Burr Trail Here We Come…

“A plan once made and visualized becomes a reality along with other realities- never to be destroyed but easily to be attacked. Thus Kino’s future was real, but having set it up, other forces were set up to destroy it, and this he knew, so that he had to prepare to meet the attack. And this Kino knew also- that the gods do not love men’s plans, and the gods do not love success unless it comes by accident.”

― John Steinbeck, The Pearl

Photo Credit : Credit: NPS-Brent and Dawn Davis

And so ours was not, like Kino’s, an epic struggle to survive, but an attempt to dupe the gods who curbed several of our plans by visiting a plague, oppressive heat, and fire upon us. We prepared to meet the attack. Our plan was simple. Visit the Burr Trail in Utah and in the process escape the viral vector and acrid air of climate change induced fires by seeking the most favorable atmospheric conditions and terrain. Our success was not an accident. Average a couple three hundred miles a day on mostly lonely back roads seeking obscure destinations equipped with masks and hand sanitizers. It was two blokes on bikes–no closer than six feet–and six days to get from here to there. Sorry to disappoint you gods, we had a blast and it wasn’t by accident.

Merced to Tonopah

Fall on the east side, US-395 near Conway Summit north of Mono Lake

https://goo.gl/maps/MSXAswqQ8eu8EoJ2A

We left Merced at 8:00 am. We took our normal route over Sonora Pass to cross the Sierra because I wasn’t able to secure two reservations to go over Tioga Pass. Since this Sierra crossing is a leg of the trip we’ve done so many times before, I’ll get on with the novel parts of of this particular journey over the next six days on the road while citing some satisfying memories of former past adventures.

My mate Pete and I have traveled US-6, US-95, NV-375 (The Extraterrestrial Hwy), US-93, and US-50 (The Lincoln Hwy) by way of Sonora Pass (CA-108), US-395, and CA-120 several times. I rode across Nevada on a bicycle with a group of knuckleheads in 1993 from the California/Nevada border all the way to the Utah border in four days. Three years later we rode our bikes across Utah taking six days. In fact we rode bicycles across all of the Western United States over the course of twenty-six years. What have I learned? It’s easier on a motorcycle. And so that’s my plan. Re-ride those bicycle adventures as moto adventures. That’s not to say the bicycle rides weren’t as fun, even though privacy was scat, uh, pardon me, scant, but we were younger then and suffering didn’t matter… as much.

The rider in 1994 will remain shamelessly nameless… (I took the picture, I’m not the subject)

Tonopah, our first day’s destination, lies at the base of a range above a basin that has a remarkable resemblance to every other basin and range in Nevada. I guess that’s why this area is known as the Basin and Range province of the Great Basin. I used to think it was nothing but miles and miles of miles and miles. Riding a bicycle across those miles and miles will do that to you.

After “riding hard” from Merced, stopping for fuel and grabbing a bite in Lee Vining, we stopped 13 miles west of Tonopah at the Miller’s Rest Stop well into the afternoon. We were closing in on mile 296 for the day and though just a few miles from our destination a stretch and nalgas break was taken. Any moto adventure always involves the road, terrain, weather, and landscapes. There’s another dimension too. You meet people, many of whom are on adventures of their own. For instance, meet Tim from Sacramento.

We would cross paths with Tim of Sacramento several times over the next few days

Pete and I pulled in and we soon spotted Tim on this beautiful 1995 GoldWing. As you can see, he had it outfitted with a trailer, complete with a pad for his cooler. He was just finishing up preparing an egg salad sandwich when he walked over to offer us a sandwich and a beverage. We declined the sandwich, but after considering it was only 13 miles to Tonopah, we humbly accepted the beverage with much appreciation.

Like us, Tim was traveling with a few buddies heading to Alamo, NV for the night some 174 miles down the road, considerably greater than our remaining miles. I guess that’s the difference between riding a GoldWing for hours and miles as opposed miles and hours on our Versys and V-Strom. After sharing stories of our respective trips and exchanging other motorcycle pleasantries, we bid adieu thinking that since Tim was heading southeast to Prescot, AZ (his ultimate destination) as we were heading east to Escalante (our ultimate destination) our chance encounter and receipt of gracious hospitality was a bonus feature on the day.

Tonopah, nestled near the base of the San Antonio Mountains and known as the “Queen of the Silver Camps,” like Her Majesty the Queen, is a bit long in tooth. I suspect that the unincorporated town primarily exists today because it is located at the junction of U.S. Routes 6 and 95, approximately midway between Las Vegas and Reno. Oh, and there’s the Clown Motel. I guess that’s as good a raison d’être as is the gas, “food”, and lodging in a mining town that’s seen better days.

We have the Tioga and El Capitan. Tonopah has the Clown…

Has La Llorona taken to haunting the desert?

Tonopah is not exactly a city on the rise, as our Mayor declares Merced to be, unless after dark the denizens of this neighborhood choose to step up and out of the ground… Wait, what’s that shadowy figure in foreground? Could it be an alien presence?

Tonopah to Cedar City

Next gas 111 miles? 111 miles at 85 mph getting 58 mpg with a 5.5 gal. capacity is no problema!

https://goo.gl/maps/qYgTrHf3C7mFPu7WA

Typical of contemporary rural Nevada, its recent history tells a story of abandoned dreams.

These photos were taken at the intersection of US-6 and NV-375. Speed and fuel efficiency apparently replaced the need for stopping at Warm Springs for fuel and sustenance. Pausing for a stretch and nalgas break, a pleasant necessity, apparently isn’t sufficient for restoring the Warm Springs Bar and Cafe to its heyday.

Bound for Cedar City, UT by way of Rachel and Hiko, NV on NV-375 we took a few moments to consider Area 51. And using our best Desert Oracle suspension of reason to contemplate the wonders of obscure yet sustaining alien induced capitalism enroute to Caliente for lunch. What little imagination Warm Springs lacked, the Little A’Le’Inn and the Alien Research Center has in spades.

I don’t wish to make the impression that we found Nevada to be in anyway lacking sophistication or refinement. Unlike the alien gimmick, the town of Caliente trades on its historic Union Pacific Railroad and depot.

Caliente, Spanish for hot, refers to a nearby hot springs and not so much the high summer temperatures…

We also found something that was missing back when I rode a bicycle across rural Nevada. Feast your eyes on our lunches…

In 1994 this salad would have been deep fried

Our last touch with civilization in Nevada was Panaca where we left US-93 for NV-319. Panaca from our perspective was typical of a quiet, not much happening sort of remote Nevada town where cows considerably outnumbered people.

Panaca, NV in 2016: “A Nevada man whose family was nearly killed [weeks ago] by bombs set off by a former colleague has no idea why he was a target.

https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/man-stunned-at-being-target-in-nevada-bombing/

To know Nevada is to not be deceived by bright lights, sleepy towns, or barren landscapes…

With 300-plus ranges separating as many basins in Nevada, from Montgomery Pass (7,419′) just east of the CA/NV border we crossed the last range over Panaca Summit, (6,719′). It was downhill into Modena, UT where NV-319 became UT-56 at the border.

And Now for Some Science:

Temperate deserts of continental regions have low rainfall and strong temperature contrasts between summer and winter. In the intermountain region of the Western United States between the Pacific coast and Rocky Mountains, the temperate desert has characteristics of a sagebrush (Artemisia) semidesert, with a very pronounced drought season and a short humid season. Most precipitation falls in winter, despite a peak in May. Aridity increases markedly in the rain shadow of the Pacific mountain ranges. Even at intermediate elevations, winters are long and cold, with temperatures falling below 32F (0C).

These deserts differ from those at lower latitudes chiefly in their far greater annual temperature range and much lower winter temperatures. Unlike the dry climates of the tropics, dry climates in the middle latitudes receive part of their precipitation as snow.

Temperate desert climates support the sparse xerophytic shrub vegetation typical of semidesert. One example is the sagebrush vegetation of the Great Basin and northern Colorado Plateau. Recently, semidesert shrub vegetation seems to have invaded wide areas of the Western United States that were formerly steppe grasslands, due to overgrazing and trampling by livestock. Soils of the temperate desert are Aridisols low in humus and high in calcium carbonate. Poorly drained areas develop saline soils, and dry lake beds are covered with salt deposits.

https://www.fs.fed.us/land/ecosysmgmt/colorimagemap/ecoreg1_divisions.html

From the xerophytic shrub vegetation of the semidesert through Beryl Junction and Newcastle, we arrived in Cedar City, Utah entering the Colorado Plateau ending the second day of our tour just a few days before the Cedar City Livestock & Heritage Festival…

Who needs melatonin?
Certainly not the citizens of Cedar City…

https://www.cedarlivestockfest.com

Cedar City to the Burr Trail and Torrey

Delicious oatmeal, a mocha, and WiFi…

https://goo.gl/maps/w9e9hJjwN3eSs7P59

Leaving Cedar City after a fine breakfast at The Grind Coffee and Tea we wound our way to the hoodoos of Cedar Breaks. We were there in the morning so the angle of the sun’s illumination wasn’t as impressive.

Sunset, Cedar Breaks Amphitheater Credit: NPS

Hidden in the forested Ashdown Gorge lie the oldest rocks in the monument, relics from a time when Cedar Breaks would have been beach front property! In the late-Cretaceous period (~90 million years ago), southwestern Utah was a shoreline. It’s ironic that the ability of geologists to accurately date these geologic formations lies in conflict with the timeline most Utahans subscribe to. I guess they don’t have any conflict with the tourist dollars these remarkable formations lure.

From Cedar Breaks it was a quick run through Panguitch on UT-93 and “Highway 12 — A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway” to Bryce Canyon. The geology and topography was outstanding. Speaking of tourist dollars, the crowds, rivaling anything we might see in Yosemite mid-tourist season, were surprising. A beleaguered attendant supervising traffic in a parking lot overlooking Bryce Point told us that the number of visitors to the park had exploded in the last several years peaking last year. Though crowded this day, he reckoned that the coronavirus would see smaller numbers of visitors this year. A quick search of Wiki confirms his story:

With 2,679,478 recreational visits in 2018, Bryce Canyon National Park has seen another record year for annual visitation. Recreational visits in 2018 were up by 107,794 visits from last year, and up over 1.6 million visits from 2010. The park has remained above 2 million annual recreational visits since 2016. (NPS)

From Bryce Canyon our route took us through Tropic and Escalante to Boulder. Scenic Byway 12 (SR-12)n is a 122.863-mile-long (197.729 km) state highway designated an All-American Road. SR-12 crosses various parts of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and continues northeast through Escalante and over the Escalante River, then over the Hogback, a narrow ridge with no guardrails or shoulders and steep drop-offs on each side. I recall riding my bicycle across the Hogback in 1997 in a thunderstorm. The air smelled of ozone and the hair on my arms stood erect. I was terrified then. My memory now is that I was heroic!

UT-12 proceeds north through more of the Aquarius Plateau, through Boulder and Grover, ending in Torrey at an intersection with SR-24, five miles west of Capitol Reef National Park where we would spend the night.

After a delicious lamb burger with coleslaw for lunch at the Burr Trail Grill we made our way down the Burr Trail. While ordering, we saw Tim from Sacramento ride by with his crew. We were just a tad puzzled as we were under the impression he was not headed in our direction. Daylight was burning and so it was time to tackle the Burr Trail.

In 1997 our dearly departed bicycling buddy Larry led us on a ride across Utah. I was retracing parts of that tour and our Nevada (1994) tour on this moto trip some twenty-three years later with the goal of taking the Burr Trail once more. In 1996 the Clinton administration designated the Grand Staircase–Escalante a National Monument and it didn’t take long for the 34 mile leg from Boulder to be paved. Me thinks Edward Abbey understood the weltanschauung of the Utah DOT and Visitors Bureau. Progress, I reckon.

And Now for Some History…

John Atlantic Burr was born in 1846, during his family’s journey from New York to San Francisco on the SS Brooklyn while sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. Once they arrived, Charles and Sarah Burr then set out to Salt Lake City with their new baby. As part of the early pioneers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Burr family eventually moved south in 1876 and founded the town of Burrville, Utah.

John Burr grew up to be a cattle rancher in the rugged backcountry of Utah. Living in such a desolate area, he needed to develop a route to move his cattle between winter and summer ranges, as well as to market. This cattle trail through the rough, nearly impassible country around the Waterpocket Fold, Burr Canyon, and Muley Twist Canyon came to be known as the Burr Trail.

