finally headed toward my friends’ house, two days later than originally planned. I’m normally a punctual person, but when it comes to traveling I have no itinerary – I just go where and when my whim takes me – so scheduling an arrival date in advance is nearly impossible.
Along the way to my friends’ house I stopped at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. As the name suggests, the lake was created when a volcano erupted 7,700 years ago, hurling almost one hundred times as much matter into the sky as Mount St. Helens – also in Oregon – did in 1980. The resulting caldera of what today is called Crater Lake filled up with water, the most astonishingly blue and clear water imaginable.
Crater Lake, Oregon. Dark patches are from clouds in the sky.
Apparently, the deep, brilliant blue color of the water is due to its clarity and its impressive depth, which averages 1,100 feet, with a maximum depth of 1,900 feet, making it the deepest lake in the U.S. The photo below more accurately depicts the blue color of the water.
Crater Lake shoreline, 1,000 feet below
Even though I spent a couple of hours at the lake, admiring it and relaxing at a lovely, secluded picnic area populated with deer, I could easily have spent several more hours there!
Deer relaxing beside a fallen tree at Crater Lake – the pair I saw seemed unconcerned about my presence
There is a route that leads down to the water’s edge that I would have liked to have taken, and there is also a boat that tours the lake, which I would have enjoyed as well, but it was time to get to my friends’ house. Maybe on the return trip.
My friends live in a rural part of Oregon at a moderately high elevation where the temperature is cool even in the summer. Actually, they live right beside the Deschutes National Forest, where one of my favorite western movies was filmed. I’m hoping to finally see the Rogue River, so beautifully filmed in that movie.
I was disappointed to learn from my friends that they’ve been in a multi-year battle against the local county government – I thought government was supposed to represent the people – which is trying to make life untenable for “poor” people so that it can redevelop the area with high priced homes and tourist resorts. It’s all about money and as far as the government is concerned, better heeled people pay higher property taxes to the government. I really hope we can somehow find our way back to a way of life in which people relearn to value what’s truly important, government represents the people and we all stop worshiping the false idol of money.
After spending the night in my friends’ travel trailer – they have no accommodations in their house – they took me out for some sightseeing. They wanted to visit a new archaeological museum that sounded not too far away. So we headed off in the proper direction with little idea how far away it really was. After fifty miles of driving we stopped for lunch and then discovered that the museum was another sixty miles away! I guess we should have carefully consulted the map before departing. Since none of us were all that keen on spending another two hours round trip getting to this museum, we turned around and headed back home.
The trip wasn’t a total bust, however, because on the way back we stopped at Lava Lands National Park, which is pretty interesting. Although the photo below doesn’t adequately capture the scene, the park is a vast landscape of ancient lava flows.
Lava Lands National Park, Oregon – the black stuff is lava
This entire area for a hundred miles around seems to have been a location of considerable volcanic activity. In fact, my friends informed me that they live atop 35 feet of ancient volcanic ash, rendering their soil pretty poor for growing much besides pine trees and scrub brush. Nevertheless, after years of soil augmentation, they now have one of the most impressive vegetable gardens in their area.
The day after our aborted trip to the archaeological museum, we went on another sightseeing trip, this time to the Deschutes River. One appealing thing about this part of Oregon is the abundance of large parks, many along rivers or lakes. There are tons of places to camp and fish and recreate on the water, hungry, aggressive mosquitoes notwithstanding.
Deschutes River, Oregon
While we were enjoying the scenery, my friends decided to try their luck at a little fly casting, hoping to catch some dinner. But not only did we go home empty handed, one of them had their hook snag on an underwater log and lost the hook and lure.
Getting itchy feet, I reluctantly departed my friends, not entirely sure where I was headed. Staying with my friends – whom I had previously known only via the Internet – for three days I discovered some surprising things about them, and that we had a great deal in common, including a fondness for movies (we even have many of the same movies!), for watching Internet, and even for playing the card game of bridge. Their big dog is just the sweetest creature ever. Besides keeping an eye on my friends’ flock of chickens and rabbits, she loves to give people big hugs and juicy kisses, and most surprising of all, she likes watching movies! She really watches movies, longing for the appearance of canine kin, whereupon she leaps to her feet and attempts to nip at the two-dimensional dogs. It’s terribly amusing to watch, especially since I’m not the one who has to clean all her slobber off the television screen!
