If I had to choose between the mountains or the coast, the coast would win hands down. Monterey, San Francisco, Mendocino all beckon me, and I attended a college smack-dab on the Humboldt coast. Even though I live halfway between the coast and the mountains, I rarely get beyond the foothills of Grass Valley or the Amador and El Dorado counties for wine tasting (way more fun and less crowded than Napa). Every great now and then, I make it to Tahoe, but never beyond. Recently I had the opportunity to go to Reno with my parents, and it was family road-trips all over again: Mom and Dad in the front, me in the backseat.
I began this trip with the assumption that the Sierra Nevada looked the same on both sides: heavily forested with pines, firs, and a variety of deciduous trees. I expected sharp outcroppings of granite interspersed with lakes. So I was surprised when 20 miles or so west of Reno the landscape changed into high desert. Trees were sparse, the ground– a reddish hue instead of gray– was covered with brush. This was Wallace Stegner’s West: rugged, isolated, wild.
I imagined the surprise the pioneers experienced when after traveling over the Great Basin and seeing nothing but desert, reaching the tops of the Sierra Nevada and encountering a wall of trees and lakes that lead to a valley of plenty and hills of gold. They also lead to extreme weather and brutal cold as famously experienced by the Donner Party in 1846 and not-so-famously by me today. Equipped with my little pink camera and my backseat window (nothing better than pictures taken from a moving car!), I did my best to capture both sides of the Sierras.
Going East on Highway 80
Returning West on Highway 80
Today we were visited by a freak summer storm. There is nothing prettier than the green of leaves against a gray sky. It seems somehow that the dreary day challenges the trees to shine brighter, to counteract the gloom.