The decision being made about heading east rather than south, I booked two nights in a campground in Yosemite and drove the six hours (not four, as I had hoped) it took to get there with some sense of sadness, but also a little relief. I was no longer headed out, but back, and back has a lower excitement quotient. Perhaps I could steal Bellingham’s unofficial motto and call this part of the trip the “Journey of Subdued Excitement.” It wasn’t like I was simply going to travel roads recently driven, I have lots of new things to see as I head south and east. I guess east just doesn’t have the same cache´ as west. Nobody says “Go east, old man.”
My relief may be the flip side of that same thing. Excitement is tiring at times, and I’m ready to admit I’m tired. I stopped compulsively calculating miles, even days on the road some time ago, but I did realize today that I left Acton just a month ago. I figure I’m halfway through the trip, minus the layover in Bellingham; that puts me on track to get back to MA some time in the first week of November. The car seat feels just a little too much like home at this point.
The area around Santa Rosa is pretty built up. It could be Wellesley or West Hartford, CT, except it has a West Coast air to it. It is, in fact, the only place so far where I have taken a wrong turn and gotten turned around. I headed out of town on Rt 12 only to find that I had come back into the town from another direction… missed the road sign telling me to take a right and went with the traffic- left.
Rt 12 is definitely not the fast way to get anywhere. There are lots of lights and the signs designating this as a “scenic drive” appear in front of fast food restaurants- for a while at least. Then it all thins out a bit and you are in wine country. There are many, many small, family vineyards here in Sonoma County, and there is a tasting room every 20 feet. I wouldn’t want to negotiate driving these roads after the city folks had been in a few tasting rooms. A cop’s delight or a cop’s nightmare- depending, of course on whether you catch the drunks before they get into an accident or not.
As you get further south and east and into Napa, the vineyards begin to get much larger. There was one in particular that seemed to go on forever. At the end of the fields was a large chateau with a sign saying that the vineyard was a joint venture of two major French labels most known for champagne. I guess California grapes have been noticed in Paris.
As you get into Solano County, above Fairfeld, the land flattens out and you’re in The Delta- the Sacramento River Valley Delta, that is. I always thought that a delta was the land at the end of a river. This is far from the sea, so I’m unsure what the name means, but it’s everywhere on the signage in this part of the state. I’m heading east, still on 12, going toward Lodi, and the Creedance Clearwater Revival song about getting stuck there just keeps playing over and over in my mind. In the end, I turn off before I can get stuck (except with that brainworm) an do some pretty boring freeway stuff to get past Stockton and on to Yosemite Avenue- this is it!
Well, not quite. Yosemite Avenue is actually just the start of a long drive through nut orchards and wheat fields on the way to the foothills. Then there are those foothills, then the serious climbing. All the way, it’s staying pretty dry and brown, the hills growing back into that combination of gold and green that I saw further west. But as I get into the real climbing, near Moccasin, headed for Big Oak Flat, the ground begins to change. Now the golden grass of the fields seems to have big black teeth sticking up through it, and the small buttes before me appear to be topped with a layer of crumbly, brown stone, like the crust of a fruit crumble. This ain’t the delta anymore.
Big Oak Flat itself is the top of the world and the end of civilization as we know it. It has an outpost feel to it, and the IOOF lodge that dominates the approach to town looks good for some pictures. I vow to head back here the next day not knowing that I still have almost an hour’s drive to my campsite, which is much higher up and further from civilization than I had imagined it. There is Groveland to go through, too much a “last chance to get a hot meal/hotel room/souvenir before the park” sort of place for my liking, and then 24 miles of the Stanislaus National Forest before the gate. A quick meal and tent set-up and then the realization that firewood is not to be had without a five-mile retrace of my steps. Who knew? Firewood policy, and campfire policy in general has been quite different from park to park this fall. In some, firewood must be purchased locally, in others, no fires are permitted at all. Here, its “light ‘em if you have ‘em” time, but I don’t got ‘em. So I get into my tent against the cold and damp of the high mountain air and write a bit of this stuff before crawling into the sleeping bag for a chilly night of it.