June 29, 2017

Traveling the Redwood Highway

by Steve W

"I think that I shall never see /  A poem lovely as a tree."

Joyce Kilmer was right!

After leaving Monterey, we spent two days on the 101 traveling up the California Coast north of San Francisco along The Redwood Highway and The Avenue of the Giants. After spending the night in Garberville (which had a surprisingly good Cajun restaurant), we took the roads through the forest.

The Redwood Highway, the 350 mile long northernmost segment of the 101, begins at the Golden Gate and passes through the world's tallest and most extensive preserve of virgin, old growth coastal redwood trees. It's easy to understand why it's billed as The Avenue of the Giants.
We found groves of enormous trees, some of which were thousands of years old, 30 feet in circumference and up to 350 feet high. These remain untouched by humans and protected from logging due to early preservation efforts by numerous groups and aided by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated over two million dollars back in the 1920s.

It is hard to adequately describe the awe inspired by standing next to these massive trees. I'm over six feet tall, so this picture should give you some idea of how I compare in size.
Who's the little guy?
Even when they fall due to lightning strikes, storms, or just old age, sometimes piling up on each other, their massive trunks dwarf everything else around them.

In some places, they are so tall, and the foliage so thick, the tops of these trees cannot be seen from the ground.

In Myers Flat, there is an attraction where you can drive a car through the trunk of one of these trees. Given the size of some cars, especially SUV's, getting through requires a certain amount of skill (and folding in your mirrors). It's a great spot for photos. Rosemary did it twice, once with my "assistance" and once by herself.
A tight squeeze, but she made it!

As their name suggests, some of these forests are very close to the coast. After another stop in Eureka, we could see the ocean from the highway and were able to get some photos of the coastline and the fog rolling in during the morning.
A foggy day...
 In some places, the level of the land is so low, they have signs warning about tsunamis.
Head for the hills!
Other parts of the road follow the Eel River, named for the way it twists and turns through the forest, not for any eels actually in the river.

Because of bears in this area, there are very strict rules about how to handle trash, with bear-proof trash cans throughout the area.

Sometime we take these natural wonders for granted, but it is clear that global warming is having a negative effect on this part of the biosphere. We're glad we got to see these beautiful areas and encourage you to also see them before it becomes too late.

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June 24, 2017

The California Coast

by Rosemary

We have been to Santa Barbara many times; it's a convenient day trip from Los Angeles. Usually we walk up and down State Street or stroll along the beach, enjoy lunch on the pier, and sometimes visit the zoo. Oddly, in all these years, we have never gone to the Botanic Garden. So that's what we did this time.

The garden is devoted to the native plants of California, divided into sections that represent different parts of the state. California is often symbolized by palm trees, but it's a lot more complicated than that. There are deserts, forests, coastal regions, and mountains.

Some California native flowers Sometimes nature needs a little help

We stayed 15 miles south of Santa Barbara, in more budget-friendly Carpinteria. "Carp" is a friendly town, with a quaint downtown area.

Read the menu carefully before ordering your sandwich.

While the beach itself may be as safe as the mural proclaims, the nearby bluffs are not. Sadly, we came across this makeshift memorial to a young man who had recently fallen from a cliff.

A small section of the bluffs overlooks a harbor seal reserve. Getting there requires crossing the railroad tracks on foot, and following a trail that is sometimes a bit too close to the crumbling edge. This was the wrong time of year to see the seals with their young; we spotted just two or three out in the surf.
We drove up the coast to Monterey. Monterey is famous for its Cannery Row, once a center of the sardine industry, now a center of tourism.

We enjoyed the many fascinating exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Not far from Monterey is the upscale town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, known for its picturesque shopping area, attractive beach, and ex-mayor Clint Eastwood. We kicked off our shoes and took a stroll in the soft white sand, along with several hundred others seeking a cool ocean breeze on a hot day.

Next to Monterey is Pebble Beach, with its exclusive golf clubs, luxurious resorts, and multi-million-dollar celebrity mansions. It is also the site of 17-Mile Drive, where $10 buys admission and a brochure for the self-guided tour.

These trees tell us something about the prevailing winds.

This 250-year-old tree is known as the "Lone Cypress" and is often claimed to be the most-photographed tree in North America. The Pebble Beach Company registered a drawing of this tree as its trademark. Today, the company claims to own any and all images of the tree, whether photographs or drawings, and forbids artists and professional photographers from selling any pictures of it. The company's claim is much-disputed, but not many can afford the legal expenses to fight it. Luckily, amateurs are encouraged to snap away.

A visit to Pebble Beach wouldn't be complete without a stop for refreshments at the Lodge.

Next stop: somewhere north of here.

June 17, 2017

Animals in San Diego

by Rosemary

We spent eight hours at the San Diego Zoo. Apparently that wasn't enough, because two days later we went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

This Malaysian tiger is unaware that its species is critically endangered.
Like most of the animals we saw, it looks comfortable and relaxed.

The panda enjoys an afternoon nap.

A dozing bonobo sinks into the grass.

Even a grizzly bear looks sweet at naptime.

