December 9, 2017

BAKERSFIELD SOUND AND SIGHTS


Carol writes:  As the daylight hours shortened and more frequent snows were starting to blanket the high country, we decided that a move to the California Central Valley would be wise.  Notoriously, summertime temperatures in the Valley frequently hit triple digits, so by our reasoning the month of November should bring us some pretty ideal days and nights.  

We planned to spend a week in a somewhat unique campground situated in an actual orange grove on the outskirts of Bakersfield.  We were told that when oranges are ripe for picking at Orange Grove RV Park

guests are welcome to pick as many as they wish. The climate along the southern flanks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is ideal for growing citrus crops.  The orange trees in our grove were loaded with hundreds of oranges each, but unfortunately they wouldn’t be ripe for another month… Nevertheless, those trees loaded with slowly ripening oranges sure created a lovely setting for our campsite!




The enormous bounty of one of the largest agricultural producing areas of the world was all around us.  The variety and freshness of local produce was astounding.  We visited a farmer’s market one Saturday and found it to be one of the best we have ever visited.  All the produce was amazingly fresh and not all that expensive!  A yummy Mediterranean diet was on the menu for the foreseeable future. 

The type of oranges in our orange grove wouldn’t be ripe for another month, but there were other varieties for sale at locally owned businesses like the  


and so we decided to stock up on oranges and bought a small box of over 30 oranges.  Fresh and sweet!

The farmworkers of the Central Valley have endured a lengthy struggle for higher wages and better working conditions.  Fair and humane were the operative words, but that wasn’t always the case.  In the 1960s, along came community organizer and activist César Chávez, who had dreams of a farm workers’ union.  Along with Delores Huerta, Chávez built a movement that brought the plight of migrant workers to the attention of the world. 

The saga of Chávez and the 5-year grape workers strike played out in the California Central Valley.  The bare framework of the history of the strike


and subsequent hard-won contracts for better pay, health benefits and safer working conditions was on display at the newly created César E. Chávez National Monument.  


Since the monument was relatively new, it was clearly still a work in progress, and I might add that there was much work to do…

A small museum had a smattering of interesting exhibits, such the actual office that Chávez used,


and a few historic pictures from the activist days like this one with a poster reading “Huelga” (Spanish for ‘strike’) prominently displayed on the back of the car driven by César Chávez.


There were some interesting “Day of the Dead” altars throughout the museum.


Outdoors was a very lovely gravesite where Chávez and his wife were buried.










I found it somewhat interesting that the slogan used by Chávez and the migrant workers was “Si Se Puede,” which is Spanish for “Yes You Can,” a slogan very similar to the “Yes We Can” mantra used by President Obama during his presidential campaigns.









For hardcore train buffs, the nearby Tehachapi Loop is a must-see.  The loop is a world famous landmark consisting of a 3/4-mile circular train track designed to allow trains to gain altitude through the steep Tehachapi Mountains.  We were in luck and noticed there were a lot of trains on the tracks the day we visited.  A great roadside viewing area provided just the spot to capture a train doing “a 360” and actually crossing over itself!


Bakersfield is located in Kern County, a very large county in California that is rich in oil exploration and boasts of having the second largest oil field in California.  The life and times of the oil industry, along with the county’s labor struggles, were nicely chronicled in the Kern County Museum.  


By far, the most interesting part of the museum was the section devoted to the 


Merle Haggard






Bakersfield is a city of music.  A music genre known as the Bakersfield Sound holds a special place in country music lore.  Local Bakersfield residents Buck Owens and Merle Haggard are indelibly associated with giving birth to the Bakersfield Sound.  







Playing their signature red, white and blue guitars, The Buckaroos, led by Bakersfield’s Buck Owens, were responsible for propagating the Bakersfield Sound.  Some music historians have regarded The Buckaroos as one of the greatest instrumental bands of all time, and sometimes they are referred to as “The Beatles of Country Music.”  Memorabilia from the Bakersfield Sound in the form of clothing, album covers and guitars were on display in the museum.  A recent acquisition was Merle Haggard’s family home, which was moved to the grounds of the museum.

Family home of Merle Haggard

Interesting factoid:  The nu metal rock band “Korn” is also from Bakersfield.

California has been nicknamed “the golden state,” for several reasons:  the gold rush, sunsets over the Pacific, the Golden Gate Bridge, and its wild golden poppies.  I have always thought of California as the golden state because of the magnificent golden-colored grasses that cover its fields and hills in the fall, although that line of reasoning does not appear in any brief google search.

