It was time to come down out the high-desert mountains and head back to “civilization.” So, what should one do along the way? Why be a tourist of course.
For months I had lived in an amazing little oasis, hiked in beautiful spaces, and found peace being on my own and in the company of a few very special people and very special wild animals. Simply put, Nature. But it was time to move on and prepare a winter base.
I picked a few target sites and turned this into a bit of a winding path. West, Northwest, Plains, Midwest. I knew I would be encountering volumes of people, but there are many good ones out there. What I saw, quite by accident, was some very interesting behavior. The blacks and whites and the grays of social discourse. And the rainbows of course.
One place I always wanted to visit was the San Diego Zoo. I headed west through Yuma, Arizona – a hot, stifling, industrial and farming zone. The contrasts there are incredible.
Bleached, beige sand with ribbons of blue water.
It was 108 degrees, surrounded by barren desert that normally receives a little over three inches of rain annually, and yet there was lush farming. All because of a 53-mile system of irrigation canals that divert water from the Colorado river.
Not a place I would want to stay.
I was a little apprehensive as I headed into California. A small-town boy, I had images of massive, intertwining freeway systems choked with a bazillion cars bellowing out vast amounts of toxic fumes. Road rage nightmares. Dirty inner-city avenues. Muggings in poorly-lit alleyways . . .
I was packing my 9 mm.*
But I also had the contrasting images of deep blue ocean waters, sailboats at sunset, deep green valleys in the shadows of rolling mountains. Heavy forests. And palm trees, contrasting the desert scrub I’d become accustomed to.
And all of those visions did indeed come into view as I entered parts of the Cleveland National Forest. The Pine Creek Wilderness. Then the busy highways of San Diego. And then, the Bay.
A couple of differences. The forested areas seemed to me to be very dry, ripe for those California wildfires. A layer of brown smog filled the air. But the traffic was comparable to that of St. Louis – a mess, but not as much of a mess as I had anticipated. I reached my destination in the center of the city without incident.
It was a cute rehab of an old stately home divided into condos. The neighborhood was picture perfect. Palm trees swayed among gingerbread homes on terraced streets. Local businesses within walking distance perfumed the air with taste-bud delicacies. Jazz resonated from three blocks down while neighbors across the boulevard gathered for a barbecue.
I divided my short days to visiting the Zoo, hiking around Cabrillo National Monument, strolling through the Museums of Art and Natural History at Balboa Park, and relaxing on a sunset sailboat ride in the bay.
The Zoo was nothing short of amazing. I spent 10 hours there, Urban Hiking some 7 miles of Caged and packaged wilderness.
And it turns out, I was a bit of an attraction myself. I looked out of place. Wearing long pants and hiking boots. My Aussie-style, wide-brimmed, bush hat. Still shaking off a bit of desert sand and dust with each marching stride.
I was surrounded by short pants, pastel Becker-style T-shirts, retro bowling shirts, sun dresses, bikini tops, and sandals. Designer everything. Several people looked me up and down, and when their eyes reached my boots they visibly laughed out loud.
I was an outsider in a city where multicultural diversity thrived. Many tourists blended in, but me, not so much.
But I was fine with that.
Next Chapter of “Contrasts” – The Zoo.
Photo: San Diego Cityscape at night.
*Don’t worry, I had trained and had my permit for it. Besides, one can’t travel alone these days without considering some form of self-protection. Highway robbery has never died out.