The Other California


Alabama sprawlMoonrise over the Whites

Traveling down the east side of the Sierra Nevada, along California Hwy 395, I am struck by how the landscape and people don’t conform to the stereotypes assigned to this maligned state—the pollution, cars, and superficiality. I love what I find–sun-etched wrinkles, old trucks, open-space–and what I don’t find: high heeled shoes, traffic jams, fastfood. To be fair, in this land of little water, you also don’t find fresh vegetables.

Each time I drive this route, I fall slightly more in love with the sagebrush, the hotsprings, and the “range of light” that glints off the eastside granite. Oddities tucked here and there in the desert delight: the ancient Bristlecones of the White Mountains, “The Still Life Café” in the town of Independence where a French chef makes bouef bourguignon for travelers, the crepe maker in Shoshone, and China Ranch–a surprise oasis full of date trees. I love browsing the bookstore at Mono Lake and lingering at the Galen Rowell photo gallery in Bishop. And there is the view of Whitney the Alabama Hills.


Let Los Angeles take the water; at the very least it keeps away the sprawl—an ironic form of preservation.


I love the people who have loved the desert—Georgia O’Keffee picking her way thru dry rock in a black dress, Mary Austin who had an eye for things that scrabble, dart and scurry, Edward Abbey who relished the lack of people, photographer Galen Rowell who captured the particular clean-lined light of the eastside. I love some of the characters I meet: Anna-the-musician whose boyfriend ran off with her best friend. “Let the dead bury the dead,” she laughs. Now, for insurance, she keeps two men—a roadie and a horse whisperer from Tennessee.

And so I drive. Mountains jut up from the desert floor. Bighorn sheep hide. Raven caws break silence.

I drive and feel, not the urban desolation of a crowded street, but a sort pleasurable loneliness that feels affirmed here on the east side.

4 thoughts on “The Other California

  1. Reading this makes me want to run outta the house….no, it does not. It makes me want to thoughtfully pack all that I would need and want for comfort. Dig out and shake out my beloved down bag i haven’t slept in in ages. With drawl cold hard cash and check the balance on the credit card the one that is saved for emergencies with the really, really big limit and stick it in my pocket and go, just go. See how far I could drive in a day. Then see how far I could drive into that night as the sun set and the sky changed colors and the stars made their appearance. I used to love doing that. I’ve driven all the way across the states 6 times now. I’d enjoy shocking the man I used to date by saying as we set out to run errands, “drive….just keep driving, lets see how far we can get!” He’d look back at me shocked for he knew I meant it. In his glance I knew I was just passing time with him, he wasn’t right for me.

  2. Beautifully reported… I read it while listening to Dar William’s “My Better Self,” and it strikes me how this kind of wilderness brings out the Better Self in all of us. Sink your teeth into the sky, Chris, and find your focus — I think you can write us your own Desert Solitaire, infused with your own sweet, sexy brilliance. xo

  3. Hello Chris;
    It has been so long and yet it took me just seconds to find you. Your life seems to be one of discovery and I found myself smiling at your adventures. I am truley sorry about your dog. What stays with us longest; the devotion, the innocence the friendship? They are without effort so poignant, so wonderful with their expressions and their mannerisms. I am laughing right now in spite of myself.
    I hope you are well. I hope also that you continue to write. You look stranglely the same in the photos I have found.
    Take care;

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