Last month I took a quick jaunt down to San Clemente State Beach.
My friend Dell was supposed to join me. Turns out, he stayed one night in San Clemente but had scheduled work. With my plans to camp with him dashed I took a few photos and decided to go home the following day because I felt like Hell.
I woke up the next morning - reminded myself that life is short - and decided, what the Hell, to drive to an obscure State Park which I had recently heard about in the California Central Valley.
Interstate 5 and Highway 99 are notorious in California. Recognized as either the "most boring" or simply "ugliest" drives in California they are only to be used to get from one place to another in the quickest manner. I used to subscribe to this notion, too - especially when I was younger.
My 4th grade teacher, Eve Boram (yep, her last name was pronounced BORE 'EM) instilled in me a bit of California love. In particular, she loved to pull down the map and talk about "The Great Valley" and its impact on American agriculture and how it fed Americans. She talked about the "hot Mediterranean climate" and said the valley had its own special beauty.
I never really saw that - after all, Yosemite is east of the valley and Big Sur is west - and well - that's BEAUTY. But you know....I realize now - she was right.
So, let's go. The weather was perfect and I had a leisurely drive up 5 to the 99 to Earlimart and then to Colonel Allensworth State Park. Do you know the story of this place?
"Established on August 3, 1908, the town of Allensworth was the vision of Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth. Born in 1842, Allensworth escaped slavery during the civil war and joined the Union Navy. In 1886, he became the chaplain of the 24th Infantry Regiment, retiring in 1906 as the highest ranking African American officer in the US Army.
On June 30, 1908, Colonel Allensworth, Professor William Payne, Dr. W. H. Peck, Harry Mitchell, and J. W. Palmer formed the California Colony and Home Promoting Association. They purchased land at this location to build the town of Allensworth - the only town in California founded, built, governed and populated entirely by African Americans."
Here is the link to state website.
The town, due to water problems, slowly dwindled in population. By the 1950s Allensworth was an impoverished area without drinkable water. Colonel Allensworth himself had been hit and tragically killed by a motorcyclist in 1914 in Monrovia, CA.
In 1968, Cornelius "Ed" Pope, a former Allensworth resident, helped restore the area to a state historical site. In 1976, the site was established as a State Historic Park. The preserved town features nine restored buildings, including a schoolhouse, a hotel, a general store, and library and several homes.
In my life there have been 4 places where the feelings I had upon arriving were psychically overwhelming. I experienced an energetic calm and a feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Those four places? Arches National Park, Chiricahua National Monument, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and, strangely, Colonel Allensworth State Park. The isolated, stark, flat beauty of the Park was different than any of the places I've visited over the last 10 years. The air was clean and birds were everywhere.
As I was setting up camp one of these birds was raising hell with me with sharp and shrill chirps and an odd display of its feathers. It looked like a plover to me but I'm not well versed in bird identification. After I got the campsite ready I walked over to see why the bird was being so aggressive and, after nearly stepping on her eggs, I discovered why she was acting that way.
I took a photograph of the bird and the eggs and posted them on iNaturalist. Since this park is renowned for birding opportunities I assumed they'd get back to me quickly and, in 24 hours, I found out the bird was a Kildeer (indeed a type of Plover) and they often nest and lay their eggs right on the ground. Further, they engage in a "broken wing display" to draw predators away from the nest. In this scenario, I was, of course, the threat and the photo below was Mom's response to get my attention.
In my short time at Allensworth I fell in love with this Mama Kildeer and kept a sharp lookout for any people (or animals) who might get near her nest. I do believe we became friends and that she knew she could trust me before I left because she was calm around me and stopped using the broken wing display. I loved her.
Additionally, this place - besides the history - was, to me, a photographers dream. I have already made reservations to go back in November. I hope you will enjoy the following gallery of photos.
Abandoned roads, clouds, trains and telephone poles. Southwest Dude stuff.
One late afternoon the famed Tule fog started rolling in from the northwest. The sun was slightly obscured and made a photo that I enjoy.
Here are some other color photos of the Park.
I'm definitely not trying to sell this Park. It isn't for everyone, but it is just as "California" as the beach or Sierra Nevada. If you find yourself on old Highway 99, I would certainly encourage a quiet and reflective respite where, despite an overwhelmingly daunting past, one man, Colonel Allen Allensworth, an old escaped slave and war hero, had a dream and dared to make it a reality.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.