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Why California is still the true Golden State

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POSTED June 28, 2009 2:18 a.m.
There are those who have lost faith in California.

They point to dysfunctional folks up in Sacramento, too many people, air pollution, and the high cost of living as reasons why they flee convinced the fabled California Dream has turned into the California Nightmare.

As they look at California in the rear view mirror, they’re convinced those who stay are crazy to do so.

Yes, things do look bleak at times and you’ve got to go where the jobs are.

If you’re lucky, though, there will come a time when you understand the true value of living in California.

For me it came in one magical 18-month period.

It started standing on a 70-foot high sand dune as the sun set in Death Valley opening up the darkening skies to thousands of stars. I had spent a week bicycling the seemingly never ending mountain grades and valley floor and exploring the uniqueness of Death Valley. There is something enthralling about bicycling up to sea level – and below – as you make your way down the valley floor. Rest assured there is no place like it in Iowa or Arizona.

A month later I was walking across the wind-swept Golden Gate Bridge with the imposing cosmopolitan skyline built on 49 hills behind me and the rugged terrain of the Marin coastline ahead. Later that day I was walking on the Point Reyes Seashore after skirting Tomales Bay that was reshaped by the 1906 earthquake. There arguably is no newer piece of land – in terms of coastline being shaped by nature - in the entire continental United States than along the Northern California coast.

A few days later I was staring upward in a grove of redwoods reaching skyward more than 300 feet above me.  Many exceed 600 years of age while the oldest known is about 2,200 years predating the birth of Christ. If being at the base of a living thing that is that old doesn’t make you contemplate the world, then nothing else well.

In the coming months I would cross the Sierra via fully loaded touring on a bicycle criss-crossing passes from Donner to Tioga marveling at how vast California really is once you get out of a vehicle. Most of the time, though, it was just short forays of 12 to 40 miles into the fertile farmland around Manteca, Ripon , Escalon, and Oakdale and an occasional excursion into the fertile Delta – the only one of its kind on the west coast of the Western Hemisphere that makes it perfect for observing migrating birds  - and its windy roads.

I topped the 18 months by hiking to the top of the continental United States – the imposing 14,496-foot summit of rugged rock. From there I could gaze toward Death Valley – some 76 miles away – that harbors the lowest point in North America (Badwater) at 282 feet below sea level.

There is something about such experiences – and others that still beckon - that can be found within the boundaries of California that is as much a physical state as a state of mind – that makes you realizes there is a reason why you love this place.

This is a state with two active volcanoes, a young mountain range, desert, that great Sierra cathedral that we know as Yosemite Valley, the Alpine Jewel called Lake Tahoe, the world’s most farm region – the 400-mile long Great Central Valley and rugged coastline to sandy beaches with everything from snow skiing, water skiing, surfing and just about every possible wilderness endeavor you can imagine.

It is a place where anything is possible. Mankind, after all, transformed what Mother Nature created by trapping and moving vast amounts of water from the Sierra, Siskyous, and Coastal Ranges to the Mediterranean -style climate of the south state coasts and the Central Valley.

The challenges we face are nothing compared to ‘Methuselah’ that has carved out a life spanning 4,767 years so far in the ragged, barren and wind-swept White-Inyo mountain range north of Death Valley.

The real wealth in the Golden State isn’t what we can mine from the economy. It is what is around us.

The experiences stay with you and help balance’s life’s challenges and pitfalls by putting things in perspective. That’s the true value – and lure – of California.
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