October Gulf Breezes
In the last 18 months I have canceled over 60 nights of travel due to the pandemic and associated drama. Late in the summer, I was tired of canceled camp sites and reservations and decided, "THAT'S IT! I AM OUTTA HERE". I went on my favorite trip planning website and, since I've wanted to see it for awhile, planned a trip to Devil's Tower in Wyoming and Badlands National Park for October.
After a few years of deliberation I also decided to get a sports car. When I retired I sold my convertible and bought a truck but missed the sheer fun of the open air. This is especially true because, after too many close calls in the Southern California traffic, I sold my big Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle a few years back. In my life some of my finest moments have been on a lonely two road highway, top down in a convertible, banging the steering wheel to the beat of a great song and letting the wind blast through my hair. That, my friends, is living. I started researching sports cars a few years back and tentatively decided on a Mustang, Camaro, or even another BMW. I required a manual transmission which, today, is a little like finding a needle in a haystack on those models. I subscribed to Road and Track and Consumer Reports and my thoughts on my next car all changed. The little Mazda MX-5 ranked so far above the competition that I had to drive one and then, well, I fell in love with the little roadster. Talk about fun to drive!
Ok! Let's go! For grins and a bit more info I talked to a friend who is a regular visitor to Badlands and she said, "You want to take a convertible to South Dakota in October? Oh, silly boy, you do that when it's warmer - it could snow on you. You drive south in October in a convertible!". Well, alrighty then...let's drive south.
I stared at the map for awhile. I'd always wanted to see the Padre Island National Seashore along the Texas Gulf Coast. That is south. So, I got in the little MX-5 and drove 1508 miles...
But let's jump back a little bit. I actually did have a short 3 day trip to Morro Bay in August. It was quite lovely and I did manage to make a few photos. So before we head out to Texas allow me to show you a few images from an enjoyable short trip to sleepy (and foggy) old Morro Bay - love that place! Lupe and I will be returning this month.
Okay. Fast forward to early October 2021. One morning at 6:00 AM I threw my suitcase in the trunk. Put a backpack in the passenger seat. Hit my Apple Music playlist that included every single Texas song I could think of and backed out of the driveway. As soon as it warmed up I pulled off Interstate 40 - put the top down - and commenced the road trip bliss. My first night was at La Posada in Winslow. I met my pal, Liz, and we had a nice dinner at The Turquoise Room. With it's history, decor and proximity to my beloved trains, La Posada remains one of my favorite spots to stay in all of the Southwest.
After a restless night of sleeping, the thought of the road kept waking me up, I started the drive through some magnificent scenery and Billy the Kid country, to Artesia, New Mexico. Liz had recommended the drive through Quemado and Pie Town and avoiding the interstate and it was an inspired recommendation. I had what Mr. Maslow called a "peak experience" on the drive. No traffic, perfect 80 degree weather, scenery to bring tears to your eyes and cracking good tunes by my favorite Texas singers/songwriters. I lost all sense of time for a few hours and only felt that particular joy that only a road trip can provide. Here are a few photos from that day.
I arrived in Artesia, NM at about 5:00 PM after losing an hour heading east and driving about 550 miles. After trying, for several years, I finally met my social media pal Mike Nowak and we had a lovely dinner at the Adobe Rose - where I also happened to be staying. It was cool hanging out with Mike and I'm hopeful it can happen again soon. I slept well and woke up early the next morning to head to San Antonio. I had spent some time in Texas over the years, of course, but hadn't been on a road trip there other than when I picked up my little fiberglass trailer in Rice back in 2015. After driving through the oil country I stopped for some Texas BBQ in Ozona, TX at Wagon Wheel BBQ. After eating the most tender brisket I have ever had I spent about 45 minutes talking to the owner about how he became a barbecue master and the differences between Texas BBQ and Santa Maria BBQ after I told him about my grill and love of tri-tip. It was a hospitable welcome to the Lone Star State.
This was the first of many fine meals I had on my Texas sojourn.
