Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “vacation”

Freeway Free in Colorado: The Other Side of the Rockies – Grand Lake

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Most non-Coloradans probably think of Denver when they think of the Rockies – the wonderful postcard panorama of the city’s skyscrapers dwarfed by the huge mountain range rising abruptly out of the Great Plains. Some might think of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, another tourist magnet.  If they get as far as Rocky Mountain National Park, most only  make it as far as the hiking trails around Bear Lake before turning back to Boulder or Ft. Collins or Colorado Springs or other east side centers.  But there is a lot to appreciate on the western slope of the Continental Divide.

We planned to eat lunch at the Trail Ridge Store at the Alpine Vistors’ Center, but we were delayed by road work as we slugged up and over the summit of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park.  By the time we arrived, but the parking lot at  visitor’s center was full to over-flowing, and the  presiding ranger politely but firmly turned us away.  We coasted down the other side of the summit hoping at best for a coffee shop in Granby when my ravenous sister spotted a sigh for the Grand Lake Lodge – “Lodging/ Cocktails”. Where there is a bar, she reasoned, there must be bar food.  And thus we happened on  a hidden treasure on the west side of the divide.

The lodge itself is worthy of comparison to the great lodges of the National Parks such as the Ahwahnee at Yosemite and Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone.  It is built of local timber, and features an expansive veranda billed as “Colorado’s Front Porch.”  The veranda looks out over the lodge pool and the Grand Lake – a spreading expanse of blue shining far below the deep veranda of the Lodge.

Inside is a huge gathering room, with quaint twig-and-slat rockers circled around a huge firepit.  Since the weather was excellent, we elected to eat on the porch with that great view, but we could imagine on a cold or wet day how comforting that fire would be.

On separate trips to Grand Lake, we also discovered the eponymous town, a hyper-quaint log village beside the lake.  It boasts a wonderful ice cream shop (very welcome after hiking the nearby trails) as well as an informative museum of local history and an excellent repertory theater which offers three or four musicals rotating over the course of the summer, with cast members recruited from university theatre companies all over the country.  This summer we were there for “West Side Story” and lucked into Cabaret night, when the audience is invited to join the cast members after the show for some bonus music, each cast member presenting their own favorite song.  The performance is free, and the wine/beer bar is open.20171022_154109web

 

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Freeway-Free in Colorado: Boulder Beyond the Campus and the Mall

Chatauqua Hall

Chatauqua Hall

The Flat Iron Mountains loom over Boulder’s western side, and many of the hiking trails in and around these peaks begin or end at the equally picturesque Chatauqua Institute.  This is a wonderfully conceived set of Victorian-era buildings arranged around a grassy meadow with the intent of promoting adult education in a healthful and beautiful setting.  It has been in continuous operation since the late 1800’s, and continues to fulfill its mission with artists-in-residence, concerts, films, and as a bonus, delicious food available during the temperate months on a wide veranda overlooking the meadow, and in the cold season inside a cozy lounge with a huge stone fireplace. 20170817_181344web

The films and concerts take place in a huge beamed barnlike structure which has burned several times over the history of the Colorado Chatauqua , but has always been reconstsructed in the spirit of its predecessors – think of a giant barn with good acoustics and lighting.   On a recent summer evening I attended a showing of a couple of Buster Keaton silent films, with an expert live piano accompaniment providing authenticity.  The audience of about 500 only half-filled the vast space, but the gleeful giggles of the kids seeing Keaton’s acrobatic pratfalls for the first time filled the space beautifully.

 

For  a different kind experience, visit the Celestial Seasonings factory just north of Boulder.  Here you can sip samples of dozens of different teas, and take a tour of the factory where the teas are stored, processed, boxed, and prepared for shipment.  Be warned:  If you are sensitive to odors you may be in for sensory overload here;  on the other hand if you are suffering from nasal congestion a few moments in the special room where the mint tea is stored will clear you out amazingly.