We were both anxious to grab a hike in those iconic grasses and found what we were looking for on a short afternoon hike at the Wind Wolves Preserve.


Rolling golden grasslands, spartan desert hills, and blue skies (with an obvious hint of smog/dust pollution) were on full display.  Our trail wound through the prairie grass


and went up about 500 feet for a wondrous view of the Valley.


Speaking of pollution… Over the past 3 weeks in the California Central Valley, we found brown hazy skies  painfully obvious, although we were expecting that.  While doing research, Al had read that the official air quality around Fresno and Bakersfield was some of the worst in the country.  Besides pollution from automobiles, dust raised by ubiquitous farming was obviously a major contributor.  That’s too bad, because controlling that source would seem to be near impossible.

From the Central Valley our next stopover was scheduled on the California coast for 6 weeks at Port Hueneme and Point Mugu.  For many months we had been anticipating our sojourn on the Pacific coast, as that seemed like a perfect spot to check into the "Hotel California."
  🎶  “Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)…”

~Eagles Album

December 3, 2017

TEMPLES OF NATURE AT YOSEMITE AND KINGS CANYON



Carol writes:  From Reno, it was just a short drive into the golden state of California, where we would make our “home” for the next 7 months.  We selected the tiny little town of Chowchilla for the location of our first campground in California.  Our intention was to use Chowchilla as a base camp from which we would visit two giants in our national park system—Yosemite and Kings Canyon. 


YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Yosemite National Park is one of the crown jewels in the entire national park system.  Originally created as a forest preserve by President Abraham Lincoln, Yosemite is known as a place of unrivaled beauty and is famous for its waterfalls… such as 620-ft Bridalveil Fall,


over which tumbles the stream of an ancient hanging valley left by the glaciers as they retreated;

phenomenal granite rock formations like Half Dome, which geologically never had another half;









and giant sequoia trees thousands of years old, which receive their specially required combination of water, sunlight, nutrients, and periodic fire at Yosemite. 

Sequoias are difficult to capture in a photograph that does them justice, except when they have fallen... or have tunnels carved into their trunk.







We made reservations to stay two nights in the valley at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, thus checking off a bucket-list item for us.  Our last visit to Yosemite was in 1989 during our family year on the road.  At that time we camped in the valley where I remember our visit with great fondness.

The heart of the park, Yosemite Valley, was carved millions of years ago by glaciers and rivers.  It requires a stretch of the imagination, but glaciers actually filled Yosemite Valley almost to the top of Half Dome!


A drive up out of the valley to Glacier Point brought us to a viewpoint of Half Dome,


then to the brink of Yosemite Valley for one of the most exhilarating looks on Earth.  The impressive Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly and forever, The Ahwahnee) on the canyon floor 3200 feet below where trees were bedecked in fall colors while awaiting the blanket of winter’s coming snows.


Yosemite’s 3593-ft granite monolith called El Capitan has attracted rock climbers from all over the world.  We took a short hike in the valley for a peek with our telephoto lens at the crazy people who find their thrills by hanging out on ropes for days at a time as they slowly creep up the rockface of El Capitan.


How these climbers manage any rest on overnight sleeping platforms that project out into space is beyond my comprehension.

  
A brief visit to the Yosemite Museum resulted in an appreciation of some of Yosemite’s early history.  One of most influential naturalists and environmental philosophers of all time was intensely enamored with what is now Yosemite National Park.  Often called the father of our national parks, that man was John Muir. 


Muir lived in a primitive cabin in the valley for two years and explored every inch of the park.  In 1903 he spent three days camping with President Theodore Roosevelt, during which time he pleaded that more acreage around Yosemite be granted federal protection.

At the conclusion of our second night in the valley we decided to enhance the bucket list slightly and treated ourselves to Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee.  (The new name Majestic Yosemite Hotel will never slip easily on the tongue.)  On the exterior, the Ahwahnee was a tour de force of rustic park service design called “parkitecture.” 


Inside, the Ahwahnee’s style showcased elegance of the bygone era when it opened in 1927. 


The dining room was a blaze of rustic ambience in what was a very tranquil setting for a delicious Sunday brunch.


On the way out of Yosemite we took a drive to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which was created as a result of damming the Tuolomne River that used to flow through the valley that was once considered a twin to Yosemite Valley.

