Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “California”

Freeway-free in California: Amtrak Falters, BART to the rescue

We are ready for the parting of our ways:  M and the trailer will return to Davis, where she will dive headfirst into the maelstrom of detail involved with selling a house and buying another, while I will catch a Capital Corridor train at Fairfield and spend a relaxing two hours reading, writing, admiring the scenery, and feeling sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.

First wrinkle:  There are now TWO Amtrak stations in Fairfield.  Our faithful GPS unerringly directs us to the new one, Fairfield – Vacaville.  I have been to the Fairfield station before it was re-labeled Suisun -Fairfield, and I am pretty sure this adobe “Transit Center” in the middle of a giant parking lot next to nothing at all is not it. 

Moments of panic –I check my ticket and realize the error.  Is this really a train stop?  Where are the tracks?  Will my ticket be good starting at a different station. Should we head off for the other station? Cooler heads prevail; I spot an underpass which leads toward the tracks, we trundle through and there are a couple of benches and a sign saying that the train I am scheduled to travel on will arrive in 15 minutes, and, most reassuringly, another passenger waiting. 

I hug M, “Wonderful trip!” and watch her pull out of the parking lot.  The train arrives as advertised, and the conductor doesn’t get around to our car to check my ticket until after we have arrived at and left Suisun Fairfield.  My only regret is the lack of a snack machine at the new station – I had counted on a candy bar to get me through to my Great America stop.  Rummaging through my tote bag, I find a forgotten granola bar.  All is well.

Until we get to Richmond.  We stop.  And stay.  An unintelligible announcement is made.  I get out and find a conductor in the next car.  “There’s damage to the tracks ahead.  We don’t know how long the delay will be.  Could be 45 minutes.  Could be two hours.”

I go back to my car, inform my fellow passengers, and we stare disconsolately out the window – at the sign that says “Take underpass for BART”.  The young woman across from me is distraught. “I’ve GOT to get to the Oakland Airport for a flight!  I allowed an extra hour but…”  

I look at the sign.  “There’s a BART stop at the Oakland Airport”, I tell her.  There is also a new BART station in Milpitas, not so much further from home than the Great America station.  We gather our bags and lead a parade of passengers to the BART station.

To our surprise and pleasure, a BART official is handy who tells us “We have an arrangement with Amtrak.  Just go through that turnstile there – no charge.”  A BART train arrives a few minutes later, I phone my Personal Travel Agent at home, he checks the route to the new station, and I settle down to read, write, admire the scenery, and feel sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.

Coda: The next day I get a standard email from Amtrak asking about my trip.  I grouse about the lack of signage at the new station and most particularly about the delay and poor communication about it.  The next day I receive another email from Amtrak giving me a voucher good for the value of my trip from Fairfield –Suisun to Great America.  They are trying!

Freeway Free in California: Ocean to Forest to Vineyards – What’s not to like?

We wake from untroubled sleep to fog outside and a healthy breakfast of fruit and granola as a sendoff. We dress lightly in spite of the fog, as we know summer heat is just on the other edge of the fog bank. Bits of sun are already breaking through as we pass Arcata and Ferndale without stopping for the Victorian delights available there.

But now we are truly in Redwood Country, and we can’t resist the Avenue of the Giants, so we take the side road off the freeway through the green canyons of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We do stop to switch drivers and use a restroom at the Eternal Tree House. (Yes, it’s a cheesy roadside attraction, but the setting is beautiful, the cafe is hospitable, and the restrooms are clean.)

No signs anymore commemorating the great flood of 1964, and there is no trace of the town of Weott anymore, though Google says remnants still exist high above the flood plain.

