There is a monument of human dedication and determination half way between Sequoia NP and Yosemite NP. A Sicilian man bought a piece of land on the edge of Fresno city and turned it into something extraordinary.
Baldasare Forestiere emigrated to US in 1902 with his American dream of becoming a citrus farmer. To get the money for buying some land he first worked as a tunnel digger for New York underground system. Then he moved out to California Central Valley and used all his money to get 80 acres of land near Fresno. It turned out that the land was all rock covered with just a thin layer of soil and not suitable for growing citrus trees. So he had to rethink his plan, because winners never quit and the road to success isn’t always easy. But it’s pretty hard to think when you’re in the summer sun and sweating at 40 C outside. That’s when it hit Baldasare. He knew from experience that it’s cold underground, so he came up with a plan to dig out an underground resort for people to escape the heat.
He started digging, alone, because he didn’t have money to hire anyone. Dirt doesn’t fill your stomach, so he had to get a dayjob – digging ditches for other people. So he was digging day and night.
He had a vision that kept him going and he loved what he was doing – you can see it radiate from every detail in the Forestiere Underground gardens. He didn’t have any formal schooling, but everything he did was and and still is professional, logical and beautiful. He thought of everything! He might have missed the possibility of two relatively tall Estonians coming by because some of the tunnels are quite low, though.
By now you might be wondering why it’s called gardens and not resort? First of all, Forestiere never opened it to the public. Some say because he wasn’t ready with everything he planned, some say because he was too kind to ask for money from the people that visited him. He was probably a Couchsurfing kind of person. Secondly, the guy loved growing trees and he planted quite a few of them into the open areas of his underground kingdom. Some of them he crafted to be as special as his home – one tree carried 7 different types of citruses!
When Baldasare passed away at the age of 67, his brother took over and finished some of the work. Today a son of Baldasare’s brother with his team operates the gardens.
Although not all of the original diggings remain and the city of Fresno expanded on top of the bigger part of the labyrinth, we really enjoyed the tour at the core part. It is really inspiring to see one man create something so marvelous just with his own hands and hard work. There are no plans or blueprints, he planned everything in his head. “The visions of my mind overwhelm me,” he once said when asked about his motivation. Dream big!