The Los Angeles Dodgers interrupted my travel plans.
I had planned on heading east but my team decided to make a run at the World Championship.
I grew up just south of LA in a small suburb and in the 1960's few things occupied my thoughts and affection like my beloved Dodgers. I've been a Dodger fan literally since I can remember. I was born in 1957 and the Dodgers came west in 1958. I don't remember the Dodgers winning the Series in 1959 against the "Go Go Sox" in the Coliseum but I have vague memories of our glorious sweep of the Yankees in 1963 and I remember every out of the 1965 Series when the Dodgers beat the Twins. The first time the Dodgers broke my heart was 1966 and not simply because they were swept in the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles. Sandy Koufax retired at the end of that season.
My sports hero of the 1960's is still my hero at age 60. My words will fail, tremendously, at trying to describe my adoration, appreciation, and respect for the great Sandy Koufax. In my childhood, Sandy was the most dominant force in major league baseball. He was the classiest, most humble, courageous, kindest, smartest, player in the game. He remains simply coolest athlete in my lifetime. In fact, no one else comes close.
Sandy was forced to retire in 1966 due to an arthritic elbow. I still remember hearing the news on the radio and I was in a state of disbelief for a long time. I grieved his loss to the Dodgers and to the game...still do.
Anyway enough about baseball...perhaps I'll save my discussion of Jackie Robinson, Maury Wills, Lou Johnson, Claude Osteen, Don Drysdale, Ron Cey, John Roseboro, Davey Lopes, Orel Hershiser, Roy Campanella and Corey Seager for another post strictly devoted to my favorite sport in the coming months or so... Just know...I love the Los Angeles/Brooklyn Dodgers.
Suffice it to say, the Dodgers did make it to the Series this year and lost in the seventh game. I stayed home and watched and don't regret that decision. It was a marvelous post season (wait 'til next year!).
I was, however, itchy to get back on the road. I had reserved last May a few days at North Beach campground in Pismo Beach (planning months ahead is required these days). Although rather "urban" by my standards, it's still a long time favorite. I used to take my boys there when they were young and Lupe said she could join me thanks to the Veterans Day holiday. I arrived a day early to set up camp and realized that the Monarch Butterflies were just arriving for their yearly migration to Pismo. I spoke to a docent who shared that the numbers of butterflies has decreased dramatically in the last few years due to climate change.
Nevertheless, those butterflies are a sight to behold. If you get a chance...
The weather in Pismo was spectacular. I awoke the first morning to the sound of rain on the roof of the little trailer. I turned on the tiny furnace, warmed the trailer to about 70 degrees and made a pot of coffee. I spent the next few hours reading, drinking coffee and staring out the window at the steady rain. It was, in other words, a perfect morning. At about 11:00 AM the sun burst through the clouds and it became warm and clear and utterly delightful. Lupe arrived and I did make a few photos of the campground and nearby dunes. The sea water meanders through, behind, and around the dunes which are typically fairly crowded. I did manage to get few photos without people.
The central coast of California draws me back, again and again. Less crowded and commercialized than Southern California it captures some nostalgic, old California charm for me. In reviewing these pages you may find my deep affection for the place...in the meantime I'll keep returning. I've already scheduled a trip for the Rincon, Gaviota, Point Mugu and Morro Bay for the spring. Thanks for coming along...maybe we'll run into each other on some lonely dune near Cayucos one of these days...
There is nowhere on earth like Yosemite National Park. Yet, the last few years I have assiduously avoided this paradise in granite. I've grown weary of National Park crowds and craziness (see my commentary on Zion). I go to nature to reduce my anxiety and sadness not to increase it.
A couple of years ago we stayed in Wawona in July and visiting Glacier Point felt a lot more like Disneyland than the wilderness. The only reason we went was that I wanted to be sure my daughter experienced it before she ran off to college. I really didn't know when I'd be back but, it is, after all, one of the most stunningly beautiful places in the world. In the valley, looking up at the granite monoliths, one becomes overwhelmed by the staggering size and sublime scenery. It literally brings tears to the eyes. It's just that spectacular.
Last year I wrote a blog post about my favorite National parks and started to think about going camping again in Yosemite perhaps during the off season or my favorite mountain month- September. I knew that getting camping spots was problematic and I would have to plan on reserving online at 7:00 AM five months before I wanted to go. The Yosemite website suggests making sure that your clock is set correctly when attempting to book a site. Yeah. It's that intense.
So...I lucked out and got a spot in Upper Pines campground for a week following Labor Day. The campgrounds were full but the Park was, relatively, quiet compared to the June, July and August just as I'd hoped. Unfortunately there were two large wildfires burning nearby which obscured many views and limited my photography. Still it was magnificent Yosemite. Here are some black and white images I made on the trip.
