Steps to the Tule River

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On California Highway 190, between Camp Nelson and Springville, there is what appears from the road to be a scenic overlook with steps (mysterious steps) leading down and vanishing.

Mysterious steps.

Mysterious steps.

There’s no sign other than standard Forest Service signs, nothing to let one know where one is or where one might end up. On the way back from Springville, I decided to stop. There’s a place to pull off the road with three or four marked parking spaces and two plastic trash cans on either side of the steps, each chained to the guardrail. And just so everyone knows, no, I wasn’t chemically altered in any way, although I was battling motion sickness due to the continuous curves in the mountain road. I started down the steps, although, yes, it occurred to me that I was alone and no one knew I was there, but I decided whatever. If I wait to go places until I have someone to go with me, I won’t be going many places. So I walked down the steps. And then the path turned, and then there were more steps leading down. There were more turns, more steps, then a wooden bridge. All the while I could hear the river, but not see it.

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Looking down the steep steps to the wooden bridge.

There was vegetation all around and boulders, and if not for the fairly big lizards and lack of oppressive humidity, I could have been in Tennessee or Kentucky or North Carolina.

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Fairly big lizard.

I continued descending the steps, thinking, should I be afraid? Maybe I should have been afraid because I didn’t know who was at the bottom of the steps or what people might be doing down there, but I wasn’t scared at all. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, entering a totally magical and mysterious world. Then the steps ended, and the ground in front of me was just rock, and where the ground of rock ended, I could see the river tumbling over other rocks, not quite a waterfall, and not rapids, but water tumbling down. I carefully climbed down the rock I was standing on toward the river. It was a gentle decline; I wasn’t repelling down the side of a mountain. The rocks I walked over were mostly flat and not slippery. IMG_2852I walked into an area with no vegetation, just these smooth, mostly flat, ever so slightly curving rocks right up to the water. The earth was stone, smoothed out, gently sloping, white. It was unearthly. Of course, it was earthly, because I was still on earth, but I also felt as if I was somewhere else, maybe the moon. (And then, because of the hippie I am, I thought of the Grateful Dead song “Standing on the Moon.”) When I looked over to the river, I saw that the water tumbled over rocks and into a pool. The water in the pool was green, but also clear enough to see rocks under the water. It was somehow both clear and green. I thought about sliding into that clear green water, but it wasn’t nearly hot enough for that, and I’m not much of a swimmer. I’m brave (or maybe foolish), but I’m not brave (or foolish) enough to get in a pool in river all alone when no one has any idea where I am. Besides, the water was probably pretty cold, and I do not like to be cold and wet.

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Water tumbling into the pool.

IMG_2848 The pool was big and looked fairly deep (another reason not to get in—I don’t like to be in water over my head, even in pools made by humans). There were big rocks at the edge of that pool. The water went over those rocks, and there was another only slightly smaller) pool. IMG_2854 The whole scene was totally amazing and miraculous. I walked on those big flat rocks and wondered if I were actually dreaming. The whole scene had an absolutely dream-like quality to it, so different from up above where I’d left the van. The terrain had changed so quickly—I think that’s what made it feel like a dream. It didn’t seem possible that my whole world could have changed so fast. I felt as if I were mentally stumbling around (my feet were steady), and I kept thinking, are you KIDDING me? I didn’t stay too very long. I hadn’t brought water with me, and I knew I had to climb all those steps to get back to the van. I took photos, but I fear they won’t do justice to the experience. (I don’t think photos ever do justice to an experience, but sometimes they convey something close to what really happened.)

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There’s the wooden bridge and the stairs I had to climb back up to the van. I like the way the wooden bridge is sitting on top of those boulders.

I just don’t even know how to explain how I felt. I was totally in the moment. My life was absolutely real, while at the same time I also felt as if I were in a dream. It was the flip side of those dreams that feel so real; it was absolute realness that felt like a dream. This little excursion was a blessing because it reminded me why I’d come to California: to see new places and have adventures.

If you are interested in listening to “Standing on the Moon,” I’ve included a video for you.

(Why is Bob Weir nearly naked in the video?)

All photos in this post were taken by me.

About Blaize Sun

I live in my van, which makes me a rubber tramp. I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. I like to play with color. I make collages and hemp jewelry and cheerful winter hats. I take photographs and (sometimes, not in a long time) write poetry. All of those things make me an artist. Although I like to spread joy and to make people laugh, my wit can be sharp. I try to stay positives in all situations, to find the goodness in all people. But I often feel compelled to point out bullshit when I smell it. I like to have fun, to dance, to eat yummy food, to sit by a fire and share stories. I want to know what people hold dear and important, not just make surface small talk. This blog is a way for me to share stories. This blog is made up of my stories, rants, and observations, as well as my photographs.

4 Responses »

  1. Thanks, Blaize, for the pictures. Something I would never had seen but for you going all the way down there and back.

  2. I love The rivers of California, especially the little out of the way ones that no one expects to see. And a lot of the time, the roads go right along them! Makes it so easy to stop and see new places, new river beaches, new sights. Thanks for sharing your pics. Makes me nostalgic for some CA river vistas 🙂

    PS. I don’t think the Kern runs along 190 – I think that’s the Tule 🙂

  3. Lois! You are right! You win the prize!

    Actually, I didn’t have a prize in mind, but I bet I can find a tiny little something to give to you next time I see you.

    Upon consulting a map the other day, I found (to my chagrin) that in fact, the river in my story is NOT the Kern, but the Tule. Embarrassment! I have to change the name of the post. I blame the forest service for my confusion. If they had a sign up there, I’d have known where I was going.

    Thank you for correcting my error so kindly.

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