Friday, December 02, 2011

The Great Valley - Splendor in the Grass

When California is mentioned, the ocean, beaches and surfing are always a highlight of the conversation along with
the beach communities of Malibu. Los Angeles and the glitzy glamour of Rodeo Drive, Hollywood, Getty Museum and music at every club and lounge in that area are something to brag about when talking about the pros of California.

Then there is California's most famous city, San Francisco. Hippies on Haight Street, Golden Gate Bridge, the beautiful bay where whales, dolphins still visit the urban population reminding San Franciscans of the closeness of nature to the City by the Bay. Picturesque Victorian homes dot the hillsides in walking distance to world-class restaurants and culture. An artist and musician's paradise of golden inspiration at every corner of the city. Photographers can spend a lifetime here capturing images unique only to San Francisco.

And, California brags about their mountains. Spectacular Sierra Nevada with Lake Tahoe bordering both California and it's next door neighbor Nevada. Rivers and waterfalls flowing everywhere in the spring where the runoff from the snow brings a sense of urgency to California. Possibilities of whitewater rafting and flooding are paramount in everyone's mind during this time. And, the photo opportunities are legendary as photographers line up to visit Yosemite and other mountainous areas. The Sierras are legendary and draw recreationists, adventurers and explorers from all over the world.

California is my home. I would not live anyplace, but California. But, I want to talk about an area that Californians rarely brag about... and it is unfortunate, because it is one of the most spectacular places in the world.

The Nature Conservancy - Consumnes River, California

The Great Valley. California. The bread basket of the world. Soil that can grow anything. An expanse so huge, that it takes a lonely drive up Hwy 5 to really appreciate the place. Like John Steinbeck and Joan Didion, I have found the beauty and sadness here, too.

I had an errand to run, and I had to meet a friend in Lodi. Remember that old Creedence Clearwater song? "Stuck in Lodi" was a vision of hot, dusty agricultural gloom signaling a valley town that did not warrant a visit. Well, the place was vibrant with grape vines and cherry trees. Vineyard country with world-class wines and wineries and restaurants that support the agriculture there. We had an incredible lunch together at a local restaurant.

The Great Valley at sunset by Stephen L.

As I drove home the next morning, the sky was a swirl of blue and huge pink, gray, white and bluish clouds were filling the skies space. Massive clouds filled with rain and snow moving across the sky like a heavenly dream. The width of the valley was so apparent. Flat and wide, the valley's structure was quite apparent. A huge valley surrounded by mountains. So huge, that you could see the curvature of the earth when you scanned the sky with your eyes.

I almost got vertigo driving and staring at the huge expanse of sky. Birds flew past the clouds, moving and darting among the wind and then landing along the freeway in the wetlands filled with nutritious food of algae, bugs and critters in the water. I saw egrets... snowy white egrets walking in the water right near the freeway. Picturesque, old barns and
landscape dotted with cows were as painterly as the landscapes that you would see at Crocker Art Museum's collection of old California art.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I spotted Mt Diablo in the distance. What an incredible perfect structure in the flatness of The Great Valley. You could see the coastal mountains off in the distance. The lush green pastures of the farmland and the swirl of the wild mustard coloring everything with a chrome yellow. Old Oak trees at least 100 years old or more were leafing out making each tree look as if puffs of sage-colored smoke were clinging to the end of their branches.

I could imagine wild herds of animals thundering through the flat expanse looking for water in the wetlands before civilization started building cities and suburbs in the valley. Indigenous people hunting the animals and praying to their gods for their skillful capture of fish, animal and birds in the valley. Even then, the valley gave the populations food fit for kings.

The Great Valley is beautiful. It is as spectacularly beautiful as any other place in California. I opened my car windows and sang
along with the radio. I had a smile on my face as I realized how incredibly lucky and privileged I am for living in this state. California has more than just beaches... it is a godly place of incredible beauty. Please respect this place and please help to preserve the natural places as best we can. Even the valley... wonderous... The Great Valley.

The Great Valley resources:

Golden Gate Bridge :

Sierra Nevada :

Getty Museum :

The Nature Conservancy :

California Writing Project's "Great Valley Writing Project" :

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, CA :

Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, CA :

World Wildlife :

Fresno, CA - The Bread Basket of the Nation :

Crocker Art Museum's California Art :

Sacramento Art & Events :

whitewater! north fork american in california wet river trips
Photo: Off the side of one of the WET River Trips vehicles in California.

This rafting blog and photos belong to W.E.T. River Trips; all contents are reserved.
Thanks to Stephen for his awesome pics and photos of the sandhill cranes.
Thanks to Great Valley for video and links!

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