The first few days I walked around the valley and drove up to the Tuolumne Grove, got to know my neighboring campers, hiked a bit, and kicked back while trying to find sun for my solar panels. On Saturday my dear bay area family; Kara, Steve and Jack arrived. We walked up to Happy Isles and had a marvelous dinner. The next day we spent in the Valley and sunned in one of Kara's favorite childhood spots along the Merced River. That following day Kara and Steve hiked up Yosemite Falls while the old guys, Jack and Jeff, drove over the Tioga Pass and had lunch in Lee Vining. Here are some more images of the trip. The first image was taken the night I arrived - a cloudy and smoky sunset.
If you look closely at the next photo you'll see Kara about to take a dip in the Merced River. The weather was perfect and warm that day but that night we were treated to a rocking and rolling thunderstorm.
Yosemite alone? Remarkable. Yosemite with people you love? Even better.
Since the Park was so smoky I think it merits a quick return trip, don't you? May sounds like a delightful month before it gets too crowded and while the water is running high. I better go back. In the meantime I'll leave you with a panorama of a soggy mountain meadow along the Tioga Pass in John Muir's "Range of Light".
Lilly, my 16 year old daughter, her friend Kennedy and I visited the western slope of the Southern Sierra and Giant Sequoia National Monument this August. We had a fine trip. Sadly, the legacy, history and scenic splendor of this area is currently under attack by developers and the United States Department of Interior. Please keep that in mind as you enjoy the photos and short narrative.
We chose to stay at the Quaking Aspen Campground in the National Monument. Ironically, there are very few Aspens in the campground proper but they are found all around the area. The campground sits near a small alpine meadow (7200 feet), has Tule Creek running through it, and is quiet and beautiful. After a somewhat harrowing drive on Highway 190 - it's steep and narrow and crazy curvy - we arrived and Lilly and Kennedy went to the nearby meadow and found a nice spot by the creek.
That night the old man (me) made his notorious Frito Pie, we watched "Sing" on my iPad in the trailer (to the pleasure of all...including the old man) and fell asleep to the sound of the whispering pines.
The next day we explored and went on two wonderful walks. The first is known as the "Trail of 100 Giants". Kennedy had never seen a Sequoia before and it was a kick to watch her expressions as we came upon these majestic wonders. We had a delightful hike.
My daughter, a lifelong adherent to lunacy, crawled into the hollow of a burned out Giant Sequoia and I asked her to poke her head out so that I could take a picture. It was, evidently, a far reach, and the photo came, over several minutes, in the following stages:
After our leisurely jaunt among the Sequoias we drove on the short dirt road to "Dome Rock" a large granite outcropping that is a rock climbing favorite. The views were beautiful and the steady strong wind we faced was refreshing and invigorating. Since I was camp counselor and guide I didn't focus that much on photography but I was able to capture a tiny bit of this pretty Sierra afternoon. I particularly like this photo of a lone pine on a rock outcropping.
The girls enjoyed the view and Kennedy was able to get cell phone service via her Verizon plan. Lilly and I on AT&T? Not so much. We planted ourselves and simply enjoyed the wind and sun.
Our last day was spent with more exploring, driving, and going for another hike. Lilly needed to get back to SoCal for Cross Country time trials but we managed to have a brief but brilliant time anyway. Life is so damn short and every moment with her in the wild is a profound blessing. I'll just count the days until we get out there again.
Lastly, I need to provide a quick editorial comment - it appears as if Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department will be recommending shrinking some of the National Monuments in the country. I am, of course, horrified. So much of the West has already been destroyed. We must, absolutely must, preserve all that is left. If you haven't already, won't you consider joining the cause of preserving these magnificent places?
My favorite state in the USA is New Mexico.
It's true I haven't visited all 50. I've traveled a bit however. How can I tell you why I love New Mexico the best? The history and culture are, in my opinion, the most fascinating and diverse in America. It's the scenery, and the adobe. It's the fine people, the Spanish and Mexican and Indian and Anglo. It's the spicy and delectable cuisine. It's El Malpais and El Morro and Bisti and the "seven cities of gold". It's chile peppers. It's the Chihuahuan Desert and the Rocky Mountains. It's the politics. It's the "Red or Green"? It's the scarcity of humanity. It's the sunsets, and the rain and the hiking and camping. It's Santa Fe. It's high Taos and low Las Cruces. It's the clouds! It's the sparkling metallic 1963 Chevy Impalas - chopped and channeled. It's sopapillas and posole and fideo. It's the cowboys still out on the range. It's Chaco Canyon and the Acoma Pueblo. It's Route 66. It's Billy the Kid. It's Carlsbad Caverns and the White Sands near Alamogordo. It's Bandelier National Monument. It's the Navajo and the Zuni. It's the snow on houses of earth. It's weird alien stories from Roswell. It's Georgia O'Keefe and Robert Oppenheimer and Tony Hillerman and Dennis Hopper. It's the mariachis on the Plaza in Albuquerque. It's the fertile Mesilla Valley. It's the Pecos and the Rio Grande. It's farolitos at Christmas and Hatch green chiles. It's the Tent Rocks and the llano and Shiprock. It's Los Alamos and the Hubbard Museum of the West and, well, I'm just getting started. Did I mention the food?
