(I wish I was writing about zombies, but just my travels for now.)
I will begin by stating that my mother knows how to plan one hell of a vacation. She asked for my input months before the trip, which was little to no help, and we ended up with the ideal itinerary. My mom made sure that we were able to see as much of California as possible in the two weeks she had off work, while appreciating every step. Some days felt longer than others, but all in all a spectacular addition to my days on the road.
Our first stop was Death Valley National Park, the hottest place in North America. Luckily, we had an overcast to spare us from the heat. We explored the desert during the day and spent our evenings camped out at the base of Mount Whitney, about sixty miles outside the park. The campsite was chilly each night; however, the place I originally booked was on the snow covered mountain beside us. Don, the camp master, saved us by offering us a site without any hesitation or charge.
Death Valley redefined desert for me. A walk out upon the salt beds that lie two hundred and forty two feet below sea level is one thing, but looking up to the sign on the mountain above that labels sea level is even more astonishing and brought the experience full circle. Dry, desolate, dead air filled the empty canyon space that made me imagine it as the bottom of an ocean millions of years ago, full of abundant marine life. I always try to spend a moment to appreciate the visual component, so I hold a grander memory for another day.
Another highlight of the park was exploring an abandoned camp from past miners. Bullet holes sullied everything in sight, but I was still amazed. Appliances and furniture were still intact and heavily dated. The setting as a whole allowed me to catch a brief glimpse of how extreme it would be to live in the absolute middle of nowhere a hundred years ago. I think I would dwell on the fact that my life is burning away each day in this hell on earth, already convinced I am dead. I would be separated from the lush, tree filled mountains, aqua blue lakes and oceans, and silenced by the lack people. It would be peaceful, but overall suck.
The scenery drastically changed as we drove to the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Our goal was to make it to Sequoia National Park within two days, leaving time to drive and explore our campsite at Cedar Creek. We secured a site early on and were able to hike different trails that branched off of our location. One trail led to a cave and a small set of waterfalls, while the others went into the thick of the forest. Our site also served as a perfect launching point to Sequoia the following day.
The mass crowds of Memorial Day weekend limited transportation throughout the park to a shuttle bus. Even though it was packed, I was okay with not driving in traffic and reducing pollution. I made sure to take my time after watching a man fall on his hip, which happened to be the one he had replaced last year. I left for help and waited with him until the paramedics arrived. I could not do anything but be there. I watched helplessly as I pondered how quick and easy it is to become a victim. To see this man on the ground in agony and completely vulnerable really stuck with me. A simple walk down any path or sidewalk can become the repetitive introduction to a two month recovery story.
Once my mom and I weaved through the somewhat organized chaos of frazzled tourists and buses, we were pretty secluded. Hiking any trail longer than a mile or so was where we could take our time and enjoy our natural surroundings. One climb I had to conquer was the narrow and nerve wrenching stairs of Morro Rock. The open staircase that was carved into the rock had a sturdy railing to brace the crowded path as one may gaze across the mountains, climbing to breathtaking views of the entire valley from the top. This trek emphasized my slow theme and instilled a bit of fear upon us all as we (my fellow Morro Rock supporters and I) descended, staring at the drop far below. The final attraction before leaving the park was to visit General Sherman.
General Sherman is a highly recognized sequoia tree that is estimated to be between twenty three and twenty seven hundred years old. The two hundred and seventy five foot (almost eight four meters) giant draws tourists and spectators to marvel at its growth. The huge historical marker occupied my thoughts for a moment as I pondered the days they were seedlings. I would think much more overgrowth and nature ruled the area with ample life crawling out of every crevice and corner. My thoughts of the healthy and thriving General among the Giant Forest drifted toward how only a few days prior I was standing on the decrepit desert floor of Death Valley. Within five hours of driving, I was exposed to the opposite ends of nature. I went from the complete nothingness of nature to the complete embodiment of nature. I know life exists in the desert, but these two environments offered me a beautiful parallel between life and death.
–To be continued.