After 3 days of solid driving I was becoming a tiny bit road weary. I decided to stop in one of the many "parking areas" on the Texas interstates and saw this old abandoned stagecoach stop. It was an interesting place and the view through the interior provided a fine photo opportunity.
I arrived to sunny and hot (95F) San Antonio at about 4 in the afternoon. I checked into the hotel and rested for a few minutes but had to, absolutely had to, go get some Tex-Mex. I walked down to the Riverwalk and had a lovely dinner.
The next morning was my obligatory Alamo tour. On the drive in I had listened to an audio-book called, "Forget the Alamo". It's a fairly new history of the context of the battle and it was eye opening and much different than the "official" history including the fact that Mexico's abolishment of slavery was a huge part of the story. I was looking forward to seeing if the tour guide would weave any of this information into his tour. I should have known better. The Alamo is still too sacred to mar with the truth.
I was very surprised when I arrived in Alamo Plaza. It was crazy. There were dozens of people everywhere and people participating in reenactments were wandering around aimlessly shooting their fake guns or selling souvenirs from booths and every 5 minutes cannons were being fired in the street and, man, it was all a bit much. The worst part? The tour itself is a snoozer. I'm still glad I did all this, I suppose, but I can't imagine ever "doing the Alamo" again.
I had Tex-Mex for lunch and visited the Briscoe Western Art Museum, took a river boat tour and that night went on a walking tour of the city - which I would highly recommend. The walking tour (free!) was a historically accurate and entertaining introduction to San Antonio. In fact, it'll make you fall in love with the city. I did. And I know I will be back - there is so much more to see and do and places to eat! Here are a few photos of my day.
As I left the next day for the gulf coast I thought that I would check out one of the San Antonio missions. After doing a little of my own research (scarier words seldom said) I decided to visit Mission Espada which is (allegedly) the best preserved. I arrived to a full parking lot on a gloomy but warm day and realized, since it was a Sunday morning, Mass was being observed. I quietly meandered around. It was an oddly satisfying hour or so. I kept wondering about who and how many people had walked in this same place for so many years.
I was 12 in 1969. Lots happening that year - even Glen Campbell sang an anti-war song called "Galveston". It captured me and inspired a lifelong desire to visit the Texas Gulf Coast. In particular, I had always wanted to stand on the coast and look at the waves and feel the gulf breeze on my face and in my hair. Finally, in October 2021, a mere 52 years after I first heard that song, I made that dream come true. It wasn't exactly in Galveston, I was at the Padre Island National Seashore which is a unit of the National Park Service. The place, as my Texas gulf cost dream evolved over the years, that I wanted to see the most. It did not disappoint.
This then was my first view of the Texas gulf coast at Malaquite Beach. And yes, the warm breezes were blowing in my face - it was just as I had pictured it in my mind's eye all these many years.
I spent two glorious afternoons at the National Seashore. I was astonished and delighted by the solitude I found there. Every summer, in my youth, I would spend days in the ocean swimming. It had been a few years but the water was so warm and inviting that I couldn't help myself. I spent half one afternoon being healed - physically and spiritually - by swimming in that temperate salt water.
I was delighted by the Coastal Prairie grasslands. How novel for me and how magnificent.
I spent a bit of time in Corpus Christi where the temperature barely changed while I was there - it seemed to be 85F all day and all night. That's not strictly true of course but let's not let facts get in the way of my feelings. It seemed to be hot - all the time. Of course, another song, Corpus Christi Bay by Robert Earl Keene, had boosted my interest in this area as well.
The following morning, unaware that a hurricane was building that would eventually alter my course, I drove to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park and spent time in the Lower Rio Grande Valley on my way to South Padre Island. I had a marvelous time other than running into the largest Mosquitoes I have ever seen and nearly being carried off and eaten alive. I talked to the Ranger at Palo Alto who lived there locally and he told me, "yeah, we're thinking about changing the state bird". Cracked me up. The following photos are from the battlefield and the surrounding area near Los Fresnos, TX. I need to go back and make that area near Brownsville my home base for 3-4 days and make photographs. It has it's own unique and, to me, spectacular beauty.