For the third time in four years Lupe and I visited the "Land of Enchantment". The reason that this is "Part 1" is because I have a New Mexico trip (Part 2 - El Malpais, El Morro and Acoma Pueblo) planned for October too. That trip will be camping and hiking. This trip's primary purpose was to visit Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces and look at property in communities to consider once Lupe retires. It was also, evidently, shopping and eating.
We started by taking the north route through Prescott, Arizona. I had been to Prescott some years back, on the 4th of July, and liked it well enough. It is an attractive cowboy town that sits at 5400 feet in elevation and has a famous rodeo every year. We stayed at the historic Hassayampa Inn which I highly recommend.
We got up early and hit the road to Santa Fe. There was a large fire about 15 miles away from Prescott (Goodwin Fire - 28,500 acres...now fully contained thankfully) which we skirted on our way. We arrived at the supposedly great Inn of the Governors (not recommended...ahem) and immediately went to eat at one of my favorite Southwest restaurants, The Shed.
We spent the next couple of days wandering around town and relaxing. A highlight was the New Mexico History Museum exhibit called "Voices of the Counterculture in the Southwest". The exhibit was really put together by Ed Abbey's old amigo, Jack Loeffler and well known '60's photographer Lisa Law. I had known of Lisa's Rock musician photos but was deeply impressed by her images of life in the 1960's. Coincidentally, having dinner one night in Santa Fe, Lisa walked into the restaurant and I was able to meet and chat with her. Very, very cool. Her website for fellow '60's aficionados, historians and culture lovers, is here.
Here are some photos I took while we meandered around town. It's a delightful place. I don't believe I've ever had an unhappy moment there.
On the last day of our stay, before spending time in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, I drove Lupe over to Bandelier National Monument. The Monument is remarkable for the cavates that ancestral Puebloan people inhabited for thousands of years. The setting is in a pinyon-juniper woodland...perhaps the most appealing topography in all the Southwest. I did take a few photos including the one at the top of this post and the one below which, to me, captures the area well.
The following photos show an ancient Kiva, old walls, cavates, the pinyon-juniper woodland and Lupe along the main trail in Frijoles Canyon.
You may have noticed the photo of the two young Native men doing maintenance on a ladder. A lowlight of the trip was some guy asking them what kind of rock comprised the ancient homes. They answered. "It's volcanic tuff". This guy walks a few feet away and says to his wife, "That's NOT volcanic. Those damn Indians don't know what they're talking about". Yeah, I was livid. I've found that confronting such ignorance with my anger typically isn't helpful but I find myself still burning, now, a few weeks later. What a monumental idiot. It is, of course, volcanic tuff and understanding that is part of the Bandelier experience - that racist halfwit could have easily discovered this through a 60 second perusal of the Monument website. Some of the people I meet on the road...I could write a book.
Enough about that. I'll probably write a cathartic blog post one day just telling stories about the inanities of some folks I've run into but, for now, enjoy the following gallery of black and white photos I made of magnificent New Mexico. I hope you enjoy the photos and remember...I'll be back in October. Who wants to come along?
The month of June in California typically signals two things; the start of the glorious summertime and "June Gloom" when the marine layer hovers over Southern California. I happen to be a lover of both. While September may be the best month of the year at the beach for those of who are sun worshippers June offers morning fog and overcast that usually "burns off" in the afternoon. After a lifetime of living in SoCal I've grown to love both months but June has a certain charm and I scheduled three coast trips this year. We had originally planned a large family outing to Lassen but, as I write this, the highway through the Park still isn't open due to the massive snow California received last winter. The water is a blessing and, hey, despite missing family and friends, the beach ain't bad!
I started at a longtime favorite-Thornhill Broome Beach near Point Mugu. In the early 1980's I was living in Ventura, CA and attending UC Santa Barbara. On the weekends, to survive, I would work at my father's typesetting shop in Los Alamitos. While taking the 101 to the 405 was much faster I invariably found myself taking "the long way home" along Highway 1 through Santa Monica, Malibu and up to Ventura County. I'd drive by Thornhill Broome and see campers literally right on the beach and think- "one day I'm gonna go there". I have followed through on that thought - many, many times.
The stretch of coast from Port Hueneme to Neptune's Net in Northern Malibu is some of the best in Southern California. There are very few homes and the beach is often desolate and lonely despite its proximity to LA.