If you are interested in  more modern types of architecture, the National Center for Atmospheric Research is just a bit further up the road from the Chatauqua Institue, in a fascinating building designed by I. M. Pei.  The group of rectangular forms juts out of a ledge of the Flat Irons as though created by some upheaval.  The exterior is made of red sandstone that blends perfectly with the surrounding rocks, and the views from the exterior plaze and the restaurant inside are to die for.  I have not eaten at the restaurant, but with that view how could the meal be less than delightful?  The exhibits explaining how cyclones form, how ocean currents affect climate, and so on, are also interesting, though you will likely have to compete with a busload of elementary school field trippers to get close to them. 20170727_105455doc

 

 

Freeway-Free in Colorado: Treasure-Hunting in Boulder

20170726_112617docOnce you are in Boulder, you could simply enjoy the atmosphere of the bustling University of Colorado campus, or spend your time hiking and rock-climbing in the FlatIrons above town.  But if your interests are less academic and less strenuous, your explorations may lead you to a number of Hidden Treasures.

Easiest to find and most likely to absorb a full afternoon:  The Pearl Street Mall.  Boulder was among the first small towns to recognize that its brick-clad downtown was a potential magnet for walkers and shoppers.  Instead of succumbing to the lure of Federal redevelopment dollars, and trading in the red-brick buildings for stucco blocks and a parking garage as did many similar towns, the town fathers opted for blocking off several blocks of the old downtown area, labeling it a Historic District, and converting it into a park for browsers and strollers.

One of the don’t -miss shops is the Boulder Book Store, a multi-leveled maze of marvelous tomes both new and used,  that looks like it was conceived by the same interior decorator as put together Ollivander’s Wand Shop in the Harry Potter novels.  It is almost impossible to enter this store and leave again without finding at least one volume you have always wanted to read, have been trying to find forever, or for some other reason cannot leave without.

Another don’t’-miss is Peppercorn, a housewares shop which as far as I can tell really does have everything.  If you have always wanted corn-cob holders in the shape of cows, or have been looking for a mango splitter, this is the place.  Happily, the staff knows their stock and can lead you directly to the item you ask for;  otherwise, you might wander forever among the fascinating cooking tools and cutlery. Sticking with the Harry Potter metaphors, this shop is like the Room of Requirement, stuffed with everything anyone might have ever wished for.

But the Mall is more than just shopping.  Almost every block boasts a fountain, sculptures, benches for sitting, and performance spaces.  On the day I last visited I caught a performance by a group of youngsters performing on xylophone.  A sunny day, an ice cream cone in hand… who could ask for more?

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Freeway-Free in Colorado: Boulder Beyond the Rocks

The Flat Irons above Boulder

If you’ve heard of Boulder, CO at all, you probably know that it is one of the hippest college towns in the country, surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, and with a tech-savvy population. (89% of households have broadband access, the highest rate in the country.)

But you might not know that Boulder  also boasts an I.M.Pei-designed National Center for Atmospheric Research, that it is home to one of the original Chatauqua Institutes (established, oddly enough, by a group of Texans who felt that the weather in their home state was just too oppressive to host conferences), and that its Leanin’ Tree Museum of Western Art had one of the largest private collections of Western-themed art in the country [Note: Unfortunately, this Hidden Gem closed in August 2017, soon after my visit. And it is also the headquarters of the Celestial Seasonings tea company.

Boulder is a wonderfully walkable town, once you get there, and happily, you can get there without having to drive.  If you fly into the Denver Airport, you can get to Boulder by bus for less than it would cost to pay the tolls on the E-470 tollway just outside the airport. 

When you land, grab your baggage and head for the whale’s-tail shaped Westin Hotel  at the east end of the lobby.  Instead of going up the escalator to the Westin lobby, hang a U-turn at the ATMs and you will find yourself in the  RTD Transportation Center. The SkyRide bus for Boulder costs $9 for a 70 minute ride to downtown Boulder, and leaves from Gate 8 at least once an hour beginning at 4:25 AM and ending at 12:55 AM.  The bus will be full of UC – Boulder students no matter what time of day or night you get on, so be sure to purchase your ticket right away and stand in line for the next bus.