On my way to South Padre I stopped at the Port Isabel Lighthouse. Not too many folks around.
I got to South Padre - checked in to my motel room and rested. It had been a busy several days. I checked my twitter account and someone said, "Hey, look out for Pamela". Well, OK. Let's see here. Oh, Pamela is a hurricane but it's not coming from the gulf. It's coming from the Pacific - crossing over Mexico and is supposed to hit Del Rio first as it moves into Texas. Well, tomorrow night when it hits - I'm supposed to be staying in Del... wait, what? I went on the weather app and, sure enough, there was a huge red cone showing the hurricane track and yep it was headed directly for my next stop in Del Rio. They were predicting 6-8 inches of rain in a 24 hour period with flooded roads. I suppose if I'd been in my Tacoma I'd have been more relaxed and game to deal with crazy weather but being in a tiny roadster wasn't a brilliant choice for happiness while driving through flooded roads.
So much for my leisurely drive through Laredo along the Rio Grande to Del Rio. I had to dodge this weather front and kick in plan B. The next morning I got up at 2:00 AM and hit the road on the way to Fort Stockton which would put me north of the hurricane track. Of course, it should have been easy enough to do - just go back east toward Corpus Christi and then north to San Antonio. Google maps had me start taking 2 lane highways all over hell and gone and then directed me to a closed highway. At 4:00 AM, no less. I stopped the car. Got out and breathed deeply - this was an adventure now. After a few minutes breathing in that fine Texas air I jumped in - looked at a PAPER MAP and got going - what a novel idea. I headed north but kept checking the radar and watching the leading edge of Pamela every time I stopped - nope - no way to avoid it. By the afternoon the weariness kicked in and then , like clockwork, the storm hit me on the interstate. Now, I've been in some weather in my life but this - just the tip of the storm - was pretty darn wild. The speed limit is 80 MPH and I was driving 30 MPH and passing trucks. We all got hammered for about 45 minutes and then... it was gone. Sweet. I pulled into the Fort Stockton Best Western a relieved and tired California boy. The motel offered a free dinner - what a genius concept. I ate and crashed for 12 hours. Woke up to a beautiful dawn and headed to Las Cruces through Alpine and Marfa.
I was on the home stretch now. Hurricanes and gulf breezes behind me I thoroughly enjoyed two relaxing days in Las Cruces. I spent one morning at White Sands National Monument - er Park - and was rather horrified to find the Visitor Center Parking lot full and the center itself was so crowded one could barely move. Sigh. This is the price we pay these days for making anything a National Park. I took a trip to Zion with my oldest son a few years back and was deeply saddened by seeing the park overrun - I had the same feeling here. Regardless, I did manage to find a bit of solitude and made some photos.
I spent part of one afternoon at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. I do not know why. I did have a nice conversation with the blacksmith and walked across an interesting bridge.
After eating New Mexican cuisine and gaining another 5 pounds and stuffing myself with sopapillas I started the trek home. After a fantastic lunch in Tucson with my friends Holly and Chip I spent a night in Gila Bend at the famed Space Age Lodge.The next morning I took the long way home over Interstate 8. It was a fine trip. I was able to have the top down in the convertible almost every day. I finally felt those gulf breezes blow through my now thinning and graying hair.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, "I owe more than I can express to the West". Me too, Teddy, me too.
My Beloved California
For several months my two pals, Steve and Marty, had planned on meeting in Big Sur in November at good old Plaskett Creek Campground. I surrounded that trip with short stays in Morro Bay and Allensworth State Park (my new favorite) for a pure California trip. Sadly, Marty got sick and couldn't make it. I hope he's reading this so he'll realize how much he was missed. I know he was bummed about not going so we'll just need to schedule another trip soon.
I share lots of photos of Morro Bay on this website so I will only share a few more. I am on a "health kick" these days ('bout time, don't ya think?) and I did go on a ten mile walk one day while I was here - from the State Park to the Rock and then all around town. This time of year things are quiet in this sleepy beach town - reminds me of California past...