Lupe and Banjo joined me for the weekend. In addition, her cousin Mundo and his wife Jenn also joined us on Saturday night for a wonderful outdoor barbecue and bonfire. Prior to their arrival I hiked each day in Sycamore Canyon and near the wetlands just north of Mugu Rock.
After the weekend Lupe went back to finish off the school year and I drove north to windy Gaviota State Park. I like it there and there may be more photos of that place here on the blog than any other place. It is almost always ridiculously windy and this trip was no exception. At one point I looked out the window and saw a dome tent rolling, end over end, directly at me. It ended up hitting the side of the fiberglass trailer with a thud and then flew over the top and about 50 more yards away where it was finally stopped by a wooden fence. Those folks left pretty quickly afterward.
The wind is one of the reasons I like Gaviota so much. It's in a small bowl along the coast, Kerouac slept here in "The Dharma Bums" and a train trestle is just overhead. But, the wind howls down through Gaviota Pass and makes camping there, sans an RV, difficult (although I did it for years). It generally keeps the amateur campers away. After a few hours of contending with the wind they often, while loudly cursing, get in their car and go. Can't blame them and gives me a bit more solitude.
Rumors abound that it may be closed soon. I certainly hope not. It's a treasure.
Marty, famous Marty, joined me the last night of my stay in Gaviota. He and I decided to hoist our old carcasses up a nearby peak to see some wind caves that I'd recently heard about. While it's a short hike it is very steep in places. We labored up the hills, sweating and mumbling to ourselves, but the destination was worth it.
I returned home for a few days and then my 16 year old daughter, Lilly, and I drove up to an old favorite of ours Pismo Beach. Lilly and I have been going to Pismo since she was a tot and we know the drill. We shop, bowl and head for the pier. Unfortunately, this year the Pismo Pier is going through a much needed rehabilitation and so it was off limits.
I brought my camera but didn't really plan on taking any photos. I wanted to devote my time and energy to "The Lilster". However, on one of last days we were there Lilly asked if we could go to Margo Dodd park since she'd heard it was pretty cool. Well, despite the heavy marine layer, it was indeed, "pretty cool". The rocks were covered with pelicans and it was a joy to discover.
I know, with Lilly reaching the latter part of her teen years and me getting older, we may not have many more trips with just the two of us. It was a memorable trip and she is a wonderful traveling companion. Her old man couldn't love her more if he tried. Here are some photos of Lilly's day trip suggestion.
This was written prior to the decision, along with Syria and Nicaragua (who thinks the accord isn't enough), to drop out of the Paris accords regarding Climate Change. Multiply my comments by several factors...
The photos above are from Mojave Trails National Monument.
An online friend of mine R. Scott Jones suggested that us "nature and public land lovers" write a blog about the federal government's attack on our public lands. I think it's a wonderful idea.
I started to write a long editorial essay regarding the Trump administration's "review" of our magnificent National Monuments and I wrote 6 pages of angry vitriol. The more I wrote the angrier I became. I made a list of the National Monuments I have visited. I made another list of the lies coming from Washington DC. I got ready to publish it and had second thoughts.
I got depressed and sad as I thought about the world we're leaving for my grandchildren and their children. I started writing again and will try to offer a simpler message. I want to convey, without bitterness, the beauty of the public lands and how much is at stake if we lose them. I'm in love with what's left of the West and our National Monuments, National Parks, Wildlife Reserves, and ALL public land that WE own and that our descendants deserve to enjoy. I want to come from a place of love...not hate.
My opinions on the decimation of the West are found, right here, on this website. If you want a more complete description of exactly what's happening this is an excellent article.
My hunch is that venting my anger is not a productive exercise for those of you who follow this blog. I only hope you will condemn and resist the development of our public lands in general and our National Monuments in particular. Please join us in doing all we can to halt the destruction of our land.
As Edward Abbey said,
"The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders".
Consider me an ardent defender. By any measure it's easy to see that our wild lands are being paved over, mined, drilled and ultimately destroyed. It is one of the great heartbreaks of my life.
My words fail. I am too emotional to be very articulate. Instead, I offer more photos of one of my favorite National Monuments, Organ Pipe Cactus in southern Arizona. Please visit a National Monument if you can. I promise, if you do, you'll want to stop the madness of this "review".
I hope you'll agree that these lands deserve saving. Contact your representatives by mail, email, or phone. Join one of the groups that advocate for the outdoors and our precious public lands. Fight for beauty and nature- it's a battle worth waging.
About a year and a half ago I was extolling my Utah love to my daughter in law Meredith. She looked pensive and said, "Will you take me there?". Well, of course! I figured it was just one of those things people say. Along the lines of "someday". After all, my daughter in law had just given birth to twins 6 months before. I figured she was going to be too busy to go on an extended trip for, oh say, at least 5 years.
