California is a strange place. After being here a few days, I wonder what the pioneers thought when they finished the long trip across deserts, prairies, rivers, mountains, and all the perils involved and finally got here. I wonder if Ma turned to Pa and said, “I told you we should have stayed in Oklahoma. These people out here all ride their horses way too fast. And if we don’t get run over by one of these wagons hauling surfboards, the price of hay will kill us.”
Not that the people in California all drive too fast. I’m sure it’s just that Courtland and I drive too slow. We never go over the speed limit by more than 20 miles per hour, and it seems to irritate the Porsche drivers who are late for critical hair appointments and surfboard waxing sessions. Californians seldom observe the posted speed limits unless they are parked.
Getting here was hard enough, driving through half of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and then finding the Ortega Highway. Highway 74 is called the Ortega Highway, probably because someone named Ortega was the first person to die by driving off it into the canyon below. It’s one of those mountain shelf roads with two nice wide shoulders, both of them vertical. There are actually guardrails in some places, but most of these have been knocked out by Californians trying to pass hick Texans.
Once we got through the pass, though, we came to San Clemente, and just south of there is San Onofre Beach, which is one of the beaches the Beach Boys sang about in Surfin’ USA. We paid $25 for a camping spot, one of 200 in a long line, each about as wide as two regular sized cars. It was a nice spot, except that I-5 was 50 yards away, and there were train tracks between us and the interstate, and cars and trains traveled noisily up and down there all night.
The Pacific Ocean is pretty impressive. It looks just like the Gulf Coast in Texas, only bigger. There were people surfing, and we watched them from a cliff above the beach. And we watched some big, dark fish that swam along just under the surface and followed the surfers. We couldn’t tell if they were seals or sharks or what, but we never saw anyone get bitten in half.
Not that anyone would have cared. Californians are very laid back, except when they have a steering wheel in front of them. If a surfer had gotten eaten by a shark, one of his buddies would have said, “Whoa, Dave just bit the big chili dog. Dibs on his board.”
As an example of the California attitude, our campground had restrooms every 20 campsites or so, and all of them had showers. The showers, unfortunately, were located outside the restrooms, and there was no hot water.
We finally escaped San Onofre Beach and headed north, through Rancho Cucamonga, and got to Sequoia National Park. We asked the ranger lady at the entrance if there were any campsites available, and she said yes, at Dorst Campground, 28 miles into the park. We asked how long it would take to get there, and she said, “An hour and ten minutes.” She was right.
It was dark by the time we found a campsite, and we were just setting up camp when a park ranger ran up and said there was a bear in the area. I said OK. He said, “We think it’s right over there,” and pointed to a spot right behind our site. He said they were chasing ‘her,’ and she was running through one campsite after another, tearing things up. He said they had ‘rubber bullets’ and were going to try to catch it. I started to offer him some lead bullets, but he gave me a lecture about putting our stuff away and ran off.
Courtland and I slept on the ground that night, since sleeping in a ragtop Jeep didn’t seem to be any more protection than a tarp, but I did put my .45 in my bag with me. It might not have killed the bear, but it would have at least drawn an audience to my demise.
The next morning we drove to the Giant Forest part of the park, and saw the biggest tree in the world, volume wise. It’s called General Sherman, which is quite a coincidence, since I seem to recall a Civil War general named Sherman. Go figure.
Actually, this is a really impressive tree. It’s a certain number of feet tall, and a certain number of feet around, although the exact dimensions elude me. All I know is it’s big. But there were other big trees, too. Sometimes one falls across the trail, and the park people just cut a tunnel in it. No kidding. We’ve got pictures.
Now we’re on our way to Yosemite, where we hope to pass the guy in the rented motor home that’s been in front of us the whole trip. If I ever catch that guy parked somewhere, I’m going to rub some bear bait on his bumper . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who figures that, even though it’s illegal to carry a pistol in a National Park, it’s smarter to be in trouble and alive than square with the enviroweenies and dead. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org