The westernmost section of the trail down, some thirty-four miles to the border of Capitol Reef, was paved in 1996. The following summer a group of eleven lads pedalled across Utah, their intrepid leader, Larry Johnston, having planned the route to include this portion of the Burr Trail on what was then, fresh pavement, still warm from being laid. Well, maybe not that fresh, but it was new and little used. From the Day 4, August 15, 1997 itinerary entry Larry prepared:

Day 4, A short cut’s in store, who could ask for more? Ride east from Boulder on the “Burr Trail” and shuttle the 20± mile dirt section through Capitol Reef National Park. Ride south to the ferry at Bullfrog Basin, swim or take the ferry across Lake Powell ($9/car – free/swim) before heading east on Hwy 276 where the day’s adventure can end at Hwy 95. Shuttle northwest on Hwy 95 to the only place to stay for miles, the Fry Canyon Lodge (it’s near Natural Bridges National Monument) maybe $40+ a piece… it ain’t cheap. Distance: 103 miles not counting the shuttles and ferry. Bring paddles/swim suits.

Larry’s posaic description of the Burr Canyon Trail conned us into believing it was nothing compared to what we traversed to get there. The excitement of a short cut would soon be erased to be replaced by our reaction to riding through this spectacular canyon in the morning chilled air with a monumental sense of the sublime. It was at once breathtaking and exhilarating. That was characteristic Larry’s sense of humor, ever the coyote.

Here’s a NPS map of the route

In Torrey we managed to again cross paths with Tim from Sacramento. He actually noticed us passing by as he and his comrades were in search of accommodations for the night and rode to catch us. When I asked, “I thought you were headed to Prescot via Las Vegas?” Tim replied, “We decided to take the scenic route.” I would like to think the enthusiasm Pete and I had conveyed had inspired him back at our chance meeting at Miller’s Rest Stop.

Note: I made GoPro video of the canyon ride, however, my free WordPress account doesn’t permit uploading video. I’ve posted it on YouTube and have linked it to Sisyphus and Associates, my Facebook alter ego.

Torrey to Ely

Packed and ready to roll…

https://goo.gl/maps/y555pSnkw7VBR3at9

Starting the day with a fine breakfast burrito at Paizlee’s in Torrey we hit the road bound for Ely, Nevada, our trip now at its mid-point.

And Now It’s Time for an Observation…

We would head northwest on UT-24 to Sigurd, missing the UT-119 cut-off to Richfield. Retreating on UT-118 south we merged onto I-70 to Beaver. This might be a good time to review the various highways, byways, and two-laners we encountered on the trip. Nevada’s and Utah’s roads were superior compared to most of the roads we’re familiar with in California. Aside from being well engineered with consistently maintained and even surfaces, virtually free of potholes, the roads were also free of the trash we commonly find in California, despite all of the “Adopt a Highway” volunteers.

Of course our population of nearly 40 million is considerably greater than the combined 6.28 million populations of Nevada and Utah. I imagine wear and tear and a cavalier attitude about litter (despite postings of fines) given so many people on the road–just over 15 million registered automobiles rolling over 163,696 mi² of California as compared to just over 2 million autos in Nevada and Utah rolling over 195,456 mi²–beats up the pavement in ways Nevada and Utah are spared, despite the ratio of cars to area.

Taking the UT-21 exit at Beaver, Ut, we traveled through Milford, Frisco, and Garrison, all ranch country sporting circular irrigated fields of alfalfa dotting the otherwise parched xerophytic shrub vegetation of the semidesert terrain to the Nevada/Utah border.

Back to basin and range…

From the border, it’s about 6 miles to Baker, NV where UT-21 becomes NV-487. Baker sits at the entrance to the Great Basin National Park. Pete discovered Baker a few years ago when returning home from a Colorado moto. His stories regaled the festive atmosphere of this artistic gateway to a National Park found in this very small town. When I learned that Kerouac’s Restaurant was going to be closed for the season as we were rolling through, I decided to press on to Ely for our fourth night to cut down our Day 5 mileage.

Just north we merged onto US-6/50. The route was constructed over a historic corridor, initially used by the Pony Express and Central Overland Route and later for the Lincoln Highway. The Nevada portion crosses the center of the state and was named The Loneliest Road in America by Life magazine in July 1986. The name was intended as a pejorative, but Nevada officials seized it as a marketing slogan (the Utah DOT and Visitors Bureau have nothing on Nevada). The name originates from large desolate areas traversed by the route, with few or no signs of civilization. The highway crosses several large desert valleys separated by numerous mountain ranges towering over the valley floors, in what I’ve noted as the Basin and Range province of the Great Basin.

It’s downhill from Connor’s Pass into Ely

Ely, not much to say so I’ll leave it to Wiki…

And Now Some More History…

Ely is the largest city and county seat of White Pine County, Nevada. Ely was founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route. In 1906 copper was discovered. Ely’s mining boom came later than the other towns along US 50. The railroads connecting the transcontinental railroad to the mines in Austin, Nevada and Eureka, Nevada have long been removed, but the railroad to Ely is preserved as a heritage railway by the Nevada Northern Railway and known as the Ghost Train of Old Ely. (Wiki)

Comida, si, si, Californios we be…

By the time we set up for the night in Ely, we were pretty exhausted from pounding out the miles from Torrey. Pete refers to this as, “riding hard”.

Ely to Markleeville

https://goo.gl/maps/ZDXPrurbGMoAVRTE6

Another long day of riding hard lay ahead. We were headed back to California from Ely some 78 miles to Eureka, 69 miles to Austin, and 64 miles to Middlegate on the Loneliest Highway. From there, it would be another 168 miles to Markleeville. We decided to get on with the hard riding by departing a frosty Ely (36 degrees) hoping it would warm up down the road. By the time we reached Eureka, my fingers were popsicles. Time to stop and warm up from the inside out.

After leaving Ely, it was 78 miles to Eureka, where we found the Pony Express Deli
for breakfast!

And Now for Some Avocational Sociology…

It was an interesting cafe. No tourists, just locals except for us. There were a couple of what looked to be freshmen in high school aged girls having breakfast with one of their mothers. I thought about how difficult it must be to be so isolated, from what I learned in 26 years of teaching middle-school aged kids and raising a high school aged granddaughter, about the desire the age group has for their peers and for connecting with a world outside of a small town. Not so much a surprise, I Googled Eureka schools to learn that Eureka High School is the home of the Vandals (Vandals: A people of northern Europe, known for their cruelty and destructiveness, who invaded the Roman Empire and plundered Rome itself in the fifth century.) I guess that’s not much different than Viking or Raider mascots…

To my absolute surprise, I was pleased to see how for the 2020-21 school year there are 3 public schools in the Eureka County School District serving 291 students. Eureka County School District has one of the highest concentrations of top ranked public schools in Nevada. This district’s average testing ranking is in the 10/10, top 10% of public schools in Nevada with a student:teacher ratio of 10:1 which is less than the Nevada public school average of 20:1.

Whoa, there’s one book whose cover shouldn’t be judged.

Eureka, self proclaimed The Friendliest Town on The Loneliest Road in America (Photo: Wiki)

After another sixty some miles of not using any cornering body position, we encountered a 30 minute delay due to repaving of US-50 through the town of Austin. Austin, a well preserved mining town, is known as a “Living Ghost Town”.

Stokes Castle, a strange three-story stone tower, is located just outside town. It was built in 1897 by Anson Phelps Stokes, a wealthy eastern capitalist who had a financial interest in several of the local mines. It was occupied only for a month. Vacant and abandoned, it fell into disrepair. After fueling up, we continued westward.

The long and (not) winding road, leads (not) to your door but to Middlegate Station…

A quick Coke and cup of coffee and from Middlegate we leave US-50 for NV-361 to Gabbs and Lunning. It seems that Happy Hour begins pretty early in the day at the Middlegate Bar…

We passed through Gabbs where the only domestically-mined source of magnesia ore in the United States can be found. You know, magnesia it goes into lots of stuff.

Time for More Science…

Magnesia is considered a “universal neutralizer”, which makes it ideal for applications where pH control is essential for safety and treatment, such as:

Water Treatment
Animal Feed
Spill Response
Industrial Manufacturing
Oil & Gas
Construction
Power Plants
Environmental Waste Treatment
Food & Beverage
Pulp & Paper
Marine Scrubbing /Desulfurization and Epson salts (premiermagnesia.com)

See, Epson salts doesn’t just come from the pharmacy.

Looking north from Gabbs

The intersection of NV-361 and US-95 was just west of Luning which is the only thing I remember about Luning. Next town was Hawthorn, home of the worlds largest ammunition depot. I found an article entitled, “Hawthorne Army Depot: Providing Lethality That Wins,” on the interwebs.

https://www.army.mil/article/223519/hawthorne_army_depot_providing_lethality_that_wins

I guess storing live munitions underground beats storing them in an above ground silo…

Interesting. Fortunately the Army stores munitions much more safely than the Lebanese store ammonium nitrate. Nevertheless, we quickly rode through Hawthorn and skirting the western shore of Walker Lake we made our way to Yerington.

Yerington, on approach, appeared to be a small community of large alfalfa growing ranches. It is also home to the Anaconda Copper Mine, an open pit copper mine that closed in 1978. It is located just west of the town. A company town, Weed Heights, was built to support the mining operation which ran from 1952 until 1978. In Yerington we headed south on N-339 skirting the pit.

Anaconda Copper Mine, an EPA Superfund site (Google Maps)

Like Hawthorne, we didn’t hesitate to make our way through Yerington, though there are many fine people on both sides of the pit, I’m sure…

From Yerington we continued south on NV-339 to Smith Valley. Nevada State Route 339 merges with NV-28 through the valley, leading west 15 miles to US-395 north of Topaz Lake. Skirting past the lake, the California border was in sight.

Amazing what a little water and fertilizer can do for xerophytic shrub vegetation of the semidesert. It’s kind of like west-Merced county

Now heading west on CA-89 we made our way over Monitor Pass to Markleeville for the night and a very nice meal at the Cutthroat Brewing Company.

This building was being remodeled when Pete and I were here in April

Homeward Bound

Left on CA-89 to CA-4

https://goo.gl/maps/m1DdXRhnvgbx5DY77

Our final morning, at a frosty 36 degrees, found up suiting up with our warmest layers. We had Ebbetts Pass and the Pacific Grade Summit on CA-4 to make that morning. Approaching the pass are a series of gnarly switchbacks that require quick reflexive shifting and appropriate body position to navigate the grade and curves.

4 out of 5 were relaxed… One sent the pucker factor through the roof…

The curve just to the right of the middle CA-4 label on the map is a compound curve. According to Wiki, in the jargon of road engineers, a compound curve has two or more simple curves with different radii that bend the same way and are on the same side of a common tangent.

So, this is in physics what I’m trying to explain in English

Given the curve is also on an upward sloping grade of ±24%. You don’t want to be downshifting into first gear to slow on approach then roll onto the throttle at the apex of the turn to increase friction (traction) but suddenly, and accidentally, shift into neutral! The whole physics thing about momentum and friction is, well, actually pretty complicated to explain. But it’s not that difficult execute on a motorcycle.

My failure to execute the acceleration component (by shifting into neutral) neutralized the increase of friction component sending me into a wobble then exiting the turn across the middle of the lane into oncoming traffic. Fortunately, no cars were coming as that could have turned out much worse than it did. Strangely, I didn’t panic and was able to bring the Versys to a stop, upright, shift into first and find the correct line for the next curve making sure of my shift.

Fortunately the remainder of the ride was uneventful. I’ve already written about those remaining roads to get us back to Merced so I’ll conclude by supplying another quote from Steinbeck…

“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Notes and Disclaimers

Unless credited, all photos were taken by either Pete or me.

In Search of Clear Air: Three States in October, maybe…

Clear Air Long Loop Across Nevada to Utah and Back

Go West young man, Go West!

Yikes!

Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go West, young man, go West” is perhaps a little stale, as is our youth. My interpretation of his exhortation is fresh. It seems to me Horace was encouraging the expropriation the frontier in fulfilling the manifest destiny of westward expansion contained in the Monroe doctrine. Pete, Andy, and I don’t intend to conquer or exploit any lands or the people who occupy those lands, but maybe we’ll take advantage of a little pavement in warping Greeley’s advice as a small shift in his slogan provides raison d’être for a road trip. 

There’s not much adventure in sitting home watching YouTube videos of others out having adventures, or worse, the nightly news while breathing unhealthy to very unhealthy, to hazardous air in our smoke trapping, bathtub shaped San Joaquin Valley due to the western wildfires. Our saudade (from Portuguese folk culture), that deep emotional state of melancholic longing, in our case for a thing that is absent due to Covid and smoke, can only be rendered less severe with a road trip. In fact, there’s not much one can do to escape the dystopian trinity+one of covid induced death and illness, climate change induced infernos, politically induced social unrest, and 45’s narcissistic arrogance induced malign management of the past four years to make the dystopian trinity seem even more apocalyptic, except spending the day riding a motorcycle. For those of you who have a different opinion regarding 45, see Steve Martin on behalf of Yours Truly.

