Some people can’t help but be…you fill in the blank.

Burt took me to see his Grandma and Grandpa Nelson’s house in Glendora today.  The place still retains an air of redneck nobility perched up on its hill surrounded by newer and flashier homes.  I saw the oak tree where the bees lived in a hollow.  The hollow was still there but no bees today.  Burt’s grandparents rented from the owners who lived next door.  The landlords raised rattlesnakes and collected venom to make anti-venom when Burt was hanging around.  The houses had been surrounded by an orange grove but even now with all the new development open space is only about a block away so you can get a feel for what a wonderland  this must have been for him.

Then we drove up San Gabriel canyon and did a day hike along the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.  We noticed signs on the way up the canyon mentioning a parking permit but couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to get the permit.  Being wild and crazy people we didn’t try to find out.  I mean, come on, we followed the rules at Venice Beach, but pay to park in the National Forest?  Not if we could help it.

The hike was a closed and paved road leading to Cogswell Dam.  The first half mile was swarmed with families up from the city.  Rainbow trout are native to this stream and there were people trying to catch them.  I ignored the pavement and told myself we would out walk the people n 20 minutes and we did.  In about 25 minutes there was a bridge with a sign off to the side that mentioned the public lands were closed beyond “this” point.  The sign was off the road and at a 45 degree angle to the bridge.  There was no chain, no obstacle on the bridge so we decided it was ambiguous at best and perhaps referred to the land on the other side of the stream.  We really were unsure and I hesitated for a moment but I thought, if this road is closed why not a chain?  Or a sign in the road?  Or a notice at the trailhead?  Oh well, there’s nobody here anyway.

We walked on.  We saw a couple cyclists.  Two carrying fishing rods.  The land here is steeper than anything I’ve seen.  From the road the terrain heads up at about a 6o degree slope with thick vegetation.  Rock climbing would have been easier than walking anywhere other than the road.  Just shy of 3 miles in we found a magical water fall with a series of pools we could scramble to.  The cleft cut into the steep hills and just like in the Grand Canyon I wanted to see if I could get to the next pool.  I gave up at 3.  It was late and we had places to be.

We turned around at mile marker 3 and headed out.  Quickly a car coming from the trailhead pulled up to us.  In it was a middle aged man out with what I took to be his mother.  In an absurd display of bureacratic puffery he told us the area was closed and that we must leave at once.  Burt  and I both expressed our confusion which resulted in him telling us we would be fined $5000 if we were caught.  I have done less agregious things than walk on pavement in a National Forest for which I have felt much guiltier.  “Let them try,” I thought.  I turned to leave when I heard Burt mildly ask, “What are you doing here?”  “Well I work for the Forest Service,” was his response.  Then some mumbling from “mom” and our public servant explained to mom and Burt that well no, he didn’t give the tickets, the sheriff did, but by god the sheriff was around and he’d find us.  And by the way your dog has the be on a leash.  Now the last line, dear reader, is utter BS.  Yours truly is always looking to see what the doggie rules are everywhere we go.  There were no signs about dog leashes AND we had indeed passed the sheriff (on the unambiguously open portion of the road) with our dog running amok and there was no citation or warning issued.  All of which left this former public servant itching for a fight with the feds.  BECAUSE…what the hell was this moron doing DRIVING on a closed road on a Sunday, in a private car with his mother, telling us we weren’t allowed to walk on it? I think Burt was less pissed off than me.

We made it out without incident.  On our windshield was a parking ticket.  Pay $5 now or $100 later.  Pretty nice deal.  With real motivation we could see the parking permit kiosk and made our peace with Uncle Sam.