The next photos are from the hike near the State Park and into the estuary. Posting the photo of the Turkey Vulture online got a lot of responses. It reminded me when I went to a "talk" on them at the Grand Canyon two summers ago the Park Ranger put a photo up on the large projector screen and a kid yelled, "Oh, GROSS!" Cracked us all up and you may see what he means...
Here are a few more photos from magnificent Morro Bay.
After two nice days I drove the short distance to Plaskett Creek Campground which is south of Big Sur and north of Ragged Point on the California coast. Nearby is Sand Dollar Beach. It is one of the few remaining places that has ZERO cell reception which at first is strange and then worrisome and finally - so relaxing. I think we all need an electronics break and it's hard to take one so I suggest camping at Plaskett Creek as soon as possible! The first photo is a view of the sun and the marine layer from a stop along the Coast Highway. It reminded me of my days, long ago, driving across the Rim of the World Highway near Lake Arrowhead...the good old days.
Here are some photos of and from Sand Dollar Beach.
A few more photos of the area near Plaskett Creek.
My dear friend Steve arrived for the weekend. Recently he and I lost someone who we both loved very much. We spent time together connecting in the way that only people who have shared a mutual loss can. We walked and talked and remembered. It was a poignant and meaningful time together.
Luckily Steve brought his guitar and so we serenaded our nearby neighbors with songs of Slaid Cleaves and Jason Isbell. We also loudly proclaimed our thoughts on the band, Queen. One of us is a fan and one of us is not (me).
I didn't focus much on photography. That will be for another time. I'm grateful that Steve and I had that time together.
Here are a few black and white photos from the area.
You may recall that last spring I visited a State Historic Park in Central California in which I fell in love. On this trip I returned and my love affair deepened. I do have a request though -this place is off the beaten track and I'm worried that I talked too much about it online. So, let's keep this a secret just for us?
When I arrived at Allensworth I was only the second camper. The Ranger came by and wanted to talk about my Casita - while we did that she shared more about how I might be able to support the Park. When I came home I joined the "Friends of Allensworth" and made a small donation. I don't necessarily believe in reincarnation but I certainly feel at home here in some strange and reminiscent way.
Each day out there was glorious and I did get out to the local Wildlife Refuges as well.
Here are some photos of the buildings at Allensworth which have been faithfully restored.
Trains roll by on the regular. I love the sound of horns and the hum of the clickety clack as the freight trains roll slowly by. It lulls me into a calm and contemplative state like nothing else. I breathe easier.
On one particularly fine day I got up early and walked 6 miles all around the Park - made a lunch to go, jumped in the truck and drove to the Kern Wildlife Refuge. After meeting with the Ranger I took a few photos and then headed to Pixley Wildlife Refuge which is close to Allensworth for sunset. It was one of the very best days. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them...
Many of my favorite photos of the last few years are of telephone poles and solitary roads. This place was heavenly in that regard.
I will leave you with a few photos of my last sunset in my Central Valley paradise. Thanks for coming along on my western journeys. I love to travel alone knowing I get to share with you on my return.
On the Road Again...
My health improved enough for me to get my backside back on the road at the end of August. Yee haw! The physical therapist, diet and daily exercises have really helped. Of course at my age the Dr. keeps finding things he wants to test and it looks like that'll continue for awhile but in the meantime... let's take a quick jaunt to a couple of my my favorite central coast haunts.
First, without pain, I took my little trailer up to Gaviota State Beach where my camping pal, the inimitable, entertaining and hilarious Marty, met me. I wasn't quite as mobile as I will be but I did take a few photos of the pier and Gaviota Creek.
After Marty left I drove up to Morro Bay State Park. That drive is spectacular and has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Highway 101 from Santa Barbara along the coast and then, when it turns inland into the California Oak savannah country, inspires me for a number of reasons. It's beautiful, of course, but it always feels like I'm finally leaving Southern California behind and moving on to a new and wonderful place.
And I am...
