Shhh. The office suite was empty, the door was open, so I went in. Later, I was gently reprimanded for taking a photo in the lobby. See, I might have been taking pictures of where the security cameras were located. Security cameras? Whoops. Ah well. It was a splendid panoramic view and just the kind of place that begs to be photographed.
Oh, California. Caaaaaaaalifornia I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am, strung out on another man? California I’m coming home.
Woke in a San Francisco airport hotel, after an evening of travel that verged on Kafkaesque. Managed to make my way back to the airport, commandeer a rental car, and head north towards Point Reyes. I made a brief stop in San Rafael for an organic single-pour coffee, and browsed both a bookstore and record store while the caffeine . In short, a perfect day had before noon.
From San Rafael, made my way to the coast through Samuel Taylor State Park. The drive was so beautiful I laughed out loud. Who am I to be so lucky to drive this road, free of all traffic, through enchanted forests winding through the hills, and the forests that give way to the rolling gold California hills that lead, finally, to the coast. I’m laughing all the way, and sometimes crying, because everything is too beautiful, and I wish my eyes were cameras because I can’t trust my feeble mind to record and store the passing scenery with any accuracy. I’m a midwestern girl, all the way, I know this by the way my stomach drops hugging the turns up, and then down to the coast at Point Reyes. I’m a flatlander but dammit if California doesn’t lay claim to a little piece of my heart every time I go there.
The last time I stopped on the coast was a night I slept along the PCH after a Jerry Garcia band show at Shoreline. Jerry Garcia was alive then – so it’s been a long time. Does everything increase exponentially in beauty and gravitas as you age? Was I so consumed with romantic politics or rolling joints that I didn’t even notice the stupendous, ridiculous stupid beauty of this place? But I did love it. I remember the crouching oak trees and the hills like ripples on some great wavering tablecloth hovering over the mantle of the earth. But we never lingered in Marin, or on the coast for that matter. We were headed for Humboldt, or bust. This time I’m headed only to Limantour Beach, and then on to Napa for the night.
The beach was, as promised by the Australian ranger at the visitor’s center, “a bit blowy” but perfectly, wildly, awesomely beautiful. I walked some length of it, and waded in far enough to feel that terrifying pull of the Pacific around my ankles (again, I’m from Wisconsin). On the drive from the beach, out of the canyon and towards Napa, I listened to Lucinda Williams and sang all the way. At around four I made it to Sonoma and thought it might be time for some wine, as I’d begin to dip into valleys crisscrossed with vineyards, and let’s face it, that makes you thirsty.
I passed the first sign for the Robledo’s Family Winery without slowing, but at the second sign, turned in and followed the winding road back past the rows of vines to a dusty parking lot next to a small outbuilding and a larger, barn-like tasting room. Children chased around the parking lot, and American and Mexican flags flapped in the wind. As I opened the door to the tasting room, laughter and the smell of wine enveloped me. I made my way to the bar and cozied up for a tasting.
The Robledo’s Winery is the ‘first tasting room in the United States established by a former Mexican migrant vineyard worker and his family.” I befriended a couple, the male half of which kept going on about his half-Mexican heritage. By way of proving this he dotted his speech ‘my madre’ this and ‘mi abuela’ that. The man pouring our wine was the founder’s son. He kept the wine coming, the couple were regulars, had wine memberships. They assured me the wine was consistently delicious and I can confirm that in my experience, it is. I had a full tasting of five wines, and a white port, because come on, white port? When it came time to settle up, they offered to give me their club discount, and the server suggested I be their complimentary guest for the month. They were drunk, so sure! So everything is coming up Jennifer, free Sonoma wine! Off I go, making the remaining 15 miles to Napa in no time, and a room at the (wait for it) Chardonnay Lodge.
It was nearly dark by the time I checked in, and I called Adam flush with wine, with the country-side and with the freedom afforded one with a rental car, a hotel room and very few plans. I spent a quiet evening in Napa, at a place called City Winery, because it seemed like a good place to drink Pinot, eat a burger and listen to a duo play guitar and violin. They did an inspired versions of Little Wing, so I ordered a second glass. After dinner I walked the length of the small downtown, contemplating a drink, but the solitude of my hotel room beckoned. I couldn’t think of another thing that might better my day, so I called it. It was a very good one.
Foggy November morning hike with Crystal. We rushed out to shoot before the fog lifted, were done before Adam woke to notice I was gone. Messing with focus, contending with steamy glasses and water on the lens, all the while wandering around in a riverbed raincloud. A quick stop at a Building For Lease, because buildings.
Oh, and for the record, thanks to the Quotidian Diarist who inspired me to blur my vision on purpose.
Ivan’s friend Charles joined us for a hike at the perennially satisfying Crosby Farm Preserve along the Mississippi River. How could one not feel a lightness of heart watching them amble along the beaches, skipping stones, climbing the great fallen tree trunks and seeking out “huge weird giant fish” beneath the boardwalks that jut through the marshes.
Adam found this poem by Raymond Carver that captures their spirit.
So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.
While staying with my cousin James and his lovely family, we declared that since it was Sunday, we had to go for a hike. It was the last day of our vacation, we were meant to fly out that night and it was predicted to hover near 100 or above all day. For these reasons we decided not to go to Red Rocks just outside of town, but rather for a more leisurely stroll around Tule Springs Ranch, a park constructed around a former “Divorce Ranch.”