Given the Air Quality Map (see above from Sept. 15, 2020) I’m not sure what the air will be like in midish-October when Pete, Andy, and I have agreed (and have homestead clearance) to take a little road trip.  It looks like our best bet, based on the combination of climate, fire, and geography, at least since the beginning of September, would be to consider Nevada and Utah.  And so armed with masks and riding no closer than 6 feet apart we intend to Go East old fellas, go East!

And while our thoughts (cogito ergo sum) go out to the many whose families have had to endure the tragedy of coronavirus whether it be the loss of life, illness, or the financial impacts, the injury and loss of lives and property due to fires, hurricanes, and other natural (and not so natural) disasters, and the consequences of being the subject of the pillars of Caste about which Isabel Wilkerson writes, it is our in our hearts that we acknowledge your suffering and hope for your recovery. 

Go East old fellas, go East!

1,759 miles in 6 days… Piece of cake

Since my inspiration for touring on the moto was inspired by annual bicycle rides across the Western States and my deep appreciation and reverence for western landscapes, the route I’m pitching involves portions of three of those rides through California, Nevada, and Utah.  That leaves Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon for another at-bat.  At this time, fire appears to discourage the Northwestern region and the changing seasons suggest a more central or southerly tour to witness the fall splendor before the wintery cold sets in.  

Day 1, On or About October 11

Our first day of riding will take us over Sonora Pass because I just checked reservations for a day pass to travel over Tioga Pass through Yosemite and no passes are available during our travel window…  Dang!

Once over Sonora Pass we’ll head south on US-395 to Lee Vining (at the eastern base of Tioga Pass, dang!) where we’ll head east on CA-120 through Benton to US-6/95 for miles and miles of range and basin through Coaldale and Millers to Tonopah.  That’s 309 miles of big sky, some twisties over the Sierra, and miles of Nevada Style highways, in all, a full day’s ride to hopefully spend the night… 

…at the infamous Clown Motel

Merced to Tonopah   Gas is available in Lee Vining, Benton, and Tonopah.

Day 2, On or About October 12

Day 2 will find us continuing on US-6 east to Warm Springs where we then head southeast on NV-365 through Rachel, home of the Little A’Le’Inn, to Crystal Springs and US-93.  Nevada Style miles^2

Hey Mr. Spaceman

Then it’s US-93 through Caliente to Panaca and NV-219 east to the Utah border where NV-219 becomes UT-56 10± miles to our first Utah settlement, Modena.

Modena has seen better days

Not much to see in Modena so we’ll throttle on to Cedar City another ±52 miles (288 miles from Tonopah) on UT-56 maybe for the night.  Since Cedar City is at 5,846 ft. we will likely find a good cheap (Covid discounted) motel in lieu of a frosty campsite.

 Tonopah to Cedar City

At Bryce Canyon we can see how do the hoo doos do best what they do…

Or, we can press on another ±99 miles from Cedar City by way of UT-14, a little of US-89, and Ut-12 to Bryce at 7,664 ft. for equally cheap lodging in at the Roadway or Quality Inn at the intersection of US-89 and UT-12 in lieu of an even colder campsite. It’s only 361 miles, ±60% of which are Nevada Style miles. Plus a bonus: a day 3 side trip to Bryce Canyon the following morning.  Piece of cake!

Tonopah to Bryce

Gas is available in Tonopah, the Nevada/Utah border, Cedar City and Bryce.

Day 3, On or About October 13

Cedar City or Bryce to Torrey

Day 3 gets even more interesting IMHO.  From Cedar City, should we elect to stay there, we travel on UT-14 and UT-89 the UT-12 to Bryce and visit Bryce Canyon National Park.

Cedar City to Bryce (Bryce Canyon) and Torrey

From Bryce Canyon we travel east on UT-12 through the unincorporated towns of Tropic, Cannonville, and Escalante to Boulder.  In Boulder we take a side trip down the paved portion of the Burr Trail Road east to the west boundary of Capitol Reef, a 32 mile x 2 “detour” that will easily enter into the top 10 places to have been in one’s life (Right Chuck?).  I was there on a bicycle ride across Utah in 1997 a year after the Grand Staircase-Escalante was declared a National Monument during the Clinton administration and it remains one of the most sublime places I’ve been.

I did my best to keep this a secret, I swear to you Larry…

After a breathtaking out and back–there is an option to take the unpaved, but graded gravel section of the Burr Trail north, back to Hanksville, but I’m not sure Andy’s Moto Guzzi Norge is set up for gravel or his back for washboard as are the Versys and V-Strom. I would imagine Pete and I would be feeling the washboard-back effect too. So we’ll likely continue north on UT-12 to Torrey making it a short but rewarding re(coefficient)* day of 254 miles, all on pavement. 

Bryce to Torrey  

*See the conclusion of this post for a discussion of the ride enjoyment (re) coefficient (rec) as a function of the s = d/t calculation effects on the ratio of riding passion to tush comfort and landscape appreciation (rp : tc + la).

Stayed there (Torrey) in 2015 on a bicycle tour of the area

Bullfrog Update:

Andy has just brought to my attention that his daughter is working in Bullfrog, Utah and he hasn’t seen her for 6 months. He asked about the possibility of visiting her. So, here’s an option from Bryce that will keep the side trip to Capitol Reef on the paved section of the Burr Trail. As I noted earlier, from where the pavement ends on the Burr Trail Road there’s a graded gravel washboard road for 35 miles, south, to the intersection with UT-276. From there it’s ±5 miles to Bullfrog. So that escalates the Escalante portion of our trip to 294 miles through Bryce, Boulder, Burr Trail Road, Torrey, and Hanksville to Bullfrog. A little less than half, Utah Style miles, some washboard-back assasins gravel.

Just to clarify, paved Utah Style miles are similar to Nevada Style miles, less the brothels.

Bryce to Bullfrog

Gas is available in Escalante, Boulder, and Torrey.

Day 4 On or About October 14

Torrey to Baker

Scipio looks in a bit better condition than Modena

Out of Torrey, seeking a more northerly route, we head up UT-24 through Bicknell, Lyman, Loa, Burrville, Sigurd, and just north of Ahrora to US-50 where it continues North to Scipio.

By now we’re road hardened and super ambitious inspired by Horace Greeley and we are heading west, so we will marshal on Westward to Baker, NV to spend the night. With all due respect to Scipio, Baker is mo hippa…

Torrey to Baker

I think we should go for the Stargazer Inn and Kerouac’s Restaurant instead of the Border Inn, describe as “26 rooms plus a convenience store, gas station & bar with slot machines.” Baker is only 229 miles from Torrey, the last ±95 Nevada Style miles. Piece of cake!

Bullfrog Update:

If we make the Bullfrog leg of the trip, day 4 to Baker adds a few, Utah Style miles to the day as we retrace our route from Bullfrog to Torrey. From Torrey we’ll take the same paved route described above. Our 229 mile day grows by 114 miles to 343 miles for the day.

Bullfrog to Baker

Baker’s Stargazer is much mo hippa than what Scipio’s got

Gas is available in Torrey, Hanksville, Bullfrog, Scipio, Henkley, the border, and Baker.

Day 5, On or About October 15

Day 5 features some interesting Nevada Style route choices. You know, mile after mile of nothing but miles and miles over basin and range, Nevada style.

Baker to Lee Vining

Leaving Baker we forge westward on US-50 a.k.a. the Lincoln Highway, a section that follows the first transcontinental road for automobiles in the United States that was dedicated in 1913. The route takes us through Major’s Place, Ely, Eureka, to the vicinity of Austin where a fork or two lie in the road. US-50 has the DNA of its ancestral Nevada Style highway, the L.

The Eastern Section of The Lincoln Highway (pre-Google Maps)
The Western section of The Lincoln Highway (pre-Waze)

Our first option lies 12 miles East of Austin. After fueling up in Austin, we might choose to backtrack on US-50 and peel off on NV-376, a designated AAA scenic byway, back to US-6 just east of Tonopah. From there, we would retrace our outbound route retreating to Benton and Lee Vining. It’s only 455 Nevada Style miles. Piece of cake

Baker to Lee Vining via US-50 & the Scenic NV-376, US-6, & CA-120 Option 1

Our second option lies approximately 58 miles west of Austin in the town of Middlegate where we begin heading south on NV-361 to Gabbs and Luning. From there it’s up US-95 to Hawthorne and from Hawthorne it’s down NV-359 to the Nevada California border where it becomes CA-167 following along the north shore of Mono Lake and Mono City. From there it’s South on CA-395 then to Lee Vining after 421 Nevada Style miles, and we spend the night, perhaps where we stayed at the Lakeview Lodge on our Fool Moon Ride across Death Valley a year ago October.

Baker to Lee Vining Via US-50, NV-361, US-95, CA-167, & US-395 Option 2

Mono Lake from the north shore looking towards the Glass Mountains
Nevada Style pavement

Baker to Hawthorne

Hawthorne before heading to Lee Vining or Bridgeport

Option 3 is to stay in Hawthorne for the night, or not since Lee Vining is to Hawthorne what Baker is to Scipio. West of Austin we head south on NV-2/722 to Eastgate leaving US-50 for ±60 miles. A brief stretch on US-50 to NV-361 to Gabbs and Lunting then it’s north (west) on US-95 to Hawthorne. It’s only 353 miles. But it is Hawthorne, even though the miles are Nevada Style.

Baker to Hawthorne via US-50, NV 2/722 to Eastgate Option 3

Baker to Bridgeport

Then there’s the option 4 to ride from Baker to Bridgeport. It’s basically Option 2, but rather than heading south on US-395 to Lee Vining, since we can’t get a pass over Tioga Pass, we’ll head north about 25 miles to Bridgeport for the night before crossing over Sonora Pass on CA-108. 433 miles, Nevada style.

Baker to Bridgeport Option 4

Baker to Yerington

Our last option is to follow the Baker to Hawthorn route (Option 3) and remain on US-95 through Hawthorne and take Alt-US-95 north another 58 miles passing Walker Lake to the town of Yerington, NV. This route sets us up to return to Merced over Monitor and Ebbitts Passes on CA-89 and CA-4. 417 miles, Nevada style. Just don’t drink the water…

Baker to Yerington Option 5

Yerington, NV home of the Anaconda Copper Mine Superfund Site

Gas is available in Baker, Ely, Eureka, Austin, Middlegate, Hawthorne, Yerington, Lee Vining, and Bridgeport.

Day 6, On or About October 16

Since Tioga Pass is booked, we are left to cross the mighty Sierra either on CA-108, Sonora Pass or over Monitor CA-89 and Ebbitts CA-4 Passes.

Sonora Pass

Regardless of which Day 5 Option we will have chosen, Sonora Pass, CA-108, is accessible from US-395 whether approached from CA-120 from Benton, CA-167 from Hawthorne, or NV-208 from Yerington. Monitor Pass, CA-89, and Ebbitts, CA-4, are likewise approached from US-395. We are hoping to see these passes in their full fall splendor…

Lee Vining and Bridgeport to Sonora Pass

Yerington to Sonora Pass

CA-108 Near Sonora Pass

Yerington to Monitor and Ebbitts Passes

CA-89 Near Monitor Pass
CA-4 Near Ebbitts Pass

Hawthorne to Merced via Yerington over Monitor & Ebbitts Passes 259 miles (225 via Sonora Pass)

Lee Vining to Merced Over Sonora Pass 177 miles (228 miles over Monitor & Ebbitts Passes)

Bridgeport to Merced over Sonora Pass 152 miles (199 miles over Monitor & Ebbitts Passes)

St. Ignatius meets Descartes or how the Nevada Style & s = d/t affects the rec as a function of the ratio of tc + la to rp

Originally, I constructed the ride for to take place over 5 days. I suspect our posteriors will be pleased (see tc below) that I crunched some numbers and chose to add a day. Of course, we have allocated the possibility of a few additional days as all moto adventures are subject to any of the incalculable variables of infrastructure availability (gas and motels or campgrounds), weather, mechanicals, terrain, and fatigue. (That reminds me that Long Way Up debuts on Apple TV, 9/18/2020).

All moto adventures involve a little faith. Insert the Serenity prayer here: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Similarly, all moto adventures involve a little reason. Insert a Descarte quote here: It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well. Let’s see how the I employ my mind to good use because riding by faith and not by sight is dangerous.