And then we emerge into sunlight and suddenly the outside temperature is in the 90’s.  Our Redwood RV Resort is right next to Hwy 20, a fairly busy e/w corridor from Willits to Ft. Bragg, but it has shady valley oaks and redwoods, a pool, a splash park, a trail through adjacent vineyards, and lots of Hispanic families and American flags.  We back successfully into our gravel pad (four tries to get close enough but not too close to the picnic table), change to airy cotton frocks, lay out late lunch/early appetizers of hummus and veggies and Ritz crackers on a little table at the splash park, and watch the children playing int the water. It’s 90 degrees in the sun, but we are not in the sun, and we are feeling very relaxed.

Freeway Free in California – Morning among the Giants, Evening among Friends

 

My old friends T & C, who live in McKinleyville, arrive at our campsite. T is a volunteer ranger at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, so of course we go for a hike enjoying all sorts of special tidbits of knowledge provided by our Personal Tour Guide – and also the lunch goodies brought by C. We eat our lunch at the foot of the big tree used in a National Geographic article about mapping the redwood canopy. re redwoods.

T&C twist our arms a bit and we desert our campsite in favor of a night in their new “downsized “ 3br / 2ba home with a 270 degree view of ocean and forest. Every wall and bookcase is filled with photos, artifacts, and mementoes. The old house accomodated a family of nine, but looking around, I can’t see what’s missing, other than the seven kids.

T, M and I go for a walk on Clam Beach, a short hike from their promontory. I find a whole sand dollar. Lucky omen for upcoming days, we hope.

After dinner C offers board games, and I choose Scrabble. Fair warning: Don’t ever let me choose Scrabble! Years of crossword puzzles, anagrams, and the license plate game make me near invincible. (However, Son#1 skunks me regularly – don’t know what he practices on!)

Our bedroom – a queen-sized blow up bed, two large glass-fronted cabinets mounted on the walls, both full of Madame Alexander and other collectible and not-so-collectible dolls. All those glass eyes staring at us as we sleep. I’m glad I never saw those Chucky movies.

Tiny Teardrop Trailer Travel 2 – Day 2

Up by eight in our RV Resort near Castle Crags, hoping to beat the heat on a hike up to a waterfall and scenic viewing platform touted as not to be missed on the Camp brochure.  Turns out the trailhead is up the highway a bit, so we lock and load, out by 10:30.  We locate the trailhead, but the parking lot is already full of earlier birds than us, and there is no easy spot for the trailer, so we forego, and head up I-5 for Oregon

We stop in Ashland and lunch with M’s college roommate and her partner. Allison is a retired lawyer and her partner Madge is a retired CPA.  They live in a craftsman bungalow remodeled tastefully and surrounded by a lush garden of fruit and flowers and art objects, a dream of retirement come true.  The conversation is focused on the artistic life of Ashland, the lively drama scene and how it accommodated to the pandemic, and the advantages of bungalow life vs condo life.

Three of us decide to walk to Hither, a cute-as-can-be brunch/lunch spot about a 10 block walk away – the dog needs exercise and so do we. It is HOT.  The trip there is downhill, and we are in no hurry. I stop often to admire some interesting old house or flowers or pretty art thingy, but by the time we get to Hither’s shady outdoor patio we are ready for iced tea/beer/iced coffee. They are out of avocado toast, but herbed scrambled eggs are delicious.

The walk back is even hotter. And more uphill.  We pick the shadier sides of the street, and don’t stop as often.  M and I are sweltering by the time we get back to the house.  Maybe Ashland is not the perfect retirement paradise after all. We worry about the next few days, with 100 degree temps also predicted for our destination.

Brief goodbye’s and on our way again in our air-conditioned cocoon, which we now appreciate even more.  We stop for gas.  Still hot.  We look for the closest Baskin-Robbins. Tucked around a corner we find it after cruising the hot asphalt parking lot from one end to the other.  Thank goodness for the walking option on GPS!  Mint chocolate chip, very berry strawberry, and triple mango swirl do a lot for our attitudes.

