Peace in the (Yosemite) Valley

Rolling amber hills stretched out before us as we coasted through the desolate Southern California interior between Santa Barbara and Yosemite National Park. Daydreaming most of the drive, I awoke once to look out over the expanse and find a lonely farmhouse perched atop a mound about a mile off the highway. I wondered who lived there, what that life was like (so isolated from other people), and why it was vacant. Sadly we had no time to stop and explore and continued our drive through rural California where we eventually came upon mountainous areas.

The day wore on and eventually faded to evening. I clung desperately to my seat while Peyton sped around precarious corners along the mountainside approaching Yosemite. (Later I proved to be no better of a driver, swerving down winding roads in the coastal redwood forest so fast that both Daniel and Peyton nearly became sick.)

When we arrived at Hodgdon Meadows, dusk permeated the campground, and the dark clouds were only just beginning to release a steady drizzle. But it was pouring by the time we set up tents and moved our food into the bear locker. Luckily I was able to string a tarp over the picnic table while Daniel and Peyton started a fire underneath it. We sat under the tarp and ate our standard camp dinners of rice, beans, and canned meat while the flames fought back the cold, rainy night.

From the moment we began planning Yosemite, I knew I would have to visit again when I could devote more time to the park—maybe two weeks or more. Because of this, we planned Yosemite fairly loosely and deliberately avoided packing too much into our two days.

Hodgdon Meadow is located about 45 minutes out of the main valley, so we set out fairly early to find a ranger station. We got a couple of free maps and received advice on where to find boulders for a little climbing. Most of the problems in Yosemite are far too advanced for beginning and amateur climbers, but we decided just seeing the areas where so many climbers had cut their chops would be interesting. For those who haven’t climbed, a problem is a short climbing route on a boulder that typically ends 12 feet or so off the ground.

The road into the Valley wound around steep rock faces, between towering redwoods, and through dark, narrow tunnels. When El Cap, Cathedral, Sentinel Dome, and Half Dome came into view, the feeling was similar to being star-struck. We gazed in awe at the massive monoliths surrounding us as we drove to Camp Four, a famous hangout and bouldering location for some of the world’s greatest climbers. For a couple of hours we explored the small area and clambered up whatever boulder problems we could. Peyton eventually gave up on the rocks and climbed a tree instead. After scarfing down packed lunches, we set out for a new location. During a long search marked by discussions of which tree was the biggest we had ever seen, we came upon some climbable problems in the Half Dome Village area and spent another hour scrambling around the rocks.

Finding problems on our level was difficult, but our real challenge of the day was finding showers. At that point our last ones were at the Grand Canyon, about five days previous. Obviously there were no showers in the Mojave Desert, and unfortunately neither our Santa Barbara campground nor our Yosemite campground offered showers either. So we decided to try our luck in Half Dome Village. However, we arrived at the shower house to discover the door only opened with a code. Luckily a man saw me trying numbers at random, assumed I had just forgotten the code, and told me the correct numbers. Thus five days become zero and we no longer repelled any living thing within a ten foot radius.

For a solid end to the day, we drove to Glacier Point to experience the iconic view of Half Dome and watch the sunset. Sadly thick clouds shrouded Half Dome for all but a moment of our time there, and a dense haze lay over the rest of the valley. But still, the overwhelming beauty of such a place cannot be dimmed by these mischances.

We began our second full day by driving nearly all the way back to where we had been the night before—blaring 90s country hits the whole time. The hike to Taft Point was short and traversed mud and snow, but it was rewarding. Lying on the sunbathed rocks overlooking the valley transpired to be a brilliant way to pass the morning into afternoon. While at the point, we noticed a small group of people lugging around ropes and other gear. We soon found out they were there to highline across a ravine featuring a near seventy foot drop. If you haven’t seen highlining before, it is basically the practice and art of a walking a slackline (like a tightrope but loose) very high off the ground.

When they started I curiously wandered over to join the crowd of onlookers. The first guy, the veteran of the group, walked across and back seemingly easily. However, the second guy was still learning, and I nervously watched him fall off the line several times. A girl who tried later had no better luck. They were all harnessed in when walking, but a feeling of panic pervaded anyway while someone was on the line. That panic exploded and encapsulated even the bystanders when the walker trembled and lurched from the line only to be saved by the harness.

As if that was not enough excitement, an elderly man asked me if I had seen any of the figures climbing El Capitan. I had not, so he let me borrow his binoculars. Lo and behold I watched three guys slowly making their way up the rock face, lugging bundles of gear beneath them. I no longer have a desire to highline, but as those climbers made progress on El Cap, a strong wave of envy overcame me. One day, I would very much like to conquer that climb.

After lazing around at the top of the valley, what could be better than lazing around in the meadow for a new perspective? We parked the truck off the road in front of El Cap and spent the rest of the day chilling in the meadow just taking in the sights and sounds around us. The monoliths staring down from either side, imposing their strength. The mighty redwoods with their contrasting green branches forming windbreaks to leave only a comfortable breeze. We found peace in Yosemite Valley.

Leaving that afternoon was difficult, but our next campsite was several miles out of the park. The next day promised the Pacific Ocean its storied coastal redwoods.