Once you are in Boulder, you can take advantage of the many whimsically-painted and whimsically – named  (HOP, SKIP, JUMP, DASH, STAMPEDE…) Community Transportation buses to get just about anywhere in and around town.

Next: What to see when you get to Boulder

Summer Camp Season (Los Altos Town Crier, Sept. 6, 2017)

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Whenever my summer wanderings take me over to the beautiful sandstone and terra-cotta university campus up the road, I marvel at the multiplicity of signs directing me to this or that summer camp.  There always seem to be squadrons of T-shirted campers on the move, being directed this way and that by polo- shirted counselors, all wearing color-coded lanyards and nametags to make sure they are getting all the perks, and none but the perks, to which their campership entitles them.

When I was in my pre-teens, camp was different.

For one thing, we didn’t wear lanyards, we made them. At the mandatory craft class, the one project you could be almost sure of finishing was the one involving braiding long brightly-colored strips of plastic into keychains and whistle cord.  We could do spiral or diamond pattern for the cords, round or square for the sliders.  We could make keychains from four strand, six-strand, or even eight-strand braids, using school colors, or Day-Glo, or even glow-in-the-dark plastic. After two years of Boy Scout and Camp Fire Girl camp, my parents, near relatives, and most of my teachers were all supplied with all the whistle holders they would ever need.lanyard

For another thing, although our camps were plain vanilla when it came to skin color, they were quite diverse in subject matter.  In one week we got tastes of archery, swimming, sailing, lanyard-making, leather-working, wood-carving, plus campfire building and the songs to sing around them, and skit writing and performing.

The camps up the road are different. The campers are culturally diverse, of all shapes, sizes, sexes, and skin tones. But each camp seems to be focused on  producing mastery in one area alone.  The university sponsors camps for every kind of sport, from Basketball to Water Polo, plus specialized camps of all sorts.  There is the Pre-Collegiate Summer Institute, the Medical Youth Science Program,  the Sports Business Academy, the oxymoronic High School Summer College , and even (for high-school and pre-med students) the Cardiothoracic Surgical Skills Summer Institute. (Sounds like heart-stopping fun!)

In addition  privately sponsored camps offer training in Social Entrepreneurship, Advanced Suzuki Violin, Emergency Medicine, Global Citizenship, Computer Engineering for Girls, Journalism in the Digital Age, English Language Immersion, Performing Arts, Digital Discovery,  and many, many more.

When I was in summer camp, we spent time making up silly songs about our counselors, such as (to the tune of “Pretty Redwing)

                The moon shines tonight on Helen Waller

                If she were taller/ she wouldn’t holler,

                And her old dirty shorts they need a-patchin’

                Where she’s been scratchin’

                                Her chigger bites.

I can’t imagine any silly songs about cardiothoracic surgery, but maybe I’m not trying hard enough.

It happens that the local AAUW branch, to which I belong, sponsors a half-dozen local girls at one of Stanford’s summer camps, one which encourages girls to consider careers in science and technology.  Each August after the Tech Trek camp is over we get thank- you notes from the girls, telling us how much they appreciated the opportunity to learn to code computer games, build hover boards, and do DNA gel electrophoresis.  (I imagine them sitting around a table on the last day, dutifully filling in the blanks in a template as the counselors monitor them. At least that hasn’t changed from when we were “encouraged” to write letters home from camp}. This year’s letters included a blessed hint of silliness; one girl mentioned that she enjoyed an afternoon of fountain-hopping around the campus, as well as a trial of ice-cream making.

Each September we host the scholars at an afternoon meeting where each tells us a bit about the camp.  We will hear about the forensics lab, the robot-building, the rocket launch.  But when it comes to Q&A, I’m planning to ask about the fountain – hopping and the ice cream – there should be some fun left in summer camp!

