So this week, I’ve gotten myself a rental car and I’m cruising the American West to check out all the spots we’ll be hitting on TFT’s West Coast USA adventure next summer. I thought I’d keep you all updated on my progress. So check back in this week for new pages from my notebook!

Yosemite National Park
Driving into Yosemite you want to say big things with big words, but your tongue moves too quickly without consulting your brain and you’re left with nothing but wordless mutterings and exclamations – grunts and “wows” to express the sheer wonder at these sheer cliffs and vistas. I’d been on the road from San Francisco for a few hours, tearing through a California countryside full of almond groves and grazing sheep. It was lovely and long, and I approached the park with Kings of Leon and Kate Bush keeping me company. It was late in the day, on toward sunset, and the park was covered with a thin haze that made the roadways in look like magic, like the park was full of quiet secrets, which, I suppose, it is. I’d come in on rt. 120, which just outside of the park loses its mind and winds its way up to a height of over 6000’ through a series of hairpin turns. Past the gates, though, things mellow out, and you cruise down into Yosemite Valley on a gentle decline that takes you past unbelievable views of Half Dome and El Capitan – two of the Park’s most notable sights.

The steep white face of El Capitan does something I can’t quite describe. It grabs you not so much by the hand as by the brain, and massages you not entirely gently until you totally freak out over how absolutely stunning it is. The chopped beauty of Half Dome does something similar, but softer, coaxing you toward the same lunatic stutterings of approval you’ve been making, only now their louder and seem, somehow, to make more sense.

Like everyone who comes to Yosemite, I’d wanted to see a bear. I did not. But my consolation prize was even more memorable, so I won’t hold a grudge. On my way into the Valley, a large doe crossed the road, her legs moving slowly, awkwardly, but without sacrificing any dignity. Her movements were so deliberate, so steady. I slowed the car and parked, held the handle as I closed the door in an attempt not to scare her. Suddenly, I felt stupid, like a bull in a china shop pretending to browse the shelves. There was no keeping myself secret: she knew I was there. Who was I trying to fool? Because, I realized then, she’s better than I am. At everything. At rooting the valley floor for fallen things, at pecking at leaves, at untangling her face from branches, at looking around and seeing what there is to see. She knew I was there; she just didn’t care. And so I also knew that it was only with her permission that I got at all close to her.

And just as quickly as there had been one, there were two. A buck with horns I forgot to count came creaking out from the brush and grazed by her side. How long had he been there, I wondered. How long had he too granted me this favor without my acknowledgement? I took some pictures. They didn’t come out. And then I said good-bye. I got back in the car and kept on.

(Next Stop….LAS VEGAS….)