The American River flows right through the heart of Sacramento, California and is one of the community’s greatest assets. I spent a lot of time there when I lived and worked in the city. It was where I escaped to when I needed a touch of the wild, which was often. It was a rare week when I didn’t hike of bike there at least once. And there were times when I was there almost every day. Later, when I became interested in photography, I often carried a camera. There were birds and ducks and geese and jackrabbits and cottontails and turkeys and deer and foxes and coyotes and skunks and raccoons and otters and squirrels, and rattlesnakes (on my) to photograph.
And there were flowers. Fields and fields of them. Enjoy. Happy Valentine’s Day!
MONDAY’S POST: We are going to visit the Devil’s Kitchen. Are you ready?
I was up on a cliff studying one of Washed Ashore’s sculptures made out of ocean trash when I heard the statement. It was a classic. The perfect senior moment! “Excuse me ma’am,” the young woman called, “do you know there is no dog on your leash?” I turned quickly. At 76 going on 77, I take notes on such incidents for future reference. Yes indeed, a bent, elderly woman was walking down the pathway holding a leash that was strung out behind her— without the dog. She turned, glared at the leash, muttered something, and stared back down the trail like Clint Eastwood on steroids. There came Fido (the name has been changed to protect the innocent), who was equally old in dog years, about 30 feet down the path, tottering along with no obvious desire to catch up. I could almost hear him chanting “Free at last, free at last,” as he stopped to smell the dog pee and dream of his puppyhood days.
With the help of the young woman, Fido was soon recollared and the three went on their way. As did I. But I wanted to write down the story down before it wandered off like Fido. And since I was still hanging around Bandon, I decided to show you more rocks today instead of the American River flowers I promised. I am sure you are excited. Plus, Friday is Valentine’s Day, the perfect day for flowers.
NEXT POSTS: I promise flowers for Valentine’s Day. On Monday we will visit the Devil’s Kitchen. Scary? We’ll see.
I dropped Peggy at the airport in Medford on Friday. She’s off to spend a couple of weeks in Virginia on grandkid duty while their parents make a quick escape to Mexico. “Please come Mom,” Tasha had requested while Clay had sent her first-class tickets. Hard to ignore that appeal. I was invited as well, but having just spent Christmas and New Year’s back east, I opted for a solo trip in Quivera the RV over to the Oregon Coast with plans for making my way south to Redwood National Park in Northern California.
That’s what I am up to now as I put this post together. I decided what better time to write about our coming travel/blogging plans for the year than when I am out traveling. I’ve just spent the past three days in the small coastal town of Bandon, which has some of the most impressive rock formations on the Oregon Coast. They make up several of the photos for today’s blog.
Travel-wise, we have a full year planned. 2020 started with our trip home on Amtrak from Washington DC, which I’ve already blogged about. This is trip number two. (Although it’s sans-Peggy, I’m counting it.) In late March, we are taking off for a 16-day cruise focusing on the Panama Canal. Peggy lived down there in 70’s for a while in her life before Curt. It is where Tasha was born. She has been wanting to get back there for a very long time. When I mentioned the possibility of the cruise, she jumped on it. Peggy’s sister Jane and her husband Jim are going along. In addition to Panama, we’ll be making stops in Costa Rica, Columbia, Nicaragua and Mexico.
We plan to kick off our backpacking season with a 40-mile trip down the Rogue River trail. It is beautiful in spring and makes an ideal beginning of the season hike. Peggy turns 70 this year and wants to make sure she celebrates properly. She also wants to explore more of the Pacific Crest trail through Oregon this summer as well. I’ll plan a 70-mile trip to go along with her years and my 77. We also have a 7-day kayak trip planned.
The biggie in celebrating her 70th, however, is a 7-day Rhine River Cruise from Amsterdam to Bern. We’ve invited our children and grandchildren along and, needless to say, they are excited. We will be in the middle of our trip when Peggy has her birthday on July 5th. Afterward, we will pop over to France to spend several days with Peg’s brother John and his wife, Frances.
We have tentative plans to return to Burning Man this fall. That, of course, depends on our ability to get tickets in the BM lottery, never a sure thing. Throw in the fact that we will be in the middle of the Panama Canal with iffy internet connections when the lottery takes place, I am not optimistic.