 

 

 

Freeway-Free in California – Santa Barbara by Pedal, Foot, and Trolley

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With another day of 90+-degree heat threatening Ojai, we decide to head for the coast and the Queen City of Santa Barbara just thirty miles west. .  We slide off Highway 101 on xxxx, the beach-front road which stretches the length of Santa Barbara beach from the tony Fess Parker Inn down to the harbor. We are a bit daunted by the slow flow of traffic, the hundreds of beach parasols, and the cars seeming to circle the pay parking lots, but Griselda – the-GSP-lady steers us to the far end of the harbor, where we score Free Parking  at the community college stadium, buzzing with hardy athletic types running steps. No more car for the day!

Griselda also points us to a Visitors Center at the Coast Guard Museum adjacent to the harbor. It is 10:40 AM ad the center does not open until 11.  The very pleasant gray haired man behind the kiosk at the museum gives us three copies of a Santa Barbara beach/downtown map, tells us about the shuttle downtown, and directs us to bike shops near Shear Wharf at the end of State Street.  We walk along the promenade.  It is already hot, but we find a breeze to cool us, and get to the Wheel Fun Rentals bike shop before 11.  Three bikes and a dragged -out search for helmets that fit later, and we are on our way, teetering on old-fashioned cruiser bikes with coaster brakes and high handle bars.

We biked all the way to the end of the promenade past the Fess Parker Lodge, where I had stayed a decade ago with my husband and mother-in-law and admired the authentic Davy Crockett coonskin cap under glass.  Then we turned and went all the way to the other end near where we had parked the car, then back to Start, in just under an hour.  Along the way we admired surfers, micro-bikini-wearers, and a bus load of choristers serenading the beach-goers as the end of  State Street.  A perfect way to begin, though I was already wishing I had worn my long pants as protection against the sun.20170708_114546web

20170708_120656webWe proposed at first to walk uptown, but W noticed signs for a shuttle going up and down State street every 1o minutes.  The trolley was open air, crowded with tanned beachgoers and families, and at 25 cents for Seniors , 50 cents for youth, it was a bargain.  Looking for historic Santa Barbara, we set down at the Paseo, but we were disappointed to find that it was merely a modern shopping center dressed up in red tile roofs and Adobe.

We did pick up a Santa Barbara walking and business map from the tourist table set up at the entrance to the Paseo, and as we walked up toward what looked like a likely cluster of restaurants, we happened past the Tamira Restaurant, offering an Indian buffet which promised a nice change from tacos or deli sandwiches.  Delicious chicken marsala and butter chicken,  I didn’t try the tandoori) and vegetables and salad with spicy cucumber dressing and marinated vegetables.  No dal.


Lunch having been taken care of, we moved on to the Santa Barbara Art Museum, which had conveniently located all its most interesting pieces on two rooms while the back wing was undergoing renovation.  My ROAM card from membership in the San Francisco Asian Art Museum  got all three of us in for free.  We spent an hour looking at beautiful things in elegant air-conditioned surroundings – W even spent time in the gift shop!

 

Then to the lovely Santa Barbara Courthouse, with its beautiful sunken garden inner quad, and of course there was a bride, and an adorable little blond ring-bearer, and a self-conscious flower girl, and a bunch of groomsmen gleefully showing off their argyle socks under their tuxedos.

By that time we were dragging, too over-dosed with Adobe and red tile even to peek into the beautiful library or walk a couple of blocks down to the official Old Town.  We caught the Shuttle all the way back to the harbor and then spent time  in the Maritime Museum, fascinated by exhibits of storms and wrecks and deep-sea expeditions – definitely a Hidden Treasure!
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Freeway Free in California: Beating the Heat in Ojai

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  If you want to exercise in Ojai in July you must be an early bird to beat the heat.  W and I rose before 7AM and went off to hike the Shelf Trail above the Ojai Valley.  The trail is about 3.4 miles out and back with lovely views across the valley of citrus and walnut orchards, and the town of Ojai spread out with its white Post Office bell tower anchoring the landscape.  By the time we turned around at about 8AM it was already hot, but we were walking west with the sun at our backs, and we went from one shade patch to the next until we regained our starting post. 

