Monday, July 8, 2019

Why Am I Not Exalted? Jack London; Crawfish, Ducks and the Sarah Reed! Wine Country; Hiking; Serenity; Armstrong Redwoods; Dry Creek General Store; Lost Baggage Art?

We had set up camp in the Elks Campground in Petaluma, and while walking Rudy and Gretchen one day, I noticed the reserved parking sign for the head of this lodge... I told My Lovely Bride that I wanted a sign like this at our new house, and hoped that she would show me the respect and admiration that the Lodge's Exalted Ruler obviously deserved... she replied, a bit sassily, "Yeah, Ty, you see the meter? You'd better have a lot of quarters!" Like Rodney Dangerfield used to say, "I don't get no respect at all!"

Nearby our campground is Petaluma's 500 acre Shollenberger Park, where we went for several runs, walks and bike rides on their delightful trail system. On one ride, we encountered some local wildlife on the path... a signal crayfish (Pacifistacus leniusculus). It's actually an invasive species and crowding out native crayfish in California. The first photo is when we first met... he (she?) was walking across the path. When we got closer, the crawfish (the term us Cajuns use in Louisiana) went into self-defense mode... spunky little critter, I must say! Good thing for him I wasn't on a crawfishing expedition!

This mother duck with her nine little ducklings also caught my eye. I think the one out of formation guy is a dropout from the duck version of the Blue Angels...

The Petaluma River is adjacent to the trails, and I was happy to see this well-kept tugboat one day. Whoever owns and runs her is very attentive to her condition - we would say she is "shipshape and Bristol fashion", a tip of the hat to well-built and kept ships in the 18th and 19th Century built in Bristol, England, on the River Avon. 

We stayed in Petaluma in order to have a base for wine tastings in Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley. On our first wine tasting foray, we were accompanied by Holly Berkley, a friend from nearby Healdsburg. Here we are at Amapola Creek Vineyard in Sonoma .  This amazing vineyard is owned and operated by a good friend we have only met on-line (to date), but whom we will be meeting in person later this summer. Richard Arrowood (Proprietor and Winemaster) and his wife Alis have been in the wine business for five decades. Their experience and love of winemaking shows in their fabulous wines, all of which have been highly rated by Robert Parker and Wine Advocate magazine. (See the link above for more information on the Arrowoods and Amapola Creek Vineyard.)  

 We were hosted and given a tour of Amapola Creek by Alyssa Smith, who here is explaining that we cannot buy a complete vat of their outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon for our RV... thanks, Alyssa, it was an unforgettable experience!

We also got to spend some quality time with our friends Jerry Facciani and Karen Barrett from Las Vegas and Baltimore. Jerry is a real oenophile, and has an incredible wine cellar (see this blog of Nov 16, 2016 for more on his collection). We visited and had tastings at Martinelli Vineyards, Peter Michael Winery and Aubert Wines, shown here with the owner, Teresa Aubert. (And yes, the tastings were on three different days, thank goodness!) 

Here we are in the beautiful tasting room at Martinelli Vineyards and Winery in Windsor. The wines kept coming... and coming... and coming... 

We enjoyed three gourmet dinners with the owners of Roberts and Rogers, Bevan Cellars, and Morlet Family Vineyards. Jerry's vast experience in Napa and Sonoma gave us insights that we would never have been able to get on our own, and the experience of vineyard owners and winemasters bringing their own wines that the restaurant served was unique and a real delight! Here at Market in St. Helena with Russell Bevan and Victoria de Crescenzo of Bevan Cellars; their wines are phenomenal! 

And here with Luc and Jodie Morlet  of Morlet Family Vineyards at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville... fabulous Morlet wines and delicious authentic French cuisine! (Very appropriate since Luc is from France; his family has been making wine in Avenay-Val d'Or for five generations.)

One could get accustomed to wine tastings in beautiful Sonoma and Napa Valleys, but there are other things to see and do in the vicinity. We took a trip into San Francisco to drop Suzanne off at the airport so she could fly to Virginia to teach at The Monroe Institute. The Golden Gate Bridge and the harbor will always be impressive!