The weather at Morro Bay was alternatively sunny and foggy. I did a few touristy things this trip. I took the "Sub View" tour which is a lot like the old glass bottomed boat in Catalina. You only go out a little way into the harbor and they chum for smelt. It was simple but still fun. The next day I decided to go on the whale watching tour and, for only the second time in my life, I got sea sick. There was a large swell and it got to me. Sigh. That wasn't expected or welcomed. I was miserable and since I wasn't feeling great I only took a few photos.
The whales though...magnificent.
Here are some photos of my first day on the water.
That afternoon I drove over to one of the last remaining old fashioned California beach towns, Cayucos, and make a few photos. As I was parking I noticed many pelicans on the water. Some old guy, seeing my camera, ran up to me and shouted, "Get some pictures of the storks!". Cracked me up. I did take his advice.
Here are a few photos from the rest of the trip.
The black and white images.
Thanks for coming along on this short trip. Tomorrow I leave for Corvallis, OR as I take my daughter's things to her dorm room. It's bittersweet. I'm so proud of her but I'll miss her like crazy.
My hunch is I'll take some photos of the countryside.
We'll talk soon!
Ten Favorite Photos 2018
I've been fortunate in the last few years to meet some really fine photographers like Lori Carey, Joe Smith, Tracy Schultze and Rachel Cohen (among others). Something that most of these photographers participate in is a year end list of their "favorite (or best) photos". We submit them to a well known and well regarded Bay Area photographer, Jim Goldstein, for his annual "Blog Project- Your Best Photos"annually. So this is my list.
I had the good fortune to maintain my regular routine of monthly travel (except October because of the Dodgers - dem bums). I started off the year with two trips to Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave, visited Dodger Spring Training and Homolovi State Park in Arizona, took two trips to the Central Coast, went to Utah and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, went to each California League stadium, Petco Park, San Francisco (AT&T Park) and environs with Lupe, and took a fabulous Four Corners trip, which included Mesa Verde, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Hovenweep National Monument and a quick jaunt to Joshua Tree to see my buddy, PJ Finn. Whew! Who said retirement was boring?! I made about 8000 images this year and 7,990 were pretty bad. Well, not really, but these photos represent my personal favorites.
The first photo (above) was taken in the fading light of a September afternoon at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park from the south rim near Chasm View. To me, it seems to capture the "up close but oh so deep and mysterious" look of this magnificent canyon.
The next two favorites are also canyon photos and both from Imperial Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at opposite ends of the day. The first was taken while walking around with my amiga, Liz Kylin, in the late afternoon and a few days later I got up early to catch the sun as it just started to hit the point. You'll get a sense of how fascinating the light of the canyon can be from these two very different photos near the same vantage point (taken with the same camera).
Let's move from canyon country to the coast. My number 4 favorite is a photo of Morro Rock - a place I return to year after year (since the 1980's). I finally took a photo I liked of it.
Next is a Mojave Desert photo taken after a steady 24 hour rain and the clouds were still lingering and creeping over the ridges into the valley below.
The next photo is a long exposure of the pier, at sundown, in my beloved Gaviota State Beach. I'm not a fan of the ugly yellow boat hoist at the end of the pier - but, hey, that's Gaviota.
My amigo Joe Smith has really encouraged me to use more black and white and the last 4 are in that medium. The first is of Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu on a late summer afternoon.
The next photo is of Round Tower in Hovenweep National Monument. This structure was probably built between 1150 AD and 1350 AD by Ancient Puebloans.
This photo of iconic Spider Rock at sunset is probably my favorite of the year. Yes, I know its been photographed thousands and thousands of times but I like the simplicity and shadow of this black and white.
Lastly, you wouldn't really expect the old Southwest Dude not to have a railroad track photo, right? Right. My last is from a favorite spot near Cantil, CA.
Since it is the end of the year I want to express my gratitude to each of you who follow my blog and vicariously travel the roads of the West with me. I hope you get some sense of how much I enjoy sharing my "traveling life" with you and I hope you know how great it is to have you along.
I'd like to also give a shout out to my pals and fellow inspirational photographers, PJ Finn, Craig Pindell, Scott Hays, Don Wendell, author extraordinaire, Chris LaTray and fellow travelin' fool, Scott Jones. I'm fortunate to have you dudes in my life (even if most of it is online).