Considering the following variables might be a reasonable thing to do. We can at least change some of those variables, while maintaining faith and cohering to the wisdom that allows us to appreciate how the differences affect the ride enjoyment coefficient (rec). A quick perusal of the interwebs indicates riding 200 – 600 miles a day is reasonable given the many variables to consider. Our prior touring experience and timeframe puts us in an ideal ±300 mile range.

rec

Let’s begin by taking the average number of miles we’ll have to endure over the original 5 day pitch to make the 1,759 mile trip. Once we determine the average distance per day, we can arrive at the rec (ride enjoyment coefficient) represented by distance as affected by speed and time. And so distance equates to 1,759 miles/5 days yielding a rate of ±352 miles per day. That’s a tad over our ideal rec of 300 miles/day.

Ratio of rp to tc + la

Now, if we consider a 5 day trip with an average distance of 352 miles/day, speed, s (average mph) = d (our average daily distance of 352 miles) divided by t (the average number of hours we might consider per day of travel) let’s say 8 hours, we can determine the speed we’ll need to maintain to meet our 5 day goal. Therefore, s = 352mi./8hrs results in 44 mph over 352 miles for 8 hours in the saddle not accounting for stopping. In other words we would need to average approximately 44 mph over the 5 days averaging 8 hours per day of riding if that’s all we do is ride during those 8 hours. Doable I suppose, however with a low rec coefficient.

You’re thinking, this speed seems a little unreasonable considering a big chunk of those miles will be Nevada Style well in excess of 44 mph, so stopping for fuel, stretching, and a little sightseeing may necessitate speeding up. Let’s up the speed to 55 mph. 55 = 352/t resulting in ±6.4 hours saddle time/day on average. Speed has a nice effect on decreasing saddle time or tc while increasing la or sightseeing.

Averaging 55 mph, no doubt increases the rp (ride passion) ratio to tc and la (tush comfort and landscape appreciation) concurrently. Faster speed equates to greater ride satisfaction, less saddle time, thus providing for greater landscape inspection.

Let’s see what extending the ride to 6 days, one more day, and how that affects our average distance/day and the ratio of rp to tc & la … 1,759/6 = ±293 miles/day and if we maintain the 55 mph average, then 55 = 293/t would result in ±5.3 hours saddle time. We average of 293 miles over 6 days at 55 mph riding ±1.1 fewer hours in the saddle covering ±60 fewer miles each day. Seems a tad more comfortable on the fundament (tc) as in more time to stretch and more time to enjoy the vistas (la) while keeping good speed (rp)…

Now let’s look at how dropping the average speed to 50 mph for 6 days works on tc and la. 50 = 293/d would result ±5.86 hours in the saddle roughly a half-hour more than the 55 mph scenario, however at a slightly more leisurely pace while maintaining the ±60 fewer miles per day than at the 5 day rate of 352 miles per day, close to the 55 mph rate for the 6 days at 293 miles/day. Maybe there’s with a slight decrease in speed, there’s a proportional diminution of rp that’s related to a slight increase in la at 50 mph. I’m splitting hairs…

So, as we grapple with the speed, distance, and time variables (s = d/t) of the ride enjoyment coefficient (rec) we can appreciate that time clearly affects ratio of ride passion (rp) to comfort (tc) and landscape appreciation (la). Now it depends on what we can actually average in speed over the 1,759 miles in 5 or 6 days of mostly twisty California, a mix of twisty and Nevada Style roads in Utah, and Nevada Style basin and range roads in Nevada with decent weather and/or no mechanicals.

Blissful butts and scenic satisfaction while placating ramble rapture

Kind of like St. Ignatius meets Descartes. Stay tuned. The actual ride report is pending the actual ride

One, Two, Cha-Cha-Cha

After weeks of rehearsing the Covid dance, the state began to open, albeit inconsistently and clumsily, not unlike Sean Spicer’s appearance on Dancing With the Stars.

One step backwards, shuffle left, one step forward,
shuffle right

Three, Four, Cha-Cha-Cha

After that Awkwardness, Let’s Seriously Get

“Once a journey is designed … a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” — John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley”

While sheltering in place, plans for multi-day rides began to take shape. Once a journey is designeda new factor enters and takes over… But with some communities open and other closed, we were hamstrung from traveling any great distance…. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. I doubt that’s what Steinbeck had in mind contemplating his roadtrip in Rocinante with his Poodle Charley, but I’ve tried to twist it to apply here. Just like Sean Spicer tried to, well, you be the judge…

If you’ve followed the blog, I’ve been trying to reprise several bicycle rides of the past now on a motorcycle, the Kawasexy Versys with my friend Pete. In this iteration, designs for a Coastal route up Hwy 1 to Oregon in the fall. Traversing the state, our return home intended to follow back roads through Eastern Oregon, Western Nevada, and Eastern California before the winter cold arrived closing mountain passes.

This plan was filed under, “Someday.” Also filed was the tour of the Basin and Range-Colorado Plateau transition in southeastern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and northwestern Arizona to the Mojave to examine the spectacular basin and range geology, the interesting hydromorphic character of the landscapes, the surprisingly robust ecological diversity, to camp, and to enjoy a beverage. Maybe two. Next Spring, perchance?

Since those aspirational journeys were shelved, Pete and I cobbled together an overnighter to Bridgeport to ameliorate our Covid-cancelled trip to the Mojave back in March while awaiting for Covid to be beaten back so that our aspirations could be realized. We were able to make this trip mid June, just as masking and social distancing were introduced and largely ignored.

Bridgeport Lake, foreground, Mt. Conness in the background
Home is where your tent is pitched
Sunset from our porch

An August prelude to the Oregon trip was designed to travel by moto through the foothills east of here, up into and through Kings and Sequoia National Parks, across the Sierra over Sherman Pass, and completing the circuit, to roll along the Owens Valley to either Tioga or Sonora Pass… However, A new factor enters and takes over... Fire! (See a previous 2018 post, Four Days, a Volcano, Redwoods, the Pacific, and Clear Air)

GOES Image NASA, Aug. 20, 2020

Hidden in the smoke, the coronavirus. More later. It’s time for the next stage of the Tour de France.

April Showers Bring April Corvid-19 Unlocked-down Moto Tours…

It began as it had for the previous four weeks with a text to Pete on Tuesday April 28, 2020, “So, up for a ride? Tomorrow? Thursday?”  

Pete’s terse response, “Thursday”.  

It’s kind of like fishing.  I toss a small bit of bait out by way of text and wait for a nibble.  I reply to Pete, “Okie Dokie…  Thinking about heading up into the higher elevations.”  

Blanchard Rd to Marshes Flat Rd not yet baked golden by summer’s heat

We’ve been getting out, beyond the confines of our homes and dog walks about our respective neighborhoods, in a series of semi-spontaneous “neighborhood” moto tours in this new age of sheltering, social distancing, mask wearing, and sanitizing, all in an effort to avoid the Coronavirus plague while maintaining our sanity and only slightly and with no malice or virus, veering just a bit from the California Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response webpage regarding recreation: “You can walk, run, hike and bike in your local neighborhoods as long as they continue to practice social distancing of 6 feet. This means avoiding crowded trails & parking lots. Californians should not travel significant distances and should stay close to home.” 

With no disrespect for those whose suffering is real, accustomed to unfettered retirement freedom, these restrictions on exercise and travel have been a challenge for my gaggle of sorta-fit retired adventure seeking pals.  Especially since the moto “gang” (see my post Riding Under a Fool Moon) had to cancel our five-day spring trip scheduled to depart on April 8, 2020 to the Mojave when state parks and businesses were suddenly shuttered as we awoke to the reality of the plague.

From Ken Layne, The Desert Oracle, whose spring  photos from the vicinity of Joshua Tree are what inspired us and what we missed! Check out The Desert Oracle podcast: https://www.desertoracle.com/radio/.

So we have interpreted staying close to home to mean one day rides with no stopping for commerce (except to purchase fuel), practicing hyper-social distancing, though there are only two of us, and using sanitizers as necessary.  A motorcycle helmet paired with a kerchief is perhaps equally protective from receiving or transmitting a virus. At the conclusion of the ride, all gear is treated and my bike has never looked as clean.

Wednesday rolls around with no reaction from Pete.  I text out a bit more bait, “Que hora manana?” and Pete replies with another terse response, “8:00 Chevron”

My thumbs up emoji in response gets one right back from Pete.  Two thumbs up and the ride is on, sort of an homage to “two hits and the joint turned brown,” perhaps how we may have dealt with these challenges of existential threat in our youth… These days we hoist a Corona, in lieu of bleach, to toast the defeat of the virus!

Two thumbs up and the ride is on…
Corona with lime, yes. Clorox, uh, with or without lime, no…

On Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. we met at the Chevron on Yosemite and “G” with no particular plan as thus far our Covid-19 Tours have been meticulously planned because I suffer from OMD, obsessive map disorder.  I said they were semi-spontaneous, right?  Planned insofar as I’ve been sheltering at home and with hours to while away and what better enterprise than to meticuolously plan motorcycle escapes.  This would be our fourth “local” ride since Governor Newsom imposed the statewide “lockdown” or “stay at home” orders in California.  

And with that preview, the following are brief descriptions of the trips with maps and directions, and a few visuals for your enjoyment. You’re welcome. The first three were put together prior to riding and the last ride I pieced together after the fact.  Note:  Every ride I take I think about how I need to photograph more of the ride, namely the bikes and scenery, the visuals part.  Afterall, who wants to look at a couple of squinting geezers out playing like a couple of kids…

Covid-19 Moto Tour #I to West Point, CA ±226 miles

Our first trip on April 2nd was a backroads trip over familiar roads with a couple of new avenues to San Andreas and West Point, returning through Copperopolis to our home in Merced.  Since the five day trip to the Mojave was cancelled, we figured (okay maybe we rationalized) a day trip through sparsely populated rural areas with stops only for fuel and to stretch, as we brought along snacks and water to enjoy while social distancing and of course hand-sanitizing, what could be the harm? 

Note we appear to be the only souls in West Point.  And we’re at least 12 feet apart.

Google Map of Tour #1

A note about Google Maps… It seems that the fine folks who code for Google Maps have decided that when you plot a route, save the URL to embed to give others access to your route, and link the route, as you designed it for use in a blog intending to share the exact route, the map randomly reverts back to what some algorithm directs is a more time saving route over busy roads that are uninteresting to this motoist author, <IMHO>.

The first leg of our route took us over rolling hill county roads we often ride bicycles on through orchards, vineyards, rangeland, and a dairy or two along Keys, Olsen, and Los Cerritos Roads while crossing the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers.  

Dry Creek expressing irony

That’s Dry Creek from just off Keyes Rd above.  As you might infer, it might just as well be called Wet Creek this time of year.  Okay, so photographic failure #1: squinting geezer with moto in background instead of foreground (top), and photo-fail #2, moto should be in the foreground of the scenery. I did, however, avoid the squinting geezer.

The ferry is now a covered bridge and a very nice one at that

We crossed the Tuolumne on the Robert’s Ferry Covered Bridge where you can stop, though the new Roberts Ferry Bridge isn’t historical, it replaced the original bridge built in 1916 but it still commemorates the regional history. A short historical walk down each side of the bridge features a series of interpretive markers, each telling the region’s story. The whole tale is there, from the Native Americans who first called the land home, to Robert’s heyday, to the fertile farmlands of Stanislaus County today.

Continuing on Crabtree Rd to Williams Rd you arrive in Knight’s Ferry. We took Sonora Rd north, spanning the Stanislaus River but just a short distance upriver from the modern Sonora Road bridge you come across the Knight’s Ferry Covered Bridge. This is an historical bridge. It is almost 379 feet (116 m) long, with a total of four spans set on stone abutments and piers. In addition to spanning the river, the bridge crosses a historic millrace north of the river. The bridge sections consist of Howe trusses formed out of wooden planks bolted together, with wrought iron tension rods, all joined by wrought iron bearing blocks. The exterior of the bridge is finished in vertical board siding, with a metal roof. So, make the turn north on Shuper Rd, just before the Sonora Rd turn and you will find the Knight’s Ferry Bridge. (Wiki)

The Knight’s Ferry Bridge is a historic covered bridge spanning the Stanislaus River at Knights Ferry, California. Built in 1863, it is one of the best-preserved 19th-century wood-iron Howe truss bridges to survive.

