‘Alta California' by Alumnus Nick Neely '14 Released this Month

BY Gina Hackett, November 18, 2019

Alta California: From San Diego to San Francisco, A Journey on Foot to Rediscover the Golden State, written by poetry alumnus Nick Neely ’14, was published this month by Counterpoint Press.


The nonfiction book, based on Neely’s experience backpacking on foot from San Diego to San Francisco, is a historically informed travel narrative that explores the California we know today, along with the issues that face it, such as water resources, immigration, and development.


Neely’s backpacking trip followed the original route of the 1769 Spanish expedition into “Alta California,” a part of modern-day California that remained a Spanish province until the mid-nineteenth century. Led by Gaspar de Portolá, this expedition’s path would, in part, one day become known as the El Camino Real, the road connecting California’s many Spanish missions.


Neely writes on his website: “I had no idea a journal had been kept on the Portolá expedition–I knew nothing about the expedition at all, though it was California’s ‘founding’ expedition. In that moment, I knew I had a potential book on my hands...The only question was whether I would find the time and gumption to attempt the walk.”


A map of Neely’s route can be found here.


“Neely’s naturalist, erudite work will appeal to readers of Thoreau’s Walden and Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire,” wrote Publishers Weekly.


“A sprawling record of a unique adventure,” wrote Kirkus.


Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Neely has published work in magazines such as Mother Jones, The Harvard Review, and FIELD and has received numerous science and nature-oriented accolades for his writing, such as the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award for his article on the Cassia crossbill.


His previous work includes Coast Range, a collection of essays about the California and Oregon coastal ranges. The book was a finalist for the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for Natural History Writing and CLMP’s Firecracker Award for Creative Nonfiction.

Alta California: From San Diego to San Francisco, A Journey on Foot to Rediscover the Golden State is available online or at your local bookstore.