SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #12 SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – PART TWO

BLOG # 17, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #12

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – PART TWO

APRIL 25, 2012

 

 

Because Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon National Park are administered as a unit, we will move to Kings Canyon next week.  Together, they encompass 865,257 acres.  Elevation-wise they range from a low of 1,300 feet to a high of 14,494 (Mt. Whitney), the highest point in the lower 48 states.  Nearly 808,000 (or 93.4%) acres are officially designated as wilderness, which means that no roads mar its pristine beauty beyond the few paved roads tourists know.  All the rest are known only to backpackers (80,000 a year), which strains the capacity of the park rangers to oversee.

 

OUR MEMORIES

 

Early in the morning, around 5 a.m., Bob and Lucy Earp and Connie and I arose, quickly packed the car, and nosed the car out of Furnace Creek Ranch onto road #190.  Here we made a fateful—and, it turned out, “stupid” mistake, in not paying over $5 a gallon for gas and filling up the tank.  Surely we’d find cheaper gas once we got out of the park!  Instead, we twisted up and up and up serpentine roads where we finally crested the Argus and Panamint Mountains; meanwhile, as the gas needle continued to drop, all four of us grew tenser by the mile.  Then the crest.  We breathed a sigh of relief; surely we’d find gas once we left the park. We did not, and even though Bob kept his speed down, and the needle slowed, neither town nor gas station did we find.  Our last hope turned out to be the town of Olanche on Highway 395; if we failed to find a gas  station there, with the needle solidly on empty, we’d be stuck.  By that time, we’d have been willing to pay $20 a gallon!  Mercifully, we found one, and the price, though still high, was still considerably less than Death Valley’s.  And not just the car was empty—so were we!  Here we stumbled on Ranch House Café, a place where, we were told, the locals frequented.  Turned out to be straight out of the Old West, the customers mainly ranchers and cowboys.  We were served by a pretty waitress who’d been transplanted from Tyler, in Texas rose country, to here where she’d fallen in love with a cowboy.  She “darlinged” us through a wonderful Southwest breakfast—and we were ready to face whatever the rest of the day brought us.

 

Though our destination was west, we couldn’t cross over at Olanche, but had to head south.  Reason being the massive wall of Sequoia/Kings Canyon/Yosemite that barred access to Sequoia.  As we drove south we could look up at the towering rampart crowned by two snowcapped fourteeners, Mt. Whitney and Mt. Langley.  Several hours later, once again, we headed west on #178 via Lake Isabella followed by an unforgettable ride down Kern  River Canyon.  Because of the massive snowfalls the Kern thundered rather than merely flowing.  After which we headed north again, through oil wells and orange groves, strange bedfellows.  Even though I knew the great San Joaquin Valley was the breadbasket of the nation, I’d never known  before that its orange groves rivaled Florida’s.

 

Finally, it was mid-afternoon; by then, we turned east and began to climb into the Sierras.  At the Foothills Visitor Center, we were greeted by potentially bad news; because of recent snowstorms, the roads into the heart of the park had been closed.  However, there was the possibility we could now make it up into the Big Trees.  After Death Valley’s heat, the mere thought that we might be back into snow by nightfall seemed preposterous to us.  Yet as we climbed, the temperature gauge dropped from the 80s to the 70s to the 60s, to the 50s, to the 40s—and eventually colder yet.  For a while, all traffic came to a complete halt.  Just behind us was a long caravan of motorcyclists from Brazil (the same ones we’d seen in Death Valley earlier).   Since I spoke Spanish, I was able to chat with them about their American tour—they loved it! (Portuguese, being also a Latin language akin to Spanish, it wasn’t too difficult to communicate with them.) Finally, we were all permitted to move again, and we moved into the snowy foggy high country.  As we reached the Sequoia groves we could only see part of them, for their trunks disappeared into the mist.