Peggy is off on another cruise in September, this time with her sister Jane from San Francisco up to Victoria, BC, a girls’ trip. I’ll take advantage of it to drive Quivera south down through Santa Cruz, Monterrey, Carmel and Big Sur. I love that area and have been escaping down there since the 60s and 70s, when I used to camp out along the road in my VW van. It’s as close as I ever got to being a hippie.
October will be time to jump in Quivera and do another month-long exploration of the Southwest. This time we want to include Death Valley NP, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion NP, Bryce NP, Capitol Reef NP, Canyonlands NP, and Arches NP. (This may be news to Peggy, grin.) After that we will be traveling east to spend the holidays with our kids. We are contemplating using Amtrak again, following different routes. Does that sound like enough for the year? Do you think I will have adequate material to blog about? Heck, I still have lots from last year? I never seem to catch up. Do you? And then there is the book I am writing…
I’ll conclude with a note of parental pride, if I may. Our son Tony just received the Coast Guard’s second highest award for coordinating the massive rescue effort the Coast Guard undertook in the Bahamas during Hurricane Dorian. The storm was a devastating category five hurricane with record-setting winds of up 175 mph. He and his fellow Coast Guard helicopter pilots spent 5-days more or less without sleep on the ground and up in the very dangerous air. The Commander of the Coast Guard and the Secretary of Homeland Security awarded Tony with the medal.
NEXT POST: It will be time for my Wednesday Photograph Essay. This time it will be mainly flowers I photographed along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California.
He was a large man in his 50s with a tattoo covered body, an ex-con who had found the Lord, a smoke jumper with a serious twitch who seemed to have made a few too many jumps. She was a petite, attractive, college graduate going for her PhD in economics with a desire to work for the federal government. It would have been hard to find two more opposite people. They were our dinner companions on Amtrak one evening. Amtrak’s policy is to seat four people to a table. If there are four of you traveling together, fine. If not, you are seated with strangers based on when you arrive. The smoke jumper had arrived first, and then us. The student last.
She had been seated next to the smoke jumper and eyed him nervously every time he made a serious twitch in her direction. With reason. He told us one of his twitches had caused him to dump a pint of beer on the man sitting next to him at dinner the night before. He liked to talk and we were a captive audience. Not that I objected, he had interesting stories to tell, but Peggy and I did what we could to involve the student in our conversation. She’d manage a few words before he jumped back in. She was just returning from an economic conference in Washington and was on her way home. Turns out she lives in Medford and works during the summer at an up-scale restaurant in Jacksonville, one we like to go to.
Given Amtrak’s policy, we never knew who our meal companions would be. Dinners were more formal and we had to sign up for specific times. There was even a real table cloth! It was paper for breakfast and lunch and you could show up any time during meal hours. The seating policy remained the same, however. Usually, we ended up seated with couples. Once we spent a delightful meal with a lesbian couple. Another time it was with a Russian who owned shoe stores in New York City and was on his way to set one up in LA. “I have too many brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and other relatives in New York,” he told us. He was looking to escape. To keep the conversation going during another meal, I started telling stories about my encounters with bears. Soon, all of the surrounding tables and two of the waiters were listening in.
I have to say the food was quite good. One of the items on the evening menu was a small, tender steak, cooked to perfection. It became my go-to meal. I had steak for every dinner! Since all meals were included for those of us who had sleepers, why not? Had I been paying the $35 Amtrak was charging for the steak, I’d have been down in the less formal café car eating hamburgers and hot dogs along with most of the coach passengers.
While meals took care of our social life, going up to the observation car and staring out the windows at the passing scenery (or sitting in our rooms watching the passing scenery) was our major entertainment. We also read and I got some writing done. I had a horrendous cold on the way back and isolated myself most of the time. I’m glad we were traveling pre-coronavirus; Amtrak might have kicked me off the train or my fellow passengers stoned me.
As for the future of Amtrak; it seems bright. They had their best year ever last year in terms of passengers and revenues. Train travels seems to be on the upswing. No surprise there, given how much fun air travel is. One of the folks I follow in Europe told me that some European trains were going to add sleepers, which they had dropped a couple of decades ago.
