California campin’

More people live in California than in all of Canada. For good reason. It is be-eautiful.

After spending weeks in the desert

After spending weeks in the desert

More people live in California than in all of Canada. For good reason. It is be-eautiful.

We were RVing our way home after spending two months in the Sonoran desert, which extends for 2,000 km from America’s southwest deep into Mexico.

We had seen it all: in Arizona, target golf through stands of saguaro cactuses; rugged mountain hikes in the Superstition Mountains.

In Mexico, quiet oceanfront campgrounds in quaint fishing villages where desert meets sea.

We hadn’t seen a cloud for two months. Nothing but blue sky. We were sick of sunshine.

So we chose a homeward route through the wet greenery of California springtime.

For five weeks we had driven Mexico’s roadways. Nobody yields to pedestrians in Mexico. If you did, there’d be a rear-end pileup from Mazatlan to Mexico City.

On my first day back driving in the United States, I cruised casually at 80 km/h through a crosswalk in El Centro, Calif. An elderly Hispanic American woman dove for cover, shaking her fist and shouting Spanish expletives at my rear view mirror. It took a few days to get re-accustomed to driving in civilization.

California is gorgeous but prohibitively expensive. Gas is $1 higher per gallon than in neighbouring states. Campgrounds charge up to $50 per night. They need the dough. California is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Apparently Arnold the Gubernator was otherwise occupied during his time in office.

California’s natural beauty is legend. One day, we stood on the precipice of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Pelicans flew in formation, framing surfers riding waves breaking on a beach far below.

The next day, we were snowshoeing 2,000 metres above sea level amongst ancient sequoia trees in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These primal giants — some over 2,000 years old — are the biggest trees on Earth.

Later that week, we were sipping chardonnay and pinot noir at a family winery in the Napa Valley, across the Golden Gate Bridge north of San Francisco.

Don’t get me wrong. California is not small. It is nearly the size of Alberta; and Alberta is huge (unfortunately it is also mostly covered in muskeg). But the Golden State is laughably accessible. Its wonderful diversity of ocean, mountain, desert and rainforest can all be experienced during a short stay.

I pulled our RV into Yosemite National Park at 4:30 p.m. one Saturday afternoon of an American long weekend looking for a camp spot. The ranger at the entrance gate laughed when I said we were looking for a site “just for the night.”

“Most folk reserve their Yosemite campsite a year or more in advance,” he stated.

“So you’re full then?” asked I.

“Booked right up to Yosemite Sam’s nose,” he responded cleverly.

“Are there any other campgrounds in the vicinity?” I queried.

“There’s one back that-a-way ’bout fifty miles. They might have a spot.” He pointed in the direction from whence we had arrived. It had taken me two hours to negotiate that twisting, turning 80 km. I had no intention of retracing my tire tracks in the dark.

I have six brothers. We abhor lineups and advance planning of any kind.

Amongst the sisters-in-law this is known as “a Feehan thing.” And yet invariably things seem to work out.

“Thanks a lot,” I called back to the ranger as I headed into the park. His frown framed our departure.

The narrow two-lane highway wound through a cloudy sequoia forest and disappeared into a tunnel as we descended into Yosemite Valley. When we exited the dark passage, blinding daylight greeted us, reflecting off the steely granite face of El Capitan, Yosemite’s most iconic mountain.

We carried on to North Pines Campground in the heart of the valley as dusk arrived. I pulled in and asked the camp host if by chance there was a spot where we could sneak in for the night. I concealed my crossed fingers. The nearest alternate refuge was now over three hours away.

“Why you’re in luck,” she exclaimed. “We’ve just had a cancellation.”

She directed us to the most beautiful site you have ever set eyes upon. As I made camp, the sun’s last amber rays framed the famous Half-Dome, 1,000 metres above us. Trout were rising on the Yosemite River just outside my door. I grabbed my fly rod and cast contentedly into the failing light.

In the morning, we packed a lunch and hiked up to spectacular Vernal Falls. The trail to this waterfall is a steep difficult 300-vertical-metre climb.

We expected to enjoy a quiet repast in the company of a few other nature lovers and were unprepared for the throng that greeted us at the top. Hundreds of granola crunchers snapped pictures of each other peering over the treacherous cliff. A long line of humanity — clad in designer hiking gear — waited patiently for the right photo op. You know how I feel about lineups. We beat a hasty retreat.

Yosemite is so overrun with tourists that shuttle buses are mandatory on many of its roadways. But public transportation makes the short jaunt to a place of interest or restaurant cumbersome. Fortunately, we had our bicycles. We happily pedaled our way to dinner while plump Americans sat forlornly waiting for an overloaded bus to transport them to a nearby grazing station.

The next day, we enjoyed a final morning ride before departing Yosemite for the coast and three days of wine-tasting debauchery in California’s Napa valley. On a footbridge, an artist posed happily, dabbing brush to canvas, recording in oil the timeless beauty of Yosemite Falls.

Cycling back to our campsite, we passed a newspaper stand. The front page of the U.S. dailies shouted the news that Osama Bin Laden had shuffled off the mortal coil. I shan’t forget where I was when I witnessed this update on terrorism. It seemed incongruous to be confronted with such news while immersed in nature’s splendor.

The drive from Yosemite to the San Francisco Bay area is only about three hours (which explains the weekend crowds).

On arrival in Napa, we chanced upon an advertisement for a limousine-escorted wine tour. We booked for the next day — once again forgoing any kind of advance planning — and spent a pleasant afternoon in the company of four other couples, tasting sumptuous samples at wineries throughout the Napa Valley. We could have opted for a private tour but apparently my wife was looking for other human stimulation after spending two months in the daily company of her husband.

Sated by the grape we departed wine country and followed a circuitous route up Hwy 101 as it wound north along the fog-strewn Pacific coast through forests of massive redwoods. For two nights, we camped beneath a canopy of ancient titans that were well-rooted when the Egyptians were still building pyramids.

Summer had followed us north. It was time to get home and enjoy the long days of boreal sunlight. But we’ll be back to California before long. It is beautiful … and they need our money.

Gerry Feehan is a retired lawyer, avid traveller and photographer. He lives in Red Deer. For more of Gerry’s travel adventures, please visit www.gnfeehan.blogspot.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read