And much cooler weather as we arrive at familiar-from-last-trip Schroeder County Park west of Grant’s Pass does even more.  We set up painlessly, put our camp chairs at the edge of a rise which wafts a cool breeze directly up from the river, and relax. Later we go down to the river and wade again, waving at rafters and kayakers as they pass. Then we bring out wine, hummus, cheese, crackers, and veggies to dip, and by the time we have nearly finished the wine we realize we don’t really need to cook dinner.  Bed and books look good.

Tiny Trailer Travel 2 in 2022 – Day One

My sister promised me two trips in her tiny teardrop trailer as Christmas/birthday presents. For our second expedition with her favorite toy, we decided to do a variation on an earlier trip, going north to visit our brother in Washington state, but on our way we also planned to visit old friends up and down I-5 and US-101.

We had planned to leave early in order to beat the heat on I-5, but domestic circumstances (which I resolve NOT to talk about in this series) delayed our departure until nearly 11:30AM. We had loaded the trailer’s refrigerator with a fresh-caught frozen salmon courtesy of M’s neighbor, a partially-pre-cooked hamburger casserole courtesy of my Personal Travel Agent, some gourmet cheese, assorted fruit, hummus, and enough wine to keep us merry as we camped our way up the valley.

M drives for the first two hours, straight up I-55 aiming at Mt. Shasta.  We stop for lunch at a rest stop, where our little cocoon is dwarfed by the semis also taking their breaks in the lot marked for “Trailers and RVs”. The rest stop offers shade and a bit of a breeze, and duly fortified we proceed to our first camp spot, Railway Park Resort at Dunsmuir. We pull into the registration office past box cars and cabooses that have been re-purposed as lodge rooms for families, a gift shop, and a history museum. A Dining Car is now a restaurant. But we have our own traveling accomodation, and continue further up the road to our RV site in a different area.

It is HOT, but in the shade bearable. We see other campers returning from a swimming pool located back in the railroad car section, but it seems like too much trouble to change clothes and hike over to share a pool with a bunch of teenagers and tots. Instead, we explore and discover a creek near our site ideal for wading in.  Oh bliss!

Returning with wet feet to our camp, we discover that the electrical connection to the trailer has come unplugged. We can’t know how long we have been driving without blinkers or brake lights, but long enough so that the salmon is completely thawed.  We cross our fingers against botulism and hope for the best. Our first night meal is the partially pre-cooked casserole layered with noodles and cheese in a frying pan, super easy to fix, and we have some (warm) red wine to wash it down and some chocolate covered cranberries for dessert.

M’s sleeping bag has a velcro-fastened interior lining, so we could pull off the warm layer and sleep under the lightweight sheet. Despite the heat of the day, the trailer cools fast with side windows and a ceiling vent open. We have no trouble falling asleep.

NEXT: Finding Friends and Family – Day 2

Hidden Gems: Ruth Bancroft’s Cactus Garden

Ruth Bancroft’s legacy garden in Walnut Creek, California is a small plot of land full of wonders. Ruth Bancroft’s family had a farm in Walnut Creek; she was attracted to a rosette-shaped succulent, and this grew into a fascination with succulents, cacti, and numerous other drought – tolerant plants. The result is a fantasy garden of growing greenery, some of which looks as though it originated on another planet.

Despite years in the general area, and having heard about the Ruth Bancroft Garden, it took a family wedding to draw me there. Now I’m eager to go again with visiting friends.

It’s spring, folks! You’re going to see some gardens!

Freeway Free in California: Iris Chang Park, San Jose

I spent Earth Day with friends, making a rather neglected park more beautiful by pulling weeds and trimming invasive plants. I hadn’t planned on doing anything to mark the day, but my friend Tao invited me to join her and her partner in a work project sponsored by the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project of San Jose.

The location was Iris Chang Park, shoehorned between a huge apartment block and culverted Coyote Creek. It was established to honor Iris Chang, the brilliant young author of “The Rape of Nanjing” and other histories of the Chinese experience, which opened to much community fanfare in November of 2020. But during the lockdown months care and maintenance fell behind, and the nettles and dandelions had grown almost as tall and profuse as the native grasses originally designed for the landscape.