An interesting part of that ride aside from the terrain and landscape was how effectively the stay-at-home orders reduced traffic on the lowland county roads as they were largely deserted save the usual ranch/farm traffic. E Sonora Rd and Milton Rd to Jenny Lind were a bit more active. But stay-at-home didn’t seem to affect traffic as much on Hwy 26 to Valley Springs and Hwy 12 to San Andreas. Rejoining the busy Hwy 49 in Mokelumne Hill, traffic seemed normal for a weekday. Traffic tapered again on Hwy 26 up to West Point.  The one/two-lainers, Railroad Flat Rd and Mountain Ranch Rd, back to San Andreas were pretty vacant.

The verdant spring grasses and wildflowers were a visual feast. We took Pool Station Rd back to Hwy 4 and Copperopolis where the traffic was equal to that on Hwy 49. O’Byrnes Ferry Rd skirted Lake Tulloch to Hwy 120. Hwy 120 to J-59, La Grange, Snelling, and home.

Hill folk live in the hills for many reasons and I suspect chief among them is to live free of the hustle and bustle of towns and cities.

This is how Humphrey Bogart socially distanced in the hills of the Sierra Madres.

Since most of the roads we take, regardless of a pandemic, are rural, through sparsely populated areas, unless you consider the population of cows, there was still little activity at the street level at most of our stops in the little towns we rolled through.  At times, we almost felt as though we were trespassing. Riding without distractions of country road traffic and yet always aware of various other road hazards like potholes and guinea and pea fowl, kept us on the bikes with little urge to stop and take photos having traversed these quaint gold country roads for so many years.  I’ve listed the roads and you have a map so if you like, you can take the tour and your very own photos. Just don’t linger around too much. You never know when you may be ask to show your badge…

Disclaimer: The clip from Treasure of the Sierra Madre isn’t intended to disparage people of Hispanic descent or hill people. It’s a joke, based on a classic Humphrey Bogart film directed by John Huston, illustrating the lengths to which the characters in the 1948 film wished to distance themselves from one another the result of another pan-demic, gold fever! Having taken the edge off of my attempt at Covid humor, I’m not going to explain the pun.

Covid-19 Moto Tour #II to Coalinga, CA ±275 miles

A fine example of Pete’s artistic expression

The next trip on April 16 took us again over familiar and novel roads* to Coalinga via Panoche Rd to Paicines, Hwy 25 to Coalinga Rd, then Hwy 33 back home.

Google Map for Tour #2   

Bikes foreground, scenery background, no squinting geezers… Check!

Sadly, our traditional burrito breakfast at the Paicines Store was foregone in observance of the plague.  This was just a “stretch” stop after the 18 miles of twists and turns of Old Panoche Rd.  We have in the past had to head north a few miles to Tres Pinos for fuel when heading down Hwy 25 on previous trips when Pete was traveling on his volume challenged Bonneville T-120 gas tank.  Confident that our 5.5 gallon tanks on the Kawasaki Versys 650 and Suzuki V-Strom 650 could get us all the way to Coalinga from Merced, we headed south on Hwy 25, aka the Airline Highway, via the Coalinga Rd to where else ?  All the while, *novel virus free.  

I have often wondered why the stretch of Hwy 25 is also known as the “Airline Highway”

Airline Highway AKA CA SR-25

Now we will all know: “The Airline Highway Association was organized in 1933-34 and was composed of representatives of Alameda, Santa Clara, San Benito, Kern and Kings Counties. Its purpose was to establish this “Airline Highway”.

In the Oakland Tribune article, (Tues. June 19, 1934 page 5. “NEW AIRLINE, HIGHWAY TO L.A. PLANNED”) it states “the highway would follow the air line between the northern and southern part of the state as closely as possible”. The use of the word Airline is confusing as we associate it with modern-day transportation. In this sense it is defined as an Americanism dating back to 1805 meaning “traveling a direct route”. (Wiki)

I’ve been experimenting with a GoPro 7 trying to figure out the best way to mount the camera and capture interesting video.  Well, maybe not as interesting as Jamie Robinson’s MotoGeo videos on YouTube or any of the other thousands of talented and dedicated moto-vlogers, but illustrative of the essence of why I love to ride a motorcycle.  At least Jamie and I have that in common. 

Besides filming. editing video is something of a challenge for this old dog, but I’m slowly learning new tricks.  I whittled two hours of video into the following 30 minute unnarrated clip featuring Panoche Roads (New and Old) and Coalinga Rd.  To the uninitiated, it might appear monotonous. To the smitten, eat your heart out…

Remember, Jamie Robinson I’m not.
Remember, Jamie Robinson I’m not, but I don’t just sit on my porch in a rocker
whittling a stick.
I have never encountered an Uber moment on my Kawasaki. Maybe it’s the Ducati?

Sparing your having to read a list of roads, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Hint, these back roads took us to our destination and fuel with only slight pucker fatigue as empty fuel warning lights began blinking at least 30 miles from Coalinga. The flashing light does a good job of keeping your thoughts trending on how to deal with running out of fuel with no signs of civilization on a road much less traveled by plague reduced traffic. I have determined that when the Kawasaki’s fuel warning light comes on and the fuel range indicator showing 30 miles til empty disappears, I have roughly 1 gallon of gas remaining. If the average miles/per/gallon indicator is accurate, I have at least 58 miles, okay, maybe 50, remaining before empty. Therefore when the fuel light comes on I have at least 80 miles of fuel. There was no measure of conciliation in the number of oil rigs that began showing up sporadically in the last 15 miles into Coalinga.

Oil, oil everywhere, but not a drop refined enough to pump…

We arrived in Coalinga and our first stop was a Chevron station on Hwy 33.  Topping off our nearly empty tanks, we reflected and gave our thanks for the dinosaures whose sacrifices made our combustion engines possible. Speaking of dinosaurs (ouch!), we serendipitously met a friendly group on a variety of HD baggers and a Spyder who were affiliated with the ROMPs group from home.  Like us, they were out for the day, perhaps attracted to Coalinga by the aroma of tri-tip grilling. A friendly group who seemed to be practicing social distancing… Or maybe they just though us to be peculiar on our modest touring Japanese motos.

There is the beef. Where are the bikes?

The ramble home was uneventful.  Mostly “airline” roads, Hwy 33 through Westside farming communities of Three Rocks, Mendota, and Firebaugh.  We passed by Harris Farms Horse Division on the Coalinga-Mendota/South Derrick Ave frontage to the Westside Freeway/Hwy-33/I-5. It appears that naming roads in the region is ripe with redundancy. This ranch is where the Harris Farms training track, an immaculately groomed 7/8-mile facility, is located along with the breeding shed that is the home of “world class stallions and Grade I sires claiming an annual conception rate hovering above 90%”.  Hmmm, I wonder what the attempts at bat number might be…  And you thought the only Harris Farms interprise was the resturant and stinky feed lot along I-5.

I remember being introduced to the sport of thoroughbred racing at the training track by a gentleman with whom I worked a couple of summers in the early 80’s as a field rep during the tomato harvest for Tri-Valley Growers Cooperative as a summer job supplementing my elementary teaching gig.  Jim, who worked as a dispatcher for one of the trucking firms hauling tomatoes, was a connoisseur of tracks, county fairs, and racing forms. He attempted to explain to this greenhorn the nuances and subtleties of how to evaluate a horse and the art of wagering respectively.  Of course this was all wasted on me.  I was trying to deal with wazillionaire westside growers who were never satisfied with the news I delivered about how at the peak of the harvest our canneries couldn’t take their excess production from the more lucrative spot market buyers who were refusing them.  You can’t squeeze another tomato into a cannery that’s at capacity I tried to reason.  It’s a little unnerving to have a pistol wielding ranch supervisor threaten one about “sending” a message to my supervisor.  Especially since I was on summer vacation from my fourth-graders. Needless to say, I never developed a passion for horse racing nor am I a big fan of industrial grade agriculture.  This despite the gift of an apologetic Harris Farms sweatshirt and fifth of bourbon following the incident. That’s why we buy most of our fresh seasonal produce from Yang’s, a local Hmong farm/stand.  I since went on to teach middle school kids. I could probably have handled the posturing of that incensed supervisor if I knew then what I now know these days…

The rest of the ride home on Hwys 33, 152, and 59 was it’s usual windscreen-bug-splatter-art producing commute, however, with a little less traffic.

Covid-19 Moto Tour III to Bass Lake, CA  ±169 miles

A week later on Friday, April 24th, we rolled to Bass Lake over many familiar roads but with a rearrangement of segments and directions making it a semi-new ride.  That’s the beauty of two wheels.  You face forward peering into the future, a future that may hold any number of road conditions, migrating animals, unfocused motorists, or errors in judgement distracted by splendid scenery, any one of which just might end an otherwise beautiful day’s ride permanently. The pitch of the landscape changes on the return trip creating a new future only slightly associated with rolling over the very same of the recent past.  Curves with mountain sides to the right and precipices on the left are now curves with precipices on right and a mountain sides on the left.  Eyes remain keenly focused for any sign of the aforementioned hazards or distractions as well, even though it’s an out and back only traversed minutes before.  If it’s a loop ride then only the future lies ahead.

Google Map Link for Tour #3

Sadly, as you can see, this photo features yet another photo-fail.  The scenery and moto are secondary, overwhelmed by the grizzled photo bombing geezer.  At least you can’t see the squinting eyes masked by the glasses. Willow Creek that empties into Bass Lake in the background was the star of the photo.  More of the motorcycle in the foreground with more of the starring background scenery (and none of the geezer) would have garnered the supporting actor honors for the bike.  

I don’t know what possesses me to take a selfie when I know that in viewing the photos later I’m profoundly disappointed.  Especially when that selfie is the only photo either you or your partner Pete took to commemorate the ride… Did I mention I’m no Jamie Robinson?

On this ride our route took us from Merced East on Hwy 140 to Agua Fria with a right turn onto Yaqui Gulch Rd to Buckeye and Ben Hur Rds to Mormon Bar where we jumped on Hwy 49 through Bootjack, Nipinnawasee, Ahwahnee to Oakhurst. Road construction and bumper to bumper traffic on the very busy Hwy 41 that bisects Oakhurst found us taking Crane Valley Rd to The Forks on Bass Lake. We whipped around the lake on Rd 222 to North Shore Road to check on Pete’s partner Cheryl’s recently sold cabin and returned by way of Rd 222 and 221 to North Fork Rd, Finegold and O’Neals. Bombing down Hwy 41 we turned west on Hwy 145 to Rd 400 taking us along the southern shore of Hensley Lake that looked pretty empty for this time of year. Road 603 through Daulton, Rd 29 and Ave 26 back to Santa Fe Ave got us to Le Grand where our bicycle zig zag on E Savana, S Burchell Ave past Jay’s to Childs Ave, Planada, then Plainsburg Road to South Bear Creek drive (not far from where SoBe found me) took us home.

SoBe, Sisyphus’s associate named for South Bear Creek (and not tea), where it was love at first sight. But that’s another story…

Covid-19 Moto Tour IV to Pinecrest Lake, the Clavey and Tuolumne Rivers ±248 Miles

That brings us to where this installment all began back on Thursday, April 30.  On the spot, after fueling up at the Chevron, getting a shocked expression from Pete that I had formulated no explicit plan with step-by-step Google directions, I suggested we go up to the Donnell Lake Vista or Dardanelle on Hwy 108 near where Hwy 108 over Sonora Pass is closed for the winter.  Mind you I was in my mesh gear because we were experiencing something of a heat wave (temps in the 90’s) in the Valley and I only had a t-shirt as my base layer and shorts under the armored mesh pants.  

Pete’s wheels began turning as we tossed about a route to take since his catalogue of the local “backroads” has been honed over some 50 or so years riding motorcycles.  We agreed on a route that would avoid most of the highways even though, because of stay-at-home orders, traffic was considerably reduced. We simply prefer back road touring.  There’s a purity or authenticity to the experience when you can ramble through an area or region away from the monotony of the slab and cookie-cutter boulavards lined not by repetitively interchangeable chain stores and eateries, but interesting “natural” landscapes.  Not much is natural about rows of almond trees or cows on pasture but it has an aesthetic value superior to strip malls <IMHO>. That is not to say I don’t enjoy the convenience of shopping centers or an occasional burger at In and Out, or tacos from Ramon’s or M&D, it’s just that battling traffic doesn’t enhance the motorcycle experience, <again, IMHO>.  