After some indecisiveness I decided to revisit Crater Lake because I really want to take the boat tour out to the little island and hike to its peak. But when I arrived at the entrance to the park, without a minute to spare, there was an unexpected fifteen minute line of cars waiting to enter. I expected the weekend to be busier, but I could not afford to wait in this line, so I headed off to find a motel for the night, perhaps to try Crater Lake the next day when I would have more time.
Along the way to my stopping point for the night I happened upon a lovely and fascinating Oregon state park, named Collier State Park. What drew me to the park was its Logging Museum. Now, usually, these roadside “museums” are pathetic, featuring a couple of displays and charging an admission fee to boot. This museum, however, has a hundred or more huge pieces of logging equipment, much of it in good condition and spanning over one hundred years of logging history, from the nineteenth century to the present. It’s utterly fascinating, and totally free! Nevertheless, I gave a $5 donation because it’s such a fine museum.
These enormous wheels, standing as much as 12 feet high were placed under one end of a massive log so it could be more easily dragged by horses, and later by powered tractors. The axle of this one is roughly at eye level.
Some might decry the rapacious practice of logging that we witness today, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Logging can be a totally sustainable activity, as sustainable as growing any other crop, providing us with a steady stream of useful lumber. We simply have to resist the temptation to extract more lumber than nature is capable of replacing. It also seems quite unnecessary to fall old growth trees when several younger trees can provide just as much lumber. Surely we can afford to protect some forests and trees from being logged, if only so we can gape in awe at their majesty.
Tractor that replaced horses. Notice that it’s attached to one of those 12-foot high wheels. Also notice the tractor’s stylish name plate.
One striking thing about this museum, as with the minuscule “museum” in Lee Vining that I talked about above, is that all this equipment was made right here in the U.S. Even though heavy equipment manufacture happens to be one of the few remaining industries in the U.S., I still cannot help but wonder how much of this kind of equipment is made here today. One of the earliest products made by Caterpillar was the tractor shown above.
Collier State Park, Oregon
In addition to the fascinating museum, where I spent over two hours walking around and visualizing these machines operating in the field a hundred years ago, there is a stunning recreational area in the same park right along a river. Unfortunately, Oregon seems to have the worst mosquito problem of any place I’ve ever been! One dare not stand idly in the shade for more than a few seconds, lest they be besieged by not one, but several hungry mosquitoes. One often isn’t even safe in the sunshine because apparently not all the mosquitoes have been taught to respect the “sunshine is off limits” rule.
I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to explore Crater Lake in Oregon once more. The place is magnificent and that little island in the middle, Wizard Island, is so compelling I just had to visit it. So I departed my motel at seven in the morning and arrived at the parking lot above the boat launch at 8:30. By the time I hiked down to the water’s edge, a steep, one-mile hike down the inside face of the caldera, it was about 9:30, twenty five minutes before the boat was to depart.
I was surprised that there were so many people heading to the island. Our boat, which looked like a small motorboat from the rim of the caldera, was in fact, a 40-foot open boat with a capacity for about fifty people, and it was largely full when we headed for Wizard Island!
View of Crater Lake from the top of Wizard Island. Notice the red volcanic rock in the foreground. The entire island is comprised of various types and colors of volcanic rock.
The peak of Wizard Island even harbors a small caldera of its own! I suppose the island itself was formed from the residual lava spewing from bottom of the surrounding caldera, and when that lava flow ceased, the island developed its own caldera.
This desolate scene is not representative of Wizard Island, which is actually heavily forested. I just liked the starkness of this weathered, dead tree against the lake.
Standing on the peak of the island it’s awe inspiring to realize that just 7,700 years ago the peak of Mount Mazama soared five thousand feet above the rim of the caldera. Today, in place of that towering mountain lies a crater almost four thousand feet below the rim of the caldera. The cataclysmic event that removed roughly nine thousand feet of Mount Mazama, leaving behind a six-mile wide caldera, is impossible to imagine.
After descending from the peak, I took another “trail” to Fumarole Bay. I quote the word trail because practically the entire route was over black volcanic rocks. Any “trail” was difficult to discern, which I proved by losing the trail on the way back. Since I knew the direction to the dock, I simply clambered over huge hills of volcanic rock in the direction of the dock. On the way I stepped on a wobbly rock and sat down most ungracefully, my body coming to rest contorted around a large rock and my camera swinging violently around behind me, but fortunately not striking anything. Even more fortunate, since I was off the “trail” nobody witnessed my clumsiness, so in a sense it never happened.