Hetch Hetchy before damming of the Tuolumne River
John Muir led the opposition to damming this incredibly beautiful valley, but that was a battle he did not win.  Development won out and O’Shaughnessy Dam


was completed in 1923 in order to supply much needed hydroelectric power and water to the rapidly expanding population of the San Francisco Bay Area.



KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Like Hetch Hetchy, Kings Canyon National Park was also almost flooded by a dam.  Thankfully, that did not happen to one of the most spectacular glacial canyons in North America—Kings Canyon.  The geography at the entrance to Kings Canyon was indeed grandiose.


However, our visit to Kings Canyon National Park was all about visiting the home of the giant sequoia tree.  Sequoia trees grow exclusively along a narrow belt on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  A thick protective bark makes them naturally resistant to fire and insects.




Once in the park, we headed straight to the easy-to-walk “General Grant Tree Trail” and were impressed right out of the parking lot.







Even though we had seen these impressive giants many years ago, we were in awe all over again at the enormous scale and majesty of the most massive living trees on Earth.






Nearly 40 of the sequoias on this trail were given names, most of which were names of states.  However, the king of the grove belonged to the General Grant Tree, the world’s third largest tree, discovered in 1862 during the Civil War and named in honor of the leader of the Union forces.  For purposes of scale, I am the miniature human in the foreground of the General Grant Tree, proclaimed "the Nation's Christmas Tree" by President Calvin Coolidge.



Perspective was easier to represent in photographs of the fallen giants.  Al is pictured below in the bowels of the hollowed out “Fallen Monarch,” 


and I am just a wee speck in the foreground of another toppled giant.




Two of our nations's first three national parks were created in part to protect rare groves of our country’s giant sequoia trees.  These unique trees are considered so precious that the silhouette of a giant sequoia is featured on the National Park Service arrowhead logo.



We sure were grateful for the time we got to spend in the Sierra Nevada mountains at two of Nature’s greatest temples. 


Al has always asserted that the Sierras are his favorite mountains for hiking.  Back in his single days, Al often took overnight hikes without a tent and without water, as back then the water was pure and without contamination.  He would often refer to the Sierras as a “tame wilderness.”  Before we were married, I was introduced to that “tame wilderness” during a three-day backpacking trip with Al along a section of the John Muir trail.  Clearly, I passed this prenuptial ‘trial by fire’ during which I also began to fall in love with the beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  As I clearly recall, the water was pure and delicious, but I insisted on a tent...  


“Life is uncertain; don’t sip.”  Advice seen on side of beer bottle at the Ahwahnee


  





November 11, 2017

NOT ROUGHING IT IN RENO


“Roughing It”— Mark Twain’s first book that chronicles his experiences as a newspaper writer while living in Virginia City


Carol writes:  At this time of year each campground selection moves ever further south, and so autumn tends to persist over several months.  As we pulled into our campground site at the Sparks Marina RV Park, we couldn’t help but notice that fall colors were on full display.


During our stay in the Reno area, we were looking forward to a nice long visit with our daughter.  We were anxious to hear all about her recent stay at an ashram in Rishikesh, India, where she participated in a monthlong school on how to teach yoga.





We were eager to hear what she had learned and to experience some introductory lessons, and now we had our very own yoga teacher staying with us! 


Over the next several mornings we resisted firing up the coffeepot first thing out of bed; instead we grabbed a quick drink of water and quietly moved to our yoga mats.  Under Megan’s instruction, Al and I actually found gentle yoga movements strangely kind to our bodies.  Even the most problematic area in my neck definitely benefitted from the motion and breathing that is an essential part of yoga.

Suffice it to say that Megan’s pictures on the yoga mat were far easier on the eye than ours, so I have stuck to images of the expert… 



MOUNT ROSE HIKE

The Galus Family has always bonded well on the hiking trail, so it was a unanimous decision that a family hike would be a fun thing to do together.  The fact that the 10-mile roundtrip to the top of Mount Rose was touted as a local gem made our decision easy.


With refreshingly cool mountain air at the trailhead and a magnificent view of Lake Tahoe in the distance, this hike was certainly off to a good start.  


Unlike my husband and daughter, the 2300-ft elevation gain was a bit intimidating to me, but I still felt good with only a mile remaining to the summit.


It helped that the views up high were outstanding.


