Sunday, July 24, 2016

Corrizo Plain, CA

We are off a week after Easter in search of wildflowers which the news reporters say are in abundance this year after the El Nino rains. Packing, as usual, takes longer than we expect so we leave later on a Thursday afternoon. Our first stop is to camp close-by at Pinnacles National Park.
The fertile field and green spring hills surrounding the Pajaro Valley

We drive towards Hollister, famous for it's 4th of July motorcycle rally. This rally started in the 1930's, but became infamous in 1947 when a large riotous crowd terrorized the town giving rise to the outlaw biker image spawning the 1953 movie The Wild One staring Marlon Brando and probably even the 1969 movie Easy Rider staring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as well as a host of others.  The Independence Day Biker rally still continues to the present time.  However, even though the crowds have grown, most of the bad boy bikers have mellowed with age and simply aren't the wild ones anymore. Besides, Harley's are costly these days with the average buyer in their 40's working a real job and a family to support. Not to say outlaw biker gangs don't exist anymore, they do, but they are more of an endangered species (but that doesn't stop Hollywood eking out a little more mileage from the genre -  like the recent TV series Sons of Anarchy).

Before reaching Hollister, we cut south on Hwy 25, also known as the Airline Highway, which got its name before the advent of modern airplane navigational systems. In those early days, pilots followed known roads on the ground below to get to their destinations. Pilots flying north/south between San Francisco and Los Angeles would use Hwy 25 as a marker to make sure they were on course. We like this less traveled road because of light traffic, it's scenic beauty and the fact it generally follows the San Andres Fault.
The 19th Hole in Tres Pinos

Hwy 25 - aka the "Airline Highway"

We arrive at Pinnacles National Park a little after 5pm and the store, where campsites are sold, has just closed up. No problem we think, we'll just pick site out and pay up later.  Finding a suitable campsite is hard as the campground is almost completely full. We finally find one and start to set up. Just about then a guy drives by in a camper and claims we are in his campsite. He claims he was there earlier and his wife had already gone to pay for it.  Scarcely believing him, but not liking the crowded conditions we move on. We finally end up in a nice campsite outside of King City in San Lorenzo Park which is operated by Monterey County. In the morning we continue south on Hwy 101 and then cut east towards Creston passing through rolling hills of vineyards, wineries and horse pastures. This area has certainly become more upscale than we last remember.

Entrance to Pinnacles

Driving south on Hwy 25

Vineyards by Creston

So nice to see green hills and healthy oak trees

Our first wildflowers

Beautiful oak tree

Once past Creston, the terrain becomes even hillier with large swaths of yellow wildflowers in bloom

Our destination is the Corrizo Plain National Monument, where news reporters have written recent stories declaring a banner year for wildflowers. Even though we arrive right around 12noon, the normally quiet Visitors Center is teeming with tourists and the overwhelmed rangers inform us their campground is already full. Since they allow dispersed camping, we decide to explore the area and try to find a suitable campsite. We stop for a short hike up to an overlook which affords excellent views of the surrounding area. The landscape offers a stark beauty but without the much reported wildflowers.  While there we meet two young Asian ladies from the LA area.  They are complaining that Death Valley was so crowded they couldn't find a place to stay. We recommend they tour wineries in the Paso Robles area which are open, uncrowded, and with a the beautiful drive. They are delighted and seem to take warmly to the idea.
View from lookout of the Corrizo Plain

Visitors walking on the salina

From the lookout, we park next to the boardwalks to see the salina up close. Apparently just a few weeks ago, it was filled with shallow water making for a good stopover for birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway. Unfortunately by today, the seasonal lake is dried up. We meet a couple of disappointed bird watchers dejectively walking back to the parking lot.  They had hoped to catch the migration, but like us have missed the main show by a few weeks.  There are still some wildflowers around the edge of the salina, but not the wide open fields we were expecting.
Wildflowers along the salina's edge


Brittlebrush (?) in bloom

Not finding a campsite to our liking we decide to push eastward on Hwy 285 and then south along Hwy 33 to Taft. Immediately we start seeing large swaths of yellow wildflowers in bloom.

The terrain becomes dryer as we cross over the summit and wind our way down into the southern San Joaquin Valley. This dry dusty area around Taft is a major petroleum and natural production region. In fact, Taft is one of the few towns left in the USA that exists solely on nearby oil reserves. One of my students at UCSC was an Anthropology/Archeology major and worked summers on digs funded by the oil companies. They were looking for artifacts of the original hunter-gatherer population.  Needless to say she always returned to the cooler coastal climate of Santa Cruz complaining bitterly about the summer working conditions around Taft.