Incredible blue water of Crater Lake. It really looks like this up close. The astonishing blue color is due to the phenomenal clarity of the water, the clearest of any lake in the world.
Besides the island itself, the boat ride is fantastic, assuming one likes boats, as I do. There are two places I feel truly at home: on a mountain and on the sea, even if it’s just a lake. Today’s trip was doubly appealing, for it involved a boat ride on a lake in the mountains!
It was amusing to watch the people dressed in light clothing – shorts and t-shirts – don more and more clothing throughout the day. Although the hike down the inside of the caldera was pretty hot, the boat ride to the island was cool. Then the hike to the top of the peak on Wizard Island was hot, while the subsequent boat ride was cold, especially since the wind kicked up because of a threatening storm, covering the lake with large swells and white caps. On the speedy ride back to the boat dock – these boats, even though they are forty feet long, can really cook through the water – we were splashing through the swells, the boat was pitching roughly from side to side and the water spray was drenching the passengers. But for the fresh water spray in lieu of salt water, I felt like I was in a Herman Melville novel. By the time we got to shore, most of the passengers had donned all the foul weather gear they had brought along and most seemed frozen from the cold.
After disembarking from the boat we had another hot hike back up the caldera face to the parking lot. I have to say, as one who has hiked hundreds of miles of rugged trails, the trail from the lake back up the caldera face was one of the steepest I’ve ever hiked. In all I hiked only about six miles today and this final leg was only a mile long, but it sure was steep.
It was well worth the time, effort and expense to undertake this mission. It cost $10 to enter the park and another $37 to take the boat to the island, and it took the entire day, but it was well worth it. The island is fascinating, beautiful, quite large and affords fantastic views of the inside of the caldera and the lake that fills it. There is also an interesting Galapagos-type evolutionary phenomenon on the island, a variety of Garter snake that has lost its stripes so that it blends into the black volcanic rock that covers much of the island, thus concealing the snake from the sharp eyes of the bald eagles that also inhabit the caldera.
Picturesque little bay on Wizard Island
There is a surprising amount of flora on the island, considering its isolation. There are relatively dense forests which shade much of the hike to the summit, plus lots of low-lying bushes and colorful flowers. There are birds, squirrels, chipmunks, snakes, a multitude of ants and even spiders. Pretty impressive when one considers that this is an island in the middle of a lake, which is itself totally encircled by the remains of a mountain, and that this ecosystem is only a few thousand years old. I guess it underscores the determination of life to implant itself in every available niche.
The rangers kept positing complicated explanations for the various kinds of animal life on the island. Observing all the trees laying beside the water around the lake it seemed to me that perhaps the animals simply floated over on a fallen tree trunk. Surely that happens at least once every few hundred years, which is all it would take to populate the island.
Today was pretty uneventful, just a simple drive back to California. I stopped in Susanville for the night, a nice little town of hundred year old buildings and inviting shady, tree lined residential streets. I drove through the Modoc National Forest, which, while not especially pretty, is rugged and remote, situated in the less traveled and drier northeastern corner of California. I did pass the delightful Eagle Lake, about thirty miles northwest of Susanville.
Eagle Lake, California, situated at an elevation of about 5,000 feet
Eagle Lake is not a very large lake – perhaps three miles across – but it looks tranquil and inviting. Unlike Crater Lake, Oregon, which is completely surrounded by formidable walls, one can walk right down to the edge of Eagle Lake and take a swim.
From Eagle Lake I proceeded on to Susanville, but not without a jolt of excitement to rouse me from my late afternoon lethargy. I was driving along admiring the scenery when all of a sudden this large, boneheaded deer runs right out into the middle of he highway and stands there, not fifty feet in front of me. I started to swerve around it when I realized that it was utterly indecisive about which way it was going to run next, so instead I hit the brakes hard. Fortunately, the car stopped on a dime, otherwise, that deer would have been toast and so would my car. I’ll tell you, there is nothing more spooky that those darned deer along the highway.
One of myriad dilapidated houses one sees along these lonely highways
Today was a torturous drive from Susanville to Bridgeport at elevations ranging from about 5,000 to 7,500 feet.. While I began today’s journey on U.S. Highway 395, I departed that highway pretty early for California Highway 89, on which I drove most of the day. The reason I took Highway 89 was to avoid driving through Nevada, which is the route Highway 395 takes.