 20170706_131100webAfter breakfast we headed out to Carol Vesecky’s organic orchard, where she cultivates about 40 different varieties of fruit.  These included several varieties of mulberry, oranges, grapefruit, apples, figs, and several exotic south and Central American varieties that I did not recognize, though my companions who had spent time in South America greeted them like old friends.  After picking some mulberries (and eating half of what we harvested as it was picked) we headed for the Ojai Harvest, a well-reviewed organic restaurant in the heart of downtown, only to find it closed for the day.  Our Plan B was the Hip Vegan restaurant, where we had some rather exotic salads (mine was mixed greens, quinoa, marinated sea vegetables, carrots, avocado, and beets, with carrot-ginger dressing quite excellent).  [Note: per the linked news article, the Hip Vegan is in process of relocating to a fancier location – cross your fingers!]

We decided to beat the heat by browsing used book stores, the library , and the Ojai museum.  Bart’s Books is an amazing inside-outside rambling place, with bookshelves filled with overflow books facing the street’. If you walk by and see a book you want when they are closed, they have an honor box.  But the prices are a bit steep.

 Next we parked near the arcade and browsed our way from one air conditioned art gallery or boutique to the next.  W is not a shopper, so she made a beeline for the drugstore and sat ona bench writing post cards while we other three did our explorations.  We rejoined for a visit to Twice-Sold Tales, another, much less pricey used book store run by the Ojai Library.  W excused herself against to write post cards in the library, while we browsed another bagful.  

20170707_132924webWe checked in at the library, an old -style adobe and beam rambling building, then left W there, still writing, and continued to the Ojai Museum, located in a re-purposed church. My cousin, a long-time resident,  had never visited before, and found out quite a few things about Ojai that after 27 years of residence she had never learned.

 20170707_143322webWe took  my cousin out to dinner later  at an excellent Italian restaurant of her choice, Osteria Monte Grappa,  in the Arcade.  Delicious everything – I had spaghetti squash disguised as pasta with fresh tomatoes, basil arugula, prosciutto, and halibut.  By this time the heat had abated, but not so much that we did not enjoy bowls of gelato and sorbet after dinner!20170707_140113web

Freeway Free in California: Off the Beaten Track in Ojai

20170707_072416docImagine if Walt Disney, instead of building Disneyland with his own profits from the Mickey Mouse Empire, had gone to the city fathers of Anaheim and asked them to go in with him in making Anaheim a really interesting place to visit (After all, it already had beautiful orange groves  and a scenic mountain backdrop.)  That’s kind of what happened at a crucial point in the history of Ojai, except the mogul who re-made Ojai was not Walt Disney, but Edward Libbey, the glass-making magnate.

Libbey was invited by a friend to spend some time at the Foothills Hotel  in the 1920’s and decided that Ojai, with its orange groves, beautiful mountain scenery, and gurgling creek, should be an artist colony and tourist destination equal to Santa Barbara directly to the west.  Just one problem:  the downtown area of Ojai was a make-shift kind of place, with wooden sidewalks, tacky false storefronts, and dirt roads.

But Libbey had a vision, and he must have been quite a salesman, as he succeeded on persuading the local Chamber of Commerce that Ojai could and should be transformed.  Santa Barbara and Santa Fe had succeeded in enforcing cosmetic building codes, Ojai also could transform itself into a California-mission-architecture oasis, drawing artists and tourists year-round with its sunny climate.

20170707_144009webSome might have been daunted at prescribing mission architecture when in fact Ojai had nothing resembling a mission.  No problem.  Libbey engineered the building of a mission-style Post Office, complete with a four-story bell tower which chimed each quarter hour.  The false storefronts were replaced with cream-colored stucco and tile roofs; the wooden sidewalks were replaced with terra-cotta pavers and covered with arched arcades. Abracadabra! – Instant ambience!

