As you might recall from my last post, California Dreamin’ (Part One), I was “stranded” in Winnemucca, NV while a storm blew through. I was on my way to Colorado for the holidays and fortunately, the snow was gone the next day so I could continue eastward.
After spending a couple weeks around Thanksgiving in San Diego, my California cousins found out I was in the “neighborhood” and invited me to journey north for a visit. I left San Diego early in December as the historic fires were raging in Los Angeles, so I decided to go east of LA rather than along the coast.
The first hurdle (for me anyway) was getting out of San Diego on I-15. I was apprehensive about driving on the eight-lane highway but found it to be quite calm around 10:00 am, and easy to get out of town. Heading north along I-15 and I-215 the overhead signs warned motorists about the Santa Ana winds and potential hazards to high profile vehicles. They weren’t kidding! Like the Little Engine That Could, I braved the strong crosswinds, especially around San Bernadino, and was happy to get off the busy freeway to turn north on SH 395!
The quiet, open road of SH 395 provided a respite from the relentless winds. Around lunchtime, I turned west on SH 178 into the southern section of the Giant Sequoia National Park.
Contrary to my naive belief – not all California roads are multi-lane fast tracks! On this particular winding mountain road, I was one of the few vehicles around (at least in December) and was surrounded by lofty conifers and spectacular scenery. Near the top of the pass, I found an unexpected gem – the Trail of 100 Giants. This was the perfect excuse to stop, stretch my legs and take a quick hike among the giants.
As I strolled around these wooden sentries I wondered what the difference is, if any, between a Redwood and a Giant Sequoia. The quick answer is the Redwoods thrive mainly along the coast in northern California depending on the ocean mists for nourishment. They are the tallest of the two, with a slender base. The Sequoia live primarily on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. They are nearly as tall, but their rotund base distinguishes them from the Redwood. If you care for more details, go here.
After my brief walk in nature, I was refreshed and eager to get to my prospective campsite. Roadside signs advertised nearby Lake Isabella as a great resort for camping, fishing, and year-round fun. The weak winter sun was waning, so I hightailed it down the road and pulled into the nearly deserted campground (so much for year-round fun, unless you like to fish) in time to watch the sun dip behind the hills.
The reservoir had very little water in it so I was able to park near the water’s edge far from the other campers, but still close to the outhouse. Getting here before dark gave me the advantage of being able to find a great place to settle in – unlike the little van that parked right behind me around 10:00 pm. I’m sure they had no idea where to go in the dark, and Katrina stood out like a beacon on the deserted beach. They were quiet and polite, so there was no harm in sharing the campsite.
The next day I continued west navigating the remaining asphalt curlicues (I admit, I was tired of hairpin turns!) of SH 178 until I joined SH 99 heading north. By dusk, I was pulling into cousin Dave’s place, nestled among almond, citrus and olive groves.
This is a nearby almond grove (left) and one of the water features in my cousin’s backyard.
If you haven’t visited distant relatives in a while, I strongly suggest you take time to do it. Not only did I get to reconnect with my cousin and his wife, I also had the pleasure of meeting their grown children, grandchildren and two great-grandkids. Sharing memories, recognizing traits we both have, learning about their present lives and planning for future visits consumed our days and nights. It was SO fun being reunited with this special family!
After a few days, they loaded the van with buckets of fresh oranges, grapefruit, lemons, almonds, walnuts, and persimmons and sent me out on the big highways toward the Bay area. A few uneventful hours later, I landed in Pleasant Hill ( a town between San Francisco and Sacramento), to visit cousin Sandy and Aunt Betty.
They have lived in this home for decades and it gave me goosebumps to see the house I remembered visiting as a child!
Since the weekend was upon us, Sandy graciously offered to give me a tour of the Bay area in San Francisco. Of course, I jumped at the chance!
Fueled by caffeine and buffeted by the brisk December winds, we marched along the Bay toward our next stop Pier 39. (See map above, Embarcadero is on the right)
My tour guide was excited to see that outdoor seating was available at one of her favorite places at Pier 39, the Wipeout Bar and Grill (top right above), so we grabbed two Adirondack chairs near the fireplace and ordered Bloody Marys and deep-fried pickles. Brunch SF style – yum!
On our way around Pier 39, we ran into rafts piled high with male sea lions sunning themselves. According to the naturalist on duty, these guys – young and old – are lounging in this safe harbor to get ready for the mating season. Food is plentiful and few predators lurk in the surrounding waters making it easy to fatten up for sea lion fun and games. This phenomenon started recently – around 1989 – and continues today thanks to the foresight of the Marine Mammal Center and preservation efforts of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Onward to Fisherman’s Wharf for crab and shrimp ceviche; then Fort Mason and the Presidio. As the sun headed for the horizon, we decided it was time to make our way back to Bart – with a detour straight up Lombard Street (pictured below) then back down the world-famous thoroughfare and on to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.
Touring on foot is the best way to see many sites up close, but it took a lot of time and effort to make it to all the places we wanted to see. Soon after we arrived on Telegraph Hill, we noticed that we were too late to ride the elevator to the top (the elevator closes at 4:30 in the winter). We toured as much of the interior as we could, watched the last of the sunset, then made our way back to the Embarcadero station. According to my phone, we had logged about 8 miles and I, for one, was more than ready to sit for awhile! 🙂
The next day we loaded up early and headed north through the wine country to the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. We made a quick stop at the Korbel Champagne Cellars to pick up a picnic lunch (sans champagne), found our way to the Reserve and settled in a sunny spot to enjoy sandwiches before strolling along the many paths in the park. It was cool, damp and dark on this winter’s day – but oh so beautiful!
After an hour or so, we loaded up again and headed toward the nearby coast at Goat Rock Beach (pictured above). We stumbled upon the scene crowded with emergency vehicles and later found out a young man and his six-year-old son had been swept out to the sea and lost their lives that day. Now I see why they say to never turn your back on the ocean. She’s an unpredictable force of nature that can take your breath away – literally.
This whirlwind weekend was the perfect way to wrap up my California visits. I am blessed to have wonderful family members ready and willing to drop whatever they were doing and entertain me, feed me, give me the gift of a warm place to sleep and hot showers, buckets of freshly harvested fruit and delicious coffee! Thank you, Dave, Lu, Sandy and Aunt Betty! I love you all and had a great time reconnecting with you!!
One of the whimsical life-size pieces of art at the Dennis Rae Fine Art Studio in San Francisco featuring Dr. Seuss art.
The rest of the trip back to Colorado along Interstate 80 was chilly but uneventful. I was tired of the freezing temperatures, so I gave myself an early Christmas present and booked a lovely room near Park City, UT. the last night on the road. I’m not fond of staying in hotels/motels but the Best Western offered all the amenities I needed – including a tasty breakfast – and helped me recharge my batteries (mental, phone, I-pad, etc.) so I could get back to Greeley in time for Christmas.
As you take the leap of faith into 2018 I wish you excellent health, loads of laughs, great adventures, and lots of love! Thank you for following along in 2017 and for your continued friendship in the coming year.
Coming up next…an extended visit in Sedona, AZ. Cheers!