Google Map Link Tour #4

The trip took us through the foothills into the Sierra above Sonora on back roads including Algerine-Wards Ferry Rd to Tuolumne Rd past Black Oak Casino, closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I guess even casinos aren’t willing to gamble by permitting their Social Security slot playing patrons to mingle in the confines of the 50,000 square-foot gaming floor with 11,000 square-feet, smoke free. I wonder what the odds are on dying from smoking related diseases compared to death from Covid-19. I suspect the timeline is a factor and that the casinos have calculated there to be limited liability…

I know. The May rides will be better. More moto and scenery, less squint and repetitive video. Left to right, Marsh’s Flat (again), dual selfies at Marsh’s Flat and Pinecrest Lake.

We took the Kelley Grade portion of Marshes Flat down to Moccasin and west on Hwy 49 to Jacksonville Rd where we headed north to Stent Cut-Off Rd (wait, doesn’t a stent increase flow?) to a lovely wooded country Algerine Rd that became Algerine/Wards Ferry Rd popular with the bicycling crowd. More twists and turns on Wards Ferry Rd north to Tuolumne past the aforementioned Black Oak Casino to Hwy 108 and Pinecrest Lake which was “closed” except we were able to ride up to the lake as roads through the community of cabins allowed us to access Pinecrest Lake road. A stretch, walk down to the lake, and some snacks from our top boxes allowed my fingers, numb from the cold, to restore feeling.

Pinecrest Lake, not yet filled for the summer season

The turnoff to Pinecrest Lake also includes Dodge Ridge Rd where the ski resort, our family’s favorite, is buttoned up for the summer.

I’m not sure what the winter geezer rules are for photos…

We decided to forego gaining more elevation as the temperatures were dropping pretty quickly from Cold Springs so we reversed our course and headed back down Hwy 108 for the town of Tuolumne where we then headed east in the direction of Cherry Lake by way of Buchanan Rd/Forest Route 1N01. The road is well paved and is filled with superb twists and turns down to the grand Clavey and Tuolumne Rivers in fine spring runoff form.

Pete is preparing to take a photo of the Clavey River so since it’s a picture taken of him, and so it isn’t a selfie and there is a moto in the foreground. The photo on the right is self-captioned. In chalk.

Technically, this isn’t a selfie.  Part of the moto is in the foreground and the scenery is stunning, the Clavey in splendid spring runoff 
A shadow of a mirror and handle bar in the lower right corner, sort of qualifying as a moto in the foreground, featuring the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.

The photo above is a view of the Rim Fire burn scar taken from Cherry Lake Rd above the Tuolumne River Canyon. The fire started on August 17, 2013, during the 2013 California wildfire season and grew to be (at the time) the third-largest wildfire in California’s history having burned 257,314 acres.

This is our son Derek igniting a backfire when he worked the Rim Fire with CalFire

The inferno was caused by a hunter’s illegal fire that got out of control and it was named for its proximity to the Rim of the World vista point, a scenic overlook on Highway 120 leading up to Yosemite.

Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) was in abundance along with a number of other native wildflowers (excluding the invasive Scotch broom front left) covering the burned hillsides of the Tuolumne River canyon and the fragrance that afternoon was intoxicating. Unfortunately chamise is oily and highly flammable as the season wears on and conditions dry. On the other hand, it is an excellent plant to stabilize the fire ravaged hill sides. It’s just like nature to giveth and taketh away…

Speaking about “taketh-ing” away, back on Hwy 120 from Cherry Lake Rd to our turnoff, the return ride made its way past the Dead Toenail curve near the intersections of Smith Station and Greeley Hill Roads about 8 miles north of Coulterville without incident.  It seems we have exorcised the bad juju from that curve that was earlier referred to (never again to be mentioned) in my Riding Under A Fool Moon post. Did I mention that earlier?

Does a semi-selfie count? At least I’ve spared you the squinting

Pete’s expression pretty much summarizes what he’s anticipating I will eventually write about the ride. After a brief stop in Coulterville, again practicing social distancing, we avoided stopping at the Coulterville Cafe and General Store for our usual ice cream bar and stimulating coffee beverage. After a brief stretch, we made our way home on the usual roads reinvigorated having gotten out of the house for a couple of hours doing what we love.

Stay tuned for May’s rides as loosening restrictions may make for an overnighter.   Until then, stay safe all!

 

Baja Daze

Chasing John Steinbeck and Doc Ricketts

Let us go, we said, into the Sea of Cortez, realizing that we become forever a part of it; that our rubber boots slogging through a flat of eelgrass, that the rocks we turn over in a tide pool, make us truly and permanently a factor in the ecology of the region. We shall take something away from it, but we shall leave something too. John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Bahia de Los Angeles

In the late eighties and early nineties I was fortunate to have worked in a school district that, at the time, was on a “year-round” academic calendar. That meant that rather than school recessing for the traditional June through August summer recess, tracks would rotate breaking up the traditional summer vacation such that recess would occur during seasons other than the summer as one of four academic tracks would be “off” at any given time. I was on “A-Track” so my off-track periods were late October through November, late February through March, and late July through August. The fall and spring breaks afforded me the opportunity to spend time with a group of friends, whose calendars were also flexible, in Baja California during its most hospitable seasons. My summers were for sailing, bike riding, and hiking to prepare for the Baja trips.

My friend Bob Randolph had a small casita complete with palapa on the beach known as La Gringa north of the small village of located at the coastal bay along the eastern shore of the Baja peninsula. Dave Medley and Dwight Wigley rounded out The Boys’ Pleasure Club whose Thursday night and weekend beer can sailing race/potlucks on Lake Yosemite and never-planned-more-than-24-hours-in-advance-semi-spontaneous-bicycle-rides around Merced at twilight were our primary club endeavors according to the club’s unwritten, and except on Wednesday evenings, unspoken charter.

Tom’s rig loaded for a fall trip minus the O’Day (l-r Dwight, Dave, & Tom)

Though inspired by rereading The Log from the Sea of Cortez but in the context of my middle-thirties, divorced, and obsessed with sailing and riding bicycles (motorcycles were to come later), there was little hesitation in deciding to abandon families, stowing boots, beer, and some other worthy provisions, lashing boats, bikes, and boards to our rigs for week or longer excursions along the coasts, into the mountains, and across the deserts of Baja. Expanding the geographical reach of the Boys Pleasure Club, along with a little re-branding, these trips became the annual spring and fall southern pilgrimages of El Club de Placer de los Chicos.

A Personal Journey of Discovery

I, like most of my contemporaries, was introduced to John Steinbeck at Merced High in my freshman English class by Mrs. Russell. It wasn’t until I was in college and had exhausted reading nearly all of Steinbeck’s

fictional catalog that I discovered The Log from the Sea of Cortez. I was aware of Steinbeck’s characterization of Ed Ricketts from The Long Valley, Cannery Row, and Tortilla Flats. I believed him to be yet another fictional character, a blend of Steinbeck’s imagination and experience. It was only after visiting the Pacific Biological Laboratories on Cannery Row, a remnant of the past swallowed by the themed tourist attractions along the row of converted canneries Steinbeck made famous in his work, that I believe I intellectually grasped the basis in reality of his Doc Ricketts character.

The experiences on board the Western Flyer opened my appreciation for exploration and from that time forward I formed a personal ‘mental peg’ on which to hang my experiences on our latter day expeditions. I began to formalize my focus in teaching to value how first hand concrete experiences, in concert with previously acquired knowledge, could dramatically facilitate and expand one’s understanding of the world. It seems to me the voyage of Steinbeck to the Sea of Cortez distilled how important it is to provide opportunities and experiences in classifying and grouping information, using outlines and hierarchies to facilitate the assimilation of new information with previously learning, to gain further understanding of complex ideas, all the while developing deeper logical analytical thinking of part to whole and whole to part relationships. That was in fact the evidence I gained that reassured my effort to promote Developmental Learning as the basis for my classroom practice rather than cultivating disparate facts.

Clockwise from upper left: John Steinbeck, Ed “Doc” Ricketts, Pacific Biological Laboratories back-in-the-days of The Log, and now (Credit: The Interwebs)

Steinbeck wrote of the brief stop of the Western Flyer in Bahía de los Ángeles, our destination and the northernmost reach of his voyage, which he regarded as having a sinister feeling as though, “we were interfering with something, that some kind of activity would start only when we left.” We never once felt unwelcomed on any of our later day visits, even once when Bob flew in to meet us and four ununiformed gentlemen in a pickup with automatic weapons showed up to watch us unload his gear from the Beechcraft. They quietly left when they were satisfied we were harmless gringos, too goofy in our seeming frivolous preoccupation to regard.

Specimen collection on the voyage of the Western Flyer began along the eastern coast of Baja beginning at the southern tip of Baja at Cape San Lucas then proceeded north along the western shore of the Sea of Cortez up to Puerto Refugio on Isla Ángel de la Guarda, the nautical midpoint of their voyage and the relative conclusion of their mission of specimen collection before returning to Monterey. The book details their six-week marine expedition made in 1940 from March 11 – April 20 where Steinbeck was accompanied by his friend Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist, and his four man crew, Tony Berry the captain, “Tex” Travis the engineer, and two able seamen, “Sparky” Enea and “Tiny” Colletto. Though there is no mention of her at all, Steinbeck’s then wife Carol was also on the voyage.

Aboard the Western Flyer, Steinbeck (second to the right) stands behind his wife Carol and other friends and crewmembers in 1940 before embarking to the Sea of Cortez.
(Credit: Ed Ricketts Collection/Courtesy Western Flyer Foundation)

In 1951 The Log from the Sea of Cortez was published and was remarkable in that it was Steinbeck’s first non-fiction work which coincidentally laid the basis for understanding the emerging discipline of ecology, the branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms. It seems to also give rise to his desire to reflect on what was a changing nation and world with the publication of A Russian Journal, Once There Was a War, Travels with Charley, and America and Americans. Not bad for a 1962 Nobel Prize winner in literature. Here is his acceptance speech, worthy in these days of uncertainty to think about: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1962/steinbeck/25229-john-steinbeck-banquet-speech-1962/

Ecology, this new way of connecting the varied life forms to their environment and the effects of competition for resources and survival about which Steinbeck lays out in The Log was greatly informed by his collaboration with Ricketts. But the work is also as much a book chronicling Steinbeck’s relationship with and his high regard for Doc Ricketts as he illustrated their thoughts on philosophy, science, culture, society, and politics. This was to become the well from which Steinbeck’s subsequent fictional and non fictional writing would spring. It is widely viewed as Steinbeck’s personal favorite endeavor.

When I first read The Log it was my introduction to citizen science as from Steinbeck’s perspective; his fascination by his friend’s understanding of the complexity of intertidal zones and his, Steinbeck’s, ability to write sublimely about the natural world and our human interface as Rickett’s secretary. Just as Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey, and John McPhee have informed my construct of the West, Steinbeck opened my thoughts of the concept of Baja and direct experience. The Log’s narrative went beyond the dry taxonomic classifications of organisms found in an environment, broadening the scope of observation to include the interaction of organisms with one another and their environments along with the impact of the observers on these processes. Can the whole exist without the parts? Do the parts exist disunited from the whole? Questions of that sort and some beer drinking provided the perfect philosophical latitude and longitude as the waning days, absent the distraction of electrically powered devices, left us open to emulate “Western Flyer contemplation”. All that was missing was the bobbing of the casita, anchored on terra firma.

It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again… from The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1)

Los Chicos de Club del Placer In Pursuit of Adventure

Destination: BOLA (Google Maps)

Finding our trips to be without a pretense of regard for science I couldn’t help but quietly view our experiences through the lens of the citizen scientist, unburdened by formal nomenclature, but with appreciation for some organization, to look beyond the pursuit of activity and recreation to try to relate to purpose of expanding understanding of the natural world as did the voyage of the Western Flyer some fifty years prior.

We had no urge toward adventure. We planned to collect marine animals in a remote place on certain days and at certain hours indicated on the tide charts. To do this we had, insofar as we were able, to avoid adventure. From The Log from the Sea of Cortez.

I suspect we achieved something of an inverse of the Western Flyer’s 95% observation to 5% adventure ratio finding brief opportunities to observe 5% of the time while “adventuring” the other 95% of our stay. The only marine animals we collected, we ate. Those we observed we respectfully admired.