It could have been a kitschy disaster.  But somehow it is not.  Almost a century has passed since Libbey had his vision, and with the passage of time Ojai has developed a patina of charm and tradition which seduces the visitor.  That bell tower IS charming to hear, those arcades ARE pleasant to stroll under, the central park IS a lovely shady place to enjoy a concert or a street fair,  the small shops, restaurants, and art galleries ARE worth a day of leisurely exploration.  And the mountains are still there.

One of the secrets to maintaining Ojai’s is that there are NO chain stores or restaurants allowed within the downtown center. If you go, stop at the Vons supermarket just outside the restricted area for weekend supplies.

The first night we went to a band concert in the park.  What could be more summery?  I felt as though I had stepped into “The Music Man” and Harold Hill would show up any second.  It was a perfect evening with a three-quarter moon growing brighter and brighter as the evening wore on.  A woman was selling balloons, some of which subsequently floated up into the overhanging oak to the accompaniment of wails from the child and cheers from the audience.  20170705_191205docThe band was a mixed group of kids and codgers, men and women, whites and people of color, all unified in white shirts and black pants. The concert began with a nonagenarian leading the group in the civic song, “Ojai, oh Ojai!” and continued with a succession of medleys – patriotic tunes, swing era tunes, Beatles tunes, John Williams movie themes.  (The advantage of a medley is that if the band messes up one tune, they have a chance to redeem themselves on the next.)

At intermission there was a balloon parade which circled the bandstand.  A visiting 12-year-old won a raffle and got to lead the band in the grand finale, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, preceded by the sonorous sounding of the 9PM hour by the Post Office bell tower across the way.  It was a rousing performanc by all.

I’d say Mr. Libbey got his money’s worth.20170707_080007web

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freeway Bound in California – Bay Area to Ojai

20170705_132728docI am  off to visit my cousin and friends who are rendezvousing in Ojai, 500 miles south.  Google Maps sends me down the old main artery of California, US Highway 101, known as the Bayshore on the San Francisco Peninsula, the Monterey Highway in San Jose, and a dozen other names as it passes, (or nowadays bypasses)  every mission town – the brown Historical Marker signs for  San Juan Baptista,  San Carlos Borroméo del  Carmelo, San Miguel, La Purissima, and a number of crumbling Adobe dwellings are more abundant than the Golden Arches on this particular road.  But today I am on the freeway, dodging big rigs and RV’s, not looking for picturesque byways.  

What I am looking for is rest stops.  And Highway 101 is short of these.  I pull off in Salinas, assuming that the large and new shopping center visible before the exit will have a couple of fast-food places with accommodating rest rooms. Amazingly, not.  Where there should be a McDonald’s and a Jack-in-the -box are a dentist’s office and a bank.  The lone Subway has locked restrooms for customers only.  Fortunately, there is Dick’s, a huge outdoor recreation store which I would never normally enter.  Way back near the guns and the archery room, sign tucked at an angle for minimum visibility, are some very nice restrooms. Whew!

My next stop is north of San Miguel, at the sole rest stop along my way. Fortunately it is large, and well-equipped with both rest rooms and vending machines, as well as a working water fountain, large shady trees sheltering picnic tables,  and numerous informational posters and plaques about the local ecology, points of historical interest, and nearby state parks and recreation areas,.  I guess the entire rest stop budget for Highway 101 went into this one spot.  

Then on to the Cuesta Grade, the only three lane stretch of 101 between San Jose and my exit point.  And much needed, as the 7% grade is a challenge for trucks going up, and the REALLY SLOW lane is needed.  I had been apprehensive about the downgrade, but simply pushing the “Overdrive OFF” button on my shift lever put me in a safe range for descent. A nifty trick.

20170705_124831webFor lunch, I treat myself to a stop at the Madonna Inn.  When I was in my teens going back and forth on this road, I always wanted to stop at the Pink Palace on the hill below San Luis Obispo, but never could persuade my destination-fixated Dad to make the stop.  In a concession to 21st century norms, the Madonna is no longer bright pink on the outside, but never fear, there is plenty of rosiness left inside and out:  pink hydrangeas and roses outside, pink marble in the ladies room, and even the lady in the gift shop sported a streak of pink hair. (See above in the mirror.) 