Highway 89 winds through innumerable small towns with double-digit populations, which dot the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It also happens to be one of the steepest highways I’ve ever driven, going over several rugged mountains, sometimes seemingly straight over the top when the highway is relentlessly steep for miles at a time. Despite the steep, narrow, windy highway, however, there was no shortage of grotesquely large vehicles, often towing things, plugging it up. How do these people afford the gasoline?
Although scenic, Highway 89 is a maddeningly slow alternative to Highway 395, especially around Lake Tahoe, which used to be a pleasant place to visit, but now, thanks to gentrification, is a human-made hell in a natural paradise. Despite the glorious views of the lake, I did not stop and couldn’t wait to speed past the place and its overabundance of crowds and absurdly large vehicles clogging the roads.
View from the top of Highway 89 – the ridge of the mountain range I just crossed is visible on the right side of the photo
Upon reaching the southern end of Highway 89 I rejoined U.S. Highway 395 and proceeded to Bridgeport, situated in the mountains at an elevation of about 6,400 feet. Since I’m planning to hike in Yosemite again – this time solo – I chose to stay in Bridgeport instead of Lee Vining again for variety and because I thought it might be cheaper. Unfortunately, Bridgeport, like Lee Vining, is desperately trying to turn itself into some sort of chichi tourist destination, complete with “museums,” kitschy hotels and social events geared to attract tourists, so it’s not all that cheap anymore unless one is willing to spend the night in a real dive, like I am tonight. The room I’m staying in is entirely paneled in termite-eaten lumber, has a mirror made from a horse yoke, a rusty can hanging on the wall for decor, and with the exception of a tiny bathroom, lacks any modern conveniences, including a telephone. Were it not for the bathroom, the room, furnished with antiques, looks like one of those depicted in so many western movies, only not quite as nice!
Today I decided to hike to Mono Pass in Yosemite. It seemed like a pleasant, relatively easy hike and promised to be scenic. I was miffed that the first three miles of the hike were through a dense forest. It might sound perverse to say that because forests are universally appealing, but if one is hiking to see the scenery, having the view totally obscured by a bunch of bloody trees is no fun at all, not to mention all the hungry mosquitoes lurking in the shady forest. I was surprised, also, that the mountain was so heavily forested at this high altitude of 10,000 feet. I’ve hiked other trails in the area at this elevation and the terrain was pretty barren, certainly not densely forested.
After the first three miles, however, the forest gave way to magnificent views, which just kept getting better and better the farther I walked.
Small lake near Mono Pass, Yosemite
The little lake above is one of the first pleasing sights one sees after emerging from the forest. The water, of course, is crystal clear and this particular lake even had easy access and a sandy bottom – most have a rocky bottom. I was so tempted to get in it on the way back, but I figured it would be too cold and I was too weary to go to the trouble. Sigh.
Oddly enough, at Mono Pass itself, 10,599 feet above sea level, one cannot see Mono Lake to the east. One must walk at least another half mile east to see Mono Lake. In addition to seeing Mono Lake, one will also see a beautiful lake, which I believe is called Sardine Lake. It’s an incredibly picturesque scene, the little lake below and Mono Lake in the distance. However, if one proceeds still further east, there are even more lakes, a staircase of them leading down the mountain. All these lakes look so inviting to swim in, but I’m sure the water is cold and most of them don’t have easy access, or they have formidable rocky slopes leading into the water.
View from Mono Pass, Mono Lake on the horizon
The photo above shows what lies beyond Sardine Lake, two more lakes, each lower than the previous one, with Mono Lake about 4,000 feet below, barely visible on the horizon. Looking down from this height, one feels like they are at the top of the world. I can only imagine what it must be like to be atop one of the mountains of the Himalayas.
Despite the crowds, relatively speaking, for this is not a well known trail, this was a fantastic hike, an unexpected jewel. Even the walk back through the forest was better on the way down because I was hot and the shade provided by the forest was welcome. Even the mosquitoes were absent, apparently taking their afternoon naps following their morning feeding frenzy.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – notice the young trees growing where the one died
I love the scene of the tree above gradually decomposing back into life-giving nutrients. It makes one appreciate the perpetual cycle of birth, death and rebirth. I wonder how long that dead tree has been laying there decomposing.