Venice Beach

Where to start?  We decided to go to Venice Beach and see what it was like to busk there.  First though we did a driving tour of the neighborhood where Burt spent most of his formative years.  Despite the obvious differences in environs between NJ and southern CA, it was apparent to both of us that we had grown up in similar socio-economic situations.  Here is how I see it:  We both grew up in working class neighborhoods surrounded by more affluent neighbors.  There used to be easy access to streams and woods.  The beach was close.   I think NJ was about 10 years behind CA in the cultural shifts of the 50s-70s so that accounts for our age differences.

We followed the Garmin GPS to Venice Beach and payed $9 to park.  We could have parked free on the street, but our instruments were in the truck and we wanted to check the place out before we decided if we wanted to play.  We walked north past the paddle tennis and basketball and weight lifting scenes.  The paddle tennis looked incredibly fun.  The mini-tennis courts were packed.  I think Burt and I could be a threat to each other in doubles.

There was a barker trying to lure people in to see a freak show.  I’ve always thought I would want to go if I had the chance but today I didn’t have the stomach for it.  I’m not sure if it was the human element or the bizarro animal stuff that gave me the willies.  The mental image of the rubber lady made me want to gag.  It was only $5 and I just kept walking.  Maybe under cover of darkness.  Once a friend of mine told me he saw a circus freak show in Great Falls (just a couple of years ago) and when he went in his 12 year old son refused and said it was demeaning to the “performers.”  I confessed my fascination and mentioned that I had read about how there  was a rich history and sense of pride among people that had chosen the line of work.  I asked how it was and he said, “creepy…the world’s smallest lady was just sitting down there in a little set…”  I think he said she was knitting and looked peevish.  He decided his son was right.  Sounded like a rip-off to me.  All that to say I need therapy before I see a real freak show.

Out on the boardwalk was a man in yellow pajamas doing an act with broken bottles.  We were drawn in by his idiosyncratic showmanship.  Soon we were drawn in because Burt was part of the show.  I cannot do it justice.  The video is up on Facebook.

The human spectacle on the boardwalk was not remarkable.  What was mind blowing was the abundance of people stoned out of their mind offering to get us our medical marijuana cards.  Every 5th shop was a medical marijuana dispensary with a “doctor” on duty to get you started.  You just need $100 and a claim that you suffer from any one of scores of eligible ailments and you can start smoking and growing.  California allows you to grow ninety (90!) plants for personal use.  It’s such a joke, I think they should just go ahead and legalize it.  Then we can (maybe) get a handle on the black market and all the ugliness associated with it.  The obviously easy access to pot leaves me with this question:  Who in god’s name is still buying the stuff illegally in California? And one more: Montana allows medical marijuana users six plants.  I head from people in the business that 6 is a lot more than most people need.  If so, what are people in California doing with the 84 extra plants?

While I pondered dope and freaks we watched the skate boarders.  There manner of sharing the park with each other had an indecipherable etiquette.  There were nods and looks and body language sorting out the right-of-way analogous to a pack of dogs.  Burt’s explained the system for surfing and I hope someday I’ll be good enough to try it out.  A surf wave is pretty straight forward; Everyone surfs in the same direction.  Skate boarders were crowded and going in seemingly random directions doing random tricks.  Beautiful.

We overheard some kids talking about finding a “spot” to play music.  We asked them if they knew the rules.  They had their medical marijuana cards and could not provide clear instruction.  We got the idea that it might be free and you might need a card from the police.  Burt and I decided to try to play by the rules so we wandered over to the conveniently located police station.  The very helpful guys there said we could play for free if we had nothing to sell.  Good thing we haven’t released our cd yet.  We also had to display a yellow card that said people were under no obligation to give us money.  They said we were supposed to play in a specific area along the boardwalk.  Burt asked, “Can we play in the grass?”  The officer said, “We discourage that, but you can.”  We probed a little more and each of us concluded that if you are white, middle aged and fairly clean, you can play in the grass.  Of course this was an unspoken conclusion that we shared with each other later.  We think the police of Venice Beach are hoping to attract more performers like us.