From space, BOLA (Bay of LA just to the left of the almost Mid-peninsula Isla Ángel de la Guarda), looks pretty deserted and awfully dry (Credit: NASA)

The 812± mile trip south was generally a two day affair where stops in Baja at a variety of humble communities were made. I do remember one non-stop, pedal to the metal trek when Dave, Dwight, and I drove through the night to meet Bob who would fly down after our arrival. I wasn’t sure if he just did that to impress us or if he really did have a major deal in the works that would keep him from joining us for the drive…

A quick stop in Ensenada to check out La Bufadora (Credit: Tj)

On another occasion, after a late start from Merced, we made a stop in LA to spend the night in a vintage Silver Streak at a trailer park on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. This after picking up the keys from Bob’s attorney in Beverly Hills whose “Silver Streak getaway” it was in which we stayed the night and whose primary residence where we picked up the keys was just across the way from (Aaron 90210’s) Spelling Manor. I guess Bob was a major wheeling deal maker…

The next morning, and on other subsequent “non-major-wheeling-&-dealing” trips south, we were off to San Diego for the last reliable tank of gas which would then be followed by another 12-14 hours traveling on Carretera Federal 1 as the real adventure was to commence.

Crossing the border and leaving the rat race and fuel from known sources behind

Making our way through Tijuana as quickly as possible delayed stops until Ensenada or Punta Colonet. On one occasion, just south of Punta Colonet, we headed east to Rancho Meling, a legendary stop for endeavoring thumper and dual sport riding tourists and wannabe racers traveling the famed Baja 500 or 1000 routes. We spent night at the Rancho located at the base of the Sierra San Pedro Martir Mountains. To get there, at about 140 km (86± miles) from Ensenada you come to the small village of Ejido Diaz Ordaz where you turn left when you get to the signs for the Observatorio Astronomico Nacional and the Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Martir, the actual reason for the detour. Drive another 50 km (30± miles) east on a paved road until you get to the Rancho Meling entrance then turn right down the dirt road about 2 km (a bit over a mile). You have arrived.

Don’t expect the Ritz, but Meling Ranch is definitely the place for anyone seeking a taste of “Old Baja” (Credit: J and D’s Corner, looking east, from the Interwebs)

There we enjoyed horseback riding, great food, cold beverages, and a failed trip to the Observatorio. We aborted our effort to visit the observatory because we were stuck behind a broken down flatbed with sacks of cement, a mixer, and other materials bound for the observatorio on a very narrow single lane road. After watching the three members of the truck’s crew getting the truck started, running around to remove the rocks from behind the tires to keep the flatbed and cargo from careening backwards downhill, stalling the truck again, then running back to replace the rocks behind the wheels to keep the truck from, once again, careening downhill… We witnessed this at least half a dozen times, even getting out to help with the rock toting to prevent careening into Bob’s Suburban sending both vehicles and rock toting occupants from careening downhill. But BOLA called and we safely backed our way down the mountain, engine and brakes intact with no careening, intending to return to the observatory another day.

Observatorio Astronómico Nacional (Credit: Wiki)
Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir… There’s an observatory rumored to be somewhere up there (Credit: the Interwebs)

Next stop along the way would normally be in San Quintín, some 600± miles from home. Here I recall we stopped for a delicious lunch of fresh langosta (neither a lobster or a prawn) at the The Old Mill. San Quintín had by that time become a multinational corporate agricultural region and destination for Americans to live part-time. Historically, People inhabited this area more than 10,000 years ago. Later they would be known as the Cochimi Indians. They learned how to live and survive on native plants, fish and wild game. In the more recent history, a British owned company had an idea to grow wheat that they would then transport by railway. Nearly a hundred English colonists bought tracts of land, planted wheat and built the gristmill. In the 1880s a train track was being laid, meant to hook up with the Southern Pacific RR in California. But the idea of wealth from this venture began to fall apart as a severe drought devastated the first harvests and the colonists abandoned San Quintin by 1900. There is said to be a 17-ton, six-wheeled locomotive underwater at the mouth of the bay. It must have been one heck of an accident and a story in its own right. Downright recalls to me the history of the Owens Valley and the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. (Source: The Baja Storyteller by Martina). Baja, like the Owens Valley, is filled with stories of boom because of vast resources and bust the result of over exploitation of resources and the people or the miscalculation of climate in terms of sustainability. Tourism, The Old Mill, and modern agriculture, however, are testimony to the resilience of the people and resources of Baja. Same for the East Side except for the agriculture part.

A mere 65 miles further when bypassing San Quintín involved a stop at El Palomar and yet another fine meal would give us a chance to stretch and “freshen up” while fueling up for the final remote stretch to BOLA. While we were anxious to arrive at Bob’s casita in LA Bay, lingering at the stop in El Rosario de Abajo was perhaps one of the most “spiritual” in the sense that the history of this area was revealed to us in a most visceral way. As you can see below, there is an abundance of moisture in this area, the result of favorable weather/climate influences of the Pacific Ocean. It is the site of the two earliest Dominican Missions founded in 1774 the Misión Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario de Viñadaco that would be relocated along the Pearl River. (To learn of the history of area please refer to the following link with photos by David Kier: https://www.discoverbaja.com/2014/08/19/the-spanish-missions-on-the-california-peninsula-19-nuestra-senora-del-rosario-de-vinadaco-1774-1829/ )

As we investigated the adobe ruins along the Pearl River that empties into the Pacific we noticed a disquieting reveal beneath our steps of hundreds of bones of human remains that had been exposed by recent flooding along the banks of the river. It gave us pause to think of the hardships faced by the indigenous people upon the arrival of the missionaries.

In 1790, Padre Luis Sales wrote the following:

In the year 1774 we were given an order to explore some territories in which to found new settlements and to establish the conquest of the heathen, and this in spite of the fact that the Franciscans had explored the locations indicated by the King and reported them as useless. Nevertheless, whether because of rains or the freshets of the arroyos, or other circumstances which I omit, a place with many heathen, called Viñatacót, was found, which served for the foundation of a mission named Nuestra Señora del Rosario, and it has turned out so prosperous that today it is one of the richest settlements, supplying much grain to maintain the neighboring Indians.”

Negotiating lodging and meals was much simpler than fuel (Credit: Tj)
There’s a new mission in town… (Credit: Tj)

The Final Push to the Bay of LA

Magna Sin or just sin?

Obtaining fuel was one of the trickier transactions to make in Baja in that era. There were places where you could fuel up at a Pemex station, the only official (federal) outlets where you could purchase fuel in Mexico. Sin and Magna Sin were the two choices. The unleaded gasoline was called ‘Magna Sin,’ roughly translated: “without Magna” which was supposed to be free of magna, presumably lead, and have an octane rating of around 90. Forewarned, we brought additives to protect the recent model of vehicles we used. We also experienced a two tiered pricing phenomenon for Magna Sin of alleged, at best, but likely unknowable, octane rating. The Chicos del Club Placer, with toys in tow paid a slightly different price than locals. Generally a few pesos mas. That wasn’t quite the same experience when fuel of complete uncertainty was purchased on the side of the road siphoned from a barrel or jerry cans from the back of a beaten up pick-up truck. The law of supply and demand was not lost on the local mobile fuel supply entrepreneurs at whose mercy we were.

Señor, ten piedad de nosotros, as this is unlikely a Pemex franchise (Credit: Interwebs)

Before heading east across and then south along Carretera Federal 1 down center of the Baja peninsula we had to consider the remoteness of the terrain and whether there would be fuel at the turnoff to BOLA just beyond Cataviña or just before Punta Prieta near where Hwy 12 takes off to the east towards Bahía de los Ángeles. Our hope was at least there would be some relief offered by enterprising entrepreneurs, since the Pemex station at Cataviña was rumored to be closed. We were faced with the following calculus: It was roughly 150 miles from the Pemex in El Rosario to what was likely fuel of unknown origin at Punta Prieta and another 50 miles to Bahia de los Angeles. In my new 1992 Chevy CK-2500 pickup with a fuel capacity of 34 gallons and a rating of 12 mpg combined city/highway we had a distance of 408± miles between fill-ups. If we were traveling in Bob’s new 1991 Suburban, it had a 40 gallon capacity with a 13 mpg city/highway rating for a 520± mile range. Pedazo de pastel, right? But considering we were towing a boat, along with bikes, boards and other gear and with our passenger weight, in the mountains, a 30% reduction in fuel efficiency didn’t seem unreasonable. The challenge was on… It was LA Bay or bust!

Mission Hotel in Cataviña… A tennis court and swimming pool, but…
… the gas station was, and apparently is, still closed in Cataviña (Credit: Recent photos from the Interwebs)

The uncertainty of fuel availability in Cataviña or Punta Prieta didn’t stop there. Another variable in our calculus was that uncertainty followed us to BOLA because there was no Pemex station there either. But Bob’s experience in LA Bay put us at ease as he knew that an entrepreneurial spirit reigned among the locals who would very likely be able to provide us with enough fuel to explore and get back to El Rosario. It seemed to be in their best interest to find a work-around the federal control over the distribution of gasoline. So in acknowledging the invisible hand of supply and demand, we weren’t too concerned as we could always trade one of our toys for a gallon or ten of fuel of unknown octane and origin. We were banking on the invisible hand because the round trip from El Rosario to LA Bay and back was 588 miles. Considering we had an optimistic range of 408 miles in the CK2500 and 520 miles in the Suburban that would leave us with -180 miles to explore in the pickup and -68 miles in the Suburban. This was, however, without considering our gross weight and the terrain effects on mpg. Even quantum mechanics, given my humble understanding, can’t reconcile negative miles of travel. There had to be fuel in BOLA! Perhaps Guillermo could hook us up…

Sonoran Desert scenery, boojums, cordon, et. al., near Cataviña, Baja (Credit: The Interwebs)

Driving in Baja was also an interesting exercise in interpreting intent, namely with turn signals. On many of the winding ridge routes where a quick glance down the canyons below revealed the rusting remnants of poorly negotiated curves, we would find ourselves behind a vintage quarter-ton pick-up with at least three tons of goods stacked precariously and towering above the bed and cab secured by, well that was generally undetermined. It was apparently common place for goods to be transported in such manner on the trans-peninsular mountainous portion of Highway 1 in Baja. Since my experience when using a turn signal was to indicate my intent to make a turn, it was, with caution I learned, when a turn signal ahead of us was used it may be to indicate the intent to turn or an invitation to pass. You might imagine the consequence of misinterpreting the intent of the driver of a sluggish vintage overloaded truck ahead. And that’s if his turn indicators functioned. The risk/reward coefficient of passing was in direct proportion to the angle of repose.

¡ BOLA Finalmente!

We survived the challenges of fueling, tolls, road surfaces, driving customs and behaviors, while never being stopped to pay a mortida tribute. But we did witness a shakedown of sorts by what appeared to be Sisters of the Unorthodox Crowdsourcing Order (Hermanas de la Colección de Dinero Poco Ortodoxa Charities) for the destitute, ill, and orphaned would on occasion, interrupt otherwise open roads. Once there was a menacing looking group of un-uniformed gents with semi-automatic weapons supervising the roadblock. I’m sure they were there for a twofold purpose: Protection as well as extraction. Needless to say, we generously donated to the cause of the orphans despite the unorthodoxy.

O’Day, pre-bent-mast, my new CK-2500, and Zodiac inflatable in the background… Not quite the Western Flyer. Then again we weren’t quite the crew of the Western Flyer (Credit: Tj)
La Casita del Roberto with all of the pleasantries of home, simplified (Credit: Tj)
Bahía de los Ángeles, aka LA Bay, Bay of LA, & BOLA
Coordinates: 28°56′53″N 113°33′37.44″W
(Google Maps)

LA Bay, like much of Baja California, has a predominantly arid desert climate. At the north end of the bay lies Punta La Gringa and to the south is Playa Rincon. There are sixteen islands off the coast. On the eastern horizon lies the Isla Ángel de la Guarda separated from the other islands by the Canal de las Ballenas. The islands stretch all the way across the gulf forming a natural barrier against the tidal flow, consequently creating the optimum food balance for the urchins and anemones, shellfish, small fish, sardines, belocams, sea lions, mantas, dolphins, barracuda, sharks and ultimately ballenas (whales). To the terrestrial west are the Sierra de San Borja responsible for the occasional hot, dry winds known locally as “chabuscos” or “westies” whose velocities can go from zero to over 50 knots in a matter of minutes. These winds provided plenty of power for our sailboards, but great frustration for bike riding, sailing the O’Day, or hiking. On one occasion, arriving in the spring, no sooner than unhitching the O’Day and dragging it down to water’s edge did we hear a loud crash as the sailboat had been blown over, on the trailer, bare-masted and sadly thereafter, bent-masted. Fortunately Bob’s casita had a propane refrigerator and beverages were always chilled.