Ancient miner’s log cabin
There are a few of these miner’s cabins up here. I guess they mined for gold mainly. I could see me living in such a place. I wonder how difficult it would be to renovate this cabin. Not only is the location pleasant, but look at the view below from this cabin’s front door.
View from miner’s log cabin
This was a most satisfying hike, so much so that I didn’t even mind returning to my hovel back in Bridgeport. It ended up being about ten miles in length and without any severe elevation changes.
Since I was going to drive right past Yosemite again, and since I was pretty well recovered from yesterday’s hike, I figured I might as well take another hike on my way. So I decided to revisit a hike I took about ten years ago, not actually inside Yosemite park, but sort of “across the street.” Today’s hike, like yesterday’s, would be at elevations of 10,000 feet and above. Besides the thin air at these elevations, the sun seems more intense, a fact I forgot about yesterday and ended up getting a little barbecued.
My first impression upon arriving at Saddlebag Lake, where I was to begin my hike, was that it was immensely more popular than the last time I was here, thronging with tourists. Nevertheless, I embarked on my hike, walking the first mile beside the lake over hard rocks. It was punishing to the feet and the mountain to my side was intensely reflecting the hot morning sunshine. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very pleasant hike, just like the last time I did it.
When I got to the other end of the lake, I ran into my first conundrum, a fork in the road. Taking the left fork I proceeded across this incredibly wet, marshy area and was absolutely besieged by mosquitoes. I take back all the bad things I’ve said about mosquitoes everywhere else I’ve been because these were by far the worst. Every couple of seconds, three or four would land on me to partake of my blood. My hands were constantly flailing about shooing off the mosquitoes. Every once in a while one would hit paydirt as I felt his little sucking nozzle penetrate my skin. I really hate mosquitoes – they remind me so much of politicians. Along the way I ran into a couple of seasoned fishermen who were bugging out of the area on account of the mosquitoes.
As I got nearly to the other side of the marshy area I decided I was going the wrong way. The route the trail was taking me didn’t look promising, nor did it look like the trail I took once before. So I turned around and made my way back across mosquito marsh! By the time I got back to the fork in the road, I was about ready to call it quits, solely on account of the mosquitoes, but I thought that if the trail dried out some, maybe the problem would be mitigated. So I took the right fork this time and immediately proceeded up to a drier part of the trail. Actually, “drier” is relative because the entire trail was remarkably wet. Much of the trail was muddy or marshy and there was flowing water everywhere. In addition, in one place a fresh pond blocked the trail, forcing a detour around the pond. In two other places, several hundred foot long patches of snow, five feet deep or more, blocked the trail and one had no choice but to walk across the slippery snow, with sharp rocks waiting eagerly below. And then there were lakes everywhere. I don’t think I was ever out of sight of some lake. Needless to say, all this abundant water was heaven to the mosquitoes, which continued to hound me the entire day, although not as badly as at mosquito marsh.
Even though winter ended over two months ago, all the leftover snow is producing tremendous water flows as it melts, feeding the small brooks crisscrossing the landscape on their way to filling the abundant lakes. Most of the snow will probably be melted by October, just in time for winter to begin anew.
Small pond along the Saddlebag Lake trail
All the lakes and rivers and streams were quite scenic, but the entire hike was diminished because of the mosquitoes. I barely stopped along the trail because if I stopped moving they would pounce on me. By comparison, yesterday’s hike was so pleasant. I stopped here and there for long periods of time, never worried about the darned mosquitoes.
Look at all the water, flowing, standing
The photo above shows a fairly typical scene along this hike, with water everywhere – flowing water, standing water. It’s no wonder the place is so green and infested with mosquitoes. I must have seen fifteen lakes, some as large as half a mile long, and I never even saw the lakes I came to see.
That was the most disappointing thing about his hike. I could not find the trail I took a decade ago. The route I took today was much more rugged and steep than the trail I took long ago, especially near the end where one has to climb more than 500 feet up a steep, totally rock-covered slope. Moreover, the trail I took today didn’t lead me to the lakes I specifically wanted to see, which was extremely disappointing. I don’t know where I went wrong. Yosemite trails usually have good signs pointing the way to places. This hike today, however, was not in Yosemite and definitely suffered in the signage department. It’s also possible that the trail I took once before was submerged under so many lakes, because I don’t recall seeing anywhere near as many lakes then as I did today. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back someday and try again.
