Into The West

And Never The Twain Shall Meet

We arrived in San Francisco and the heat was a real shock to our systems. Canada hadn’t been cold, but very little can prepare you for the heat of California. We had intended to stay in the city for a while, but there was some convention going on and hotels couldn’t be got for love nor money (well, i dare say that if we’d had 500 bucks to spend on accommodation it would have been possible, but we didn’t, so it wasn’t). So we decided to change our plans a little and head out into the great plains and then do San Fran on the way back.

Writing about the west of the USA really hasn’t been easy. In the east there were hundreds of small things, cities, places, historical markers all put together in a relatively compact space. Out here in the west there are fewer points of interest, but they are huuuge, and they are spread far apart. The sheer size of some of the things we have seen beggars belief — the biggest mountains, fields, rivers, canyons: everything is vast; so vast that in writing it down I almost don’t know where to begin describing it. I guess that because this land was far from the great eastern ports and hubs of commerce and politics it doesn’t present a clear historical narrative. There are stories of frontiersmen, indians, territorial battles, but one cannot say the States started here.

The people are different too. There is no sense of urgency here — we’ve stayed in villages where the locals don’t use cell phones and where 4×4 trucks and jeeps are the only way to get around. It seems that the legends of the Great West die hard in this land.

It is beautiful land, that’s for sure. We’ve seen lakes, deserts, mountains, forests — all of nature’s wonder in one place. It’s mesmerizing, breathtaking– adjectives probably can’t do it justice. (Expect a lot of photos!)

 

Yosemite

We took an old-style cabin out in the woods for this adventure. The Yosemite National Park covers an area of over 1000 square miles and, while it is mostly wilderness, it contains some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth. After all the tumult of the cities, this was quite literally a welcome breath of fresh air.

The park holds some of the largest natural wonders in the world. It’s simply beautiful and almost shocking. The massive granite mountains all have their own history and names; there’s El Capitan, the Half-Dome and Sentinel Rock. We actually missed out on waterfall season, normally there are a few in the Yosemite Valley at the center of the park, but in the summer it gets too dry for them to run.

It was exactly here in May 1903 that Theodore Roosevelt was struck by the wonder of this place and decided to take all of it under state control so as to better protect it. In 1916 it was one of the first properties to be placed in the care of the newly formed National park Service.

It’s not only the mountains which are vast. Yosemite also contains a grove of Giant Sequoias, the largest tree (by volume) in the world. Again… how can I describe these? I can only show the photos.

The one problem with all this enormity surrounding us was the heights. Now, i don’t mind being high up so much, but there were a few very scary moments in the car. You see the signposts counting the height for you: 4000, 5000, 6000 feet above sea-level, the roads are quite fast (people, us included, were moving at about 45-60 miles per hour) and you get very, very, skin-crawlingly close to that edge (no more than a foot away at points) and it’s a looong way down.

You literally are inches away from certain doom. One slip of the wheel, or you turn your eyes away from the road to turn off Maroon 5 who just came on the radio, and it’s a Thelma and Louise ending for everyone in the car. I was scared.

But we got through it all in the end. Nick and I did a bit of hiking, climbed through waterfalls and over rocks, and we discovered some animals. One is a Blue Jay, a bird about the size of a crow and bright blue (understandably), and a new one for us — a Chickeree! Chickerees are like a cross between a mouse, a squirrel, and a raccoon. They live on the Sequoias and actually help the trees to reproduce because they eat the tops of the pine cones, allowing the tree to drop its seeds. It’s a perfect little give-and-take balance from nature which we were very happy to see.

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Filed under Historical Connections, Places Visited, USA Trip

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