The park offers a simple strolling path past a cenotaph telling about Iris Chang, a large circular sculpture evoking traditional Chinese artifacts, and several markers and low walls with quotes from Chang’s work. In April, irises planted by Chang’s parents were in bloom in several beds.

So we set to work. A couple of hours later, with a dozen people busy, we had accumulated quite a collection of refuse bags, and the park is ready for its closeup – a May 1 event to mark the anniversary of Chang’s death. Stop by if you are in the neighborhood!

Freeway Free in Florabundance: My Spring Garden

My father used to say that we lived in Paradise, and in springtime in California, despite threats of drought, global warming, and wildfires, this is still true. I just got back from a week away (which I will write about later, never fear) and found that my garden is in full flush of bloom. So don’t expect travel tips or social commentary this week; it’s all about the pretty pictures.

I ‘m not an assiduous gardener. There are weeds, and a lot of volunteer plants in places where they shouldn’t be. Fortunately, roses despite their beauty are very forgiving of neglect – so I have a lot of them.

I also have geraniums because they just grow, nasturtiums because they reseed themselves, and jasmine which invades from the neighbor’s yard and competes with the roses for fragrance and a basket of miniature petunias which I bought last year and has thrived on neglect.

And to top it off, my mother’s orchids, tucked away in remote corners of the yard for most of the year:

After hours in sterile cars, airports and airplanes, this was such a fantastic welcome I had to share!

Hiking Boots to Buzzards’ Roost

Having nothing scheduled, we sleep until 6:30, when we both wake with the same need, scrambling for our camp shoes so we can hustle off to the nearby loo.  If we were at home, we would have stayed upright, made coffee, and begun the day.  But in camp, it seems still too dark to do anything serious, so M curls up for an additional doze, while I pull out my iPad to churn out another 1500 words of my latest imaginary adventure.

After a lovely camp breakfast of Raisin Bran, blueberries, raspberries and oranges, washed down with French pressed coffee, and milk, I do the washing up while M puts together a portable lunch in preparation for our hike to Buzzard’s Roost.  We intend to leave by 10, but what with one thing and another it’s 11:15 by the time we set our feet on the path toward the Buzzard’s Roost trailhead.

It’s a lovely walk under the Highway One overpass, up through stands of redwoods terribly scorched by the Basin Complex fire of 2008, but still bravely pushing out green shoots of new growth.  Then we’re in ceanothus and scrub oak country, then manzanita, and finally barren red rock with a vantage point that looks over to Mount Manuel landward and to the brilliant blue Pacific to seaward.  We spread our unneeded extra layers of shirts over the red dirt and set out a lavish lunch of hard-boiled eggs, carrots, hummus, crackers, string cheese, grapes, apples, and prunes – all finger food, no grease.  We stay looking out to sea until our spines begin to protest against sitting unsupported on the hard ground, then round up the eggshells and cheese wrappers with other leftovers and set off on the return loop.

One of my perennial games on a hike is to count how many different kinds of wildflowers Ican spot.  In Edgewood Park near where I live, I have counted as many as forty in the spring, due to the many different micro-biomes there.  On this day at Big Sur we tally twenty one, including columbine, native iris, wild strawberry, dandelion, buttercup, trillium, and others of which I do not know the names.  Counting varieties is a great way of forcing yourself to be on the lookout and to really notice what is around you.

Our plan after returning to our campsite had been to hop in the car, take care of a couple of small purchases at the general store down the road, and then to drive down to Pfeiffer Beach.  But after our purchases M turns to me and asks “Do you mind if we don’t go to the beach?  I just want to veg.”