A disturbing trend on Amtrak is that the company may be taking lessons from the airlines. We were served prepackaged airline food on our trip between Chicago and Washington DC. It had the same bland, inedible quality of something you eat to avoid starvation.
I had a disconcerting conversation with our car attendant on the Coastal Starlight. The train was famous for a club car that came straight out of the glory days of rail travel. People would take the train just to experience it. Amtrak still has the car, but they no longer include it on the Starlight. The attendant told me that Amtrak was trying to standardize the service on its various trains. Apparently, the car was too special. With the airline food in mind, I had replied, “Ah, you mean increasing profits by reducing service.” Were narrower seats and added costs for everything in the future? He hadn’t commented but did get a strange look in his eyes.
Regardless of what Amtrak might do to its service, the relaxing feel of train travel combined with its unique view of the world as it passes by and the fun conversations with strangers will bring me back to experience the clickety-clack of the rails again and again.
Today I will feature photos Peggy and I took on our return trip across the country. The trip took us from Washington DC to Chicago, Chicago the LA, and then LA to Sacramento.
NEXT POSTS: On Monday I am going to write about our travel plans for this year, which translates into what I will be blogging about. There are fun things like cruising up the Rhine River and going through the Panama Canal. Wednesday’s photo essay will be on the beauty of the American River as it flows through Sacramento. Hiking and biking its many trails are what kept me sane the years I lived in the city.
Today marks the beginning of a new series for me: Using Wednesdays for photo essays. When you hang out with cameras in lots of interesting and often beautiful places, as Peggy and I do, you end up with a few photos. Right? Our digital collection is approaching 90,000! What in the heck do you do with all of those photos? I have mainly used ours to illustrate blogs. Usually that involves looking at a hundred or so photos and reducing them down to 20 or 30. I’ve decided to use a few more by doing a “Photo Essay Wednesday.” It will be light on writing and heavy on photography. I’ll simply scroll through our photos, pick out an interesting subject, and download the photos onto WordPress. Voila!
It has an added advantage of being quick, which my more writing-focused posts aren’t. Given that I am now well into my next book, It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me, I need to free up all the writing time I can.
My first photo essay is based on a trip Peggy and I made to Costa Rica in 2012. I blogged about it at the time but I am going to assume that most of you weren’t reading my posts then. Grin. Without further ado…
NEXT POSTS: 1) Clickety Clack 3. We travel home from Washington DC, to Chicago, to LA and back to Sacramento on Amtrak. 2) A preview of Peggy and my travel plans and blogs for 2020.
The last time I slept in a bunk bed I was sharing a one bedroom apartment with two classmates, Cliff and Jerry, at Berkeley in 1964/65. I was on the bottom bunk then, as well. My memory includes one particularly wild night. It was our first weekend back at UC. Cliff had brought home a small wooden barrel of tequila from Mexico where he had spent the summer in a Spanish language immersion program. For some insane reason, the three of us decided we had a solemn responsibility to drain the barrel to kick off our senior year. It was not our best decision.
Jerry promptly fell asleep and started snoring. Loudly, if I remember correctly. He had the regular bed. I spent 30-minutes staring at myself in the bathroom mirror in a semi-hallucinatory state fascinated by the fact I couldn’t stop drooling. When I returned to bed, Cliff, who had the top bunk, talked unceasingly. He wouldn’t shut up. Since neither Jerry nor I was listening, I assume he was talking to himself. I’d grunt on occasion. Finally, I lifted up my leg and kicked his mattress. Down came Cliff, mattress and all on top of me. After we had untangled ourselves, we laughed until we were hoarse and then put Cliff’s mattress on the floor for the rest of the night. I think he was still talking when I fell asleep. Damn, did we have headaches the next morning!
Fast forward 56 years to now for my second bunk bed experience. This time on Amtrak. Peggy had top honors. Our tiny sleeper was about five feet wide and seven feet long. It started as two comfortable chairs facing each other. Large windows provided great views from our double decker roomette. There was barely, and I do mean barely, room for our two day packs and two small suitcases. When we were ready for bed, the car attendant came to our room and set it up. Our two chairs became the lower bunk and the top bunk was released from its attachment to the ceiling. The whole process took about three minutes.