There were an astonishing variety of tiny, colorful flowers along the trail, frequently found valiantly protruding from a little crack in a rock. Looking at the broader landscape, one does not see flowers. However, if one looks closely along the sides of the trail, brilliant, hardy little flowers become apparent.
Incredible variety of tiny, hardy, colorful flowers
All in all, today’s hike was a disappointment, at least compared to the other two stunning hikes I took recently in Yosemite. I did end today’s hike on a positive note, however, by taking the boat instead of hiking! After a disappointing day, I did not relish the final mile long walk back over the rocks beside Saddlebag Lake, so I took the water taxi instead, which zips back and forth between the ends of the lake. It was a most enjoyable way to end the hike.
After my hike at Saddlebag Lake yesterday, I drove to Pig Pine, California, in preparation for a stopover in Las Vegas today. The lady at the motel asked me if I was planning to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, residing within the Inyo National Forest. I said I was not, but when I found out it was on my way to Las Vegas, I decided to stop there after all.
The drive along California Highway 168 is one of the most grueling, steep and winding drives I’ve ever been on. One can only travel about 30 miles per hour on that highway, unless a huge tractor-trailer rig going 15-20 miles per hour is in one’s way. Fortunately, it’s only about twelve miles until one reaches a plateau where one leaves the highway to head to the Bristlecone pine forest, another ten or more miles of steep climbing ahead! The rate of ascent up this mountain is simply astounding, the 1,000 foot elevation markers passing by every few minutes, taking one from the 4,000 or so foot elevation of the valley up to the 10,000 foot summit of the mountain where the Bristlecone pines live. One feels as if they are ascending Mount Olympus. The decrease in temperature as one goes up in elevation is most welcome as well.
View from about 9,000 feet elevation – I believe the dark green patch on the valley floor to the right is Bishop, California, about a mile below
Even though these mountains are nearly as high as those I hiked in Yosemite, the terrain is markedly drier and harsher, showing no trace of water on the ground, save the green vegetation.
Arriving at the top of the mountain, driving in second gear (out of six) most of the way because of the steepness, I parked and walked briefly through the Bristlecone Pine Forest. I would have walked the entire loop mapped out, but I didn’t want to spend the two hours it would have taken. Plus, I was concerned by a warning sign taped to the temporary visitor center. It said marmots had recently chewed up the hoses and belts of a parked car, necessitating its being towed for repairs, whereupon marmots were discovered hiding under the hood! I know from past experience that critters – particularly rats – really do like to chew on hoses and belts and wires, so I took that warning quite seriously, especially since I have frequently seen marmots in these mountains. So I didn’t want to leave my car unattended for several hours on account of the threat of marmot vandalism.
Bristlecone Pine Forest
The Bristlecone pine trees are somewhat distinct from other pine trees, with long, slender, needle-covered branches, reminiscent of bottle brushes, if one knows what one of those looks like anymore. And these needle-covered branches are surprisingly soft and supple to the touch. What distinguishes these trees above all is their incredible longevity of over 4,000 years. That’s even older than the giant Sequoias, which are as much as 3,000 years old. Some of these Bristlecone pine trees are older than the pyramids in Egypt, and still alive. It’s truly humbling to be in the presence of such old creatures. Bristlecone pines are among the few plants that seem to thrive in this rugged and dry climate, which I suppose explains why they live so long. They are hardy plants.
After checking my car’s belts and hoses for marmot teeth marks, I drove back down the mountain, still in second gear to avoid picking up speed. The way up isn’t as menacing as the way down because on the way down one travels right along the edge of the mountain, where a single second of inattention could send one plummeting many hundreds of feet down the steep mountainside. I would like to return to this place and hike some of its lengthy, rugged trails. I just didn’t have time today.
On the east side of the mountain the terrain and climate become considerably less hospitable. The conditions are noticeably more barren and hot and dry. Along the lonely highway in Nevada I ran across some honest-to-goodness archaeological ruins, the former silver mining town of Palmetto.
Palmetto ruins in Nevada
Established in 1860s, the town was disbanded in 1906 when the silver mines were played out. At its peak the thriving town boasted 200 miner’s tents.