Santa Barbara: a storied past

Formidable, blue waves rolling in from the expansive Pacific Ocean. A leisurely bicycle ride along a winding river alive with jumping fish. Brilliant rays of sunlight bouncing off the Spanish Colonial style structures of downtown Santa Barbara. This sounds like the makings of a great story right? Well, not really. But our short time around the city was nice and relaxing—just what we needed after the Grand Canyon fiasco and a night in the desert.

Daniel (left) and Peyton taking in our first siting of the Pacific Ocean near UC Santa Barbara

Before I get started, let me acknowledge that it has been quite a while since I last posted an article. I mostly blame school in the way a young boy might blame unfinished homework on a dog’s appetite. I honestly just didn’t do it. The real reason I have struggled to write about Santa Barbara is that nothing notable happened to us there. We camped in a pretty forest, grilled burgers, rode bikes, walked around downtown, and told ghost stories around a fire. But don’t let that turn you off to our stay in Santa Barbara. The city has some pretty cool stories of its own that encapsulate its history into a small series of artifacts and events.

Los Prietos campground in Las Padres National Forest

On Santa Rosa Island, just off shore from Santa Barbara, Phil C. Orr made a discovery that actually predates history. Around 1960 he uncovered remains from an archaeological dig of a man dated to have lived over 13,000 years ago. Originally dubbed the Arlington Springs Man, the name was once altered to reflect studies showing that the remains were a woman’s, and she became known as the Arlington Springs woman. However, in 2006 further studies concluded the bones were more likely to have been a man’s, so the name reversed again. Either way, the remains are believed to be among the oldest found in North America and support the theory that seafaring nomads migrated from Asia and traveled down the Pacific Coast.

A male turkey feeds in the early morning at the campgrounds

Skip ahead to 1542. Hunter-gatherer Native Americans known as the Chumash occupied the area for centuries, but their world changed forever when the first Europeans arrived. Joáo Cabrilho, a Portuguese explorer led the first Spanish expedition through the channel of islands. He died from gangrene brought on after injury suffered while fighting natives and was buried on one the islands. “Santa Barbara” did not become the name of the place until 1602 when a Spanish explorer survived a terrible storm on the eve of Saint Barbara’s feast day; he named the channel and one island out of thankfulness.

In 1769 the Spanish began operations to occupy and fortify Alta California from other imperial powers. Soldiers arrived in 1782 to begin ten years of construction on El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara, a fort to defend the settlement and the later-built local mission—Mission Santa Barbara—from threatening natives and other powers. Although most of the structure was destroyed in various earthquakes, the Presidio still holds the title of second oldest building in California. It is also the last military outpost built by Spain in the Americas.

Spanish Colonial style building near downtown Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara mostly avoided violence during the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. More impressively, they cleverly managed to escape destruction when French privateer Hippolyte de Bouchard threatened to attack. Bouchard commanded two frigates and was employed by Argentina to demolish Spanish assets and resources. When Santa Barbara cavalrymen caught some of Bouchard’s men who were wrecking a nearby ranch, Bouchard threatened to shell to the town if his men were not returned. Having seen hundreds of patrolling cavalrymen before his crew members were released, Bouchard decided to sail away without attacking. What he did not know is that the hundreds of men were actually only a few who rode in a huge circle and changed costumes every time they rode behind dense brush. Santa Barbara peacefully assimilated under Mexican rule when Mexico gained their independence. Later the settlement became part of the United States without violence during the Mexican-American War.

After annexation to the U.S., the gold rush sparked a more exciting, violent, and virulent time. Outlaws, gangs, and chaos enveloped the small town and promised infamy to the most fiendish criminals. Criminals such as Joaquin Murrieta, the fabled Zorro of the movies. He and other bands of men were known to ambush travelers near the city, killing them and taking everything they carried. One Jack Powers, the leader of a local gang, claimed infamy when he and his men drove away a posse citizens 200 strong that sought to force him away from Santa Barbara. The story goes that he was eventually murdered and tossed into a den of wild boars sometime after being driven away by armed men from another town.

 

The 1925 Earthquake stands out as the single most destructive event in Santa Barbara history although earlier earthquakes may have been just as devastating if the amount of infrastructure had been the same. Many buildings crumbled during two large aftershocks and a fire even broke out to ravage more of the town. This event is the reason Santa Barbara now has the unified Spanish colonial style buildings for which it is known. Several politicians agreed on the style while Thomas Storke—a prominent lawyer and newspaper publisher—argued that it was an unconstitutional move on property owners. He later changed his mind. In an unrelated incident Storke won a libel case against his publishing rival and took over his foe’s business as well to form a media monopoly over the town. Eventually he was elected to the Senate.

I didn’t know most of this while I was actually in Santa Barbara, but Daniel, Peyton, and I did get to see the Presidio. The town is saturated with history, and if I get the chance to back, I plan to take full advantage of its historical sites and museums. I wrote this article from information found on various Wikipedia pages, so it should be noted that while the articles cited reputable sources, all of the information may not be completely accurate. To read the article I gathered information from, follow this link.