In 1769, Gaspar de Portolá led a band of 64 Spanish explorers overland from San Diego north to what we now call the San Francisco Bay. Two hundred and fifty years later, Neely—who grew up in Portola (without the accent) Valley—set out to retrace the route, also on foot, in search of a deeper understanding of the Golden State’s history. Using passages from diaries kept during the original journey for comparison and contrast, he explores the biggest issues facing California today—water, agriculture, oil, gas, immigration, and development—while walking through a panorama that’s both beautiful and conflicted.— Rico
"Neely's naturalist, erudite work will appeal to readers of Thoreau's Walden and Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire." --Publishers Weekly
"Rich in little-known history. . . Up the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo county coasts, then inland into the Salinas Valley to Monterey Bay. Somewhere along here, the owl moons and woodpeckers do something you might not have thought possible in 2019: they make you fall, or refall, in love with California, ungrudgingly, wildfires and insane housing prices and all . . . What a journey, you think. What a state."--San Francisco Chronicle
In Alta California, Nick Neely chronicles his 650-mile trek on foot from San Diego to San Francisco, following the route of the first overland Spanish expedition into what was soon called Alta California. Led by Gaspar de Portol in 1769, the expedition sketched a route that would become, in part, the famous El Camino Real. It laid the foundation for the Golden State we know today, a place that remains as mythical and captivating as any in the world.
Neely grew up in California but realized how little he knew about its history. So he set off to learn it bodily, with just a backpack and a tent, trekking through stretches of California both lonely and urban. For twelve weeks, following the journal of expedition missionary Father Juan Cresp , Neely kept pace with the ghosts of the Portol expedition--nearly 250 years later
Weaving natural and human history, Alta California relives his adventure, tells a story of Native cultures and the Spanish missions that soon devastated them, and explores the evolution of California and its landscape. The result is a collage of historical and contemporary California, of lyricism and pedestrian serendipity, and of the biggest issues facing California today--water, agriculture, oil and gas, immigration, and development--all of it one step at a time.