“Wow – those are some big mountains.”
That phrase was spoken by the daughter of my mother’s best friend when she came out to visit us almost a decade ago.
The location? The Altamont Pass.
“No Ashley – those are just hills. Mountains here are much different than what you’re seeing right now.”
When this exchange happened, it gave everybody who is native to The Golden State a healthy chuckle. After all, we’ve seen the sweeping majesty of Mt. Shasta towering high into the blue yonder, and the way that El Capitan rises from the floor of Yosemite Valley like it was carved by the hand of God himself.
But the more I retold this story over the years – and thought about it each of the hundreds of times that I’ve driven to the Bay Area since then – the more I realized how lucky we are to call this place home.
It’s not just the standard of living or the way that California always seems to be on the forefront of ideas, or even the fact that we arguably have the best weather of anywhere else in the country.
But when you look around at the majestic landscapes that we have to work with – a lot of which we take for granted – and compare it to what other people around the country call home it’s apparent that we’ve been spoiled.
Many years ago when I was still a young man I traveled extensively around the United States every summer. It was the kind of job that only a young man can do – wake up in one state, drive to another, fly to another and drive to a third all within the same sleep cycle. Repeat for eight weeks.
It was taxing and grueling, but it also gave me a unique look into this great land of ours and the landscapes that form it – be it the marshy swamps of Louisiana or the rolling hills of Kentucky or the endless rows of corn in Indiana.
For a California boy, seeing the rest of the country was like traveling to parts of California that I grew up visiting. Those endless rows of corn were right here in the Central Valley. The rolling hills are what I would stare at while taking a bus ride to play football up in Sonora. There isn’t a whole lot of marshland around these parts, but there were parts of the Gulf Coast that reminded me of Southern California with the beach lifestyle and the rows and rows of palm trees.
But no matter where I went, not once did I think – “I could settle down here.”
California always was, and always will be, my home.
There are just things here that are different than anywhere else in the country.
Where else can you surf world-class waves at dawn and then end that same day skiing down a world-class mountain?
California has Hollywood. It has the Napa Valley. It has the San Francisco Bay, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Central Valley – which produces much of this country’s food. It has Death Valley, which is home to the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth as well as the lowest elevation in the continental United States (and isn’t too far away from the highest point in the continental United States.)
California has long served as the incubator for technology, and while Apple’s products are assembled in China, each piece that comes out of their white boxes proudly proclaims that they were “Designed in California.”
Please, somebody give me one example of something that changed the world that we know more drastically than the iPhone.
Us Golden Staters have been gifted with majestic landscapes, and in kind we have created a culture – many cultures actually – that have become marketable products all their own. Somewhere, right now, a kid in Michigan is walking around with a t-shirt from Hollister advertising “Newport Beach” despite the fact that he’s never set foot on a plane and will likely never visit there.
Yes it’s the most populous state in the country and yes it’s one of the most expensive.
But I remember my first night in Missouri when I ended up having to go into a tornado shelter, and the next night watching a thunderstorm that looked like it was out of the Book of Revelations coming right for us and thinking – “we don’t have to deal with this at home. Sure we have earthquakes but they just happen. And then they’re done.”
Someday California will break off the rest of the country, and it might even end up completely underwater if scientists are right in their estimates.
But until then we’ve gone some of the best scenery in the world right in our backyard, and a world of destinations without ever have to cross a state line once.
I can’t think of anyplace that I’d rather call home.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.