California, here we come

by David on June 17, 2012

Watchtower, Sierras

Fire lookout, the Sierras, California, 2004

It’s 8 years since I was last in California, although I’ve returned to the US frequently since. This year, in about five weeks time, we’re flying to San Francisco then taking a car up to the Redwoods, back down to Yosemite, across to the Canyons and back to the coast. It’s a long drive but we’ve managed similar distances on holiday and this time we’ve booked all the hotels up front so we won’t have to make a town by mid afternoon to be sure of getting a place to stay.

I think people in the UK have a view of the US as being largely urban, probably because of Hollywood. Even when a US movie isn’t set in a city it’s usually – with the exception of Westerns – a Texas Chainsaw or The Hills Have Eyes or Deliverance-style warning of the atavistic terrors of the wilderness. I’ve been in North Georgia and South Carolina and I’ve drifted on the Chattooga River, the locations of Deliverance and they’re all very pleasant. Whatever those movies are about, the more they keep city tourists away from the beautiful countryside the better.

Countryside is probably the wrong word to use for the vast stretches of wildness, desert, mountains, high plains and forests of the US that I’ve been lucky enough to explore. Countryside implies a comfortable Cotswolds-style stretch of greenery and lanes, stone houses and the odd thatched roof, and ‘National Park’ in the UK suggests a few miles  of rugged mountains or coastline with plenty of rural tea shops for refreshment. By contrast, National Park in the US would be a wilderness with visitors congregated around a helpful ranger station and perhaps dispersing a mile or so from it, leaving the rest of the enormous park to the few who bother to walk a little further, and to the wolves, bears and mountain lions.

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