We took our yellow placard, collected Elvis and our instruments and went to find a “spot.”  We had left Elvis in the car to guard our instruments while we were on recon.  As usual he did an exemplary job.  Since we were slow in sussing everything out all free “spots.” were occupied.  We decided to play next to the basketball courts.  I think I liked the ambiance because I spent time on the side of a court watching my dad play when I was a kid.  I think these guys would have kicked my dad’s ass.  No offense dad.  So we tuned up and got playing.

We weren’t in quite the right area for our type of music.  Most of the bball watchers kept their headphones on.  Nevertheless we had some diehard fans.  Right off a young guy hears us doing Wagonwheel and stops to listen and sing along.  He had a rough night.  He either fell on his head or was bludgeoned.  There were 6 stitches over his left eyebrow and a gold ball sized swelling on his cheekbone.  His clothes were ragged and his hair dirty but his smile was sweet.  He waved over another street kid and said listen, listen this is a great song.   When it was over he sincerely thanked us and started to head on.  He turned around dug in his pocket and gave us a quarter.  I teared up.  The officer that helped us out swung by gave a nod and turned to watch the basketball.

An Asian man listened for quite a while and also thanked us for playing and threw in a couple of bucks.  Another street kid dumped in all her change.  Most people smiled or waved.  I really enjoyed mindlessly playing fiddle tunes and watching the crowd.  The songs were more difficult because of the activity.  During Put the Blame on Mame a flock of seagulls (not the band) came in low, cackled and pooped right on me.  I’m sure it was a compliment.  After 2 hours of playing we had seen what we wanted to see and we had $4 in the case, it was time to go home.


Recovering from the Xmas Party

Elvis can hardly stand up and Burt and I aren’t much better.  At 10:30 the Mark Clan started to arrive and by 11:00 it was champagne and breakfast.  We had to run the table kitty corner through the dining room so everyone could sit down.  Carol and George have 3 sons around the same ages as Burt and his brothers.  They all grew up together.  Burt was the main instigator.  As if that wouldn’t be obvious to anybody who knows Burt.  They came to the party with wives and kids in tow.  There were 14 of us around the table.  Things moved along pretty sedately until the white wine and champagne took hold.  Next thing I knew presents had been opened and Uncle George was dancing with a USC blanket worn as a cape while we played Tzigane.  I hear there’s a video.  I really had to dig deep to play the tune while I had one eye on the fancy footwork.  He tottered and spun, careening about with his eyes half open, droning along with the tune.

We played some more songs and yakked for a while before retiring to the kitchen for an all female, multi-generational game of 3 to 13.  I learned some more family history and got a bunch of laughs.  The talking got so good the game fell apart when some one said they were in the mood for salami and I was able to produce the great handmade stuff we got in the Napa Valley.  Cards ended and eating started back up.  What are the odds a person could fulfill a craving as easily as that?   It was meant to be.

Elvis played all day with two doggie cousins.  A canine love fest.  We are up to 2 days with no new tick discoveries.  Word from the readers is to try a lavender spray.  Sounds humiliating, but if the ticks show up again we are going to give it a try.  He’s already on that yucky systemic insecticide stuff so we can’t use any more registered pesticides.

Tomorrow Burt and I plan to see Venice Beach.  I hope it’s a full on freak show.


Carpinteria and a road called “Good Enough”

Hi Everyone!

The view to the ocean from Sespe Wilderness

We’ve stopped looking for ticks.  They’ll have to finish dining and get out on their own.  We’ve been in Carpinteria for 2 days.  Yesterday we were instructed to repark our vehicle because (this is no exaggeration) one inch of one tire was off the pavement.  Welcome to California!  Otherwise its a great spot.  We saw some harbor seals on a bike ride, enjoyed some sushi and took a nice walk just yesterday.