 

 

It was early evening before we reached Wuksachi Village, where we’d stay for the next two nights.  Sadly, there are no venerable national park hotels gracing Sequoia and Kings Canyon, so Wuksachi is the only game in town.  It is one of the resorts run by DELAWARE NORTH COMPANIES.  At the front desk we were welcomed with the gladsome news that the water main had broken in the extreme cold, so all the water was contaminated—not potable.  But not to worry, we could still eat in the dining room, and a truckload of bottled water from Bakersfield arrived by early evening so guests could at least have drinking water.  After dinner, we retired to our rustic sleeping quarters, exhausted.  It had been a long day, where we’d moved from one world to another, so we collapsed early.

 

 

Awoke early next morning to a clear sky that didn’t stay that way.  After a great buffet breakfast, we returned to our rooms, where our ablutions were possible thanks to bottled water.  Then it was time to visit the great sequoias.  Cold clammy misty fog now closed in on us, but we took the several-mile-long walk through the sequoias anyway, though the snow, and shivering.  It got progressively difficult to see, but eventually the mist cleared enough so we could see the world’s largest living thing, the General Sherman Tree, as well as other giants.  In a meadow we encountered a mother bear and cub.  Keeping a “safe” distance, we shutterbugged—which was dumb, because a bear can run 30-40 mph, and if the Mama Bear had taken issue with us we’d never have been able to get to safety in time.

 

 

Back in the lodge, we had a good dinner, after which we played Phase Ten—Lucy beat us.  Then in the quietness of our room we turned on the TV and almost wished we hadn’t: a tornado in Joplin, MO had killed 120, wiping out a quarter of the city.   One catastrophe after another in months before: the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami; over 300 killed in a string of tornados; terrible oil spill in the Gulf—and earlier that day, a volcanic eruption in Iceland, closing down European air traffic.  Then, unable to sleep, Connie and I watched John Wayne in Rio Bravo and The Sons of Katie Elder.  Then—finally—sleep came.

 

 

Will have to give a lot of credit to the Wuksachi folk: in spite of the terrible odds against it, given the broken water main, they did their utmost to give us a good stay.  The only other negative: unfitted bottom sheets that strayed off the mattresses during the night.

 

SOURCES USED

 

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Kinopf, 2009).

 

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, AZ: K. C. Publications, 2009).

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB ZANE GREY’S WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND

BLOG #13, SERIES #3

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

ZANE GREY’S WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND

March 28, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ordinarily, I will not plan to feature a given author more than once a year, or in close proximity to a previous listing, but for a very special reason I am making an exception for April’s Book of the Month.  The obvious reason is last week’s blog on Death Valley National Park.  You may remember that our January book was Zane Grey’s Heritage of the Desert—(the December 28, 2011 blog).  But since Grey’s greatest desert novel—perhaps the greatest desert novel ever written—was set in California’s Death Valley, the coincidence was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

 

Immediately after the close of World War I (contemporaries called it simply “The Great War”), Zane Grey assumed the role of a desert rat himself as he immersed himself into the desert world so that his next novel might ring true.  From my Master Chronology I have documented this period according to locale (based on letter postmarks and diary entries):

 

January 1, 1919            Zane Grey in Palm Springs, California

January 3, 1919            Exploring desert between Chuckwalla and Chocolate Mountains

January 4, 1919            In vicinity of Yuma, Arizona

January 5, 1919            Exploring Picture Canyon, Mecca, Brawley, El Centro, and Holtville, California

January 6, 1919            In sand dune waste between El Centro and Yuma

January 7, 1919            Meets famed frontiersman, Charlie Meadows

January 8, 1919            Yuma Midland, in vicinity of Picacho, for some time

February 23 – mid March, 1919            Exploring California/Arizona desert country

March 21, 1919            Train to Death Valley Junction

March 22, 1919            Travel from Junction to Death Valley

March 23-26, 1919            Walking across Death Valley with a desert wanderer

March 27-28, 1919            Walks 12 of the 34 miles back to Death Valley Junction

 

Grey and his wife Dolly had first fallen in love with the Southwest desert country during their 1906 honeymoon.  Beginning in 1907, Grey, in expedition after expedition, both on foot and horseback, internalized what was still frontier country.  This is why Wanderer had such a long fuse to it.

