We left the town of Arcata several nights ago. I liked the place. Seemed as if it was stuck in the Seventies. A creative place with many people making art. We met some friendly characters, but also saw the darker side of things; the young stoner kids who, despite being friendly just seemed so lost, so gone. It’s like everything exists on such extreme ends of the spectrum in this place.
We drive to Lake Tahoe, setting off in the early evening. The weather turns into heavy snow, with deep drifts either side of the road, although the road itself was cleared. Thick fog drifts in and out of our vision making for a hair-raising journey. The twists and turns of the road add to the heart-in-mouth experience. David does well at the wheel and we are all relieved to make it in one piece, although by this time it is the early hours of the morning so we merely celebrate by curling up and sleeping right where we are.
Lake Tahoe is on the border of California and Nevada. The lake itself is stunning. Situated at 6225 feet in the Sierra Nevada range it is the largest Alpine lake in North America. Originally inhabited by the Washoe tribe of Native Americans, it was at the heart of Washoe territory. I am surprised to see waves coming onto the shore of the lake, making it seem like the sea meeting the shore. The backdrop of mountain peaks and pine forest makes the whole scene breathtaking. It is only the wet and windy weather which dampens the mood slightly. The town of Tahoe is also apparently stuck a couple of decades in the past. I notice there is a bear theme running through the whole town, with carved wooden bear statues, bear doorstops, there’s even a bear painted on the paper towel dispenser in the restroom at the coffee shop!
Our arrival is in the early hours of the morning so we sleep in the car until dawn, then set off to explore. It is cold but beautiful here. The pine trees dusted with snow and snow-capped mountains make me feel I like I am in a Christmas card. Our arrival is before the peak season, when I imagine this place is busy with tourists come to ski and snowboard on the slopes and do waterspouts on the lake. We go into Tahoe Dave’s ski shop – which has only been open a week – and chat to the guy there about renting snowboarding gear. His accent is awesome, proper ‘surf dude’. We decide against winter sports as the weather is looking wet and windy and even if we wait till the following day, we would rather explore further whilst we have the means. Checking into a cosy motel and hibernating for some of the day, come the evening, we all head to Las Panchitas, the Mexican restaurant over the road, for burritos and margaritas.
The next day we bid farewell to Lake Tahoe and head towards Yosemite. We are warned about the possibility of road closures due to the snow, and soon discover that this indeed is a reality. We drive through Gardnerville which, like so many places here, is laid out only for those who drive. Everything is situated so far apart, completely impractical for pedestrians. This country certainly promotes consumption of oil and use of vehicles that’s for sure. We drive through old frontier towns, passing signs for Reno. It’s so sad to see all the casinos, knowing that they were left as means for the Natives to generate income when the White Man took away their land and means of supporting themselves. We detour off the main road to visit Bodie, an old ‘ghost town’ which was established in the late 1800s for mining the Gold Rush. It is an eerie place frozen in time. We walk around the town, the snow crunching underfoot and our breath misting in the air. Through the window of what was once the schoolhouse there is a poster depicting the ‘Spirit of Education’ dated 1935 which appears so ahead of it’s time, showing children of all races and class together in harmony. There are two petrol pumps still standing with a Shell gas sign attached, rusted and aged with bulletholes through it. Bodie is renowned for it’s fast drawing gun slingers and the crime it harboured. There were …. mines in operation in the area, it peaked in the decade 1889 to 1899, then declined. A wooden town, it experienced two fires and never fully recovered.
We backtrack several miles to find a route to Yosemite which is open as several roads are closed due to snow. David is patient and upbeat despite the fact we have to return all the way to Tahoe to head to Yosemite from another direction. We stop in a lodge a few miles outside of the park, paying double what we would normally pay due to tourist prices. Heading into Yosemite the following day, we are blessed with the sight of the immense sheer rock face of El Capitan. Situated at 7573 feet elevation and standing at 3000 feet from the ground, this was first scaled by an outlaw rock climber called Warren Harding in 1958, and numerous times since. Emma astutely comments that it looks as if the Lake District and Norway had a baby! Emma and I trek to Vernal and Nevada waterfalls, walking up steep paths and over rough granite, and we sit, feeling the cold mist on our faces and the thundering sound of cascading water in our ears. The clean alpine air in our lungs and the natural surroundings feels cleansing. I feel content and connected.