Today we headed into the Sespe Wilderness to hike in the California Condor Refuge.  Burt used to come here when he was a kid.  On one trip his grandpa hiked with a homemade PVC frame pack at age 72.  It took an us an hour to drive the 10 miles into the trail head.  The road was named “Good Enough.”  I guess it was, we got there and back.  You can see it on the map above. The road was a steep windy one lane that appeared to be built on scree.

On the trail Elvis continued his efforts to acquire every tick in his vicinity and flushed several coveys of Quail.   We were sans shotguns so its Huevos Rancheros for dinner.  We saw some condors off in the sky and got up high enough to see to see the ocean 25 miles away.  You can’t do that everyday.  After our 5 mile hike we had some leftover spicy edamame.  It was better cold, but maybe that was because we ordered too much food last night.  Anyone with advice on how not to order too much sushi, please get in touch.

Sespe Wilderness
Sespe Wilderness

We hit Fillmore for some propane and 2 condors flew right over our heads while we were at the gas station.  This canyon had the last known wild condors and in the late 80s they were all captured and put into a captive breeding program.  Talk about your last ditch effort.  Astoundingly the breeding program was successful.  Birds were re-released in the early 90s back into Sespe and then the Grand Canyon and most recently Baja, Mexico.  This spring we saw some in the Grand Canyon.  Wild California Condors are now breeding in the wild.  Yahoo.


Tick Tick Tick

That sound you hear is my head about to explode.  We are removing ticks constantly.  Elvis now has numerous pusiferous spots on his neck, head and pits.  I think we may have to go to the vet tomorrow.  We thought we were getting ahead of the little suckers but yesterday a fully satiated blob rolled off and tried to walk away.  I sent her to the inferno.  On today’s walk we picked off 5 more and e weren’t even half way with the hike.  As I type Burt has Elvis in the showers.  I’m not sure who will come out on top or if it will help in the battle.

Today we started our morning watching neoprene clad surfers take on a beautiful 5-6′ curler at the campground.  The wave was so nice we had our ritualistic should we or shouldn’t we discussion for the tenth time.  We keep thinking we’ll hold out for warm water on the east coast and then we see the waves here and wonder if we shouldn’t get after it.  Problem is we don’t have wetsuits or boards and we don’t want to drag either all over the US.  Sadly we have decided to wait.  Nonetheless, it was a beautiful wave and inspiring to watch.

Burt on the top of the Indian Caves

After our morning fiddle practice we headed for a hike to the “Indian Caves” or “Wind Caves” depending on who’s talking.  We are at the southern end of Point Concepcion, a desolate remote place.  We hiked up a ridge to the “caves” and got a great view of the bay and countryside.  On a ledge at the lower most alcove was a woman on her sell phone.  She was holding the phone like a mic and she sounded like she was giving a monologue.  40 minutes later she was in the same place doing the same thing.  Burt and I thought we would come back to the spot for any lengthy conversations we might have.  I was bummed that I couldn’t ask her how she manages the ticks on her golden retriever.   Didn’t want to interrupt.  We had a lunch of dry-cured, spicy salumni, cheese, apple and crackers.  Elvis got to eat the apple core and salumni wrapper.  Aren’t we the best?

After that hike we hiked to a nearby hot spring.  It was too tepid for us to bother so we headed on to Nojoqui Falls in a nearby county park.  The falls spilled over a travertine build-up.  Looked like a stalagmite out in the open.

Sycamore and Susan

Burt just ran in with Elvis.  He didn’t bother to get dressed.  Just him in a towel with Elvis on a leash running across the campground.  Gotta go and help sort them out.


Perfect day yesterday

I’m writing while we drive along 101 looking for an open campground.  California budget cuts have resulted in a mishmash of services available at the parks.  You can’t trust the maps or internet.  The result is a couple more hours of driving than we anticipated and me typing while moving.  I hear from you that the posts are regularly read.  We appreciate all your kind messages.