Lastly, I also want to acknowledge the greatest blessings of my life which are my three children, my two daughters in law and my sensational wife. I don't know how they put up with me - but they do and I'm so damn lucky.
My best to all - let's have a brilliant 2019.
First Stop: Point Mugu
It's time for the beach. Each year, at least once, I head north up the coast. Last year I foolishly went in June and was socked in with the marine layer for almost 10 days. This year I had none of the "May Gray" and it was sunny and warm and, well, damn near perfect.
The trip started out at good old Point Mugu and Thornhill Broome Beach which lies between Malibu and Oxnard. As a young man I lived in Ventura and attended UCSB but would work for my Dad in his typesetting shop in Los Alamitos on the weekends. I didn't enjoy taking the 101 to the 405 so I took the longer, more leisurely and exceptionally scenic route through to Malibu. That route went directly by Point Mugu. I'd look down at the people camping literally on the sand and think, "Man, that's the life - one day when I don't have to work 7 days a week I'm gonna camp there." I made good on that promise to myself. I counted and I may have missed a trip or two but I believe this was my tenth trip.
Even if you haven't been you to Point Mugu you've seen it. It's featured on about half the car commercials these days. I adore the area. On my first night my Brazilian musician and poet friend Mauro came to visit and we made a fire and and barbecued tri-tip. We chatted and listened to music well into the night...
The last photo is kind of random but across from my campsite was a padlock in the fence separating the highway from the campground. I was fascinated by it - how long had it been there? Why had someone locked it and left it? It's a dang oddity. Love those...
One of my photography influences is Dennis Stock. Back in the '60's he took what I consider to be the best shot perhaps ever made of the Southern California beach scene near San Diego. There are a few spots on PCH I consider quintessential California but, alas, they're changing as development and other changes impact the landscape and the road. Nevertheless, I did go looking for a few spots to make photos and was nearly hit by a small and swerving grocery truck. You have to sacrifice for art, right? I like these photos anyway.
The following photos are just up the road a bit from the campground and I've spent many an hour in that very spot. I always say, "It feels a million miles away from LA".
Second Stop: Gaviota State Beach
After 4 days at Point Mugu I drove North to my old standby Gaviota. While there I went looking for some railroad photos and visited the first place I ever taught - De Anza Junior High School in Ventura as a long term substitute in Autumn of 1981. I also went to visit an old house - the house we were living in when my wonderful son, Jordan was born in April 1983. I enjoyed it. I often wish I could transport myself back to that time - knowing what I know now - I'd do many things differently. Regrets? I have a few...
The hills around Gaviota were lush and covered in mustard.
The coast in Santa Barbara county is much different than the coast I grew up with in Southern California. Shale dominates here.
A train trestle runs across Gaviota and invites you to explore. So I followed the tracks north...
Here are some additional photos of my time at Gaviota. I'll be back in August. I can't seem to get enough of the place.
Final Stop: Morro Bay
I scheduled a Morro Bay State Park trip for last Fall but it was canceled by them after a freak storm brought down several trees in the campground. I love Morro Bay - have ever since I was about 12 and my grandmother brought me here to meet her old bachelor cousin who had lived here for 30 some odd years. He was a poor, salty old fisherman who lived in a small apartment about a block from the bay. I never forgot him. A bad ass, independent, crotchety, profane "pescadero viejo". My kind of guy.
Normally, when I've visited the last several years it has only been for a few days and I haven't really explored the nearby wetlands or Elfin Forest which are close to the south end of town, I made up for that omission on this trip.
I was, finally able to visit the Elfin Forest which is near Los Osos, CA and just across the National Morro Bay Estuary from the campground. I left for my hike about 2:00 in the afternoon and it was cloudy - by the time I hit the trail the sun had emerged and the light was not great for photography. Of course, that didn't stop me from taking photos and I decided, then and there, that I had to come back in the Fall since this was such an extraordinary place.
I hope, through these photos, you get some idea about how splendid Morro Bay is and that you will, if you find yourself on the California central coast (and you should find yourself there) , check it out. Wait until you see how you feel there.