We stay on Hwy 33, then turn left onto Lockwood Valley Rd to camp at Reyes Creek Campground. It's a Friday night and we get one of the few sites left.  Across the street is a large camp group with dogs.  We are concerned at first about noise from barking dogs. However, the dogs are well behaved. It's the humans that are a problem. In fact, they are up all night partying. One woman with a particularly shrill laugh keeps waking us up. Her voice even pierces through my ear plugs and pillows covering my ears.  In the morning, we pack up and get out of there as soon as possible. Never again!
Descending into the San Joaquin Valley

The first oil rig in Taft

Fake graveyard @ Reyes Creek campground

At least it's a beautiful morning and we enjoy our drive eastward on Lockwood Valley Rd toward I-5. Just a mile or two down the road from the Reyes Creek turnoff, we find a really nice dispersed camp area with only a few free range cattle as company.  Too bad we didn't know about this spot yesterday evening. Oh well, we'll know where to camp the next time in this area.
Lockwood Valley Rd

Young heifer

Nice camp area with quite neighbors

We thoroughly enjoy the drive as the scenery is beautiful without hardly any people. As we drive along we examine our options about what to do next. Finally we settle on laying low with relatives in San Diego and then try for the high deserts early next week.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Mendocino, CA

After lunch Cork, Cathy, Peter and I stop at the Mendocino Highlands State Park.  It's a great time for a hike as the fog is lifting and the trail along the cliffs is surrounded by open fields of blooming wildflowers.
Splinter and Leisure

Setting out along the cliffs

This part of the California coastline is honeycombed with small coves with many nooks and crannies  - perfect for smuggling operations. In fact, smugglers have been especially active at least three times.

First in the 1800's untold thousands of Chinese laborers were brought ashore here to work in the Transcontinental Railroad and in the gold fields. Despite strong racial biases and harsh working conditions, the Chinese stayed and through their perseverance and ingenuity, they became a respected segment of the population.  As Sandy Lydon points out in his book, Chinese Gold: The Chinese in Monterey Bay Region, the Chinese saw opportunity in mustard seeds that could be converted into a saleable product while others just saw weeds.

Secondly, Prohibition during the 1930's provided a boom time for smugglers bringing in thousands of gallons of alcoholic libations to help satisfy thirsty San Francisco.

Lastly during the 1960's and probably even to the present day, bails of marijuana and other drugs were brought in under the cover of darkness (see How Mendocino County went to Pot: Memories of Life in the Mendocino Redwood Country in the Last Half of the 1900s). It was during this era hippies and the back-to-the-land movement got established in the area.

Today, looking out from these cliffs I wonder how many lives were lost as contraband came ashore under the cover of darkness. It had to be dangerous with this hazardous coastline, especially in heavy seas without modern navigational systems.

Walking along the trail, it's hard to not to notice the many wildflowers in bloom.
California Poppies

Wild radish seed pods & red Indian Paintbrushes


Seaside Daisy

Close-up of California Poppy



Douglas Iris

Ice Plant

Although Mendocino started in the rough and tumble times of the lumber and fishing industries, it has become more refined over the years, catering to refugees from city life in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Bed & Breakfasts and fine dining restaurants are often completely booked on weekends and during holidays. In addition, the many secluded beaches make this area a favorite for honeymooners and lovers.

Vestiges of Mendocino's hippy heyday can be found along the trail.
Trail ogre/guardian ?

Flower barfing Tiki

Declarations of love carved into a trail-side bench

Nature lovers taking a break (Peter, Cork and Cathy with Mary and Checkers)

As much as we enjoy the hike, it's time to move on and set up camp for the night.
Town of Mendocino from the Highlands

After only a 20 minute drive north on Hwy 1, we turn left at MacKerricher State Park.
Sign at entrance

Grey Whale skeleton by check-in station

The next day dawns with beautiful sunny weather - perfect for walking the dogs along the beach.
Puppies are waiting

Peter on leash duty

Gnarled tree

MacKerricher Beach

For lunch Cork and Cathy take us to their favorite pub in Fort Bragg, the Piaci Pub and Pizzeria (the Sicilian pizza is great). After lunch we wander around the town. Our first stop is to check the status of the Skunk Train, which unfortunately is only running a truncated schedule due to a section of down track. We all like the more down-to-earth atmosphere of Fort Bragg versus Mendocino as it still retains more of it's blue collar origins.
Cathy & Cork by mural of the Skunk Train station

Tattoos anyone?

Amazing how big the original trees were in this area

That afternoon we take another hike along MacKerricher's beaches, where we find colonies of sea lions lounging on the rocks.
MacKerricher beach

Coastal pond

Cathy and I branch off on the path less traveled around a pond just a short distance away. We pretty much have the place to ourselves seeing only one or two other people.
Wildflower lined pathway

Cathy leads

and takes pics of flowers

Such a nice afternoon

A Canadian goose spreads its wings

In the morning, it's time to pack up and drive back home.
Back through the redwood forest

passing vineyards

then back to civilization - Bay Area's San Rafael Bridge

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Retired and enjoying life.