• Yu "Fish" Cui

California Nature Guide- Desert, Woods & Ocean

Updated: Mar 16, 2019


Anza-Borrego Desert

Driving from San Diego to Anza-Borrego was long, but full of ravishing views. On the mountain, jagged rocks dip into the steep hills. Some of the giant rocks are almost vertical to the mountain crest. Getting close to these rocks on the highway was indeed frightening. As we were approaching the the desert area, the shades of green on the mountain start to vanish. Soon we were the only car speeding along the road. The sun was toasting everything. I could even feel the glow inside the car with the air conditioning on. There was no trace of green anymore. The color of the mountain became reddish brown. ​ When the car drove into the Anza-Borrego area, the twists and turns brought us up on the mountain, then to the most magnificent view: an enormous plain laid flat in front of us. It is so expansive and wild, so desolate and bleak, and yet so outright and intriguing. Getting closer to the edge of the highway I could see towns, palm trees, and roads so far far away. The entire basin is empty, wide open, and quiet. 

Perhaps because I have been living in big cities my whole life, I am extremely fascinated by the mystery and desolation of a desert. Here the sunlight was dazzling, and the air was dry. My skin felt hot, yet I still enjoyed getting toasted on the trail. I didn't feel loneliness in the desert because my heart was full of the excitement and expectation of exploring the wild and enjoying a sense of freedom. 



Salvation Mountain

This is not a place purely made by nature, but it is so astonishing because of it place. Often nature and arts are connected together. Nature creates the most wonderful art in the world, and sometimes human beings create art within nature.


Before I went there, I had imagined what it would be like more than dozens of times in my mind. When I  stood in front of it, walked upon it and wandered around it, I couldn't think of any words other than that I was deeply shocked and impressed. 

Leonard Knight spent 24 years creating this art piece and gave Salvation Mountain life. He used straw, adobe and paint to create this mountain piece by piece from scratch. It was decorated with colors, patterns, and quotes from the Bible. Standing on the mountain top, I saw the boundless desert sea. I could say that Salvation Mountain was so peculiar that it didn't fit the wildness of the desert. I could also say that it was the love and dedication that Mr. Knight had given to God made Salvation Mountain stand out in this lonesome place and lighted up the desert sky like a spark in the dark. At that moment, I felt the power of faith and belief. It is an art gallery, a museum built by Mr. Knight's hands and heart, a treasure house that is full of surprises. Every little detail at every corner has its meaning and this artist's soul.  ​ The Salton Sea might be dying, but as long as the Salvation Mountain is here, there is love and hope. 




Joshua Tree National Park

I would say that Joshua Tree's desert vibe was lusher than the Salton Sea area. The tough, strange plants and the wary bunnies added a more living tinge. When the sinking sun created lights and shadow and sketched the contour of the mountain, every tree, every bush and every weedy desert grass, was immersed in this soft golden glow of the sun. 

We visited Cottonwood Spring. Once in a while a deft bird flew over, left its echo in the valley. At the oasis, gigantic palm trees stood there, like a group of majestic monuments. Dead leaves laid upon each other, layers and layers. The pale yellow color shined softly under the sunset. On the top, the green leaves were still thriving. In the valley, we waited to see the sun gradually hide behind the mountain line. We picked a road and just drove forward, without knowing the direction. After the sunset, the sky still had a trace of warm color, but soon it was erased by night. 

When the silver moon raised up on the sky, the ground and air that were toasted by the sun during the day got cooled down. I stuck my arm out of the window to feel the refreshing breeze. On the night sky, the stars hadn't shown up yet. Only the moon, shined gracefully like a crown jewel on the dark blue velvet. 


Sequoia National Park

I can't describe how excited I was about going to Sequoia National Park. When I was a kid, I first saw the pictures of sequoia trees in an encyclopedia. These giants completely blew my mind. Human beings look utterly insignificant in front of them. I always thought that I needed to see the sequoias and stand among them, to believe their legend. 

We first went to visit General Grant. On the way there, there were countless tall trees on the mountain, but I believed that they were nothing comparing to the sequoias that we were going to see soon, a group of the oldest trees on earth. Giant sequoias surrounded the parking lot. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I thought I placed myself in a world of giants. However, at the parking lot, we couldn't see General Grant directly. There was a trail that led us to it. When we saw a big tree that was surrounded by many people, we knew that was it. Standing in front of General Grant, I felt the force, the power of nature. This "Nation's Christmas Tree" has been guarding this place for 1650 years. Today it is still so lush and strong. The back of the tree had a big, dark fire mark. It probably was once tortured by mountain fire, and yet it still stands here toughly today. In the grove, there were some old sequoias laying on the ground. Their roots were in beautiful shapes like unique craft works. Maybe it did prove the fact that nature is always the most splendid craftsman on this planet. 

