Natural Bridges Vallecito California

Natural Bridges Vallecito California

One day I’ll write a post about the places you never need to visit in America.

There’s far too many “10 places you need to visit” listicles already, but no one ever looks at the unpleasant side of travel. No one warns you about the places you don’t want to visit.

Delhi will be pretty high on this list. High, but still underneath Fort Lauderdale.

We found ourselves in Delhi for four weeks. To be fair, it was enjoyable for the two weeks we had a hire car. Mostly because we didn’t have to shop at any of the surrounding Walmarts for groceries. And we could escape to places like Yosemite and Natural Bridges.

The first county park with a lake we stopped at in Merced County was pumping with terrible music, and everyone looked like they were on day release.

Natural Bridges, on the other hand, is a long drive from anywhere populated. And almost impossible to stumble upon accidentally.

We parked up in a tight laneway beside a series of hills and valleys, deep in central California. Without the small  plaque saying we were at Natural Bridges, we probably would have missed the area.

Natural Bridges Vallecito California

The walk down to the water is a couple of kilometres or so on a sandy orange path, shaded by native Californian trees. Big black shale rocks jutted out at points, striking against the orange dust and the greenery.

We came to a juncture where it was tricky to tell which direction we were meant to take to get to the water. In one direction, we could hear people, but the path was tricky and obstructed with branches. In the other direction, the air was so thick with the smell of marijuana I thought I’d get high just being in the area.

Having an aversion to the smell of the stuff, we took the other path. And luckily, it took us down to a large, open limestone cave, with a deep pool of water at the cave mouth, and  a river running through the length of the cave.

Natural Bridges Vallecito California

Groups of middle aged adults were carrying blow-up rafts and laughing after floating through the cold cavern water. At this point, we realise we’ve come the wrong way round. One of the ladies offers us her raft and says we’re meant to go up to the other point (where the pungent smell wafted up to us from) and float down to this end.

We politely decline. Groups of other people have come in the way we did and eagerly take up the lady’s raft offer.

A scout group with 5 or so teens and their fathers comes in and tests the water. The boys shiver and try to tough it up. One of the more rotund, generously padded fathers tests out the water with a raft and paddles them up the cavern river singing a Viking-esque song, which reverberates through the cave.

I’d tried to swim out myself. It was bloody cold, but the cold wasn’t bad enough to deter me. The problem was getting deep enough to swim. The walk across the pebbles and stones was excruciating. I tried once without shoes, and the pain was bad enough for me to come back for my sandals. The sandals were a good idea, but when I got to the part where the water was a foot or so deeper than my height, I nearly lost my shoes swimming.

Natural Bridges Vallecito California

So I gave up trying to swim through the cave to the other side and had to be satisfied with a swim under the cavern, and a shower underneath a cluster of stalactites.

I also had to run back to my backpack which North Nomad was guarding. There were a couple of squirrels fiercely trying to steal whatever was inside. I think they’d seen my sandwich (which I’d eaten completely) and were determined to get something. The smug buggers even threw a nut at me to try and get me to relinquish my backpack!

Natural Bridges Vallecito California

The walk back up is a bit of a killer, particularly in wet sandals and a bikini. Sneakers would have been a far more sensible idea – it’s a constant incline with branches and dust. It’s a bushwalk, not your average walk back from the beach.

When we checked in to Casa de Fruta in Hollister, we’re told that Natural Bridges was a hippy place that they used to hang out in during the 70s and smoke joints. Nothing’s changed – it was pretty pungent the day we went!

Natural Bridges Vallecito California

Oh… we should also mention that there are rattlesnake and poison oak warnings. And it’s probably considered moderate, with difficult sections on the bushwalk range. If you’re unfit (and we saw quite a few red-faced people on the trail) bring lots of water for the walk. My tips would be to bring shoes you don’t mind getting wet, wear proper walking boots, bring sunscreen and bug spray.

What’s the strangest place you’ve swum in?

Getting There: Take Highway 4 and turn on to Parrots Ferry Road. There’s a  marked trail head you can park at – keep an eye out so you don’t drive past like we did!

Location: Parrotts Ferry Rd, Vallecito, CA 95251

You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.

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