The bottom line of all this, of course, is how did we sleep. There were three factors. The first was the comfort of the beds. No problem there. The second was their width. Given all of the times that Peggy and I have slept in small backpacking tents, they felt roomy. The real challenge was adapting to the moving train. First there was the clickety-clack of the wheels passing over the joints in the rails. It was repetitive, however, and soon disappeared into the background. I thought of it as noisemaker to lure me sleep.
The train’s swaying was another issue altogether. We didn’t have a problem coming across the Sierras. Trains go slowly when they climb and go down mountains. It’s on the flats that the engineers put the pedal to the metal. It’s where they make up for lost time. I can imagine one engineer boasting to another, “I made it across there in an hour!” with the other responding, “Ha, it only took me 59 minutes.” For the most part, the swaying is like the clickety-clack. You get used to it. But there were instances when I was reminded of being on a ship during a really bad storm or hitting heavy turbulence in a jet. There were three particularly bad situations: when the train was traveling over rough tracks, when it went over a poorly maintained road crossing, and when it went around a corner faster than it should.
During the day, it wasn’t much of a problem, assuming you had something to grab onto if you were out and about. Sleeping was a different issue, as we learned our first night. The attendant had worked his three-minute magic and we had settled down for a long winter’s sleep across Nevada when the train hit some rough track, traveled over a poorly maintained road crossing, and went around a sharp curve— all at the same time— fast. Wham! Peggy was thrown into the netting designed to keep her from rolling off the bed and I was thrown into the side of the train. “That does it!” I head Peggy mumble loudly as she scooted across the bed, climbed down from her bunk, and slipped into mine. Remember how I said the bunk was roomy. That’s for one person. There was simply no room for the two of us. We had to sleep head to toe. I slept with Peggy’s feet and she slept with mine. I’m not sure which of us got the better deal.
Traveling between Chicago and Washington DC we were upgraded to a bedroom. It came with a double-sized bed that was comfortable for the two of us, a sink, and its own bathroom! We didn’t have to use the communal facility. While our bedroom wasn’t large by any stretch of the imagination, it felt palatial in comparison to our roomette. A small shower even provided a bath assuming you didn’t mind washing off the toilet at the same time. Recommendation: Choose a time to bathe when the train isn’t swaying.
We had one other configuration. Amtrak had supposedly upgraded its roomettes with a restroom. We had one returning home on our route between Chicago and LA. The toilet that snuggled up to the bottom bunk, sort of like you might see in a prison cell. It was inches away from my head when I was is bed. That was not okay. To add insult to injury, Amtrak had removed the communal restrooms from the car. We had to go on a three-car hike to find a real bathroom. Our attendant told us that the company had realized the error of its ways and was no longer building the roomette restrooms. What a surprise.
All in all, while I’ve had a bit of fun with this post, we slept in relative comfort, especially if you compare it with trying to sleep on an airplane. Even the coach seats on Amtrak are wide, comfortable, and fold back far enough to create a half-way decent night’s sleep.
My photos of the trip today include our journey from Sacramento to Washington DC, minus, of course, the pictures we took while crossing the Rocky Mountains that I shared in my last post. Enjoy.
For my next post, I am going to experiment with a photo essay. (It’s called what do you do with your 80,000 plus photos.) The post after that I’ll feature our Amtrak trip back to the West plus eating on the train, which is all about meeting strangers.
Peggy was making travel arrangements to fly back east to spend Christmas and New Year’s with our kids in Virginia and Florida when she emerged from her woman cave like a grumpy bear saying not-nice things about the airlines. Unlike her husband, she never curses (well close to never), but her tone of voice says it all. The industry was practicing its usual Christmas spirit by doubling prices and eliminating perks like earned miles and companion fares. Joy to the world. Isn’t capitalism grand.
I suggested that she check Amtrak. We quickly discovered that we could travel across America by train with our own bedroom and three meals a day for less than the airplane tickets would cost. And the meals would actually be edible. When was the last time you had a delicious, freshly-cooked steak dinner and crab cakes for dinner on an airplane? Since we are retired, time wasn’t a factor. We would see and experience America in a way we never had before! It was a no-brainer.
