Scenic drive: The road to Pardee

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” – Greg Anderson

Recently I ferried my son and four other boys in my family’s minivan to a weekend scout camp out at the Pardee Resevoir recreation area near Ione. We left about 5:30 in the afternoon on a Friday for the outing meant as an introduction to the incoming Webelos. It’s late enough in the day that the scouts don’t miss any school and it gives the troop an extra night to sleep out under the stars rather than trying to drive there early Saturday morning.

I took Highway 99 to Liberty Road near Galt. It may seem a bit of a circuitous route but it avoids much of the rush hour traffic of people driving to their homes in the Lode at that time of the day. Liberty Road is a lightly traveled two-lane road and it’s pretty much a straight shot eastward to Highway 88 from 99. Driving the road one gets a sense of why this has been called the Big Valley. Vast stretches of farm land reach out as far as the eye can see. The Sierras are mere suggestions obscured by distance and atmospheric haze, like the background of some renaissance painting. As we got closer to the Highway 88 the Valley’s flat landscape gradually changed to gently rolling hills.

Turning north onto 88 the hills become more pronounced and the scenery was certainly pretty and you get a sense nature on a grand scale. But despite its rural nature there was a certain impersonal coldness to the view. The highway and it shoulder is wide enough with plenty of places to pull over to take a picture, but everything is pretty so far from the road. Probably due to the smooth, wide road, traffic, considerably heavier than Liberty Road, travels at a pretty good clip. There’s an almost unconscious urge to ignore the landscape and hurry to get the scouts to their destination.

Just outside of Ione we took a right onto Jackson Valley Road and things changed quite a bit. It’s a winding country lane but unlike the other roads up until this point it becomes a cozier, more intimate experience. The surrounding mountains are closer and you get a sense that you’re in a small valley. Trees line and hang over the road like a shady canopy in many spots. I could feel my blood pressure lower from the much more relaxed atmosphere.

I took in the bucolic views as my speed slowed. Vineyards and pastureland line the road. Farm houses dot the landscape as do small groups of horses and cattle. There was even a field of what looked to be a flock of free-range chickens. Though the road is narrow were adequate places to pull over for photos. Aware of my passengers and their destination I didn’t stop but made mental notes of things and places that could make for some good photos. After several miles we passed by a small trailer park and came to the intersection of Jackson Valley Road and Buena Vista Road. A small general store and a few farm houses joined the trailer park to make up the small community of Buena Vista.

We turned right onto Buena Vista Road and the peaceful bucolic scenery continued. High clouds started to move in overhead. The road climbed into the hills for a few more miles and another turn got us onto Stoney Creek Road, the home stretch to the Pardee Lake campgrounds.

It was early evening when we arrived at Pardee and found the troop’s campsite. The recreation area is well-developed for camping boating and fishing, but scenic photos don’t immediately jump out . Given time I could have looked around for some pictures, but the light was fading and I wanted to get back to the shots I had already passed up. I offloaded the scouts and their equipment and I headed back the way I came.

I stopped frequently to get shots roadside wildflowers, tree-covered hillsides, a rusting chain locking a pasture gate, some irrigation pipe in a field and an old stone farmhouse all in reverse order that I first saw them. Each time I get out of the car I take in a deep relaxing breath of the fresh, cool air. I walked slowly thinking how I want to shoot each subject. Though the photo possibilities may have been limited at the campground, the pictures abounded on the road to Pardee. In photography as in life sometimes not the destination but the journey that matters most.

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