No wonder California plays such a huge part in the collective psyche of the United States and beyond. It’s a place that seems to have it all: cosmopolitan cities filled with diverse populations, stunning national parks, perfect golden beaches, rugged wild coastlines, giant redwood forests, mountain ranges, vast tracts of silent desert, some of the finest vineyards and some of the most productive agricultural land on the planet.
If that wasn’t enough, it has the best Mexican food outside of Mexico, and there are only a handful of States in the country that have lower gun-related death rates. It also has terrible traffic, is prone to devastating droughts, earthquakes, and chronic inequality; plus the roads don’t seem to have been repaired for a couple of decades, and someone has removed most of the useful road signs.
To many, the California narrative is forever as a mythical ‘land of opportunity’. A quintessential part of the American Dream, where gold rushes, vast open spaces and available land attracted millions from around the world to settle and seek a better life. Obviously, a ‘better life’ was possible only by disinheriting and killing tens of thousands of the indigenous peoples who called California home before Europeans arrived. California is filled with the legacy of this history.
For anyone brought up on tales of the Wild West, the names you pass as you drive around California recall just about every film or TV series about the ‘taming’ of the West. Whether it’s Big Pine, Last Chance Mountain, Bodie, Eureka, Dry Mountain or False Hot Springs, you could only be in one place. There are plenty of more familiar names though: Aberdeen, Swansea, Zurich and Dublin, to name but a few.
We visited California some time ago now, and I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while. On a short trip it’s hard to choose which of California’s many attractions to visit. Flying to San Francisco, we had a couple of days to explore one of the world’s great cities, and then we hired a car and headed east through Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park, to Death Valley and a quick side trip to Las Vegas.
We rolled the dice but kept our shirts to make it through the epic Mojave Desert on a mad dash for the coast at Morro Bay. It was a long day of endless miles of blasted desert, over a mountain range to the Pacific Coast. From Morro we turned north and followed the sublime coast road through Big Sur National Park to Carmel and Monterey, before hiding away amongst the vineyards of Carmel Valley for a couple of days’ wine tasting.
Returning to San Francisco after a couple of weeks touring around in the Californian countryside was like arriving on another planet. It may be a place with some of the most famous cities on earth, but it was only travelling through this vast State that the remoteness and diversity of its landscapes really dawned on me. Road trips are something of an American invention, and this was a road trip to remember …