Bull elephant seal
Bull elephant seal

We arrived at San Simeon Park two days ago about 8:00 PM.  Due to poor signage and mis-information from the GPS it was a complicated arrival.  We turned around twice before we found the correct turn and then passed the discretely marked entrance to find ourselves on a road bearing the warning: Not Recommended for RVs.  A half hour later we were pinioned across an intersection.  The truck and trailer blocked all lanes.  I have found the frontier where Burt and I cannot communicate.  Neither of us understands the basics of trailer backing.  It’s as if we’ve decided to conduct the business of our marriage in Esperanto.   Backing incidents have happened several times.  We get in a jam, hem and haw, say I don’t know, throw up our hands, my stomach starts to hurt and surrender to the trailer gods.  Every time we think there is no hope the trailer starts to move in the direction we envisioned at the start.  Maybe the trailer speaks Esperanto.

After that ordeal I made us soup for dinner and we hit the sack.  Early yesterday morning Burt met the ranger on his walk with Elvis.  Burt told the ranger that he had fished nearby as a child.  The ranger told Burt how he could get out to the same point.  After breakfast we headed to San Simeon point.  On the way we spotted a buzzard drying its wings.  They look like Dracula with their pitch black wings spread and there red knobby headed leering.  We turned around for a better look.  While I was taking pictures Burt spotted a bull elephant seal fishing in the surf.  It had a ginormous bulbous proboscis.  Its bark sounded like a tear-the-house-down kind of plumbing problem.  Nearby in the sand were some females.  They seemed to be between life and death.  More pictures and we were on our way.

Check out these teeth

We headed to the point.  The walk alone was lovely.  We started along the beach and then headed up the escarpment and walked through a grove of eucalyptus, cypress and Monterey pine.  WR Hearst planted the trees in the 1920s.  On the beach there was a dead elephant seal and its buzzard attendants.  The buzzards were doing a tidy job. Only the head had been eaten so they had a lot more work to do.

Out on the point we spotted a few sea otters.  I never would have believed this was possible.  The sea otter was almost extinct in the 30’s and even now there are only about 3,000 believed to be along the California coast.  So despite the odds there they were.  They were lolling about on top of the kelp beds.  One of them rolled continuously lengthwise.  It looked like an enjoyable Pilates exercise.  Only later did I realize that it might be a method of keeping watch.  At the time the otter looked so relaxed and graceful it was hard to believe it was doing it for any reason but because it felt good.  We walked along the rocks and kept watch on the kelp beds.  On our return to the truck we spotted some porpoises or dolphins (don’t know which) and a sea lion.  What a day.  When we drove back to camp we saw the remnants of Hearsts’s herd of zebras.  Now that was a surprise.


Today we did the Hearst Castle tour.  We were both disappointed in the material presented.  It was a fluff job regarding the construction of the estate.  I enjoyed the tour but we both would have liked a more rigorous family history.  On the way back to the visitor center on the bus I spotted a bobcat.  A first for me.  Who would have guessed?

If you can’t tell, this part of California is very wild.  I was surprised by the remoteness and lack of people.  The terrain is highly convoluted.  It reminds me of the panhandle of Idaho.  There are no straight roads.

Tonight was are camped at El Capitan about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara.  We are returning to a more populous region.  You can see the Channel Island (and oil rigs) from our campsite.  Tomorrow we’ll play in the tide pools or maybe head up to the condor refuge.


The sun is out and we’ve changed footwear

Elvis doing the dishes on his chew proof teather
Elvis doing the dishes on his chew proof teather

We are finally in flipflops and sandals almost 4 weeks after we left Helena.  Still too cool for shorts.  This morning we took a walk on the beach at Half Moon Bay.  We saw a Merlin and Marsh hawk.  A little while later we found a sea lion pup alone on the beach.  Sea gulls were gathered looking nonchalant.  We watched for a bit.  More birds arrived.  The pup looking baleful.  We left when I decided I’d rather not know how the story ended.  I watched a Desert Big Horn commit matricide this spring and that was enough for one year.  The campground host told us later the rescue people had chased it around the previous day with no success.  Yesterday’s rough seas had beat it up a bit and it couldn’t get out to sea with the rest of its group.  I don’t know what a group of sea lions is called.