I also got to do some hiking - shown here at Shiloh Ranch State Park while MLB was back in Charlottesville. 

This trail was quite "rooty"! It wasn't too bad in hiking boots, but would have been challenging on a mountain bike. I usually don't do challenging trails while MLB is on travel because of my responsibility to take care of Rudy and Gretchen and the possibility of injury, since I am a bit of a klutz sometimes. Having gone over the handlebars and crashed twice in the past 6 years, I am getting a little bit more prudent in my old age...

My routine for several days was a morning hike at a state park and then a walk around Shollenberger Park in Petaluma at sunset... what a serene place... I may have to get into Zen...

I enjoyed another delightful hike at Jack London Historical State Park in Glen Ellen, which is the site of London's Beauty Ranch, located on the side of Sonoma Mountain. It was named for the natural beauty he found there. When I was young, he was one of my favorite authors. An avid sailor, he was on a circumnavigation aboard his ketch Snark when his health declined and he had to give up the voyage in Australia. He was truly a man's man. 

Two of his great quotes run like this... 
- "Get up; wake up; kick in; do something; deliver the goods; come across; arise or be forever damned."
- "I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."   

29 miles of trails wind through Jack London's Beauty Ranch, and this ancient redwood is just a small, but important part of it. Often referred to as The Grandmother Tree, it is about 1800-2000 years old, 14 feet in diameter, gnarled and not especially lofty, but it is a beautiful reminder of our close connection with the natural world. 

Our friend Holly was accepting packages for us, so one day I drove up to Healdsburg to collect mail. Holly took me for a drive around the area to Dry Creek Grocery, a famous and very busy 1880's bar, store and deli. The food was delicious.

Holly had recommended that I not skip one of her favorite hikes - at Armstrong Redwoods State Park. It was one of the most rigorous hikes of our trip so far, 7 miles with 1,300 feet elevation gain. I was really whooped at the end of the hike, but finished in this beautiful grove of coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). It is truly a sacred place. I am not a great meditator, but when I sit on a stump or a bench and look at these magnificent trees, I know that I am near God.

Well, our time in Petaluma, Sonoma and Napa was drawing to a close. Suzanne returned from The Monroe Institute, and took this photo of the baggage claim sculpture (really) at SFO... I'm guessing that the National Endowment of the Arts paid 2.3 million bucks for these... 

So we saddled up our wagon train and prepared to head for our next destination, Lake Tahoe. Neither of us had been there, and we were really looking forward to its natural beauty and cooler weather. As we prepared to leave, this unusual rig drove into our Elks Lodge campground, right in front of our bus... a dump truck pulling a small "A-Liner" camper! Whatever works....

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Santa Barbara; Paso Robles; Wine Tasting Part 1; San Jose Event; Blue Beacon; Allium; Petaluma

Tempus fugit... Latin for "time flies"... here we are in the middle of June, and I am posting this from Petaluma, California. We left Port Hueneme and headed up the beautiful Pacific coast to Santa Barbara, where we spent some time with Kim Cantin, a friend who had lost her husband and son in the Montecito mudslides in January 2018 when their home was destroyed by a 15 foot wall of mud moving at 20 mph. The devastation is still very obvious and sobering... houses, garages, and even the foundations of many homes were washed away, along with 23 people killed, two of whom are still missing, including Kim's son.

Suzanne and I went for a hike up in Los Padres National Forest, in the mountains above Santa Barbara, and the rainy winter had left the hills well-watered and covered with wildflowers. Rejuvenation of the foliage can't take away all the sadness, but people here are rebuilding their homes and lives and a sense of optimism is apparent. 

This unusual photo was taken after dinner one night with Kim and her daughter Lauren and friends.  Suzanne is holding an actual light saber from the filming of Star Wars, given to Kim and Lauren in honor of Kim's son and Lauren's brother, Jack, who was a huge Star War's fan... never make smart aleck remarks to a woman holding a light saber!!!

