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.
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.
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.
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. I 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.
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. 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.)
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.