In the old days, sailors drifted too far south and found themselves under strange stars. That is what I feel like when I arrive in California. There are the same old swells and ridges of the land, but the plants are unfamiliar -- odd barks and fronds and spines, new textures.
Anyway, after our layover in Arcata, we continued a Sunday driving down route 101 in unsettled weater. The redwoods were as impressive as they were the last time, but no more so than the Sitka spruce and northern conifers in the Northwest. This time we drove through a redwood for four dollars. We agreed this was a reasonable price.
We camped on Lake Mendocino, its shorelines 200 yards from full pond. There was supposed to be a ftont moving in with rain but it never really materialized.
Lunch(internet stop on Monday, Oct. 1 was in the courthouse district of Ukiah, the pleasant enough seat of Mendocino County. TTT ordered The Verdict at Schatt's cafe, frequented by policemen in at least three different uniforms. Instead of continuing to Marin County and San Francisco, we detoured around the Bay Area via Napa Valley and the Sacramento river delta, a big weird bleak area that leads imperceptibly into the central valley.
We camped outside Modesto in Caswell State Park, which reminded me of brush country somehwere in the southern Midwest – deafening cicadas, black walnut trees and oak, kudzu, a sleepy river laden with agricultural runoff, high chalky banks.
California's central valley is a microcosm of the Midwest. The area around Caswell is like Iowa, except with trees instead of corn stalks. A different section of the valley outdoes the Great Plains at its own game -- not a tree as far as the eye can see, mountains on each side invisible behind the horizon, just a few dust devils if you are lucky.
On Tuesday. Oct. 2 we headed for the dun foothills of the Sierra Nevada, making a stop at Mariposa for some visitor parking lot taco and hot dog stand grub. We then slabbed across the dun foothills to the similar town of Oakhurst at the same elevation of 2000 feet and a pleasant enough empty new chain motel.
On Wednesday Oct. 3 we did the unthinkable (to the people at the information centre we stopped at in Oakhurst) -- skipped Yosemite. The waterfalls are dry at this time of year and the weather seemed too good for there not to still be crowds. We opted instead for Mono Hot Springs, because it looked good on the map as a pleasant half-day outing. As these things usually turn out, the 90 mile trip was harder and longer than predicted and I wondered if I had finally pushed the Subaru too far. A one-lane paved but very cobbled and patched road led over the final 9,200+ft Kaiser Pass into a remote valley next to the Ansel Adams wilderness. No snow was on the peaks but the feeling was that we were in a very high and far place. Here no roads cross the divide for hudres of miles. The resort down at 6,500 ft near the source of the San Joaquin River pumps hot water from the springs for a spa and massage centre but has left the actual springs themselves free for the public. The restaurant was closed on this Wednesday, but the general store proprietor was friendly. Only die-hards make it this deep into the mountains.
TTT was scheduled to have her meeting on Thursday. We hesitated too long with finding a motel in the nice mountain lake communities we passed on the way back to Fresno and all of a sudden there were no more motels or mountain communities or mountains. So we drove all the way into Fresno in the dark, entering the still very agriculture centred city by its back door across the fields on route 168 and then finding ourselves in a large deserted downtown area. Eventually we located a Vagabond Inn. Fresno wasn't bad, though it had been universally put down by everyone we told of our plans. TTT met with her advisor at a café near the city college. The cafe was nice as they come but must be somewhat unique.
Rather than drive to Pasadena/L.A. on the interstate through Bakersfield, we decided to see the coast one last time, a detour that would only add 90 minutes of driving time. We camped in the Oceano Dunes primitive area near Pismo Beach, wisely avoiding the official camping area, which resembled a desert community out of Mad Max with huge trailers pulling OHVs, some of them flying Confederate flags proudly and somewhat ludicrously.
Our lunch stop was in Santa Barbara, a conservative, wealthy city an hour and a half from LA. We sat in the attractive downtown in a noble, European sort of cafe with a courtyard and high ceilings but noticed that the only other customers were homeless or socially challenged people, meeting with social workers. They were well-groomed and well-behaved apart from one cup of coffee getting tossed across the counter at the poor barista, and no shopping carts were visible, but it was odd. I wasn't sure whether it was a kind of enlightened liberalism like San Fran's or just the local social structure being out of whack.
An epic Friday evening commute across the San Fernando Valley brought us into Pasadena and our last stop before heading back east. More in next post.