Next, on to Paso Robles, home of some of California's best Zinfandel vineyards... but first, we had to go to a tasting... "not wine, Ty... olive oil!" Really??? Actually it was a great stop; we tasted at least 10 different varieties, and I filled up on French bread dipped in olive oil and spices. 

We were headed up to our first wine tasting and saw this falling down barn, AKA as a fixer-upper; I had to stop for a photo, since it might not have survived until we were driving back an hour later...

Wine tasting in Paso is a delight. The weather was warm, and the sun a bit bright, but sitting outside and enjoying the magnificent views was unforgettable.

My Lovely Bride got quite artistic with her iPhone, catching a server pouring a tasting at an adjacent table... 

This signboard gives turistas a quick primer in what to look for in a wine tasting experience...

I can attest that this photo of Scooter Girl was taken BEFORE a wine tasting! Suzanne ordered the same model that Britta Grubin had recommended a week or so ago, and she loves it... and has named it Ananda (Sanskrit for Bliss) thanks to a recommendation from Barbara Kulle.

On to San Jose and Suzanne's Serving Spirit Level 2 class, which was very well received by the participants... 

And on to Lodi, for a couple of great wine tastings, but more important, a bath for our coach... the guys at Blue Beacon Truck Wash also do RVs, and we had several thousand miles of dust to remove. They do a great job at a very reasonable price, and are open 24/7.

Lodi's only problem was the temperature... it's been a long time since we saw triple digits like this! Fortunately, the extra high temps, unusual for early June, only lasted a few days, or they would have burned the grape vines...

Our PT in Lodi was a bit restrained because of the extreme heat - several long walks and a bike ride, but getting out on farm roads between vineyards and ranches was still quite enjoyable. The grapes are still tiny at this time of year, and we wish we could return when harvest time comes in September/October and the bunches of grapes are as big as softballs or even rugby balls.

Speaking of plants, thanks to Brad, Colette, Britta, Gayle, and any other contributors I may have missed who identified the wild onion (Allium aflatunense), "Purple Sensation",  a couple of posts back. Native to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, they are also found in the US as ornamental garden plants. I am often struck by the beauty of the natural world, and the complexity of life forms and varieties surrounding us. 

We have arrived in Petaluma and are staying near the river with this view from a city park with miles of trails for running, walking and biking. We are looking forward to wine tastings with our friends Jerry Facciani and Karen Barrett from Las Vegas, and Holly Berkley from Healdsburg. More about that in the next blog.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

California is So Screwed Up!

Readers of this blog have seen that I avoid political statements. Even though most of you may have surmised that I am a conservative based on my Navy career, I do not criticize liberals in this blog. I was stationed in California twice, in Long Beach and San Diego, back in the 70s, and frankly, I loved California THEN, but I have been appalled by what I have seen in the past month, from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Jose up in the Bay area... I will not go into many details, but this billboard in San Jose broke the camel's back, so to speak... here is what the United States is headed for if we follow these imbeciles in California... imagine the message this billboard sends our children and grandchildren... if you agree with this billboard, please unsubscribe from my blog. Why? In 2017 alone, there were 70,237 deaths from opiod/drug abuse in the USA, compared to 58,220 Americans killed during the ENTIRE Vietnam war, from 1965 until 1975... where are we going??? These billboards are all over California, and probably Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and other druggie strongholds... where will this end?

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Gila Bend; California, Here We Are! San Diego; Port Hueneme

We only stayed one night in Gila Bend. When the sun was setting over the desert and temps had dropped into the high 80s, we got out for an after-dinner walk near the airfield. The control tower was flanked by a huge saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) higher than the tower itself.  

This sign is familiar to us military folks. "FOD" stands for Foreign Object Damage, and every airfield and ship that carries aircraft will have such signs and "FOD walkdowns" several times a day on the airstrip/flight deck to find and remove litter, rocks, snakes, or other materials that could be sucked up into a jet engine intake or blown around by propellers. 

