Five Days in California
May 12-16, 2000
On Thursday evening, the night before the flight to California, Joan and I attended a concert in downtown Minneapolis. Great Big Sea, the most popular group in Canada for the last five years, was there, and Derek came with five people from River Falls, and Kent and Chrysa were there too. The show was really good; they are a very entertaining group, but hard to describe....kind of folk/seafaring/popular all mixed up into one. A fun evening, and it was nice to have the whole family together.
So that got late, but we were probably home by midnight. Six hours or so later, I was back on the road to Minneapolis to get to the airport. I parked at a shuttle service a few miles away, and let them contend with the traffic and construction around the airport. Plus it's cheaper.
I got to the terminal, used my "e-ticket", got my boarding pass, and was ready to head toward another adventure in California. This year, my friends, Bob and Richard, thought I needed to see more of California than one little parcel of land that I had seen my three previous trips, so they planned a southern loop with lots of sightseeing.
I had two things that I wanted to accomplish this trip, so they wove them into the trip also: one was to meet a pen pal near San Francisco that I had been writing to for about six years, and have a dinner with her. The other thing I wanted to accomplish was to go to Carmel to meet the daughter of Dr. Saxton Pope, who was the physician who treated Ishi, and was one of his closest friends. Virginia Pope Evans is now 92 years old, but I had called her a couple times, and chatted on the phone, and asked if she'd mind me visiting, and she had said that was fine.
So, there I was seated in the terminal soon to be heading west; they called my row number, and on the plane I went, off on my own, wondering what this trip would bring in the way of experiences. It was a very smooth flight, and at about 11:15 California time (1:15 Minnesota time) the plane touched down, and I had arrived in Sacramento!
Richard was at a conference on Ishi, the Last Stone Age Indian of North America, that very day, and was a featured speaker, so Bob was there to meet me. What can I say about Bob? He's a wonderful fellow, younger than I am, and much bigger and stronger. He has a background in law enforcement and being a park ranger, and he's about as kind and generous of fellow I've ever met. We headed out of Sacramento toward where Bob lives, which is right in the heart of the gold country and all of the history of Sutter's Mill and the Gold Rush. We went to a few small towns that had been a very important part of the gold rush, such as Coloma, and one town that had the original name of "Hangtown". Pretty name for a place, eh?
Soon, off we went to his house near Shingle Springs. What a beautiful house it is, and what beautiful things he has in it. He has taken a much smaller older house, and is in the process of converting it into a very large and beautiful one. He'd worked really hard getting it presentable for me, and he'd done a great job. I was very impressed by the quality of everything he'd done to it, and the quality of furnishings and decorations he had.
He's a man after my own heart for decorating with a great mixture of antiques, fossils, old books, and miscellaneous memorabilia. When it is done, it will be like a museum. A very nice museum.
After getting settled and looking around a bit, we packed for the trip, and off we headed toward a small town called Antioch, which is where my pen pal lives. We were set to meet her at a restaurant named "Humphrey's", which I learned later was named after the whale that headed inland a few years ago, and caused quite a media stir.
We found Antioch, eventually found Humphrey's and we arrived right on time, as did Di, my pen pal. It was great to meet her after writing to her so many years, but this was the first year that my whole trip had not been devoted to backpacking into the Ishi Wilderness. Bob took a couple pictures of us before we all headed into the restaurant, and he also discovered that the little park we were in had the exact same name as his mother, so he took some pictures of the sign so she could see it.
It was kind of strange meeting someone who I'd written to for so long, but she was as nice and personable face to face as she had been over the electronic mail. And she was younger looking and prettier too, I might add.
It was fun visiting with her. I had written to her numerous times, and and talked to her on the telephone several times, but as the saying goes, "It's easy to be brave at a distance." Because she is so sweet, though, it was great fun meeting her, and I had a tinge of sadness when the evening was over and we had to say goodbye. I asked her if she were nervous about meeting me, and she paid me a great compliment, I think, by saying that she was actually very serene about the whole thing, because she knew I would make her comfortable, and it would be a relaxed meeting.
It was a very nice restaurant, and we had a very engaging visit. I had a blackened fish that was really very spicy, but very good. The seafood on the coast is absolutely no comparison to what we can get in Minnesota, sadly enough. This was delicious. We visited over the meal, and soon it was time to go. We were already quite a bit south, so we figured we'd maybe try to find a place to camp, until Bob remembered that his brother lived in Walnut Creek, not far from where we were, so he said he knew they wouldn't mind putting us up for the night. Of course, we couldn't reach them on the phone, so that put even more adventure in striking out toward their house!
One thing that "hanging out" with Bob and Richard has taught me is spontaneity! Heck with this well ordered existence, and planning well ahead. We'll just head out and see what happens! And most of the time, things turn out just fine. We found a place to stay for the night. Bob's brother, Jim, and his family were home, but their son was having a party, so no one heard the phone. We visited with them for a while, and soon went to bed. They had two beds in the kid's bedroom, and one of them was staying overnight, so with one kid moving to the couch, Bob and I settled in, and spent the night there.
Bright and early the next morning, before anyone else was stirring in the house, we headed off toward San Francisco. We went to Berkeley first, and looked around the campus there. This is where all of the artifacts and research regarding Ishi are kept, so it's kind of the epicenter of activity for research about him. It's a beautiful old campus, but with an ultra liberal reputation that goes back to the 60's. The flower generation, the birth of the hippies.
Then, on to San Francisco, where we picked Richard up at the train station. He brought us a copy of the program from the previous day, and told about all the people he'd met and things that he'd heard.
We headed to Fisherman's Wharf, and the "tourist" area, and there sure was a lot to see....lots of little shops and unique places selling things related to the San Francisco area, Alcatraz, ships and boats, the sea, you name it. I picked up some postcards, and bought a "San Francisco" coffee cup. I try to pick up a cup on every big trip we go on, so this was no exception.....It had the "Golden Gate" bridge and a streetcar on it.
We visited a very nice aquarium/science museum that was related to the area.
We stopped at one of the white sand beaches, and Bob pulled out his stunt kite to fly on the shore. He said it's traditional; everyone who goes there has to fly a kite, so I took my turn. This kite had two strings, and by pulling the right string, the kite would go right, and by pulling the left, it would go left. Sounds easy. If you let it go one direction too long, it starts diving and twisting the ropes as it turns, so you have to compensate just as much the other direction. The kite took a number of nose dives directly into the beach sand before I got the hang of it! Eventually, though, I did master it, and was able to make the kite go left or right, dive either direction, and even go on a figure eight pattern. So I handed the kite off to Richard quickly while it still was flying, and my ego was still inflated. Richard also had some initial problems before figuring it out also.
We ate at a very beautiful restaurant called the Cliff House, since it was built right on a cliff, overhanging the ocean. I had a wonderful venison steak and all the trimmings, and it tasted even better in such nice surroundings.
Then we headed to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was getting toward dusk and sunset, and traffic was heavy, but we went across the bridge and above it, and I took a number of pictures. It is quite picturesque, and I can see why it is so well known. Soon we figured we'd better head on to our next location. I liked what I saw of San Francisco, and it would be fun to go back again some other day.
From there, we headed south again. We drove quite a while, into the night, and I looked at Bob's gas gauge a couple times, not believing we could still keep going. He, of course, has a light that comes on when the gas is low, to prompt him to stop. The light hadn't come on yet, but the car started sputtering a bit, so cooly and calmly, Bob pulled off on the next exit, made a left turn at the top of the exit, went down a road a ways, and turned into a gas station just as we completely ran out of gas!
On we headed, and soon came to the city where we wanted to stay. Just our luck, there was a Scottish festival in town that very weekend, so the first motel told us there were no rooms available. Our second stop proved that wrong, fortunately, and so we headed in and got settled for the night. Another eventful day had ended, and another was on its way on the morrow.
Sunday morning brought us to the Monterey Peninsula and the Carmel area. It is absolutely beautiful country and I can see why it is so popular and crowded. The rocky shores, and the white beaches, with magnificent scenery, on top of some pretty good climate, make it pretty much an ideal location for many.
From a roadside pull off, I phoned home and talked to Joan and to my mother, since it was Mother's Day. A year ago, on Mother's Day, I had called from a peak in the Ishi Wilderness, after finishing a rather arduous trek, so this was much more pleasant!
From there we went to a wonderful aquarium in Carmel. It had all indigenous species of fish and marine life, and it was wonderfully done, in large clean tanks that mimicked the ocean's conditions precisely. It was a large museum, with many exhibits, but one of my favorites was the jellyfish displays, with many varieties of jellyfish. They looked as if they were so very fragile, and glowed in the dark, and one very small one looked like a spaceship with lights that were flashing in sequence around it. I took some video of it so Joan wouldn't think I was making the whole thing up!
And we headed on to Carmel, and I went to visit Virginia Pope Evans, who is 92 years old. Bob and Richard had visited her a couple years ago in relation to Richard's research, and I had phoned her a couple times in the past few weeks making sure it was okay for me to come and visit. Virginia's father was Dr. Saxton Pope, most noted for reviving the interest in hunting with the bow and arrow in this country, but best known in history for being Ishi's physician and friend, and one who knew him well.