Lunch was perfectly satisfactory. A flavorful cup of split pea soup and a hefty half-sandwich crammed with avocado, lettuce, and tomato  were served by a smiling young woman in a pinafore embroidered with flowers along the ruffled hem and straps.  She was the only brunette among a passel of other young smiling servers with their hair in long blonde braids – not sure where the Scandinavian thread entered the Madonna decor theme, but it is a fun motif, and better than pink pinafores.

Then further south, Pismo Beach, and the first glimpse of ocean since Monterey. 

 At Carpenteria I escape the freeway on CA-154, the Chumash Highway.  This is a two lane road with two stop signs and one traffic circle in 40 miles, snaking through beautiful high country along the Chumash Reservoir, which was looking still a bit under filled despite one year of hefty rain after California’s five years of drought.  Of course, most of the rain fell in NoCal, and we are very possessive about it these days.  This road is a playground for sports cars, and I had to pull over several times in my sedate 6-cylinder Camry to let a Mustang or Camaro roar by.   

 More 6% and 7% grades descending into Santa Barbara.  My first bout with traffic in Carpenteria, and then off the Freeway for good on the road to Ojai, with a sigh of relief.  

California Under Fire (Los Altos Town Crier July 8, 2017

Whittier Fire

Ventura County STAR photo

A few weeks ago I drove down to Ojai to visit a cousin and some friends.  East of Los Alamos I took the Cachuma Highwy (CA-154) to avoid the dogleg south on 101 through Buellton, Solvang, Goleta, and along the coast.

My notes describe the cutoff  as “a two lane road with two stop signs and one traffic circle in 40 miles, snaking through beautiful high country along the Chumash Reservoir, which was looking still a bit under filled despite one year of hefty rain after California’s five years of drought. This road is a playground for sports cars, and I had to pull over several times in my sedate 4-cylinder Camry to let a Mustang or Camaro roar by.” I was looking forward to a return trip on the same road, planning to check out the Vista Points overlooking the reservoir and maybe take a rest stop at the little Nature Center near the Boy Scout Camp. CachumaLakeweb

 

The evening before my departure my cousin warned me “Better check your route tomorrow.  The news says a wildfire broke out and Hwy 154 is closed.” 

Google Maps confirmed the closure the next morning, and I took the dog-leg through Goleta.  Beyond the hills behind Santa Barbara I could see the smoke roiling up like a dirty brown thunderhead.  From Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach the valley winds carried the soot from the fire thick enough to make the sky brown from the Coast Range to the ocean.  I aborted my plan of eating lunch on a balcony overlooking the Pacific, and settled for a grab-and-go shopping center sandwich.

All along 101 the fire scars from old and recent burns seemed to jump out of the landscape – blackened hills and leafless trees from summer after summer of drought and burns.  We had had a record-setting wet winter, but I had been warned by a park ranger earlier that the spring growth, now crisped by summer heat in the 100’s, would make any fire even more dangerous.

A day later the headlines in the SJ Merc shouted “Blazes rage across West;  Thousands Evacuated in State.” The fire that still closed CA-154, now dubbed “the Whittier fire” had consumed seventeen thousand acres and was only 5% contained.  The Boy Scout camp had been evacuated in a bull-dozer-led convoy, but the Nature Center was a total loss;  all of the resident animals had died in their cages.  

Two weeks later the Whittier fire had disappeared from the headlines.  I did a quick Google search;  it was still burning, but 85% contained, with a number of structures destroyed but no loss of life. 

I thought of the miles of sun-crisped golden hillsides that line our local freeways, and the thousands of discarded cigarette butts and back-firing cars that threaten to send a spark in the wrong place.  I remember the Oakland firestorm of 1991 which raged up the canyons of the East Bay hills killing twenty-three people, and I cross my fingers.  We still have a long fire season left. 

 

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