Thursday, August 18, 2011

Road Trip! The Golden State

Lupine in the meadow near the pass
This past weekend, we were invited to a cabin near Strawberry (north of Yosemite) so we drove up state and into the high country.  Summer is not complete without a road trip, with BP knitting while I drive, and we sing along with the CDs.

I'm a Californian, with deep roots here.  I'm 4th-generation on both sides, born  in the Bay Area. I moved to the East Coast for grad school, then a few years in  Europe, and got back to my state but in the south.  Hey, as I told my Dad, at least I was the same time zone!  When Dad died, his ashes were interred in Petaluma next to his great-grand parents -- not bad for a man of 84, with roots in the  Gold Rush. 

So, up we drove from Southern California.  We wended our way through the tangled labyrinth of freeways, leaving the LA basin in the steep drive up the Tehachipis.  The "Grapevine" is the crossing over the Tejon Pass north of LA.  Although the elevation isn't that high, it's frequently closed by snow in the winter (yes, there is snow in Southern California!) and is so steep, that there isn't room for the whole freeway on one route.   North bound and southbound lanes criss cross each other on opposite sides of the canyon, so for a time you drive on the "wrong" side--like a twining vine.

As you drop off the Grapevine, you see the great central valley open before you:  flat and yellow.  We worked our way up Highway 99 and (thanks to having the iphone) were able to call an old school friend in Fresno for dinner.  We stayed the night and continued up towards the mountains.

The mountains are full of  history
In the central valley, we were in Ag, Inc, with massive fields of almond trees, fruit trees, hay and corn, and big equipment.  We couldn't see the mountains for the haze.  But in Merced, we turned off the 99 on  state 59. Now we entered the Sierra Foothills, rural ranching country.  We wound our way through  rolling hills of yellow grass  (which I think gave the state its Golden nickname) and live oaks.  When we reached the 108, at the southern edge of the Gold Country (the other source of the Golden nickename), the conifers started to come in. 

Sonora Pass
4000 and 5000 ft.... the Ponderosa Pines, White Fir.   The elevation ticked off and the engine whined.  6000, 7000, 8000....  The next day, we went up to see  the Sonora Pass (like most of the passes, closed in the winter)-- the Red Fir, Lodgepole, and White-bark Pines, and wild flowers for which August is still Spring. The White Bark pines are only found at highest elevation.  As global warming continues, most species will migrate up in elevation to seek cooler climates.  But the white bark pines will expire:  they have no where else to go.

I love my state, and I love the mountains. The smell of cedar and bear clover.... the color of the flowers...  the rich variety of climates.  On the way back down, once we got back to the Central Valley, we stopped to pick up fresh pistachios and stone fruits-- white necterines, two kinds of plums, all fresh picked--- in  America's fruitbasket, hot and dry in the summer.

Looking down towards Lake Beardsley
And as we went south, the Tehachipis emerged from the haze, forming the southern boundary of the great valley.  We crawled back over the Grapevine to the SoCal freeways.  And, then, finally, we emerged out of the heat of the valley to the humidity of FOG in Santa Monica, the natural air conditioning of the coast.  We tucked into the  carpool lane in the heart of urban life, and went home, restored by our short trip to the top of the Sierras, the Range of Light.

We are hopeful we'll get to go back next summer.


it's margaret said...

....hhhhhoooommmmeeeee, she says, touching the screen with her finger....

(And hey --how did that work out? --I'm fifth generation and older than you... yes?!)

JCF said...

Heh, I'm going to pretty close to the same area the first week of September. [As indeed, I was in the Sierra just last Saturday w/ the St Michael's Hiking Club! :-)]

IT said...

@Margaret, I don't think you are THAT much older, I'm 49. And some of the generations are rather LONG in my family (late children, etc).

JCF, lucky you! Right now,hiking is only a dream for me....!

JCF said...

Well, as I explained at your blog IT, I was fated to love the Sierra from conception... ;-)

it's margaret said...

IT --nope --six years does not a generation make.... you are the same age as my younger brother. So, I gues my family just got around to that breeding thing sooner.... (smiling)

IT said...

Yes, M, that's what I meant-- you and I are close enough in age that we're contemporaries, so the generations for my family are simply longer.

JCF, I love the mountains too though cannot claim such a .... colorful justification!