Kim Weir

Host, Up the Road

Kim Weir, a former NSPR news reporter, is editor and founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project dedicated to sustaining the Northern California story. She is also an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers. North State Public Radio’s Up the Road program is jointly produced by Up the Road.

Kyle Sullivan, US Bureau of Land Management

 


This week I’d planned to head out on the first leg of our Great California Road Trip. But listener feedback convinced me that we need to talk more, first, about responsible travel.

One challenge, in putting together my four-minute show about California every week, is that I just can’t fit it all in. No matter what I do. And especially when I’m wading into complicated stories or complex issues—such as, how to travel in the time of coronavirus. On complicated subjects I tend to start a thought in one place, one week, and finish it in another. So, I count on listeners to remember what I was talking about, before—admittedly a big ask, especially when most folks can’t catch every show.

Darron Birgenheier / Flickr Creative Commons


It’s clear that 2020 is the year of the Great American Road Trip. Roaming around in our own personal “safety bubbles,” be they family cars, funky campers, or travel trailers, fits our COVID-19-era need to control personal exposure to the virus while also seeing new or favorite places, and doing fun things. Having a life, however we define that, and embracing something close to “normal.” Of course, we all want that—and other options for making travel safe, including bike touring, say, or hiking from here to there, campground to campground.

Thomas Kriese / Flickr


It’s going to take strategy to come up with a travel or vacation plan that delivers as much freedom and enjoyment as possible—maybe even good old-fashioned fun—while also fully embracing this strange new world we’re living in. The one in which the subtext of every trip is the need to sidestep strangers, avoid even friends, and keep dodging the coronavirus. Can that even be fun?

Jason Hullinger / Flickr


I thought I knew something about responsible travel. I’ve thought a lot about it over the years, and have tried to put those thoughts into practice. You know the gist. Avoid travel’s dark side as much as possible, the big-carbon impacts of air travel and cruise-ship tourism. The destruction of rare places, and their plants and animals. The thoughtless use or overuse of natural resources.

Photo courtesy the Quincy Feather Bed Inn

Imagine wave after wave of complete strangers pulling up next to your town’s pristine river to unload their camping gear and then settle right in. Even when no camping is allowed. Even when no facilities — not even pit toilets — are available.

When favorite wild places get trampled, becoming de facto garbage dumps and latrines, entire communities sour on even the idea of welcoming visitors.

Which is exactly what happened in parts of Plumas County in late May. Campgrounds weren’t even open, but that didn’t stop people from coming anyway. People from distant cities simply done with being locked down at home due to the coronavirus. People determined to be somewhere else, almost anywhere else, so long as it was outdoors. No matter what anyone else said. 

California Department of Fish & Wildlife / Flickr Creative Commons

At Red Rock Canyon, we’ve arrived at the edge of the Mojave Desert. Before we push on, let’s take a side trip. Let’s go romp with the reptiles at the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area—some 40 square miles that protect these venerable but threatened ancients.

The Desert Tortoise Natural Area is not a place to free your backyard tortoise, now that you’ve gotten an apartment and can’t keep her. Do the right thing and call the local animal shelter instead. Your beloved pet will not survive here, a very harsh environment. And pet tortoises often bring dire diseases that threaten the already threatened wild animals who live here.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ruggybear/47536072802/in/photolist-2fqANj7-2epLGPW-2g28YgR-2imkbRu-2imUTtK-24TBDBT-2g4KZMw-2imzCL7-25mVKJz-2epxWXm-2eMMx3N-2eAgv1Z-2epWVtJ-2evBG8Z-2fraBC1-RHUVHM-2eMsKgU-2g3o5Yo-2g3zai4-2eAgten-2fUByvA-2g3o5PL-25nVMwB-2fp7Vfd
Matthew Dillon / Flickr Creative Commons

When nights get nippy, some of us dream of the desert. Writer Mary Austin explained it best, more than a century ago:

“For all the toll the desert takes of a man,” she wrote, “it gives compensations—deep breaths, deep sleep, and the communion of the stars … They look large and near and palpitant . . . Wheeling to their stations in the sky, they make the poor world-fret of no account. Of no account you who lie out there watching, nor the lean coyote that stands off in the scrub from you and howls and howls.”

Courtesy of California State Parks, 2020

We’ve been wandering the western Sierra Nevada, visiting unique California state parks and revisiting the legacy of the California Gold Rush, cultural and ecological.

But how do you revisit the world obliterated by the gold rush? That’s the dilemma when it comes to Native American culture and community. The gold rush rushed in so violently that entire communities disappeared overnight—those that had somehow survived earlier encounters, and introduced diseases. The first Californians had no immunity.

J. Cook Fisher / Flickr

We tend to romanticize California’s gold rush, picturing, in our mind’s eye, grizzled old guys in wide-brimmed hats wading into scenic mountain streams, alone, to pan for gold.

Most miners were quite young, though, and well-educated, if a bit wild—rarely alone—seeking adventure as much as wealth, at least in the early days of the gold rush.

And California’s pretty scenery was destroyed by mining. It didn’t stand a chance once the world rushed in, hell-bent for wealth.

Tom Hilton

Winter is upon us. Fortunately, even in winter, when we desperately need a cure for cabin fever, most California parks are wide open and welcoming. Including our 200-some state parks, most of them still open at least for day use.

One notable, still almost a secret even in Northern California, is Plumas-Eureka State Park—a perfect summer getaway for family camping and hiking, but also a wonder in winter. Among other unique details, Plumas-Eureka near Blairsden is home to the annual Historic Longboard Revival Race Series, now in full swing.

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