Roadtrip

Henrique Pinto / Flickr Creative Commons

Consider last week’s thumbnail sketch of Death Valley a preview of California’s deserts. As it happens, fall, winter, and spring are ideal times to explore them.

Which is the first point: California has multiple deserts. The 25 million acres typically considered desert extend east from Los Angeles and its edge cities into Nevada and Arizona, south into Mexico, and north to the eastern Sierra Nevada.

BFS Man / Flickr

We visit Death Valley this week, the lowest point in North America. Death Valley’s depths are all the more impressive when you consider that the highest point in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney, is just 100 miles away, in the southern Sierra Nevada near Lone Pine.

To stargazers, Death Valley is the closest thing to heaven in light-blinded Southern California. To rockhounds, it’s a timeless monument to very grounded geologic grandeur. To botanists and bird-watchers, it’s a study in successful adaptation. Its vast spaces sprinkled with petroglyphs, ghost towns, mine ruins, and other enduring marks of human aspiration, to hikers and history buffs it’s one endless discovery trail. 

Don Graham / Flickr Creative Commons


The Eastern Sierra Tour rolls on this week to Manzanar, a World War II internment camp. "Relocation center” was the preferred official term.

Manzanar faces Hwy. 395 six miles south of Independence, California—an irony only in historical hindsight. Because the Japanese-Americans citizens rounded up and relocated here had no independence.

Don Graham / Flickr Creative Commons

The Great California Road Trip continues this week, rolling over to the Sierra Nevada’s east side. Wherever you’re ultimately heading, on the eastern side of the Sierras the main road is US Route 395, which slices through Nevada on its way south to San Diego, or, north to Oregon and Washington.

Woven together last century from scenic ribbons of state and local roadways, today’s US 395 was once known as The Three Flags Highway, because it ran from near Mexico up through the West Coast states and on into British Columbia. What a trip it is, still. If you’d be smitten by the mile-by-mile history, various road geeks have researched the route and posted detailed maps, timelines, and histories, so start your trip there.

Pacific Southwest Forest Service, USDA, courtesy Redding Hotshots / Flickr Creative Commons

This week we wrap up our Volcanic California Tour, visiting several more special places you could add to the list, whether your road trip is for-real and right now, or imaginary, at this point.

Let’s start with Medicine Lake Highlands, 14 miles south of Lava Beds National Monument by gravel road. The Modoc National Forest terrain here truly qualifies for the “lunar landscape” label often used to describe volcanic lands. In 1965, astronauts from the Manned Spacecraft Center in Texas came here, to the pumice fields, to prepare for the first moon landing.

Don Graham / Flickr Creative Commons

This week Up the Road heads up the trail—for solitude and some inspiration on short trips along the Pacific Crest Trail, in the shadow of the Cascades. Round out your Volcanic California Tour on some of the PCT’s finest, least visited sections.

Officially known as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, the PCT’s total route runs 2,653 miles from Mexico through California, Oregon, and Washington. An epic journey, by any standard. In normal years many people undertake the adventure two or three weeks at a time, as “thru-hikers” on multi-year backpacks.

Becky Matsubara / Flickr Creative Commons


There are places—still—in California that are so remote, most people never get there, a fact I deeply appreciate. One of these places is the vast Modoc Plateau in northeastern California. Prominent here is Lava Beds National Monument, first famous as the site of Captain Jack’s last stand during the Modoc Indian War—a war that riveted the entire nation during the winter of 1872-1873.


 About Obi Kaufmann’s latest: From the author of The California Field Atlas, comes a major work that not only guides readers through the Golden State's forested lands but also presents a profoundly original vision of nature in the twenty-first century. 

 

The Forests of California features an abundance of Obi Kaufmann's signature watercolor maps and trail paintings, weaving them into an expansive and accessible exploration of the biodiversity that defines California in the global imagination. 

Mehmet Canli


“Lonely as God and white as a winter moon.” That’s how 19th-century poet and Pony Express rider Joaquin Miller described Mount Shasta, California’s most majestic and mysterious mountain.

The state’s fifth-highest peak but more impressive than any other, Shasta is clearly visible from as far away as 150 miles. Camp or picnic—or just sit and stare—somewhere you can commune with the mountain. (It’s not safe to drive while looking.) Up close, though, Shasta is more obscure, harder to grasp.

United States Department of the Interior National Park Service

We set out this week on the first leg of the Volcanic California Tour. This trip doesn’t cover all volcanic activity in California, but it does take in two immense and impressive peaks, Lassen and Shasta. These are the southernmost volcanoes in the Cascade Range, both “active.” The tour also includes the intriguing Modoc Plateau and the option of day-trip and overnight solitude on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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