A bit further on, about 30 miles north of Las Vegas, the hot, barren, inhospitable landscape was strikingly different from the lush, water-covered landscape I was used to in Yosemite.
Rugged and dry Nevada desert
Where I stopped to take the above photo it was 112 degrees Fahrenheit, which I thought was unbearably hot. I didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘unbearable’ until I reached Las Vegas, where it was 123 degrees in places! I didn’t think Las Vegas could get that hot, but here’s a photo I took while sitting in Las Vegas’ gridlocked traffic. It’s my car’s dashboard information display, showing the outside temperature at 121 degrees!
Now that’s what I call hot!
Between the unbearable heat and the more unbearable traffic, I aborted my plans to linger in Las Vegas for a couple of days, and instead headed to San Diego. Along the way I performed my good deed for the day by picking up a guy who ran out of gas on the freeway, driving him to the next town, giving him a bottle for gas, buying him some gas and driving him back to his car. The whole thing cost me an hour and a few bucks, but I hope he got his act together.
The temperature remained well over 100 degrees until I stopped for the night at about 10 PM near Victorville, California, where my maternal grandparents lived for many years and are now buried.
When I was a kid we used to travel there every few months and it was a dusty backwater of a town. For kicks we used to play along the railroad tracks, waiting for a train to come along so we could have it smash a penny for us. Today the town is a victim of the contagious growth disease affecting most towns, with shopping malls and housing developments sprouting up everywhere, along with the concomitant traffic nightmares. Incredibly enough, many of the people who bought houses in Victorville recently actually work in, and commute to Los Angeles, over a hundred miles away! I suppose, given the state of the economy and the housing industry, that trend here in California has been mostly arrested.
Upon entering my motel room, pretty weary after driving twice as far as I had planned, I had to don another cap, that of bug exterminator. Small beetles, about half an inch long, were pouring through the gap between the door and the door jamb as if I were in some sort of horror movie. I sent 50 or so of the buggers to the happy hunting ground in the toilet, but they just kept coming. So I stuffed towels under the door and toilet paper into the gap between the door and the door jamb. That at least prevented more beetles from coming into the room, but there were still a few dozen beetles unaccounted for and hiding in the room. Every now and then one would foolishly poke its head up from its hiding place, usually a piece of electronic equipment, and then it was off to the “pool” for a final swim. I even woke up in the morning with one sleeping next to me in bed. (I didn’t ask whether it was male or female.) When I checked out, the staff asked me how was my stay. I replied that it was fine except for the beetle infestation. The staff shrugged and said, “Oh, that’s normal for this time of year.” It’s not normal for me.
I arrived in San Diego midday, sad that my trip was over, as I could do this forever. In all I traveled 3800 miles – less than some past trips – and spent about $1,600 for everything, not bad for nearly three weeks of travel.
I went on this trip looking for some sort of divine inspiration, which I failed to find. However, the trip was very enjoyable and relaxing, and I did have a revelation of sorts, that I would love to be a park ranger. Spending my days up in the rugged mountains, among forests and rivers, helping people to enjoy their visits sounds like a most satisfying occupation. I would do it for room and board alone.
One observation that kept baffling me was the large number of people eager to part with considerable sums of money: on gasoline while driving their huge vehicles and towing their enormous toys; on overpriced hotel rooms and overpriced restaurants; and on high entrance fees to attractions. I know the state of the economy from the numerical data and simple empirical observation of all the boarded up and “for sale” businesses I saw everywhere, and it’s bad, yet one would not get that sense from the bustling crowds of people everywhere.
What I concluded is that while demand for such recreational diversions may have fallen as the economy has deteriorated, so has the supply – exemplified by all the boarded up businesses – so the smaller number of remaining businesses are doing just as much business as before, if not more. Another observation was that most of the tourists going to places such as Yosemite were foreigners who benefit from the low value of the U.S. dollar relative to their own currencies. Sitting in a restaurant in Lee Vining, for instance, I thought I was in Europe, as European languages were being spoken at every single table around ours.
I suppose not everyone can take a trip like I took, totally free to go where they want, when they want, with no preplanned agenda. It requires a certain freedom from responsibility, which I happen to enjoy at the moment, as well as a willingness to be flexible and adaptable, unless one is willing to spend a ton of money, which I am not. However, I highly recommend such trips – I’ve taken many, and for longer lengths of time than this – because they are immensely relaxing and rejuvenating.