I was wrong (again). She was determined to go. Cool. I still was unclear if my son would join us and what of the twin grandchildren? As it turns out...the more the merrier. The 2 year olds were comin'! In fact, there was even a last minute addition, Meredith's brother Matt who would accompany me on my drive while the grandkids and their parents would be in another car.
I had asked Meredith if she wanted southeastern (Arches & Canyonlands, Four Corners) or southwestern Utah (Zion, Bryce). She wasn't sure and although Zion has become a zoo I figured it was a closer drive and it is, after all, a must see. Then I figured we'd go to Bryce and a favorite of mine - Kodachrome Basin.
Zion National Park, while being world class in scenery, continues to get worse and worse as a destination. My first trip there, in the early '80's was sublime. Uncrowded, easily driveable, and scenically stunning it became a favorite and I've been there a dozen times over the years. Sad to say this will probably be my last visit - perhaps in this lifetime. I may return in winter sometime but the crowds and the associated Ranger Rules are not my cup of tea.
While acknowledging that my back "going out" before leaving on the trip probably colored my point of view, I could spend paragraphs explaining my frustration and sadness with Zion National Park but I'll leave it like this - it ain't what it used to be and the West is too big and wonderful to go to a place that is being overrun and is poorly managed by an overwhelmed and unwelcoming National Park Service. Maybe I'm just getting old and curmudgeonly but I don't think so. I don't believe, unless you fully experienced these Western Parks before the great tourist invasion, you can understand the disappointment regarding what has happened here.
By the way, "GET OFF MY DAMN LAWN!".
The weather was wonderful when we got there but changed, as forecast, to a steady and persistent rain on the second day. It did provide for some good photography opportunities however. I brought my camera as an afterthought, this was a family vacation, but I'm pleased with some of the photos. As a reminder you can purchase relatively inexpensive prints at by clicking here. Blog subscribers receive a discount. E-mail me at SouthwestDude@SouthwestDude.com for more info.
Here are some photos of the first day and a half before the big weather change.
The rain started to fall heavily and all five of us were cooped up in my little trailer - El Correcaminos. I decided to sleep in the truck for everyone's sanity but was told I needed to move the truck as we were "over the vehicle limit" despite having 50 feet of empty pavement in our campsite. I really despise this kind of nonsensical bureaucratic foolishness but I moved the truck 1/4 mile away and sulked off to fitfully sleep. No use raising Hell to an unresponsive, stodgy, overworked and underpaid Park Service.
The next day we took the kids on the Riverwalk trail, I tried my best to clear the trailer of the mud and mess from the rain, and made some more photos. That night we had a wonderful dinner of shrimp and orzo salad. We ate s'mores which I very rarely do and enjoyed a long conversation around the campfire. When the world pisses me off with its stupidity nothing gives me more relief than family. I loved every minute. It was a good day and we geared up to move to Kodachrome Basin. Here are some photos of the walk.
After the Riverwalk I stopped at the Courtyard of the Patriarchs. Don't forget you can click on the photos to make them larger.
That evening I ran out to take some last minute photos before saying goodbye, perhaps for the last time, to my beloved Zion National Park.
We left Zion, the weather was perfect, my back spasms had improved a bit and we drove the short distance to Kodachrome Basin State Park. Now, this was my kind of camping — a quiet and secluded campsite with hikes and views and friendly, helpful State Park Rangers. We settled in for a few fine days. I had intended to take the short drive to Bryce Canyon but that would have necessitated taking two cars and we didn't think the Rim drive would thrill the 2 year olds. Instead, we went on short hikes and wandered around Kodachrome saving awe-inspiring Bryce for another trip.
I was really hoping to get in a long hike or drive with my son but it didn't work out. Hopefully, next time. He's quite a remarkable young man. I am deeply proud of his sensitivity, love of and devotion to his family, his affection for art and the poor and the indigenous people of our country. He is a humanitarian. In short, he gets it and I probably don't deserve to have such an incredible person for a son. We did have an unforgettable few days and I can't wait until the next time.
I got a few photos of the family and a favorite is the two year olds, Finley and Joaquin, in full flight, loving being outdoors. I'm impressed with the emphasis that my son and daughter in law are putting on the little ones, already, to experience and enjoy nature to the fullest.
In discussing this trip with friends the question of how "Kodachrome" came to be the name of the State Park came up frequently. My tiny bit of knowledge is that in 1949 National Geographic Magazine sponsored an expedition to the area (with funding from Kodak) and hence they donned the name Kodachrome State Park after their iconic film. It is a beautiful place which features sand (or sedimentary) pipes. Large sandstone formations that jut straight out of the ground. I'm told that they are only found in this particular area. Here are some photos of sand pipes and slickrock and typical southwest vegetation replete with junipers and pinon pines.