After visiting General Grant, we left for General Sherman, the largest tree in the world. Along the highway, the view was beautiful. Trees, trees, endless trees, covered every possible spot on the mountain. Far away I could see mountain tops covered by snow. Under the blue sky, the icy top was so white and pure. They seemed to have the magic to cool down the hot summer afternoon immediately. 

General Sherman located in a sunny valley, along with many other famous sequoias.  Though I had seen many photos of this giant tree, when I truly stood in front of it, I was still shocked. Far away, you might think that it is just "one of those big trees," but no other trees can be more magnificent than General Sherman. It is hard to imagine what it has experienced through thousands of years. What we know is the toughness of life.  ​ We drove south from General Sherman. It was perhaps the most thrilling experience I have ever had.  The road was extremely narrow and winding. The car was almost driving right on the edge of the cliff. I stopped counting how many sharp turns there were, but on the maps, you can see that the line is jagged for miles. I call this drive breathtaking, because the view was breathtaking, at the same time when two cars passed right by each other on at a 1500m elevation, it took my breath away.  




Yosemite National Park

Driving into the Yosemite area, I could clearly see more green color pop out. River Merce was running wildly. The giant rocks and broken branches couldn't possibly stop the rapids. It took us about an hour to get to the Yosemite Valley from the edge of the park, which was totally unexpected. Now it would take us at least 2 hours to go to our hotel at night. At least we know that next time when we come here, camping probably would be the best choice. But this one-hour drive didn't bother me at all because it was a scenic road that got us prepared for the beauty of Yosemite. 

Huge rocks shielded the sunlight away, but from some angles, I could still see the trace of water on the cliff. This minute I was very excited to see a waterfall roar down, the next minute an even higher waterfall showed up far away. Groups of butterflies rested on the soft meadow. I never knew what would pop up next. The Yosemite Valley was lively: travelers from all over the world were getting ready for their adventure.

Yosemite is both graceful and rugged. The Half Dome is like a giant wall split by god. The sharp edge and vertical cliff indicate the skillful craftsmanship of our Mother Nature, or perhaps the Half Some is telling us how drastic the glacier movement used to be. We walked the lower Yosemite Fall trail. Logs randomly laid in the streams. Little bubbles reflected a rainbow color and soon disappeared. The waterfall roars louder and louder. In the shade, I could even feel a sense of coldness. At the bottom of the waterfall, the water spray blurred everything in front of me. Because of the abundant rainfall that California got this year, Yosemite Falls is particularly majestic. Many people were running on the bridge and getting blessed by the beautiful Yosemite Falls. Oh, how I love this place! 


Big Sur

When I was planning this California trip early this year, I saw the bad news that Highway 1 was cut off near the Big Sur area and the damage probably wouldn't be fixed until the next year, which means that travels can't access many major areas of Big Sur. As a person who has seen many amazing pictures of Big Sur, I was super sad. But at the same time, some people mentioned that partial areas were still open. When we got to Monterey and saw on the map that Big Sur was close, so we decided to give it a shot and see how far we could go, why not?

We left Monterey for Big Sur in the morning when the highway was still surrounded by fog. On one side, the insurgent waves of Pacific Ocean were lapping the shore beautifully and fiercely. On the other side, the mountain top was hidden in the fog. There were many vista points on the highway. We wanted to make to Big Sur first, so we didn't stop. It didn't matter which direction we were driving; it was easy to pull over at the vista points because there weren't that many cars on the highway. I was a little worried before because many people recommended driving from north to south on Highway 1. But it really didn't matter that much. 

There was only a small area of Northern Big Sur that was open. We walked two trails: one up into the forest and one along the brook. The stream was shallow but rapid. Under the sunshine, the water was green, as if the trees had infused the stream with their color. The water was so crystal clear that I could see the cobblestones on the bottom. Along the trail, there were a group of redwoods, standing tall like soldiers who were guarding this place. The fire mark on the tree trunk indicated the fierce fight they once had with nature. The woods gave off a wild and primitive beauty. 

We only took a glance of Big Sur. It was sad that we couldn't explore more, but I believe that one day we will come back here and take a full look at its astonishing view. 


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