Our plans were to drive down to Sacramento from our home in Southern Oregon in mid-December, visit with family and friends, and catch the California Zephyr heading for Chicago. (All Amtrak trains are named.) From there, we would take the Capitol Limited to Washington DC. Returning, we would reverse our journey on the Capitol Limited to Chicago and then take the Southwest Chief to LA. Our final leg would be to ride the Coastal Starlight back to Sacramento. The total trip would take nine days and 8 nights. In between, we would celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with the kids.
We quickly found that there were three aspects to train travel. The first was the actual experience of riding the train ranging from sleeping arrangements to shared meals. The second was admiring the country the train traveled through. (That’s what got me the most excited.) The third was meeting your fellow travelers. Given Amtrak’s policy of seating you with other people at meals, you meet a lot of strangers. And most of them really seem to enjoy train travel.
That’s a major difference with modern airplane travel. While first class might still be tolerable, traveling coach is a trial to get through. Narrow seats where leaning back is severely limited (there’s no room), cramped leg room where you pay premium for a few more inches, minimal food service, and the policy of charging you big bucks for anything extra are all factors. Not to mention kids kicking the back of your chair and people sneezing out who knows what diseases at a 100 miles per hour mere-inches away from your head. There is no ‘it’s the journey that counts’ in air travel. It’s all about destination.
People who travel by train have destinations in mind as well, but the journey can also be an important part of the experience— one to be repeated over and over. Take Paul, for example. We had first met him in the passageway of our car on the trip back from Washington DC to Chicago. He sat down opposite us in the first-class lounge of Chicago’s imposing Union Train Station and struck up a conversation. (You obtain first class status by having a sleeper.) He was a tall, slightly overweight man with a ready smile who was close to our age.
We soon learned that he was a graduate of Oberlin College who had spent his life working for one of America’s intelligence agencies, a career that had begun with his service in Vietnam. He had enjoyed the work, but his true passion was playing in an informal blues band for fun. The group had been together for over 30 years. Paul and Peggy were soon into a deep discussion over whether her guitar playing and singing should include the blues. He suggested she start with Kate Wolf. I am a fan of Kate’s. In fact, my friend Tom Lovering once hosted a birthday party for her at his outdoor/wilderness store in Sacramento. When she passed away, he had taken her daughter on a river trip.
As usual, the conversation turned to where we were going and what our Amtrak experience had been like. Paul had traveled on Amtrak a number of times, including traveling with his blues band. This time he was heading for Portland by himself, but here’s the fun part. He would arrive in Portland, spend one day at Powell’s Bookstore, and then climb back on the train for his return trip to Washington DC!
Peggy and I understood Paul’s desire to spend a day at Powell’s. It’s the largest independent bookstore in the world and one of America’s premier bookstores. Whenever we are in Portland, we make a point of going there. You can spend hours perusing its shelves. I doubt we have ever left with less than a hundred dollars-worth of books. Traveling four days by train to get there and then turn around and travel four days back to Washington was a tad more difficult to comprehend. You would really have to love train travel. Still, we were really enjoying our trip. We could drive over to Klamath Falls, climb on the Coastal Starlight and be there in a day. Hmmm…
As for my photos today, I want to share one segment of the journey with you: our trip across the Rocky Mountains. It was spectacular including snow, beautiful views of the river and gorgeous red rocks. Starting at Glenwood Springs we followed the Colorado River up toward its source and then dropped down into Denver. The photos speak for themselves. Enjoy.
NEXT POST: I’ll cover what train travel was like for us, introduce you to more passengers and and show more photos of our journey.
I know, I know… I promised to cover our train trip on this post but I got side-tracked (in more ways than one). On Saturday, I was diligently working away in our library writing about the cast of characters who ride the rails when I looked out the window and noticed three deer madly dashing around our yard with their tails straight up signaling “Danger! Danger! Danger!” They charged up the hill, jumped the five-foot fence into the neighbor’s yard, did a 180, flew over the fence again and disappeared into our canyon going all-out. If you’ve ever watched frightened deer running, you know how fast this is. Seconds afterwards they burst out of the canyon and repeated the process. I called Peggy in to watch.
“Something big that likes venison must be visiting and the deer smell it,” I speculated and suggested that the local cougar might be back.
A few minutes later the deer had hightailed it up the mountain. Our property, which is normally busy with deer, squirrels, numerous birds, and other wildlife, had become eerily silent. Even the ever-squawky jays that I depend on to tell me when dangerous predators— like the local cat— are about, were uttering nary a peep.
