Age 18, Rocky Mountains, Estes Park, Colorado, With a Friend, Summer 1978

Estes Park, Fall. Photo by Glarson

In Moraine Park, I pulled off the road, pulled like a magnet to a beautiful tumbling river, complete with crystal water, foaming rapids, huge boulders, ponderosas and mountains beyond. I stood on a rock and cried. It was like seeing a loved one after a five-year separation. I hugged a magnificent ponderosa like a dear old friend, and mostly danced around and smiled. I had finally come home. …

From there on it was like a dream. The pine and fir, aspen and spruce forests, the many rushing, singing streams; the gorgeous wildflowers everywhere, the ever-present mountains, always there—I blinked and they didn’t go away! The clouds didn’t seem to dampen anything anymore—not as long as the forest smells and the river sounds were near. The road wound up a hillside and reached Bear Lake, a lovely, still little lake nestled in the side of the mountain. We walked around the lake’s edge, finding an unafraid young male deer strolling about quite casually, posing for pictures like a professional.

Nutcrackers and stellar jays—sitting on a big rock and staring at the lake…bright yellow wildflowers in the rocky slopes near Bear Lake…more amiable deer. Checked out the trail board, since we knew we’d come back… sprinkling rain on the return drive; a break in the clouds and a sudden, shining rainbow above the stream and forest…sun shining golden on a faraway mountain. … dashing out for a misty mountains picture in Moraine Park. … up through the ponderosas, back to Estes Park.

The Fall River Road trip was indescribably beautiful, and I loved it…Steep switchbacks; pine smell; rock slides and snowmobiles; glacial marks. The Mummy Range splotched with white; crystal streams; a pause to sit on a rock and soak up the place.  Climbing on, beyond the timberline, the beautiful, colorful tundra, carpeted with thousands of flowers. A marmot in the road … a small pool … lots of snow… Bear Lake … this time a lovely afternoon, much clearer, though it soon clouded up. We discovered new mountains; marveled at the rivers; took many flower pictures; tramped around a bit – through the willows by a stream…Rocks, pines, and lichens, far-away hillsides with strewn boulders. The torn ribbon of a waterfall on another hill.

We set off once more through the park. … We kept stopping to stare, and for tundra and flower pictures. Long’s Peak was cloudless. A marmot at Forest Canyon posed quite poetically for dozens of fellow tourist shutterbugs, on a rock with the gorgeous background of snow-covered peaks behind. Miniature tundra blossoms carpeted the treeless expanses around us. At last, we reluctantly began the descent, crossing the Continental Divide, a lake with two streams: one feeding into the Mississippi and one into the Colorado. … winding switchbacks…

Slowly hills began to be drier, more pinyon-juniper, then chaparral, and finally the dry brushy, bushy sagebrush desert. This transition happened so slowly it took up most of Colorado, as the mountains broadened to hills, and cliffs and rolling plains

Yosemite, July 1978
The road didn’t waste any time climbing up the walls of a valley right into the heart of the mountains. Already, the scenery was spectacular, and we weren’t even in the park yet. Looking back, Mono Lake was nestled between the edges of the valley…It was quite interesting, with sheer drops off to the left. Across the valley were patches of snow and dozens of waterfalls.  The first valley then sort of hung a left, and a beautiful waterfall in front of 2 reddish-looking peaks, Mt. Dana and Mt. Gibbs, appeared. There was a crystal blue lake here named Ellery Lake. Then we continued through forests and streams to another lake, Tioga. All was so indescribably beautiful, and we weren’t even in the park yet.  The scenery was so breathtaking, it was a toss-up as for just where to pull off for pictures. … A small shaded pond reflecting the red mountains—a simply gorgeous spot in the meadows by the Tuolumne River, clean, blue and beautiful, green meadows, gray rock mountains—the colors were glorious, the mosquitoes voracious.

Soon we came to Tuolumne Meadows…The meadows were gorgeously green, surrounded by forested hills and peaks, and filled with bright flowers. A few huge trees and rocks protruded here and there, and the lovely Tuolumne River meandered throughout it lazily, a blue ribbon tangled amidst the green hair of the meadow. A deer in the edge of the woods across the river—pictures just couldn’t capture the sweepingness of it. By now we were hopelessly ensnared in the magic of the High Sierras.  We drove on. Sheer gray granite walls and rock faces … sapphire lakes here and there … brilliant dots of flowers along the road, up the hills … pine forests’ intoxicating smell. This was just as beautiful as the Rockies, but the two mountains are different in character—in slight, unspectacular, but very real ways. Both have their own magic—comparisons between the two are impossible. Perhaps—the Rockies are so huge, so lofty, the Sierras seem a little more intimate, perhaps.

At one turnout beyond Tenaya Lake, the view back at the lake in front of the mountains was unreal. Perfectly composed…Here were tame marmots, stellar jays, chipmunks, and a view of Half-dome—from the side. The fuchsia and orange wildflowers were particularly lovely here. We became accustomed to granite, deep forests, bright streams and waterfalls, views of forested valleys and peaks, occasional lakes—accustomed to, but not tired of. After several miles, we finally completed the Tioga Rd. and came out on the Big Oak Flat Rd. We stopped at one serene little glen off the road—white, tiny, cascading streams, surrounded by dark, deep green—cool and inviting.