The recommended daily dose of cuteness is provided by a baby gorilla and the meerkats.

The basic ticket prices are the same at the Zoo and the Safari Park. (We got a slight discount by buying both together.) But from that point on, the Safari Park seems geared toward squeezing more and more money out of its visitors. For example, there is a short tram ride included with basic admission. The wait for the tram can be 30-60 minutes, standing in the sun. For an $8 upgrade, some visitors can get ahead of the line. There is a cheetah run each afternoon. People who want to stand a little closer to the cheetah enclosure can pay $8 for the privilege. Most of the Safari Park's animals are in large fields, intended to simulate a natural environment. It is possible to glimpse them from a few viewpoints in the park, but taking a cart or truck "safari" to get a closer look requires paying another fee ($50-$111 or more). Parking at the Zoo is free, but at the Safari Park it's $15. Food and drinks at attractions are always a bit pricey, but the Safari Park is over the top, charging $5.69 for a non-refillable soda, or $11.99 for one that can be refilled. Yikes!

We don't regret going to the Safari Park, but we felt that the Zoo was a much better value, with more animals to see, easier access, and more comfort (the Safari Park is in Escondido, where it's at least 10 degrees hotter).

We were impressed by the number of rhinos at the Safari Park - with babies!

Antelope lounge in the grass.
Fortunately for them, the lions are in a completely separate enclosure.

It was great fun to watch the elephants splashing and sparring. We captured some of it on video.

Of course, there is a lot more to San Diego than its zoos. Coronado Island has beautiful beaches, fancy hotels and restaurants, upscale residential areas, and a cute shopping district.

This whimsical sculpture by Daniel Stern stands outside the Coronado Community Center.
Balboa Park has 1200 acres of walks, hikes, gardens, and museums, as well as street performers, free organ recitals, and all kinds of eccentric characters.

You can enjoy exotic flowers in the Botanical Building,
or drive a wicker chair down the main walkway.

The Japanese Garden is a peaceful place to cool off after an eventful afternoon.

June 7, 2017

The Salton Sea is a Strange Place

by Steve and Rosemary

The first stop on our trip was to the Salton Sea. Once a prehistoric lake, the current Salton Sea was created from flooding of the Colorado River in 1905. Now, it is fed by agricultural runoff and has no natural supply of fresh water. For a while it was a popular resort, with marinas, boat docks, and hotels, but now the area is mostly deserted due to the receding waters and increased toxicity and salinity of the water.

What looks like a pristine white sand beach is actually made up of pulverized fish bones. The mummified bodies of fish are scattered around.

To paraphrase Monty Python, this is an "ex fish".
A close look reveals that these pebbles are actually fish vertebrae.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Nevertheless, the lake is popular with many varieties of water birds who, despite the condition of the water, seem to thrive here. We were informed that tilapia still do well here, and that even the rare desert pupfish survives. We saw people fishing, but no one caught anything while we were watching.

Around the lake are a few remnants of its prior life as a resort, but many of the structures, mostly mobile homes and trailers, have been abandoned. In the late 1970s severe flooding completely covered many buildings, which stayed underwater for decades. Eventually the water level went down, and the ruins were uncovered, often still full of rotten furniture and household items. Anything of value has long since been removed, and the area has been thoroughly vandalized.

We drove around the lake and walked to a few view points, but the 105 degree temperature made it difficult to enjoy. We had lunch in the tiny town of Bombay Beach, which was mostly mobile homes and RVs (many in dilapidated condition).

The next day, we went to a few more sites. Salvation Mountain is a man-made structure created by Leonard Knight, who died in 2014. Painted in various colors, the mountain encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses.

Part of the mountain is a series of caves and other structures where more words and vibrant colors abound.

Steve seeking salvation and shade.

Nearby is a site called East Jesus, an outdoor "museum" of artwork made up of random materials the artists found abandoned in the desert -- old cars, propellers, scrap metal, duck decoys, houses that had collapsed -- whatever was available. With no religious connotation, the name refers to a saying about a place so far off the grid as to be beyond civilization. Some unique themes run through the place, including a strong libertarian streak, and an apparent dislike of dolphins.

The area around Salvation Mountain and East Jesus is called Slab City. At one time there was a WWII Marine training camp here. After it was dismantled, only the concrete slabs that had supported the buildings were left. It now is a community of snowbirds and squatters who pay no rent, and have no utilities or other services available. Some use solar panels or generators.

There is also the famous "shoe tree".

Do you have anything in a black loafer?
We drove to Red Hill Butte, one of five lava domes in the area, known collectively as the Salton Buttes. These are active volcanoes (they last erupted between 1,800 and 3,000 years ago), associated with the region's geothermal field. The area includes Red Hill Marina, which seems to have been a good spot for boating decades ago when the water level was higher.

It would be difficult to float a boat there now.

We did see several of the geothermal energy plants. We also saw some huge solar energy farms, covering hundreds of acres.

You think it's hot at the surface?
We had both heard about the Salton Sea but neither of us had ever been there. Now we can cross this off the list. On to the next location!