In middle to late October the seasonal color historically peaks in the Yosemite Valley. It is an ideal time to visit, especially if you go during the week, as the over-capacity summer season has come to a close. Grateful for national parks but hesitant of overuse, many are considering alternative dates for the family trip. My trip this year, however, was without the family; a four-day excursion to decompress and reconnect. The experience of visiting during the “off season” is more unpredictable and more exposed to the elements. When compared to peak summer tourism, it feels like a DisneyLand FastPass, skipping the lines and the crowds. Why not visit during the fall, when the masses are occupied and the children are in school? Contrarian and efficient, travel when others are not.
Chico to Marin, following the Sacramento River before diverting west to be tempted by the Mediterranean tastes of Napa and Sonoma. Onward to Muir Woods, a national monument now reservation only; a quiet pocket of the world for walking and reflection. Next the famous Straight of the Golden Gate. A recently reimagined traffic flow funnels vehicles through the Baker-Barry Tunnel and up the hill to the roundabout. Turn left for a one way road and views of the city, right for the perilous section of Highway 1 that every California traveler should experience from the driver’s seat.
Midweek Central Coast in California, 9am on a Thursday. Highway 1 driving south from Carmel-By-The-Sea was seemingly deserted, save a single group tour bus and the plumbers and electricians who are now all too familiar with their route to and from jobs. Travel gives new perspectives, sights, and sounds. The tradesmen will unlikely drive Highway 1 for vacation, they will travel north or south, inland or East Coast for their shot at recreation.
In Big Sur the landscape changes. The open fields facing the unyielding coastline give way to a redwood furnished land: a sign of ample water. The Big Sur River runs through before its collision with the Pacific. Morning air was pregnant with the autumnal exhaust from community chimneys; a low-laying layer of smoke through which the slanted southern light pierces through the trees.
Northeast now towards The Yosemite. Farmland as far as the air permits sight. Smog, a seemingly perpetual haze, over the Central Valley. In Muir’s writings, or on a clear day after recent weather system, the Sierra is to be seen to demarcate the horizon as the Rockies consistently do for Colorado’s eastern plains. Hour by hour the landscape changes. Slowly at first into the foothills, then faster. Passing the welcome sign into the national park sparks gratitude for conservation as the shield to short-term economic gain and exploitative industry. Entrance through Tunnel View is most dramatic, whereas El Portal provides gradual appreciation.
Fall colors and prescribed fires throughout valley loop of roads. The Merced River flowing with the precipitation of the previous week snowfall, also giving life to the historically perspiring waterfalls of fall. The seasonal sun casts shadows throughout the entirety of the day, significant shadows are to be seen in the morning and late afternoon. At last light, Half Dome combusts into a fiery red flame, reflecting the final rays until tomorrow.