Here is a striking example of a sand pipe. This is known as "Chimney Rock".
The following was our campsite view in Kodachrome. It was glorious.
Lastly, I offer a couple of panoramas. The first from Zion and the second from Kodachrome. I don't know how many of my friends and subscribers have been to Utah but it is, to me, a sacred place. I fell in love when I crossed the state line nearly 40 years ago and the state never leaves me. Through the trials and travails this life provides I know, no matter what, I have sweet Utah...here in photos, often in my mind, and thankfully just a few hundred miles down the road.
Thanks again for coming along.
Until next time...be well.
"I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America". -Sarah Bernhardt
Chicago. The Windy City. Chi Town. Hog Butcher to the World. The most corrupt city in America. The Second City. The City of the Big Shoulders.
So many words written about this great midwestern city. Truthfully, before this trip, I think I'd missed something that I found this time around. I had been to Chicago, for work crap, 3 times before this trip and liked, but didn't love, Chicago. The weather was always terrible. It was 8F on one trip and a muggy 99F on another. I mean, c'mon, I'm a southern California guy! I'm also a Blues man and so I truly wanted to like Chicago. Yet, I didn't think, in this lifetime, that I'd probably get back there. I have European and South American cities to explore. I'm in a constant state of missing NYC, Santa Fe and New Orleans.
But, hey, I'm married. While I gallivant around the Southwest all year my wife is still working. She's a school administrator (what kind of fool would do that job?). She gets only a few weeks to vacation each year and, so, it was her choice. I voted for Mexico City but it was vetoed in favor of a spring trip to Chicago.
I'll admit I wasn't too stoked...until I went online and saw the Cubs were in town...until I got tickets for a Cubs vs. Dodgers game at Wrigley Field. That did it. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. Wrigley Field is a baseball mecca. I'd wanted to go my whole life. So, nice choice Lupe!
In preparation we set various activities, to wit: House of Blues Gospel Brunch, The Second City, The Chicago Art Institute, the Field Museum, and architectural tours - one walking and one on the Chicago River. What we didn't and couldn't plan for was the graciousness and hospitality of the Chicago citizens. In my lifetime, I cannot remember a visit anywhere where the people were lovelier. Helpful, sincere, thoughtful and polite - I was amazed by the kindness of the people we met on this trip.
Of course, we ate deep dish pizza. Nothing like it anywhere else. We had hot dogs at Portillo's. We had one of the finest dinners, of our lives, at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab on Grand Avenue. The weather was in the 70's when we arrived! Of course it cooled off considerably, thundered and rained on our river tour and was chilly at Wrigley but it was tolerable and it turned out to be a wonderful trip.
This trip was NOT about taking photos but, you know me, I did take a few.
The architecture in Chicago is compelling for many reasons. One can see classical, art deco, modern and postmodern designs. Our trip started with the House of Blues and then a walking tour. In Chicago you spend a lot of time just looking up...
Of course, Lupe wanted to visit Marshall Fields (it was bought by Macy's several years back but no one calls it Macy's). The following are two pictures of the bedazzled ceiling and another Chicago landmark - "The Picasso" which is a source of both pride and derision in the city.
The next day we spent a few hours on a double decker bus tooling around and checking out the city.
That afternoon the rain came lashing down. The wind howled and the temperature dropped 30 degrees. Oh Chicago.
The next few days were spent at various Chicago institutions, Grant and Millennium Parks, the Art Institute and the Field Museum.
Several years ago, my long deceased friend Richard Gillen (of Chicago no less), had given me a fascinating book to read about maneless man eating lions in Kenya that I still think about from time to time. While meandering around the Field Museum I saw a sign that said, "Man-Eaters of Tsavo". Intrigued, I walked to the exhibit which had the actual lions from the story. I was blown away - it was too cool. Don't know the story? Check it out here.
The week flew by. I was worried that the Thursday afternoon Cubs vs. Dodgers game would be rained out as the forecast predicted rain in the morning. It did rain and it was cold but, well, this is Chicago. We took the subway to Wrigley Field and I was there.
I'm a lifelong baseball fan and, of all parks, Wrigley has been my dream destination. Yes, my northeast friends, I know Fenway is cool too, However, I grew up a National League fan and listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett vividly describe Wrigley as a child, seeing it's on TV for many years, listening to Ernie Banks call it the "friendly confines", created a deep desire for me to "someday" go. Oh, how it matched all expectations. Built in 1914, known for some of the most dedicated fans in the country, sitting, like old parks, in a neighborhood, it was baseball sublimity. The fans were marvelous and welcoming. Listening to their comments about the game it was obvious they follow the game closely and were deeply knowledgeable. They only spoke positively about their team, none of the "Beat LA", or "Dodgers Suck" crap. It was how we want to teach our children...root for your team, be humble, and don't disparage your opponent. All class. Man, was I impressed.