Instead we drive to the end of the road on the side of the river opposite our campground, just to see what is there. We watch a family playing softball on the weedy field for a while, and I want to check out the “seasonal footbridge” that the map shows opposite our campground (See the dotted line crossing the river at the end of Day Use Lot 4 on the above map?) M drops me off at the end of Parking lot 4 and drives away, while I follow the trail from the sign that says “Footbridge.”

Guess what.  No footbridge. Must not be the season yet.  I debate wading across the shallowest portion of the Big Sur River as it ripples past where the bridge should have been. I’m wearing my water shoes, and my cargo pants with the roll up option, and the water looks shallow.  On the other hand, the bottom of the river is paved with rounded stones of varied sizes which could be very unstable and slippery, the water is so clear that it’s hard to gauge how deep it really is, and getting up the steep bank on the opposite side looks chancy. So I opt for the half-mile walk around to the far bridge at the end of the campground.  (It would have been shorter, but the most direct route was “authorized vehicles only,” and a ranger directed me in a friendly but definitive way to the trail around, not through.)

By the time I make it to our campsite, M has gotten worried and set out in search of me.  By the time we reunite the sun is definitely over the yardarm. She lights the portable campfire, I run cold water from the camp faucet over my tired feet, and we settle to reading, phoning, and munching the last of the crackers and hummus.

Dinner is experimental but turns out well. A vegetable medley cooked in Frying Pan #1, sliced parboiled potatoes with onions sautéed in frying pan #2, and lamb chops sauteed in Frying Pan #1 after the veggie medley had been evacuated, along with a nice Pinot Noir, dessert of shortbread and chocolate squares, and some sisterly discussion ranging from “Do you think Mom resented me?” to “Have you smoked marijuana?” to “I have this genetic deformity. Do you have it too?”

And by 9PM we are snuggled in our teardrop cocoon once more.

Coming next: The Beach! .

Freeway Free at Pfeiffer Big Sur

Day One:

We had had a rare rainfall two days earlier, and nothing could have been a fresher, more electric green than the hills of the Santa Clara Valley as we headed down toward Monterey. We went off the freeway at Lamplighter Drive to take advantage of relatively cheap gas near the Army base, and otherwise sailed uneventfully down Highway 1, slowed only by roadwork as crews narrowed the road to one lane periodically as they constructed subterranean aqueducts to prevent washouts and landslides along the perennially unstable coastline.

After setting up, as it was only 3PM, we decided to walk to Pfeiffer Falls, as we had seen the trailhead as we were entering the park.  The trail to Pfeiffer Falls had been closed due to fire damage and landslides the last couple of time I had been there.  It has now been reopened thanks to extensive reconstruction efforts by a team of conservation groups, and the trail is now a cascade of bridges and staircases crafted of thick wood beam designed to resist erosion, vandalism, earthquakes, and storms. (Fires, maybe not so much). It’s a challenging climb, but there are plenty of landings, and the final destination is a lovely fern-draped hollow with a spring-fed cascade shooting down a rock face, and a couple of wide benches suitable for catching your breath and resting your quads after the staircases.

Downhill was faster.  We took a shortcut back to camp, and M brought out a bottle of wine, snap peas and carrots, and minted yogurt and hummus.  We polished off the peas and i put together the pre-cooked meal that my PTA had provided – 20 minutes to assemble and cook in a single skillet (recipe below) .  We finished off the wine with the casserole, while for entertainment we  watched a fellow camper maneuver a HUGE trailer backwards into the campsite across the way. (Trailers seem to come in two sizes, either tiny teardrops like M’s or humongous, with pop outs and canopies and rooftop patios.)

A quick washing up and cleanup of the camp, and we tucked ourselves into the trailer.  Everything is as carefully arranged as in a well-crafted yacht, with no nook or cranny left without a purpose and a content, and the aluminum sides and insulation making it much cozier than a tent. We have a plan for tomorrow involving a hike to a viewpoint, a couple of bag lunches, and maybe a trip down to the beach. But nothing scheduled.

Next: Hiking Boots to Buzzards’ Roost and Beyond

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