Up the Road

J. Stephen Conn

We head up the road this week to Hearst Castle at San Simeon, which ranks right up there with Disneyland as one of California’s premier tourist attractions. Somehow that fact alone puts the place into proper perspective. Media magnate William Randolph Hearst’s castle is a rich man’s playground filled to overflowing with artistic diversions and other expensive toys, a monument to one man’s monumental self-importance and, some would say, equally impressive poor taste. A man for our times.

Photo by Henrique Pinto

We head up the road this week to Big Sur.

The poet Robinson Jeffers described this redwood and rock coast as “that jagged country which nothing but a falling meteor will ever plow.” So it’s fitting that this area was known as Jeffers Country long before it became Big Sur. Writer Henry Miller said Big Sur was “the face of the earth as the creator intended it to look,” a point hard to argue. Here, sandstone, granite, and the sundown sea crash together in an endless dance of creation and destruction.

Up The Road: Steinbeck Country

Nov 8, 2017
All photos by Dorothea Lange, used courtesy the U.S. National Archives and Library of Congress

We head up the road this week to Steinbeck Country.

Mention “John Steinbeck” and people think of Cannery Row in Monterey. Or nearby Salinas, his home town, setting for The Red Pony. Or maybe Baja, for anyone who’s read the impressive nonfiction Log from the Sea of Cortez. But Steinbeck also visited squalid farm labor camps—and towns in the north state, including Gridley, Marysville, and Yuba City. Valley towns can lay serious claim to the Steinbeck legacy, in fact, though most still wouldn’t want to. The Grapes of Wrath won Steinbeck a Pulitzer Prize and eventually the Nobel Prize for Literature, but at the time—and for decades to follow—the book and its author had few friends in California agriculture. But the destitute families he wrote about, the “Okies,” “Arkies,” and “Texies” who migrated to California farm fields during the 1930s, had few friends but Steinbeck.

Matthew Lee High

Today we head up the road to Allensworth State Historic Park, between Visalia and Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley, the only town in California founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. It’s a bit remote. On the way you’ll wonder if you’re lost. But with some imagination you can experience the town when it was young and thriving. And feel the sadness of its passing.

Tom Hilton

Today we head up the road to Manzanar National Historic Landmark, a US government “relocation camp” on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, some six miles south of Independence. At first the sparse landscape says little about the devastation experienced by Japanese Americans held under armed guard here during World War II. But stay awhile. There are many, many stories. The longer you stay, the more this sad landscape speaks.  

Joe Parks, Flickr

Today we head up the road to Mono Lake, an ecological marvel on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.

Robert Shea

We head up the road this week to visit Bodie, California’s official gold-mining ghost town and a very remote state historic park well worth the visit.

Courtesy California State Parks

We head up the road this week to revisit the life, times, and beloved Beauty Ranch of famed California writer Jack London—a fine Sonoma Valley outing.

Not so long ago London’s most popular adventure books, The Call of the Wild and White Fang—both set during the Yukon Gold Rush—were required reading for California schoolchildren. On many lists they’ve since been demoted to “suggested.” (Of course. How relevant is the great outdoors anymore?) So grab the kids, grandkids, or great-grands for a visit to 1400-acre Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, on the eastern side of Sonoma Mountain. There are more than 20 miles of trails—no dogs, even if leashed, allowed on backcountry trails—guided tours, including horseback rides, weather permitting, and fabulous Craftsman-era buildings to explore.

Photo used with the permission of California State University, Chico, Meriam Library Special Collections

Today we go “adventuring” with Mary Ellicott Arnold and her life partner, Mabel Reed, in the wilds of the Klamath and Salmon River country in 1908 and 1909. They worked as “field matrons” for the Department of the Interior’s United States Indian Service, an experience they generously share with us in In the Land of the Grasshopper Song, first published in 1955, which should top your must-read list. Their job was to “civilize” the Indians—the point being to take a kinder, gentler approach than clearly barbaric military action. Thanks to Annie Bidwell, Mary Arnold’s Chico cousin, they had met the special agent for California Indians, and asked to be sent to the roughest, toughest territory. He obliged.

Photo used with the permission of California State University, Chico, Meriam Library Special Collections

This time we explore the legacies of John and Annie Bidwell quite close to home. Annie gets a bad rap for her missionary “maternalism” toward local Native Americans—their “improvement” being one of her causes, right up there with Temperance and women’s suffrage. Improving the Mechoopda meant eradicating all traditional ways and introducing education—book learning, but also new practical skills—and of course Christianity. Instead of a dance house, the Mechoopda village soon had a Christian chapel. And a brass band. And a school. Annie may have stood just four-feet-eight inches tall, but her intentions were mighty.

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