It was very cold when we got there. Cubs manager, Joe Maddon sported his trademark wool knit cap and the Cubs played like they knew how to handle the weather. The Dodgers played like they just wanted to go home to warm Southern California. Still, while the game wasn't close, it was a lifetime thrill to be at Wrigley. And to see my Dodgers? Even better. It was a banner experience in my life.
Chicago. The people are the best, the city is a musical powerhouse, the vibe is great, the weather sucks. We had a marvelous time. Thanks for coming along.
It's time to DO something, don't you think? Now, that I'm retired I am going to do some things that appeal to my convictions and my passions.
Since I was a young man, the farm workers of California have had a special place in my heart. I don't understand how anyone can drive by the fields and farms in California and not feel great compassion and empathy for those hard working people who feed us. It's back breaking work. Often bent over, in the hot sun or the drenching rain, these folks keep working for infinitesimal wages. Many are forced to live a migrant lifestyle moving from farm to farm and city to city to "follow the crop". Their bodies take a beating, often they get only short breaks, and must inhale pesticides and other toxins. Many, who come here simply seeking a better life, face possible deportation. It is a grueling life. I can't describe the respect I have for these men and women.
Last night I received the word that my education mentor and role-model, Mr. Bill Dickson, had passed away. He was my high school drama director and he cast me as George in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men". To motivate me to understand my character he said, "Jeff, he's a lot like you. If he were alive today he'd be working on behalf of the farmworkers". Good old Mr. D., he went right to my heart.
I recently had the opportunity to photograph the United Farm Workers march in Madera, California. It was my first time photographing a march and I learned a lot about how to approach this next time. Nevertheless, I do hope you enjoy looking through some of the photos and see the passion and determination of these marvelous and indefatigable people who feed us.
I need to express my gratitude to Teresa Romero, Jocelyn Sherman, Jamie Padilla and Oscar Mejia of the UFW for allowing me the opportunity to help the UFW in this small way.
At the end of the march there were speeches, and dancing, and music, and food. It was a celebration of brotherhood and a common cause. Bless them for their kindness and hospitality.
You might know that Cesar Chavez was one of my childhood heroes along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cesar's emphasis on non-violence resonates deeply in me still. How lucky I was to be in the presence of his spirit and among people, who despite hardships and unfairness and injustice, find meaning and passion and hope in their lives. They are the best among us. I hope, someday, to get another opportunity to be at marches and help document their indomitable and "Si! Se Puede!" spirit.
I am a John Steinbeck man. I was introduced to him by reading, "The Red Pony" at the age of 12 and I've been reading him ever since. I was lucky, in my senior year of high school, to play George in "Of Mice and Men" for which I won a small scholarship to the Drama Department of a small local state university. Make no mistake, I consider him one of the greatest writers of all time. The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden are two of the most beautiful, meaningful and powerful reading experiences of my lifetime. As a Nobel winner in 1962 it's clear that others have agreed. John's work, of all authors, resonates in me deeply.
John Steinbeck was the first of the great writers with whom I fell in love. There would be dozens and dozens of others over the years but he's the one I've stuck with - through all the the other "reading eras" of my life. If you know Steinbeck's work then you that no other writer, perhaps ever, captured settings better than him. The majority of his novels take place in what is commonly called "Steinbeck Country" in California. The oak savannah of central California has always held a particular allure for me and I thought, last September, that I would plan a spring trip there.
I was hoping we'd have a decent rain year which can turn the rolling hills into a spectacular, verdant green. Well we finally had a downright wet year.
We had so much rain, in fact, that it threatened my trip and closed the campground at my first stop. Morro Bay State Park. The campground there on the coast had suffered significant storm damage and photos showed dozens of trees knocked down onto the campsites and blocking roads. I looked for an alternative and found pretty Cerro Alto campground off Highway 41 between Morro Bay and Atascadero.
(Quick digression - do you know what atascadero means in Spanish? It means "sticky mess" and ranks high on the list of dumb Spanish names for towns along with Los Banos).
The road to Cerro Alto, off Highway 41, is one lane and if you stay right at the Y leads you over a stream, and into a tiny dead end with 3 parking spaces. Of course I took the truck and trailer right in there on the way in - you always stay right, don't you? After some crazy yet dexterous maneuvering I got the truck and trailer turned around and made it to my campsite. It was a picturesque place and my campsite had tiny Morro Creek running behind it.
The following morning I drove to Morro Bay and filled up with gas, had breakfast and bought a few provisions. Morro Bay is one of my favorite places on the coast of California and I've made dozens of trips there in my lifetime. I do not believe I had ever seen it so quiet and serene.
On the way back to camp I drove for a bit on Highway 41 to check out the late winter splendor.