Virginia remembered Ishi from her childhood, and how well behaved he was at the dinner table, and how he watched what everyone else did before doing it himself. She was just a joy to visit with. She has a wonderful memory, and a little sparkle in her eye that lets you know she knows exactly what is going on, and she's not afraid to tell you her opinion. I was very nervous about meeting her, but she made me feel right at ease. She had her assistant bring out a little box that had a number of arrow points in it that had been given to her father by Ishi, and I looked at each one of the ten. They are so beautiful and so delicate. I tried taking pictures of them, but just seeing them, and visiting with Virginia was much more memorable. I had her sign a small book written by her father for me, as a remembrance. She is very frail, but as sharp as can be, and her memory is wonderful. I think her life would make a wonderful book in itself. She was married to an Australian she met on a cruise, they eloped when she was 17, he later served in the U.S. Army, and later became mayor of Carmel by the Sea, before Clint Eastwood did. Her husband of 70 years died a little over a year ago. Imagine that. 70 years.
She also showed me her father's scrapbook, and the pictures in it of Ishi and her father, and she asked me if I wanted to see her father's death mask. I figured that as long as she had offered, I would like to see it. If you don't know what a death mask is, it is a plaster mold made from the face of the person who has died. This was apparently very common in the early century, and there is a death mask of Ishi in the book by Theodora Kroeber. The same person who made Ishi's death mask made her father's. Her assistant brought it out, and I saw that it was made of bronze, and was very detailed. It really was quite moving. He had died very young, at the age of 50, and she said that this looked just like him. He was a handsome man, and very talented. She showed me some sketch books that he had done that were just beautiful, done in ink.
After this wonderful visit, I headed back to the car, and Richard and Bob and I headed toward Yosemite. We drove into the night to get as close as we could so we could spend the majority of the next day in the park. We stayed again in a motel due to the rain, so, even though we had all our camping gear along, we took the easy and comfortable way out, and were all the cleaner and more rested for it! Bob's car performed wonderfully, but we'd picked up things along the way, and it had gotten pretty disheveled inside the car. None of us had a lot of room to manuever.
Early the next morning, we headed out toward a giant redwood stand, and took a walk in the forest. If you ever want to feel small, this is the place to be; the majestic trees towered overhead, some badly scarred by fire and other trauma but continuing to live for century after century. It is hard to contemplate a living thing that is 3,000 years old, but there they were.
We hiked a bit in the forest, and found one very large and very old tree, and another that had a walking tunnel through the middle of it. The piece had been cut out in 1899.
From there, we entered Yosemite National Park, and what a national treasure it is. The scenic beauty of the rock formations and the waterfalls cannot adequately be described. I had seen pictures of Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan, but to see them in person gives a true feeling of their size and beauty. There were many large waterfalls, and all were beautiful.
We grabbed a quick bag lunch at the local store, and I bought some more postcards and a couple of coffee cups. I'll take one to work, and use that to remind me of this beautiful place. Unfortunately, it is so beautiful, and so accessible to so many, that it is overcrowded, and in danger of being permanently damaged, so hearings are being held to try to figure out what to do. The traffic has to be reduced in some way. It was not crowded terribly when we were there, but it is not peak season yet, so we were lucky. A little rain, and fact that it was a Monday, probably helped keep the crowds down.
We took a hike to the base of Yosemite Falls, which is in reality two separate waterfalls, one beneath the other. We stayed on the main walk for the majority of the trip, but Bob said he knew of a view where you could see both waterfalls at the same time, so we headed off into the brush and rock, and did a bit of "off path" hiking. It was a rugged climb, and the rain and drizzle that had been falling had made it all the more slippery on the moss covered rocks. But the spectacular view from the place when we got there was worth it, and it was kind of neat to know that the majority of visitors to this place had not seen this view.
And soon it was time to head out and back toward Sacramento and Bob's house. We hit rain and sleet and fog and freezing rain on the way out, and it rained most of the way back to Sacramento. We stopped at the "Old Spaghetti Factory" in Sacramento and had a nice evening meal before heading out to Bob's place.
We got there after dark, but managed to get most things out of the car and into the house. Bob's girlfriend, Vickie, and her daughter, Sarah, were there to meet us, and they both seemed like very nice people. We visited for a while in the evening, I showed Richard and Bob some interesting sites on the internet that they weren't aware of , and soon it was time for bed. I slept very well that night, and felt pretty rested in the morning when I repacked everything for the trip home.
Bob fixed some delicious pancakes for breakfast, and soon it was time to head for the airport. My flight left at a little after 12:00, and we got there about 11:15, so everything worked out just great. It was kind of sad to say goodbye to Bob and Richard. They have become very good friends over the past years, and I keep in touch with them throughout the year. They both have gone out of their way from that first year to take in a complete stranger, and really make him feel a part of their life. They have expanded my world, and enriched my life, and for that, I shall ever be grateful to them.
And so with hugs all around, I boarded the plane and headed back to Minnesota. It was a smooth flight, my luggage was one of the first ones to arrive at the baggage terminal, and I caught a shuttle back to my waiting minivan. I got home a little after 7:00, tired, and with a whole lot of great memories, some of the sites I'd seen, and many of the people that I had spent so much time with.