On through several tunnels—down and down—into the green valley…The valley is like a parade of beautiful scenes from an art gallery—each perfect, one right after another…first, Bridalveil in the afternoon sun, and El Capitan’s smooth symmetry. Then the spires of Cathedral, and the solitary grandeur of Yosemite Falls—silent because they are so far away. Finally, the grandest of all, the Half-Dome, stained and streaked from many thousands of years of rainwater. The Merced River has to be one of the world’s most beautiful rivers inch per square inch. There just isn’t a place on it that isn’t gorgeous!

(On to) the Merced Grove of giant sequoias. We…found the tiny, narrow gravel road leading to it. We followed this road about a mile, then it abruptly ended, and the sign said “Merced Grove—1 mile” and the trail disappeared down. We’d have to hoof the rest. The trail was steep … (but) it was a lovely trail through a deep, thick, still forest, and we had it all to ourselves. … It was already late enough that most of the forest was in shadow —immense ponderosas and redwoods here, but no giants yet. Just when we were beginning to doubt the existence of Merced Grove, suddenly, five huge giant sequoias in a row, like sentinels guarding a gate or a welcoming committee or something, appeared in the forest gloom. These five trees looked like they’d been planted—they were lined up so evenly. It was worth the hike to be able to be completely alone with the giant ones. The evening, the stillness, the darkness all enhanced their special spell. They appeared every few yards along the trail, each one seeming more magnificent than the last…Immense fire scars—bulbous growths in one—I hugged them, although of course, my puny arms couldn’t begin to grasp them; hairy and scented sweetly, the bark stuck to my clothes. Merced Grove is truly one of the loveliest spots in Yosemite, especially as it is so relatively unvisited.

Pt. Reyes, California Coast, July 1978
At the Visitor’s Center, we obtained a map and set forth…along the blue Tomales Bay and through the little town of Inverness, around foggy, grassy hills, an oyster farm, scattered bits of dairy farms. The flowers were beautiful and abundant—the whole area looked like something out of Wuthering Heights—English heath, sort of. We went to the first beach, Pt. Reyes Beach North. It was cool and wild; the surf high and roaring, the water numbing. Giant strands of kelp and driftwood dotted the beach. The ocean was invisible beyond the first few yards or so due to the fog bank, which made the waves looming out of the mist all the more mysterious…It was quite sobering to look out at the water and realize that we couldn’t travel any farther west than this; that this was truly the edge of the continent.

The prettiest pink, cactus-like flowers grew all over the place at the edge of the beach.  We decided to forego the other beaches for now and instead drove on directly to the Lighthouse, past many Holstein farms and cattle guards. It was foggy here in earnest.  The lighthouse had just closed, so we walked a little trail from the parking lot and found a beautiful little overlook. Below us were sheer rock cliffs and the ocean. Also, below us were flat rocks covered with sea lions. … Great tan bodies lolled over the rocks, some cavorting in the water, some bellowing loudly, some stretched out belly up, flippers folded neatly across their bellies. I was thrilled! There were at least forty or fifty of them, lovable lugs that they were. It made a charming scene—carpets of bright wildflowers, orange, pink, yellow in the foreground; the brown rock cliffs, the blue and white water crashing about, the playful sea lions looking like giant, lazy slugs, except for the svelte and graceful ones in the water.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona, July 1978

Landscape and rain clouds at Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz. Photo by Francisco Morais.

We pulled off at the first observation point, Mather Point, and—there it was. The Grand Canyon’s greatest moment is the initial impact. The shock of space, distance, color, shape, after driving normally through the desert for miles, is mind-boggling. … All of a sudden the ground just stops and there’s this big hole.  And the mind has to struggle to adjust to it.   So that first five minutes, while your senses are still reeling and your brain has not quite grasped it yet, are the best. Then the mind puts things in order, says it’s so many miles down—oh, there’s the river—so many miles across, notices the formations, the trail, and begins to admire the beauty. But subsequent looks at the canyon will never equal that first wrenching view.

We walked from point to point, the canyon lovely in soft evening light, the shadows deep —a little misty perhaps. The rear wall of the canyon turned deep orange-red, the farther walls blue, purple, magenta. It was lovely.

Little Painted Desert, Arizona, July 1978
We turned left off the highway on a little road leading to the Indian reservation but also, hopefully, to a place called the Little Painted Desert Lookout…As we drove through a basically flat, featureless desert, we began to wonder if this place existed…Then, suddenly, we saw it.  It was rather like the Grand Canyon in effect: suddenly the land disappeared and we were on a rim looking out across a bizarre landscape. … Suddenly the flat yellow desert floor had dropped, and like an ocean, spotted hammocks, islands, mountains of sand—unbelievably colored sand stretching far to cliffs and the horizon in one direction, but fading away to a few lumps in the other. The lumps would have been just eroded sand dunes, except for their colors: all dusty, soft, subdued but definite colors, ranging from off-white to yellow, pink, mauve, dusty blue, lavender, magenta, burgundy, ocher, violet, brown, gray, pale orange, mauve and hundreds of shades in between.  With no features to set them off, it was difficult to tell their size. They looked small and close, but we finally decided they were farther and larger then we’d first realized.  We were blessed enough to have nearly full sunlight on them and could thus appreciate them. They were very eroded, full of little cracks and valleys since there’s nothing to hold the sand in place. Also, we could see that the colors ran in definite levels —a blue strip could extend across for miles. The color changes were often abrupt and definite, nothing separating a layer of red from a layer of light blue, for example.  Whatever extraordinary conditions created them they are truly a marvel, especially since they merely appear as if from nowhere in the midst of the desert.