Last night’s host was from Polson, Montana.  He presumed his fellow Montanans would share his ethnophobia and attempted to regale us with how stupid he perceived the rest of humanity to be.  While I made mention several times that we are all descended from non-English speaking immigrants he was unstoppable.  When he complained that the East Indian’s would share a picnic table in an occupied camp site I suggested perhaps this was normal behavior someplace else and shouldn’t be viewed as a sign of disrespect.  He had complained to the rangers about the things he had seen and the rangers told him that over 300 languages were spoken in the vicinity.  I envied his chance to be a host in a park with so much cultural diversity and a culturally sensitive official bureaucracy.  His complaints that the rangers rescued everyone whether or not they could speak English were mind-blowing.  Burt and I were both puzzled that he would presume we shared his racist views just because we were from Montana.  Also puzzling that he didn’t alter the course of the conversation based on my responses.  I mean do you have to hit a person over the head?

From Half Moon Bay we headed south to Monterey.   At the wharf we saw our first seal.  Every restaurant was offering free samples of their clam chowder as we walked down the dock.  4 samples was enough to determine that it just didn’t matter.  Fresh red snapper for dinner.  San Simeon tomorrow.  Rosebud, anyone?


Parasites damn parasites

Jack at home
Jack at home

We’ve been offline a few days while up in the Sierra foothills visiting Burt’s dad, Jack.  After spending 4 days living off the largess of Burt’s mom and the Golden Center Retirement village we moved over to literally scab onto Burt’s dad’s place.  Free food and parking and electricity.  At the same time we learned Elvis is playing host to a nasty variety of tick.  Michal found the first one.  Since then its a constant stream of arachnids.  They are so small we can’t find them until they get parked and start sucking his blood.   I find them so revolting I’m ready to head back to the land of ice and snow.   Every tingle and itch on my body must immediately be investigated to determine if they’ve left Elvis for me.  We travel with tweezers.  Last night we almost ripped off Elvis’s nipple despite headlamp and reading glasses.  He took it pretty well.  Jack suggested we needed anatomy lessons.

Indian Grinding Rock State Park

The Miwok Indians lived throughout the Central Valley of California.  Some of them still do.  Just a few miles from Jack’s house is a great State Park:  Indian Grinding Rock.     At the park is an enormous bedrock outcrop that the Miwok used as a mortar for grinding acorns.

grinding rock recesses
grinding rock recesses.

The Miwok would collect acorns, cook them and then grind them on the enormous stone outcrop.  There were a surprising number of individual grinding station all around.  It looked like they might have invented the assembly line.  I wonder if there were spots that were more desirable from a work or social point of view.  There were enormous oak trees.  At least 3 different kinds.  Mixed in were sugar pines and toyon and ponderosa.  We saw numerous tasty looking mushrooms.  The highlight was a flock of wild turkeys.  We are turkey crazy and that was our third flock of the trip

Burt Drives Trailer Across the Golden Gate Bridge and thru Frisco

More steady driving from Burt has us safely shrouded in fog at

Your Driver.  Safety is always in season.
Your Driver. Safety is always in season.

Half Moon Bay State Park.  We left Jack’s after another great walk.  A manly squirrel took a potshot at us from 40′ up a tree.  From the ground we could tell it was bigger than 4 Montana squirrels.  The drive across the central valley was uneventful.  I enjoyed catching up on email and the news.   We’ll have huevos rancheros with homemade refried beans for dinner.   We’re debating the local attractions:  The King Tutenkhammen exhibit? Monterey Aquarium? Hearst Castle?  We could go broke if we go to everything we are interested in.  Send us your vote.

Here are some pics: