The next morning, after a quick breakfast of my usual staples of milk and bananas, I continued north on CA 1 to Castroville where I merged with eastbound State Hwy 156 through Prunedale and San Juan Bautista. I realized I was in John Steinbeck country that he loved so much and was the setting for his incomparable novels Cannery Rowand Of Mice And Men. Somehow I switched over to CA 152 through the fertile agricultural valley of central California. Geeez, I had never seen so much lettuce and spinach and whatever sprouting up in an infinite sea of green. It was America the bountiful. I made my up to Merced by way of CA 59 to I-5 where I junctioned with eastbound CA 140 and headed to Yosemite National Park.
Instead of ploughing my way through the traffic congestion to Yosemite Village, I took a divergent route up and over a mountainous road through spectacular Sierra scenery with views of snow-capped peaks off in the distance. I could glance up through the skylight and see dramatic rock formations and then look down at the river below and see huge boulders as big as houses that had cascaded down from the cliffs above. It was an incredible sight. My altimeter read just over 9,000 feet and I was thinking it would be cool altitude to find a place to spend the night. As I was about to run out of options trying to find a secluded spot of my own, I spotted a campground and submissively pulled in to pay the $10 overnight fee. I have to say, the area was quite inviting with a plethora of pine trees to park under. I squeezed into a “stall” between two RVs and felt somewhat diminutive next to the behemoths. At least I was home safe.
There was still a lot of daylight left, so I took the opportunity to introduce myself to one of my new neighbors, Kevin and Rose. Not surprisingly, they were California residents (from Redding) and had been ensconced in the campground for five days! I had to ask, “What have you guys been doing up here all this week?” Kevin replied, “Other than a little fly-fishing, we just hang out here with an occasional trip down to the valley to take in all the natural beauty.” I corralled one of their two young sons (about 12 years old) and out of curiosity asked him, “Tommy, are you enjoying your stay up here in the mountains?” He replied, shrugging his shoulders, “Oh, I guess it’s been okay, but I really miss TV and The Flintstones.” Well, that kind of summed it up as for the priorities of the younger generation. I wept for the future. I said goodnight and retreated to Ol’ Blue to heat up some corn beef hash over the butane burner. I had noticed the altimeter reading about 9,000 feet, so I figured that I was in for a pretty nippy night’s sleep.
After sharing coffee with my RV neighbors, I bid farewell to my California friends with a “thumbs up” gesture to young Tommy as if to say: “Don’t worry, The Flintstoneswill still be there when you get home.” I continued east on the unmarked road and pulled over next a small pristine lake for one last look at the grandeur of Yosemite. I noticed a chunk of granite on the shoreline, so I reached down and cradled it in my hands, guesstimating it weighed about 25 pounds (it was about 15 inches in length and 9 inches in depth) – a beautiful piece of stone. All of a sudden, I heard a voice from above saying, “Take just one thing in life.” So I threw (not literally) the contraband granite into the back of the van under the bed, knowing full well it was unlawful to remove any natural object from a National Park. I just had to abscond that rock as a piece of tangible memorabilia from Yosemite. As I crested Tioga Pass at 9,941 feet that was the official exit from the park, I was still looking over my shoulder wondering if the Park Service was on my tail. I conjured in my mind an improbable scenario which read like this: “This is officer Smurf at Lake Whatchamacallit. I could have sworn I saw a chunk of granite here at the edge of the lake yesterday. I wish to report it missing. Put out an APB for a dark blue Chevrolet van with Colorado license plates that was seen leaving the crime scene.” The mind works in strange and mysterious ways.
Continuing my fantasy, I figured to be out of the Park Service’s jurisdiction since I encountered no roadblocks on my descent of 3,000 feet in ten miles to Lee Vining. I was home free with my smuggled stone. Or was I? There still could be a CHP officer lurking behind a billboard like a snake in the grass poised to pounce on me at any time. I stopped for gas (it had spiked to $1.24 a gallon) at an actual service station, one with stalls, lifts, and mechanics ready at one’s beckoned call. Riiiight. Seriously, I had been observing over my thousands of miles of driving that there seemed to be an imperceptible transition from “full service” gas stations to featureless “gas only” quick-stop mini-marts. Obviously, the money-mongering oil companies were slashing labor costs for the sake of profits from “junk food” sales. Sad to say, the friendly corner Texaco service station was definitely on the endangered species list.
Before leaving, I had a talk with an old codger hanging around the station. I commented, “You know, Vern, the eastern side of California along (Hwy) 395 doesn’t seem to get the respect it deserves, like it’s the Roger Dangerfield of the Golden State. Gee, you’ve got all this natural beauty with Mt. Whitney and the Sierras, and even Death Valley and the Mojave Desert.” He replied, “Yeah, you’re right, everyone’s attracted to the glamour of the west coast. But we have it pretty good here not having to put up with suburban sprawl, smog, traffic jams, and earthquakes.” I had to embellish on his last words, saying, “It’s a curiosity with Californians that they choose to live on top of the Andreas Fault just so they can have a view of the Pacific Ocean.” His last comment was, “Yeah, it’s one crazy state.”