The following day I spent hiking around the camp and on the Cerro Alto trail.
After a morning hike I came back for lunch and then decided to take a short nap. As an aside, I met a woman a few weeks back who had warned me about ticks this spring being very bad in the area I was to be travelling. She had contracted Lyme's disease about ten years ago from a tick and told me she had been sick ever since. Scared the Hell out of me as I've had a lifelong fear of parasites (human and insect) but I was pretty sure that I'd scheduled my trip prior to the big spring "tickfest". I mean, I'm a outdoors man, I wasn't worried.
After I got comfortable on my bed in the trailer, ready for my afternoon nap, I looked up and, boom, a tick about 4 inches from my head. Shit. Oh no. They must be everywhere, right? I thoroughly checked my clothing and scoured the trailer. I showered in my little trailer bathroom. The camp host came by and I asked him about the ticks. He told me, "yep, been around all winter and they're everywhere". Thanks pal, thanks for the encouraging news. I spent the next several hours obsessively scratching and itching. In the end, I never did see another tick. After years of being outdoors I'd much rather deal with rattlers than ticks. I can generally see and sometimes hear the snakes. The ticks are sneaky little bastards.
The next day I drove to Fremont Peak State Park. I was looking forward to going there as it had been Steinbeck's last California stop in his wonderful and inspiring travelogue, "Travels with Charley". It overlooks the Salinas Valley of John's youth and I felt that I would be walking in his footsteps during my visit. I did stop at the Camp Roberts Rest Stop (one of the most scenic in California) and made a few photos of what I consider prime examples of "Steinbeck Country".
The road to Fremont Peak is harrowing and the campground road was narrow, one lane, with fallen tree branches and steep cliffs on each side in places. About halfway there I thought I was completely out of my mind for dragging a trailer to such a place. After finding my campsite I didn't feel quite so crazy. It set on a bluff overlooking the valley with a view all the way out to marine layer covered Monterey Bay. I was, until a few nights later, the only person camping there. Magnificent.
I love that old picnic table in the photo gallery above. It looks like it has been there at least since the time Steinbeck visited in 1960. I imagined him there - peeling an orange and relaxing with faithful Charley by his side.
I was now in full "Steinbeck mode" and decided to spend the next day in Salinas. My first stop was at the "Garden of Memories Cemetery" where the ashes of Steinbeck are buried near his parents and last wife.
I met some workers at the cemetery who told me that 300 old growth oak trees had fallen in Salinas during the series of strong Pacific storms this winter. It was a theme for the entire trip - so many old, stately, and beautiful oaks lost. Heartbreaking.
I then went to the National Steinbeck Center and spent a few hours immersing myself in John Steinbeck. The exhibits are wonderful and cover each major part of his life. I had heard that Steinbeck's truck and camper from, "Travels with Charley" was there and I raced around until I found it. It didn't disappoint.
After spending a few touching hours at the Center I wandered down Central Avenue in Salinas to the birthplace and childhood home of Steinbeck which is a now a fine restaurant staffed by volunteers and fellow Steinbeck enthusiasts.
The journey back to the campsite was not nearly as anxiety filled without the trailer and I did stop to take a few photographs of the drive.
That evening was quiet and serene - literally no one else around.
The next day, a Saturday, I decided to go ahead and truly follow Steinbeck's footsteps and hike to the top of Fremont Peak. I awoke a little later than I'd planned and worried it might be crowded. I needn't have worried - I saw a group of 3 women and a father and son on the hike. There was a 360 degree view at the top of Fremont Peak. It was blissful and I thought of John and Charley the entire time.
Fremont Peak State Park is an unheralded gem. Not only literary history but California history abounds as well. John Fremont and his troops ascended the peak during the Mexican-American war (1846-1848) and it was the first place that the American flag flew in California. It is also a dark sky place of some renown in California according to the stargazers I met on Saturday night. There is an observatory there and many folks just tote their telescopes to the park, set them up, and spend hours observing the constellations. It's quite a place. I'm pleased Mr. Steinbeck sent me there.
I planned to spend the last few days of the trip in Pinnacles and then visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Unfortunately, Pinnacles was overrun (the exact opposite of Fremont Peak) and I had a couple of minor issues develop with my Casita which necessitated coming home a bit earlier than planned. Nevertheless I did make some photos of the two days around Pinnacles.
I am a passionate person. Guess I was born that way. And the things I love? Like music and literature and the land? I love them deeply. I love John Steinbeck and I love the topography of my home state. I have my whole life. This trip was one I'd desired to take for many, many years. It satisfied a longing I had and felt as though I'd touched the heart of the golden state.
Haven't read Steinbeck yet? Start with, "East of Eden". Like me, you'll probably never look back.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.
All content (C) Jeffrey C. Hubbard. No re-use without express written permission