Fro the 30’s until the 1950’s you could only get quick and easy divorces in certain states, and the ever enterprising Nevada was one of them. But, of-course, you had to establish residency, which took six weks. During that time, women would sometimes stay at a Divorce Ranch. You can read all about the craziness in this article at Slate, but the gist was: “… a typical day at a divorce ranch might have looked like this: horseback riding in the morning, an after-lunch trip into town for shopping or a visit with a lawyer, and then, in the evening, cocktails, communal dinner, and another car trip to a bar or a casino, where the ladies would dance and drink and gamble.”
People, I have gotten a divorce and I say “hells yes!” to the divorce ranch. Six weeks to cool my heels, ride horses, drink, gamble, and perhaps have a dalliance with a handsome cowboy, that would have really eased the transition I think.
In any case, the grounds were lovely, Ivan chased Peacocks and collected feathers, the kids played with their kid-cousins and we all got pretty hot under the Nevada sun. We followed it up with a walk around a bird and animal sanctuary, and then quickly sought out air conditioning and shade.
Zion National Park. It was named Zion by an early Mormon settler who regarded that one could worship as well in this cathedral in any on earth. The name that had previously been attributed was Mukuntuweap, a Paiute word which is roughly translated as “straight valley.” I’m partial to the Mormon name, surprisingly. It suits the place.
The Zion Canyon floor is a shocking, fertile green basin at the base of a jumble of mountains that huddle around it like a protective fortress. It’s the meeting point of three major geographical areas: the Great Basin to the West, the Mojave to the Southwest, and the Colorado Plateau to the East. Subsequently, it is a wild looking place. Wild in the sense of being untamed, untamable – and wild in the sense that it’s singularity causes one to stand gobsmacked on the canyon floor with their mouth hanging open.
As a National Park, Zion is an impressive operation. Most of the trails are accessible via a system of park shuttles, so as to keep the nearly 3 million annual visitors from clogging the canyon with their rented RVs. Adam noted that the amount of love and dedication it would take to make a place like this accessible is truly astounding, and I agree. There is a vast wilderness and back-country in Zion that I’ll never know, but truly, I’m just grateful for the chance to enter the temple, as it were.
The east side of the park is accessible only via a one-mile, unlit, two-lane tunnel with no shoulder. One arrives at this tunnel by a series of switchbacks that snake impressively up a canyon wall gaining about 600 feet in 5 minutes. I was surprised to find that I had a white-knuckle fear of such roads. Adam was driving, but he was also so completely awed by the scenery he would lean forward in his seat and peer upward out the windshield, instead of IN FRONT OF THE CAR on the spectacularly curvy road. In a move that might be familiar to many road-tripping couples there was an abrupt turn-off along the road followed by the invective, “YOU DRIVE”, and a huffy me adjusting seat and mirrors and taking us through the horrifying tunnel and across to the east side of the park for a hike.
The Canyon Overlook trailhead is just past the tunnel, and as we laced up I watched the sky gathering clouds and frowned. We started on the trail, which is almost completely uphill, with Adam in the lead, the kids in the middle, and me following behind. If I try to remember the hike all I remember is my own accelerated breathing, and the image of Ivan’s heels on sand covered rock (extremely slippery!!), on a ledge approximately a billion feet from the ground. With each step my need to vomit increased. All around families passed me, toddlers (TODDLERS!) passed me, happily confident that they wouldn’t plummet to their death. After ten minutes I shouted to Adam, “I can’t do it! It’s not fun! I hate it!” Everyone assured me it was ok, and Ivan came back to the car with me since he was feeling tired anyway, leaving Adam and Veronica to sally forth.
Ivan waited in the car and played on my phone while I paced and watched the sky with mounting anxiety. When I heard thunder, I actually simpered. I was so disappointed with myself. Where was the carefree adventurer of my youth? I can only surmise she disappeared when I had children. I think if it had just been me, I could have grimaced through it, but my nervousness with the kids would only have made it a misery for everyone. Finally Adam and V. came bounding off the trail, Adam ecstatic, Veronica flush with the cool air and sense of achievement. She was beaming and mugging with Adam about their daring little expedition, the happiest I had seen her in days.
We headed back down canyon and spent the rest of the drizzly afternoon in Springdale picking out the perfect rocks to lug home in our suitcases. We had been told to go to Oscar’s, a tasty little restaurant that carried the infamous Palygamy Porter. I ordered the IPA. When Adam tasted it and grimaced, Veronica wanted to know why. We let her try a sip of each, another audacious act for the day. And as she ordered “The Murder Burger” and proceeded to devour it, I realized the daring girl I had once been was sitting across the table from me, having the time of her life.
That more or less sums it up.
Isn’t this map beautiful though? I love the gentle dip and curve of the river, coursing through the grid of streets.
The same area is mapped in below, in a 1906 map from The New Encyclopedic Atlas and Gazetteer of the World.
And again in this beautiful commissioned watercolor map done by John Jager for the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company in 1904.
Finally, this map shows the area from quite a different angle. The image is from a flyby, a visual representation “as seen by the Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) instrument. The shortwave infrared (TM band 5), infrared (TM band 4), and visible green (TM band 2) channels are displayed in the images as red, green, and blue respectively. In this combination, barren and/or recently cultivated land appears red to pink, vegetation appears green, water is dark blue, and artificial structures of concrete and asphalt appear dark grey or black.” There is the video from which this is taken. It’s fascinating. Thanks NASA, you’re rad.