The photo above was taken the day before I began my NPS career, on the balcony of a motel just outside the Sequoia National Park entrance station. I recently came across a copy of the letter I was typing, and thought it might be worth sharing some memories from my first summer in the Sierra. (I’d consider writing a book, but some other guy already glommed the title.)
May 20, 1977
Three Rivers, California
Ninety-nine and 44/100′s percent of the way there! Our eighth day of traveling has brought us to the park’s front door. It’s early in the day, actually, but we’ve been up since 3:00 AM, have driven 395 miles, so I’m not really up to completing the journey. It’s not the last 30 miles, though they’re all uphill, but the “Hi- I’m Bob, the new seasonal” routine that I don’t feel like facing without a good night’s sleep. (And a shave.) With what is always said about first impressions, I don’t want all my coworkers to meet me as a glass-eyed character in dirty jeans, stepping out of a car knee-deep in dog hair and tollhouse cookie crumbs. So, one more night in a motel. I could use the time to relax and collect my thoughts.
What I plan to do in the next few weeks is fill you in gradually on the details of our trip. I’ll never be able to describe it all in one letter — it’s an awful big country, and in eight days of solid driving one sees a lot of it. What I hope to be able to do is write a bit of it at a time and send it back east to you. I’m also keeping a copy for myself, and so this will also serve as my own record of the voyage of exploration. Sue and I took voluminous notes on the things we saw, and I should have a lot to tell. If my letters are going to be like our trip, then they will be mostly boredom with occasional very high spots.
That all said (ablative absolute, right, Bill?) I’m going to diverge from my stated plan and tell a little bit about today, out of sequence. We started out from Needles, on the California-Arizona border, at about 3:45 in the morning. From Needles we drove 90 miles through the desert before reaching the next human habitation — a little oasis called Ludlow, a dozen houses and trailers, a handful of trees, and a water tank. Then 50 more miles to Barstow, where we turned north and drove another hundred miles or so through desert until reaching Tehachapi Pass.
Although Needles’ elevation is about 400 feet, and the top of the pass is 4000, still, the ride up to the pass was anticlimactic, as we had been going up and down all morning and rising cumulatively all the way. On the other side, though, hold onto your hats! There was a ride, losing 3000 feet in a few steep miles. After the pass, all was level for many miles, all the way to Visalia. The San Joaquin Valley is a singularly unattractive place, all flat and hot and dusty, with huge agribusiness-style farms mixed with smelly industry. Not at all the Garden of Eden it’s made out to be.
Once we reached Visalia, we turned eastward again, heading for the mountains that were barely visible through the haze. Now, in Three Rivers, I’m sitting at my typewriter on the second-story porch of a fairly nice motel with a delightful breeze knocking the page back and forth. The scenery is simply bewildering to a Long Island boy. Three Rivers is in the foothills of the Sierra, and the porch looks out on a broad, forested mountain mass a mile or so long and perhaps 1000 feet high. It’s the sort of mountain I can accept, albeit impressed, because it resembles slopes I know from the Blue Ridge or the Berkshires. The trees are scarcer than they might be in the east, and the color is a more muted, browner green, but still it is comprehensible.
Not so the view behind the motel. There are the real Sierras, the ones we will drive up tomorrow. When I first saw them in the distance, I figured the foothills for the Sierra, and the hazy, snow-covered mountains for clouds. Uh-uh — that was terra firma up there, blending in against the blue with the cumulus. As Sue said, it’s the highest thing I ever saw. I can’t believe we are supposed to drive up there. The elevation at the motel is only 800 feet, and the area we will be living is at 6800. That’s 6000 bloody feet we have to climb — ye gods! Like I said, hard for a Long Island boy to accept. It’s like going the distance from home to the high school straight up. However, I can see from this porch a procession of cars bound for the park, including many with trailers behind, so I presume it’s not so difficult as it appears to be.
Still, images of Sisyphus crowd my head.
My mind is slowing, so I think I will work toward an ending. The long day is coming home to me now. Sue is taking Triton for a walk along the rapidly rushing mountain stream that flows noisily behind the motel. No, she’s coming back. Triton was afraid of the stream and kept pulling toward home. Now she’s taking Argos. I, meanwhile, plan to go for a swim in the pool, then read for a while. Time enough for serious thought tomorrow.
All for now,