Since we needed to do our daily mailbox walk and a fair amount of snow from the storm that I featured in my last post hadn’t melted, I proposed we keep an eye out for cougar tracks. The walk is close to a mile with the mailbox being at the halfway point. We do a round trip, leaving by our back road and returning by our front road. There would ample opportunity to look for tracks.
We found them near the mailbox! I confess I felt a bit like the deer, ready to raise my tail and dash off.
We were on the homestretch, heading up the hill to our home when we saw the next set of tracks. They came out of the canyon and headed straight for our house. That added a bit of excitement (he noted in understatement). Peggy and I quickly checked around the house. Sure enough, the big cougar had wandered around in our backyard the night before and possibly onto the snowless section of our deck. If so, it would have been about six feet away from where we were sleeping. That’s Peggy’s side of the bed. (Grin)
Things were more or less back to normal on Sunday. The deer were back, a bit jumpy, but none-the-less munching away. The bird feeder was a circus with six species contending over who got the sunflower seeds. And three squirrels were busy chasing each other in a row with love on their minds. They shot up, down, and around trees nose to tail, nose to tail.
Monday, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, had a slight twist. There was no mail, so we decided to hike up into the forest where we had taken our snow hike. This time, however we would veer off to visit what we call the bear cave. Not that we’ve ever seen a bear; it’s an old gold mining operation. We named it the bear cave to give our grandkids more of a sense of adventure when they visited. I once took our grandson Cody up there when he was five on a bear hunt with our sling shots. He’d been excited to go on an adventure with Grandpa. The closer we had got to the cave the more reluctant he had become. We’d stood back from the cave and lobbed pellets in to scare the bear out.
This time, my lovely wife was the reluctant one. She suggested we go for a walk on the road instead. Could it be that the cougar had her spooked? I laughed and away we went up the mountain. We had made the cutoff when we saw a set of huge tracks heading in the general direction of the cave. Bear tracks. Peggy let me take a couple of photos before she insisted that we beat a hasty retreat.
Following are some photos of the various tracks we came across.
NEXT POST: The train trip! Unless, of course, someone else comes to visit. 🙂
I’ve been playing hooky from my blog. Or you might say I was ‘derailed.’ Peggy and I climbed on Amtrak in Mid-December as part of a 5000 mile train trip across America and back. I’ll cover the adventure in my next post.
We went back east to visit with our son and his family in Florida to enjoy Christmas and then went north to visit with our daughter and her family in Virginia to celebrate the new year. All of that would have been ample distraction to pull me away from blogging. A nasty cold I picked up in Florida was the main culprit however. It was one of those bugs that keeps you awake all night coughing your lungs out. (Remember when Calvin of Calvin and Hobbs sneezed his brains out? That’s how I felt.) I had enough energy to enjoy our kids and grandkids and take the train home. That was it.
I thought it would be fun to feature some photos from today when Peggy and I woke up to several inches of gorgeous snow for my return to blogging. As always, it called for a walk in the woods.
NEXT POST: Clickety-Clack— a 5000 mile train trip across America and back.
I am taking a brief break from the desert Southwest, today. Peggy and I just returned from a three day trip over to the Oregon Coast and explored the interesting town of Charleston near Coos Bay.
That we ended up in Charleston, Oregon was a complete happenstance. Peggy and I wanted to make a quick trip to Shore Acres State Park on the Oregon coast. The park puts on an annual Christmas display of over 300,000 lights that feature coastal themes focusing on Pacific Ocean wildlife. Normally we take Quivera, our RV, and camp at Sunset Bay State Park, which is just down the hill. This time we were motelling it and I found one named Captain John’s in Charleston. The town is three miles away from Shore Acres. It was just a convenience— until we went for a walk.
NEXT POST: Back to Georgia O’Keeffe at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu in New Mexico.
The Bush Devil Ate Sam is an important record and a serious story, yet told easily, and with delightful humor. This is one of the most satisfying books I have ever read, because it entertained me thoroughly AND made me feel better informed. —Hilary Custance Green: British Author... Click on the image to learn more about my book, the Bush Devil Ate Sam, and find out where it can be ordered.
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