I hope you enjoyed looking at these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them. Next stop is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. See ya on the road...
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.
The Camping Life
I returned a few days ago from Great Basin National Park (see Trip Reviews). It was awesome and I have decided to return there, in August with my daughter, Lilly. One of the major reasons it was so fantastic is because it is uncrowded. I can remember camping as a child and feeling like I was getting away from it all. Now, a visit to Yosemite makes you feel like you've been at Disneyland all damn day with the hordes of humanity who descend on the place.
More people than ever are camping. This is great except that there are no new campgrounds opening and, in fact, because of budget cuts (for everything except war), there are fewer campgrounds. The last trip to the local San Jacintos brought home this glaring reality as, after an 8 mile trip on a fairly rough dirt road, the campground was full. Moreover, the neighbors in the adjacent campsite were astonishingly loud and drunk and obnoxious. I had to give them my old principal's voice and say, "Please turn the music down! Thank you!".
This is a huge problem for those of us who look to nature as our solace and comfort.
I've decided, in the next few years, to do what I can to get the appropriate agencies to develop more campgrounds. In order to do this, of course, we must protect more public land. Further, I am working on a book about camping in the new era of crowds- emphasizing camping etiquette. A perfect project for a grumpy old man.
This next month takes Lupe and Lilly and I to crowded Point Mugu, crowded Pismo Beach and crowded Morro Bay. While I'm looking forward to these trips I also look forward to the off season when the calm returns.
Notes From Home- It's June!
It's that time of year when an old Cactus Man's fancy turns from the desert to the mountains and sea.
I have been trip planning for the last week while homebound. Lupe and I have had some domestic issues like painting and appliance repair to deal with (I swear it feels like these damn things are never done). As a result, I have nearly finished my trip plans for the next few months. In addition, Lupe and I are looking at the possible purchase of a very small, affordable, versatile, high ground clearance travel trailer. I need something that is homey enough for Lupe but I can take on my beloved dirt roads. While I love my current setup with just the camper shell I must admit it would be nice to have a place to hole up in bad weather. Anyway, we're not looking for something that resembles our home in any manner (why not just stay at home or in a motel then?). We want a tiny hideaway to take us away to private and secluded spots as well as the National Parks. The research continues...
In June- next week in fact, my son Kevin and I are headed to Boulder Basin in the San Jacinto mountains for a couple of days. I've been trying to get him to go camping with me for a few years now and I'm really looking forward to it. From there he'll go back to work (poor bastard) and I'll head to Nevada and Great Basin National Park. It's my first visit there and it is one of the lesser known National Parks- which is right up my misanthropic alley.
Then it's time for Lupe and Lilly! At the beginning of July Lupe and I are going to Point Mugu and camp right on the beach. Then, at the end of July she and Lilly and I are going to Jalama Beach and Pismo Beach. We'll spend a night in a motel in Morro Bay to wrap up (love that sleepy little town).
In August I'm headed back to the Southwest for a trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I've been to the south rim probably 10 times but I don't usually head there in summer when the north rim is free of snow and open. I will probably camp a night or two at nearby Jacob Lake and look for future boondocking spots. At the end of the month and just before Lilly starts high school (Good God!) I'm taking her to one of my favorite spots in this lifetime - Lassen Volcanic National Park. I know it so well I can show her around! As she grows older these chances will be come fewer and fewer (see Jordan and Kevin) and I will cherish this time together. It will be an unforgettable trip.
My next BIG trip is in my favorite month to travel - September. I'll be heading to Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming and the Little Big Horn Battlefield in Montana. You've probably figured out my appreciation of and fascination with the indigenous people of our continent and this trip will focus heavily on Native American history and culture.
In October I'm heading back to Big Sur area to stay at Kirk Creek Campground and boondock in the mountains that overlook the sea, I'm gonna squeeze in a weekend back at Pinnacles National Park with my dear Bay Area family.
November brings me back to the desert...
I'll look forward to showing my pictures and narrating the trips as I return from each one.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.