I imagine what it would have been like to live here, close to the land, honouring the Great Mother Earth and Father Sky, in harmony with all animals, trees and plants. The original inhabitants of this area were the Miwok or Ahwaneechee tribe of Native Americans. They populated this area for 4000 years until the White man arrived and began to take over the land. The discovery of gold fuelled this further and Native people were killed or removed from their land, relocated to reservations where their way of life was destroyed, relying on supplies from the White Man and they became homesick. The Miwoks were relocated to a reservation near Fresno. Looking at a modern day map of California, I see several small areas of land designated as Indigenous Reservations. This is heartbreaking considering that Native Americans once had the freedom of the whole land to call their home. They understood the interconnectedness of all things and respected and honoured this land, existing in harmony. In contrast, the White Man has ravaged the land for what it could get; gold, coal, oil, gas, metals, and taken advantage of it for mass agriculture and continues to do so. I believe there is a shift occurring though, as many realise that this way cannot continue; mono-agriculture ands use of pesticides poisoning the land and ourselves; non-renewable means of making energy which are rapidly running out whilst also causing damage to the environment; the changes in climate caused by our pollution; the mass deforestation which is literally removing the lungs of this planet. There are more and more people rediscovering a simpler more sustainable way of life, in tune with nature instead of opposing it. Less materialism and consumerist culture, moving away from the ‘earn more, buy more, have more’ mindset. We may think the newer car / bigger TV / better house / more stylish shoes will make us happy. They won’t. That void which we attempt to fill with this stuff can be ‘filled’ by spending time in nature, healing our traumas and wounds, rediscovering these ancient ways of living in sync with the cycles and using nature’s foods and medicines wisely whilst also giving back to maintain equilibrium.
I am so happy to have made it here to Yosemite National Park. The absence of huge crowds of people makes up for the cold weather, although I would like to experience this place in a warmer season as it would enable one to hike for days and camp out comfortably. Here in Yosemite I am reminded of the documentary premier of ‘Valley Uprising’ I saw several weeks ago in Wales.
It told the history of climbing in Yosemite, from the original band of beatnik outlaws in the late fifties and early sixties, through to present day. Looking up at the sheer expanse of rock, I see tiny trees dotted along it’s surface and at the summit. Judging by this scale I realise that a person climbing would only be a tiny speck, barely visible from the ground. How amazing would it be to experience this place as a rock climber!
As night falls we drive away from Yosemite towards Fresno to drop off Mark, who we picked up in Aracata. Travelling is a good teacher, as well as all the relationships which are formed on the road. We learn a valuable lesson about trusting people to soon and too easily. Mark, a British Gibraltan guy we give a lift to from Arcata, seems pleasant and nice initially, but after a couple of days we see his true colours as someone who is sneaky and negative. He actually sat in the car absorbing in his laptop for the majority of the time we were at Yosemite, saying he had had enough time in nature recently…as if one could ever have enough, especially in such stunning surroundings! His presence causes friction, bad vibes and arguments. On the last night he even resorts to personal comments and insults to provoke a reaction. We learn that it is good and essential to have healthy boundaries, to remain open and in the heart, yet to have a better ‘filtering system’ with new people. We continue to see him as a good person, just with trauma and a low vibration which is causing his behaviour. Frisco is our next stop, where we leave Mark so he can head back to San Fran, we head in the opposite direction, destined for King’s Canyon. Returning to our initial grouping of three immediately feels good. We are liberated and lighter, plus the sun is now shining, which always helps. I take the wheel and adjust quickly to the automatic ‘no gears’ driving. Sun Ra is blasting from the sound system and all seems well with the world. Freakishly tall cartoon-like palm trees are dotted along the roadside and skyline, with fields upon fields of golden grapevines. I head east along route 180 towards Kings Canyon and Sequoia National parks. The scenery looks quite like the Peak or Lake District, all wild and mountainous but with more desert tones.
On the road again….