I do know this: I’m in Carson City, Nevada. That’s right. Holed up in the Forest Room of the Bliss Bungalow: “a charming inn for the discerning traveler.”
Well, the first part is right.
Carson City, the Historic District anyway, is totally cool–who knew? Bungalows of wood, stone and brick, shade trees, coffee shops, art galleries. (Plus of course the Nugget).
I’m en route to St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, where I’m to spend a month as an artist-in-residence. (An, not the: apparently there’s to be another writer or artist, so that will be nice). For reasons I won’t go into except that they have to do with the fact that I decided not to drive 500 or 600 miles a day, which I have done before on other road trips, I thought I would space this one out a bit.
Also, I planned the whole trip basically in the middle of the night on my phone while lying in bed. Which I realize now doesn’t really show a full picture of the whole map thing.
I’ve gone up the 395 through Lone Pine to Independence, one of my all-time favorite California towns (Eastern Sierras) many times. And there is nary a hotel room or airbnb anywhere within about a fifty-mile radius of Yosemite this time of year. So I thought I would take a kind of westerly route and end up in the town of Tuolumne (not to be confused with Tuolumne Meadows, which is on the east side of Yosemite), spend the night there, and the next day have a leisurely drive across the park on the Tioga Pass (I’m ashamed to say I have never visited Yosemite and did not intend to “visit” it in any meaningful way this trip-but figured I could at least get a taste for next time) and end up on the 395 and from there up to Carson City.
All went more or less well except that getting to Tuolomne requires a good 100 miles–the last 100 miles–on “secondary roads”, with gigantic 4 by 4s bearing down on my tail any time I was going less than 70, and as I approached on Sunday afternoon (thank God I was going the right way), after an almost six-hour drive, there was a huge long line of cars snaking down from the park and all kinds of people and activity and camping supply and kayaking stores and so forth. And I realized that to descend into Yosemite Valley itself this time of year would probably be not that much fun for a scenic drive.
I stayed in a lovely airbnb except it turned out “they” (the people of the town) were putting on some kind of huge outdoor 70s rock concert that entailed deafening rehearsal for an hour in the afternoon and then loud music with thumping bass from 6 to 9. So that was awful.
In the meantime, I took a long walk around the town. I saw a few cool artist-type warehouse-type spaces with weathered corrugated tin rooves and two or three huge clusters of swallows’ nests under the eaves of the VA Building. An old lumber store with broken windows, a rusted tin roof, and overgrown weeds was probably my favorite place, besides the similarly burnt-out old-timey cinema. Some lovely person has planted a maintained a beautiful flower garden and had a sign out on the white picket fence saying “Garden Tours” in charming script but I didn’t see anyone around and didn’t want to barge in.
There was a general air of not a lot of jobs, and several streets dead-ended at fences with signs saying You Are Entering Native Land, or more like Don’t Come in Here, it’s Native Land. I skimmed a book about the history of Tuolumne that night and the first picture was of a Native Me-Wuk woman weaving a beautiful basket. The book (and this was by some town historical society, not someone with a “political” agenda) mentioned that when the miners and lumber people came in the mid-1850s, they stripped, cut down, ravaged, pillaged, fouled the water, and in general completely upset the ecosystem under which and with which the indigenous tribes had lived for centuries. It must have seemed like the end of the world to them, the Me-Wuks.
Meanwhile I was learning of two separate domestic-terrorism massacres, at least one of which was committed by some dreadfully mentally derailed soul who is worried that “the Hispanics” are going to take over–what was never “ours” to begin with. And is especially not ours to the extent that we don’t respect, revere, and conserve it, and its people.
The other thing I realized is that the folks in these mountain towns have got to be kind of stuck there in winter. The passes are closed in Yosemite from November or so till early June! And probably even getting down and around on your own side of the park is kind of dicey. As in you need one of those giant trucks. And chains.
Much as I love or profess to love silence, that would drive me crazy. So back at my room, I googled What is it like to live in Tuolumne, and all kinds of interesting chat boards came up.
“Nature Guy” wrote: “My wife and I “crash landed” in Sonora, Calif. (Tuolumne County) about six years ago. Yikes! We could clearly see that this was a very nice area to live….about THIRTY or FORTY years ago! And we were told as much by folks who’d grown up and lived in this general area. Nearly all the roads date from the Civil War period, or before. Roughly speaking around the late 1850’s and early 1860’s. Unfortunately for everyone, in the many long years since that time, the area has far exceeded it’s basic capacity for REALISTIC GROWTH.
And [sic] educated guess would be that absolutely nothing will be done to deal with this local dilemma UNTIL some local lawyers’ family member (or City Council person) dies from being unable to receive emergency aid, due to congested roadways! Big money coupled with foolish, unrealistic growth can garner a VERY dark side, which everyone in this area pays for each and every day to some degree.
Looking at the faces of drivers in the opposite lane, bumper to bumper some 40 or 50 vehicles long, is an “education” worth avoiding. GRIM, I think, would be an appropriate description. As with many things, however, no one is shackled to this area (unless they want to be), and we’re no exception. Our long-anticipated EXIT from this over-priced, over-rated area should take place in the next six to eight months, God willing. California still has numerous areas worth one’s efforts to explore and live in….sadly, the general Sonora areas has surpassed it’s “golden period” MANY long years ago.”
This is just the kind of thing I’d be likely to write and I got a huge kick out of it. Naturally, a bunch of people told Nature Guy he was a jerk and that Tuolumne County is the best place going.
Anyway, I slept like a log and yesterday morning drove the 68-mile Sonora Pass west to east, which is north of Yosemite Valley (and not in the park, which requires a 30-buck day-pass entry fee) but also “scenic.” There was hardly any traffic and the heart of it has I think 25-degree grades in some places, first up, then down, so you definitely want to have enough water in your radiator and be playing heads-up ball. At the very top you could see snow all over the tops of the mountains! And these crazy alpine meadows full of wildflowers (whereas down below it’s about 90 degrees).
I only got out of my car once, and went and sat on a log in the sun next to a rushing river and ate my yogurt and blueberries. My brother Joe had cautioned me from Marietta, Georgia, not to even think of going off on a trail by myself as MANY MANY PEOPLE SIMPLY DISAPPEAR IN YOSEMITE AND ARE NEVER HEARD FROM AGAIN. I think he perhaps got this bit of info from Fox News, but I was so touched that a sibling was actually concerned for my welfare that I did a little research and came upon this very interesting site on NATIONAL PARK SERVICE COLD CASES.
Dang, it’s dangerous out there!
My little Fiat 500 did great, knock on wood.
Next stop: Winnemucca.