‘Alta Live’ Recap: A Hundred Routes to the Secret West

Adventure abounds in California with Farley Elliott.

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One of Farley Elliott’s qualifications for writing 10 guides to unknown spots in California is that he hails from upstate New York. He migrated west for college and since then has been on a mad tear to find undiscovered museums, hidden sights, and little-known natural wonders from the North Coast to San Diego. “I’m the person at the cocktail party who’s got you cornered by the fridge with a cup in his hand, and he’s just screaming about the beauties of Inyo County,” Elliott told Alta Journal’s digital editor, Beth Spotswood, at yesterday’s Alta Live event. Not being from California offers him “the opportunity to think more broadly and more deeply” about the state, he said.

Elliott focused on 10 regions for Alta’s Summer 2021 issue: the North Coast, Gold Country, the Bay Area, the Central Coast, the Central Valley, the Sierra Nevada, the Owens Valley, the Deserts, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Each guide highlights a handful of places to explore, from a gold rush–era hardware store to a nearly 17-mile hike that ends at a hot spring. “It’s become more important than ever in the past year and a half for people, when they have the ability and access, to get outdoors as much as possible,” he said. “There’s a safe way to become comfortable with the outdoors in California.”

Elliott and Spotswood bonded over their shared affinity for small and unknown museums, several of which make appearances in Elliott’s guides. Elliott’s and Spotswood’s favorites include the Musée Mécanique in San Francisco, the West Kern Oil Museum in the Central Valley, and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.

But not all the selections in Elliott’s guides celebrate the best of the West. Spotswood asked Elliott how he weighed the uglier parts of California’s past when considering a location. “Context really matters,” Elliott said. “The reality is that California, in its diversity, has gotten some things wrong, and devastatingly so. And I don’t think I would have felt comfortable moving forward with a project this large” without acknowledging those parts of the state’s history. For example, the Owens Valley guide includes a former Japanese internment camp.

Elliott said that climate change and accessibility were two of his main concerns. For instance, Grover Hot Springs State Park, featured in the Sierra Nevada guide, is currently closed owing to damage from the Tamarack Fire, and climate-related disasters continue to degrade or destroy outdoor spaces. Regarding accessibility, Elliott said, “We don’t think about it enough when it comes to the interaction with the outside world.” With that in mind, he included retail locations and accessible museums as well as a sight or two that can be viewed from a car.

Spotswood and Elliott invited audience members to chime in with their favorite secret spots in California, and they responded with enthusiasm. Here’s a list of some of the places the Alta Live attendees recommend that Elliott (and you!) check out next:

    Alta Live is a weekly event series hosted by Alta Journal’s digital editor, Beth Spotswood. Each week, Alta invites innovators, academics, change makers, and artists to share their work with our readers in this free virtual series. Join us next Wednesday for Alta Live: Cartoonist Kate Isenberg.

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