Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cross Country Freedom

U.S. Interstate Highways, October 1st, 1937
National System of Interstate and Defense.

“I am taking it for granted that you want to go camping, that you know the joys of the out-of-doors, of fishing, hiking, motoring, meeting new people, seeing the deserts, mountains, lakes, forests, and the thrill of looking to see what is around the next bend of the road”--From Leisure League Little Book Number 22: Motor Camping by Porter Varney, 1935

In order to make the most of our time America before sailing across the Atlantic in one moth’s time, we have decided to drive cross-country in our own car.  This way, we have the flexibility to decide when and where to go and which attractions to see, and the opportunity to save money by sleeping under the stars along the way.  It is legal to camp on any National Forest land in America, and designated camping spots are cropping up in abundance.  Since I have never done a trip with this much planning and independence, we turned to the Motor Camping guidebook for advice. 

  Since we were already in the Southern United States, we decided to keep the most southerly route, through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, then north through Missouri and Illinois and on east to New York.  The most convenient highway route is Route 66, also known as Main Street America, filled with the iconic American symbols of growth, exploration, and travel.  We like to think of ourselves as reverse Lewis and Clarks, exploring territory previously unchartered to us, to say the least.

            We packed the car using the advice of the guidebook, bringing only what we need for the two-week drive.  They suggested, and I highly agree, that having a comfortable place to sleep is the most important part of a camping excursion:
“Even though you have a sunny disposition it is apt to be a little clouded after spending the night with a stone or root performing chiropractic treatment on your spine, or your duffel soaked by a heavy rain.” (Page 27)
Motor Camping with a tent, as suggested by the Leisure League.
 This ominous message scared us into equipping the backseat of the car into an easy sleeping area:  With just a few minor tweaks, the backseat now folds completely down into the trunk to form a comfortable two-person sleeping bench.  Two sleeping bags and two extra blankets provide adequate warmth for any variety of weather, though our weather will be mostly hot, the desert is known to get chilled at night.  This plan removes the need to carry a canvas tent, which is bulky, heavy, not easily dried in case of a rainstorm, and which we will not need upon reaching New York. The rest of our clothing, food, and gear fits easily under the seats, as we set off on this journey with the bare necessities in order to make traveling from point A to Point B as simple as possible. 

We found tackling the Great Southwest in this manner to be very convenient.  We brought food along as we wished, or stopped in towns during mealtimes.  We visited the Grand Canyon at sunset, in awe at the striking red, purple, and orange of the sky sinking into the red dirt of the canyon.  Arizona and New Mexico are rich with the culture of Native Americans, which we saw throughout our drive.  The people are simple and friendly, and eager to share their culture.  We watched Indian women make Chimayo blankets, visited an old Mexican village and trading post, and saw the Indian pueblos, all while speeding along across the country.  We were primarily interested in reaching the east coast, so drove an average of eight hours a day through the dry and dusty landscape, awaking early before sunrise and often pulling up to a campsite after dark, as we took many breaks to visit the land.

As we pulled north out of Texas, the scene began to look more familiar, and we stopped to fish in the Midwest river valleys and made great time over the expansive plains.  Farmhands often offered us a fresh lunch on the farms we passed, and we eventually arrived in New York in excellent spirits, eager for a few days rest before the international adventure began. Driving the car allowed us to create our own adventure and visit the things we found most interesting, but the best part was the freedom to pull over on the side of the road to sleep under the stars wherever we wished.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Exploring the Yosemite Valley

Stop #2 on my tour.

Texts: The Yosemite Guide-book by J.D. Whitney, State Geologist to California, 1870.

From The Yosemite Guidebook:
"The Yosemite Valley is a unique and wonderful locality; it is an exceptional creation, and as such has been exceptionally provided for jointly by the Nation and the state--it has been made a national public park...that of holding the Yosemite Valley as a place of public use, resort, and recreation, inalienable for all time!"

"What gives its peculiar character to the Coast Range scenery is, the delicate and beautiful carving of their masses by the aqueous erosion of the soft material of which they are composed...the general absence of forest and shrubby vegetation.  The bareness of the slopes gives full play to the effects of light and shade caused by the varying and intricate contour of the surface."

Horeseback riding to Bridalveil Falls

"Bridalveil falls is formed by a creek of the same name, is precipitated over the cliff into the Yosemite [river] in one leap of 630 feet perpendicular. The effect is finest when the supply of water is not too heavy, since then the swaying from side to side, and the waving under the varying pressure of the wind as it strikes the long column of water, is more marked." --The Yosemite Guidebook

We left the visitor's center on horseback at an early hour, and watched the sunrise as we rode in a group of ten down the wagon trail to the base of Bridalveil falls. The trail is called Mariposa, Spanish for butterfly, and hosts a variety of wildlife of various kinds.  We saw small rodents, insects, calm deer in the morning light who ran off at the sound of our horse's hooves.  I imagine we may have seen more had we been travelling by foot--the guide mentioned black bear, coyotes and mountain lions, but I for one am glad we had the protection of the horses and didn't glimpse these creatures out in the wild alone.  I'm thrilled they are alive and well in the park though.

More stunning than the animal life, though, is the natural landscape for which the park is famous.  The trail descends steeply into the heart of the yosemite valley and the horses stepped sure-footedly, even if we were  a little unsteady on their backs.  I had to trust the horse and guide to watch the trail because my attention was immediately drawn up, up, up to those majestic cliff faces.  The enormity of it all, shooting straight up from the ground on both sides of us, was enough to shrink me down to an ant on the trail.  We saw El Capitan, directly facing Bridalveil Falls, the famous Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and other hugely impressive rock formations.  each one us huge and spectacular in its own way. We hope to return again to climb to the top of El Capitan, providing us with an entirely new perspective.
Woodcut drawing of El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls,
as seen from afar as we approached on horseback.
Yosemite Guidebook.
Bridalveil Falls was spectacular in the cool morning.  We let the horses stop and drink from Bridalveil Creek as we walked up to the very base of the falls, enjoying the spraying mist and swaying curtain of water above our heads.  It looks surreal, something built by special effects and human hands rather than a natural phenomenon.  It is sights such as these that make me appreciate the preservation of national parks such as Yosemite.

We spent the rest of the day admiring the sharp granite Spires, Cathedral Rock, and countless other formations as we sauntered back around the loop of the trail to the visitor's center.  The day was hot already and we were tired despite enjoying the convenience of horseback all day!  We read from the guidebook about the volcanic history of the granite formations and the unique desert-y landscape of the Valley.  Our beautiful visit was marked by plenty of sun and exercise and awe at the natural beauty of this national gem. We are now at the leisure of driving across the country in our family car, stopping at any which landmark along the way and camping as we go.  This is our next adventure on our world tour!