 

In my 1975 Vanderbilt doctoral dissertation, I summed up the significance of Wanderer of the Wasteland in these words:

 

Although Wanderer of the Wasteland had been written in 1919, it was not published until 1923 (eighth on the 1923 best seller list). Wanderer of the Wasteland is one of Grey’s finest desert epics.  The protagonist, Adam Larey, (alias Wansfell, The Eagle, Tanquitch) is a heroic super-human on the scale of Michelangelo’s “David.”  In terms of emotional drain, the book probably took more out of Grey than anything else he ever wrote. The following entries come from his diaries: January 19, 1919.  “Today after years of plan [sic], and months of thought, and weeks of travel, reading, I began the novel that I have determined to be great.”  January 26.  “Dolly read the first chapter, and her praise made me exultant and happy, and full of inspiration.”  February 13.  “I feel that I can write best in the silence and solitude of the night, when everyone has retired. There is a bigness, a glory about the approach of the Wasteland Wanderer novel . . .  It grows upon me day by day.”  March 1.  “Finished the seventh chapter . . . . But this week I go to the desert again, and after that to Death Valley.  Then I will be able to write with a living flame—this novel obsesses me.  It is wonderful, beautiful, terrible.”  May 22.  “I write swiftly, passionately.  I am approaching the climax, and have to rise to tremendous heights.  I feel the surge of emotion—a dread—a terror—a pain, as if this ordeal were physical.”  May 29.  “IT IS MIDNIGHT.  I HAVE JUST FINISHED MY NOVEL WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND.  Twelve hours today—28 pages—and I sweat blood!. . . .  I do not know what it is that I have written.  But I have never worked so hard on any book, never suffered so much or so long.  838 pages.  170,000 words.”

 

The book includes some of the finest desert description: terrain, fauna, plant life, etc., that he ever wrote.  The theme partially is the Old Testament Cain-Abel love-hate relationship, partly the redemptive power of suffering, and partly the desert crucible which will either destroy or ennoble those who submit themselves to its fires.  Magdalene Virey, considering the short period she lives in the book’s pages, is nevertheless a memorable character.  Altogether, it took Grey ten years to gather all the material for the story.  Then, as he began to write, several trips to the Southern California-Arizona border country and two trips to Death Valley helped give him the fresh inspiration he needed.  Later, Grey observed:

 

When the novel came out in book form I said I was willing to stand or fall by it.  I was.  I am still.  I had high hopes for this novel of the wastelands.  A few of them were realized, yet most prominent critics who reviewed the book damned it with faint praise.  They all struck the same note.  They could not see the beauty, the wonder, the tragedy and soul of the desert, the truth of the waste places of the earth and their equally ennobling and debasing effect upon man.  It was not that there was not enough of my ten years’ absorption of the desert to convince the critics of these things.  It was that they did not know anything about the desert—that they could not believe in the heroism and idealism of man.33

 

When he finished, Harpers asked him to cut 100 pages out of the book. . . “All in my interest, they said!  Did you ever hear of such callowness?  Just to save a little money they would cut my book to nothing. . . .  There are some aspects of this literary game that are sickening.”34 Eventually Grey shortened it some, supposedly by about 3,000 words.  To him, it was like cutting off his own flesh.  His 1919 diary entries during this period reveal how carefully he researched his subject.  Nothing was too insignificant to count.

 

33Zane Grey, “My Answer to the Critics,” unpublished manuscript (in possession of the Zane Grey Family), p. 5.

34Zane Grey, letter to Dolly Grey, June 26, 1922, unpublished (in possession of the Zane Grey family).

 

From Zane Grey’s Impact on American Life and Letters (pp. 174-6).

 

* * *

 

So total was this immersion that, in the years that followed, Dolly often addressed him in letters as “Wansfell the Wanderer.”  In fact, during her own epic journeys across the U.S. by auto during the 1920s, whenever a desert wanderer stepped onto a road (most all unpaved) ahead of her, she’d think for a moment it was her husband. [Rarely did they travel together].

 

After the book was published, so many readers asked him to write a sequel that he finally did so [he wrote very few]: Stairs of Sand.

 

* * * * *

 

Get prepared for a great read!  It is easy to find this book on the web.