The climb was a breeze for father and daughter.  Not so much so for me…


It took me a few minutes to soak in the fact I had made it to the summit.  Then I was game for some summit hijinks, and yoga poses were irresistible…


It was no contest who could pose the best!



Due to short October days, this 10-mile hike created a slight time crunch to get back by dark, which in turn meant a bit of a struggle for me on the way down.  I sustained a few ”stumbles” in my effort to get back to the car by sunset; however, in the end, I was quite happy with my Fitbit personal best in terms of steps and miles.





















But the best part was doing it as a family…

VIRGINIA CITY


After Meg’s whirlwind visit, the remainder of our Sparks/Reno stay was low-key and undemanding.  One day we took a drive down to nearby Virginia City, forever enshrined in television history with a blazing Ponderosa Ranch map during the opening theme song of the TV show “Bonanza.”  

The tilted wooden boardwalks fronting saloons and tourist shops gave a Virginia City a credible western ambience.


Inside, massive wooden bars enhanced the feeling of western authenticity.





In 1859 Virginia City achieved world fame with the discovery of the Comstock Lode, one of the richest mining strikes in the world.  Virginia City was named in honor of a one of the early placer miners in Gold Canyon, a Virginian by the name of James “Old Virginny” Finney.


Soon churches,


schools,


saloons,


and what is now a most photographic cemetery were a part of Virginia City frontier life.


Interesting factoid:  






At the age of 27, Samuel Clemens came to Virginia City to begin a writing apprenticeship on the staff of a local newspaper.  Within a year he had adopted the pen name of Mark Twain, and thus an unforgettable giant in American literature was born.





DONNER PASS


One of Al’s clearest memories from his early years was traveling through Donner Pass in 1964 as his family was moving to a new duty station in California.  Today, Donner Pass is a breeze on Interstate 80, but back in 1846 this unproven shortcut over the Sierra Nevada Mountains created a daunting barrier for the Donner Party.  The infamous Donner-Reed Party spent the winter of 1846-47 snowbound at Donner Pass.  Half of them died and many of the survivors had to resort to cannibalism when food and supplies ran out.

Today, now a part of the historic Lincoln Highway and the Pacific Crest Trail, Donner Lake and Donner Summit reflected a peaceful view











that seemed in such contrast to winter's fierce conditions in 1846 when the Donner Party was trying to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains.



















Donner Memorial State Park has done a tasteful job of memorializing the emigrant struggle and the tragic events in Donner Pass during the winter of 1846. 


SQUAW VALLEY






Back in February 1978, while Al and I were on our honeymoon at Lake Tahoe, we had a very memorable visit to Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics.      







At Squaw Valley I jumped at the opportunity to ice skate on the Olympic skating rink.  As this old pic below from the Internet shows, this skating venue was open to the air on the sides, one of which had a view of the picturesque  Squaw Valley mountains.  


For some reason, skating beneath the Olympic rings as a new bride at Squaw Valley, while looking out on an incredible snowy mountain view, was quite memorable to me.


Fast forward to 2017 for another side trip to Squaw Valley to check out the Olympic venue as we remembered it.  Sadly, once again, we discovered that memory lane had been redesigned—now the typical trappings of a modern ski resort with its pricey condos and tourist shops.  With the exception of 3 historic buildings, all the Olympic venues had been torn down, including the skating rink that held such meaning for me.  An elderly resident of Squaw Valley told me the rink was torn down to make room for a much needed parking lot.  Hmmmm, just goes to show that sometimes memory lanes are precisely that… only memories. 


CARSON CITY

Our campground was only a short drive from Nevada’s state capital, Carson City, which takes its name from the Carson River which in turn was named in honor of American explorer Kit Carson.  Kit Carson’s spirit and love of the West is honored with his statue on the Nevada Capitol grounds.


However, the show-stopper of the Capitol grounds was the impressive Capitol building itself, constructed out of local sandstone and Alaskan marble.


A grove of stunning fall-colored, over one-hundred-year-old trees enhanced the Victorian beauty that the Capitol exhibited even in its early days.


Inside there were photos contrasting the old historic Supreme Court chamber
with its present-day restoration.














The newer section of the Capitol grounds was likewise  astounding as seen in this pic of the “new” State Supreme Court building.


Such a brilliant fall day was also a good day for a small group of protesters who just wanted to promote “PEACE ON EARTH” so I took a few moments to chat with one woman and to share her sentiment.  I considered this message a good closing meme, so that is how I will close my Nevada blog post.