The drive on Interstate 8 from Gila Bend (pop. 2,701), to San Diego, CA (pop. 1,301,617), was an interesting one. The day started warm, but after we passed Yuma, Date City, El Centro and  and Plaster City, we climbed up from the Sonoran Desert over the Laguna Mountains to Laguna Summit (4,055 ft), with a big elevation gain from 227 feet below sea level in the Imperial Valley. Our motor coach strained up the steep 6-7% grade, slowing to 35-40 mph, but still passing many of the heavy semis headed west. The weather cooled and trees started to appear above 3,000 feet. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through this area, but regrettably I didn't have time to hike these mountains.

As  you get into civilization in the Golden State, we saw this unofficial "Welcome to California" sign... YIKES!!!

Arriving in San Diego, we were happy to be able to meet up with friends from Naval War College - Andy Sargent, a Marine Corps F-4 Phantom pilot, and his lovely bride, Marcia, who had written a great book called Wing Wife, about her experiences as a fighter pilot's wife. I was happy to get Marcia to autograph her book; it is a fascinating story - I learned a lot about Andy that I hadn't known back in Newport, Rhode Island when we were classmates in 1980-81.

We also got out hiking with Nita Gill, seen here with Suzanne at a park near Solana Beach. Nita was also gracious enough to have us over for a gourmet Moroccan dinner at her beautiful home with her husband Frank. Nita was in Suzanne's Serving Spirit class in San Diego and took over my book table responsibilities, freeing me up for more hiking. Thank you, Nita!!!

It was a short two hour drive from San Diego to Tustin, just south of Los Angeles. Marj Britt, the former Senior Minister at Unity of Tustin, had invited us to visit. Suzanne took advantage of the opportunity to broadcast her live Unity Radio show, Messages of Hope, from the sanctuary at Unity of Tustin, with Marj as her guest. This photo was taken in the beautiful Spiritual Garden that Marj had designed; if you're in the area, it's a unique experience that you shouldn't miss.

The afternoon traffic in Los Angeles was TERRIBLE, but we finally arrived at our next campground, on the Naval Construction Battalion Base at Port Hueneme, near Oxnard and Ventura, for a six-day stay over Memorial Day weekend. A dinner with Britta and Peter Grubin and their kids Annabella, Juliett and Maxwell was a highlight of the week.  

Britta also taught Suzanne how to ride a "scooter" - Suzanne had so much fun that she's now looking into getting one of her own! (I gave some thought to getting one myself, but after a nanosecond, I decided that I'm too much of a klutz...)

I am a bit more coordinated on the water... we went kayaking in Channel Islands Harbor, where this very user-friendly (read "sissy") kayak launch float allows you to get into your boat without getting your feet wet. You can see that My Lovely Bride is all charged up and rarin' to get paddling...

Some of the floats and piers had a few very large locals lazing about, barking, snoring and occasionally fighting for spots in the sun. There seems to be no convincing these rascals to go to work and catch some fish. California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) are intelligent, feed on squid and fish, but are themselves preyed upon by orcas and white sharks. Males run to 770 lbs., while females average a svelte 220 lbs. Large males have been known to feed up to 250 miles from shore. It can be surprising to find them surfacing near your kayak - our first sighting of the head of a smaller harbor seal made us think that a dog might have fallen overboard from a boat. These guys have obviously had plenty to eat at sea and are now taking some R&R ashore...

Speaking of food... before leaving Southern California, My Lovely Bride made a few subtle hints about taking her out for dinner... like when I would ask, "Hey, Babe, what's for chow?" she would answer, "I'm not sure, Ty, I forgot to take anything out of the freezer; maybe we could go out?" "But Sweetheart, didn't we go out to get BBQ sandwiches for lunch back in Texas a few months ago?" Smack!!! "Okay, okay, I'll find someplace to have dinner..." Carl's Jr. and Taco Bell were all booked up, but this nice lady at a vineyard restaurant said they had decent food on the cheap... Note to self: never trust a nice lady who works in a restaurant... she must have been the cleaning lady. We wound up at Tierra Sur, a kosher restaurant at Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard. The food was exceptional, MLB having a delicious halibut and Your Faithful Correspondent having the best veal ever. I knew we weren't in The Villages anymore when I asked for the Seniors' Blue Plate Special and the waiter suggested the mobile taco stand a few miles down the road... sigh...