Trusty steeds awaiting the calm following a chabusco (Credit: Tj)

On days when the winds weren’t savaging we would take the 17′ O’Day sailer or 12′ Zodiac inflatable out to investigate the flora and fauna of the bay and islands. The terrain around Bahía de los Ángeles provides nesting grounds for many species of sea turtles and birds, among the birds, elegant terns, Heermann’s gulls, brown pelicans, osprey, Anna’s hummingbirds, and a number of corvids. I learned from the local Museo de Naturaleza y Cultura that the waters contain all but about 10% of the known species of aquatic life common to the Sea of Cortez. The most common game fish is yellowtail (jurel), a type of sport fish that lives off the shore of California and Mexico. Yellowtail from this region of Baja can grow up to five feet long and can weigh up to 100 pounds.

Above Bob’s casita was a fresh water cistern on the aluvial slope that provided water for the kitchen and bathroom by way of gravity. To preserve the fresh water supply, we would take a five gallon bucket to the water’s edge to provide a salt water “boost” to flush the toilet. Apparently salt water had no effect on the little used septic system. One fine morning as I was dipping the bucket to provide the casita with abundant capacidad de descarga del inodoro, witnessing a glorious sunrise, I had to wade out perhaps 15 meters for a sufficient depth to dip as the tide was out. Gaze fixed on the sunrise, it wasn’t until I bent over to dip that I noticed the seafloor in my immediate vicinity began rippling. Soon, the seafloor for as far as I could see was erupting. I swear there were thousands of rays, presumably Mobula Munkiana, commonly known as Munk’s Devil Rays I’d likely disturbed. In true cartoon fashion, my inspiration for escape was none other than Wile E. Coyote…

Top to bottom below: Los chicos anxiously awaiting the catch of the day, Rafael cleaning the catch of the day, and anxious pelicans waiting patiently for the spoils from the catch of the daty…

We would often feast on tacos de pescado and other delicacies from the gulf. On days we would enjoy the catch of the day, the pelicans scurried to enjoy the spoils of, on this day, sea bass. Other sport fish from the region included snapper (pargo), grouper, sierra, bonito and the occasional dorado. Non-sport fish like hammerhead sharks, triggerfish, barracuda, mantas, moray eels, sea horses, remoras, angelfish and many others exist in abundance.

Clockwise from upper left: nesting osprey, a shoreline pelican parade, indifferent finbacks, lounging pinnipeds, frolicing pilot whales…

There are colonies of California sea lions near Isla Coronado known locally as Smith Island, and another south of Punta Animas, a clear water white sand inlet. The bay is also famous for its whale sharks that arrive in the warmer summer months. Other mammals include elephant, fur and harbor seals, sea lions, as well as finback, blue, gray, and humpback whales, pilot whales, orcas, and dolphin. Reptiles we observed included gila monsters and speckled rattlesnakes along with arachnids including scorpions, Baja recluses, and leaping spiders all of which kept us on alert.

Las Animas, a then vacant eco-tourist site (Credit: Tj)

Clockwise from upper left below: ironwood, cordons, bujums, chollas and various other prickly friends, Anna and her clutch, two flowering desert blossoms employing pollenizing strategies that occupy Queen Anna and a variety of other insects and birds, a legit desert wash along a hearty riparian zone, and a rock you’d think twice about sitting on…

Terrestrial plants include a variety of cacti, shrub, grasses, flowering plants and other succulents adapted to the arid climate. There is a difference of 16 mm or 1 inch of precipitation between the driest and wettest months. The variation in annual temperature is around 13.1 °C or 55.6 °F. We generally enjoyed mild temperatures in the 60’s (F) in March and November. It in fact it rained for several days on one of the trips.

Lenticulars with a side of stratocumulus following (Credit: Tj)

Agave, barrel cactus, ocotillo, yucca, and boojum trees (alleged to be the inspiration for Theodore Geisel’s illustrations) cardons, cholla (known as O. molesta for good reasons: always keep a pair of pliers on hand to extract their nasty barbed spines), prickly-pears, elephant trees in the lowlands, Manilla and Guadalupe palms near springs, and Jeffrey pines and aspen at elevation. Mangroves exist in some of the island coves.

The elephant tree, pachycormus discolor (Credit: Interwebs)

The village of LA Bay was approximately 7 km from Bob’s casita on the beach. A few restaurants, Guillermo’s and Las Hamacas, our favorites, a small market or two, a school, tortoise research station, ice plant, a couple of hotels, a liquor store (go figure), campgrounds, and museum pretty much made up the infrastructure in those days. Residents were sprinkled about in the hills about and above the village. Though I haven’t been back since, I understand the town has undergone many improvements that may or may not have resulted in benefit to the lifestyles of the locals.

Village life top to bottom: Guillermo’s, local sportfishing with Rafael, the road into town, Bob arriving by air, LA Bay from up by the spring, Dwight pedaling by the school, Casa Diaz on of the earliest BOLA hospitality businesses appealing to the sport fishermen and Baja racers. (Credit: Tj)

Recreation was in great supply. From mountain biking up to the copper mines in the hills south of La Gringa to island exploration in the Zodiac and hiking around the village and up and down the beach made every day a new opportunity to explore the variety of life, land and seascapes.

Captain Dwight at the helm of the Zodiac
First mate Tj looking for submerged obstacles on the O’Day
Casita maintenance a necessity on each visit
Zen and the art of magnetically trolling for nails. Easier than repairing a flat

It’s appropriate to introduce my companions on these Baja Daze excursions. In the world of personality classifications, we all fit the Type A archetype: Type A and Type B personality hypothesis describes two contrasting personality types. In this hypothesis, personalities that are more competitive, highly organized, ambitious, impatient, highly aware of time management and/or aggressive are labeled Type A, while more relaxed, less ‘neurotic’, ‘frantic’, ‘explainable’, personalities are labeled Type B. (Wiki)

While you may think the behavior of four “alphas” would be ripe for conflict, our experience was quite the opposite. It must be that the slower pace of life had a “Type B affect” on us. I also suspect that having a regard, in fact a respect for what each of us brought, was the foundation for enjoying mutually satisfying experiences on these adventures. Bob, Dwight, and Dave are are driven independent business men whose appreciation for aesthetics and creativity is equal to their drive for success in their respective enterprises. Dwight and Dave are builders whose artistic flair runs the gamut from the subtle to the conspicuous, at times eccentric and always interesting. Bob’s business is in paving solutions that feature ecologically friendly products and he had a marvelous generosity for sharing his little slice of Baja. I, on the other hand, taught upper elementary students at the time. I believe my contribution to the enterprise was an unfailing enthusiasm for new experiences that captured the imagination of mi amigos. That and I was grappling with the end of a marriage and the recent illness and death of my parents. I wanted to escape and perhaps escape was just as tantalizing for my compadres, but for perhaps different reasons…

I just know that to this day, those times spent in Baja have lived within me and have provided me with a lasting faith in my relationship with the whole of life, the known and unknowable, as Steinbeck wrote, “Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is in all things–plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and expanding universe all bound by the elastic string of time.” My personal credo can be summed up as, the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is in all things…

Left right, wait, that’s right left…
Though we failed to find the manilla palm oasis the hike was a success since no one was bitten by a snake (Credit: Tj)

Typical of our exploration was a day spent in search of a fabled manilla palm oasis en route to Mission Borja. The search gave us the opportunity to hike up a wash for miles after the wash became impassable in the CK-2500. It didn’t take long to figure out that our 1.75 inch knobby equipped bicycles were no good in the sandy wash either. We don’t think we found the oasis. It was a good hike though.

Not deterred by an unsuccessful/successful hike, we forged onward on another day in search of one of 26 missions established in Baja in the eighteenth century. San Borja was a Spanish mission established in 1762 by the Jesuit Wenceslaus Linck at the Cochimí settlement of Adac, west of Bahía de los Ángeles. Before becoming a mission, the future site of San Borja served as a visita or subordinate mission station for Misión Santa Gertrudis. The construction of buildings was begun in 1759. A stone church was completed during the Dominican period, in 1801. Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misi%C3%B3n_San_Francisco_Borja

The mission was abandoned in 1818, as the native population in this part of the peninsula disappeared. Hmm, I wonder how that happened. A few structures and ruins survive under the protection of caretakers.

We spent the night camped in the gardens of the mission. We did not see any of the members of the 8th generation family still caring for the mission on their property. It was a quiet evening with the moon illuminating the setting as clouds would pass by dropping a gentle rain providing the rhythm for contemplation, and a mystic visual feast. Another feast that evening… Right-out-of-the-can beef stew.

Accustomed to towing a Catalina 22, she excelled at transporting bicycles and desert friendly provisions.

On another excursion on another day into the hills above Bahía de los Ángeles in the San Borja range we found an arroyo with cave paintings. We later learned these were the cave paintings of Montevideo. To reach this arroyo, we took a dirt road signed for Mission San Borja which goes south from the village a few miles west from Hwy 12 into Bahía de los Angeles. In two or so more miles a side road vered east and just beyond was a dry wash crossing with a short grade. The side road distance from where the intrepid CK-2500 could no longer progress to the painted cliff site was just a short hike.

Dwight confirming that we best not proceed any further in the pickup

Check out the link below to learn more about murals found throughout the Baja peninsula. https://scahome.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Proceedings.28Harman.pdf

I’m pleased to learn that some measures are being taken to preserve what remains of the history and ecology of the Bahía de los Ángeles region. In 2007 Mexican President Felipe Calderón in cooperation with the nongovernmental organization Pronatura Noreste, Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Areas, the Global Conservation Fund (GCF) and others established the Bahía de los Ángeles Biosphere Reserve to protect the unique ecology of the region. It covers an area of almost 1500 square miles (387,956 hectares) and includes a portion of the Baja coastline, all 16 islands, numerous smaller islands and islets and the Canal de Salsipuedes and Canal de las Ballenas.[12][13][14] The reserve protects a diverse marine population including many endangered species including whale sharks, fin whales, California sea lions and five species of sea turtle.[15][16][17] The reserve is within the UNESCO “Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California” Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bah%C3%ADa_de_los_%C3%81ngeles

Though the Village Was Quiet the Bay Was Alive!

I have many fond memories of the times spent in LA Bay hiking, biking, horseback riding, and sailing, but to have witnessed a feeding frenzy on the bay northwest of Isla La Ventana in the Canal de las Ballenas was one not soon forgotten. Since on that day I did not tote my camera along, memories are all I have. I recall a few trips in the Zodiac to investigate some of the nearby small islands across from Casa de Roberto on La Gringa. On this day, upon pulling into a cove on Isla Ventana and beaching the inflatable, we noticed a peculiar semicircular arrangement of hammerhead shark heads on an otherwise undisturbed beach. We figured local fishermen had cleaned their catch in the cove and left the heads to be discovered by unwitting tourists like us to be spooked, just as Steinbeck had noted earlier a suspicious feeling of being watched and unwelcome. Under the watchful yet indifferent gaze of a large number of gila monsters and other reptiles lounging on the rocks surrounding the beach we bid our deceased shark friends adieu dismissing any untoward intent by our hosts, deciding to check out Smith Island. On the horizon in the distance we saw what must of been hundreds if not thousands of seabirds, gulls, pelicans, and osprey, congregating and diving. Upon drawing closer to the disturbance we noted the surface of the bay roiling and not just from the exuberant bird activity. Feathers, oily water, and a stench filled the air along with menacing shadowy figures below the water’s surface.

A typical fishing map of the region

The apparent cause for the avian invasion was the migrating presence of untold masses of small feeder fish, nourished by the phyto- and zooplankton of the upper epipelagic or sunlight zone in an area of the bay between Punta La Gringa and the smaller islands north of Isla La Ventana where a deep channel lies beneath the surface of the bay whose denizens have hefty appetites. I’m not sure whether the arrival of the massive schools of fish was due to a specific occurrence like weather, the biological urge to reproduce, or the upwelling of colder nutrient-rich water from the deep channel to initiate the familiar nutrient-plankton-fish food web. It could be the frenzy was stimulated by the chaotic currents that flow vertically as well as horizontally in the bay or some other of the myriad natural causes. Hence the citizen scientist can only speculate. Whatever the cause, the birds seemed appreciative as they gorged upon the diminutive delicacies. What was most impressive were the several lurking Hammerhead sharks, huge mantas and other large dark masses swirling about in the depths. That caused me some concern seated in what was little more than an aquatic balloon with three other equally concerned members, bird poo and stench of regale notwithstanding. The uncontested rule of nature, “The big ones eat the little ones…” stimulates the imagination into wondering what other mysterious surface and subsurface predators were prowling these deeper waters of the gulf. You may note that my “risk” genes are not highly evolved.

After what seemed to be an hour of continually darting, weaving, and dive-bombing the unsuspecting waterborne morsels, the birds eventually tired or exhausted the day’s fare and withdrew for a rest on the neighboring islands. The beaches and rocky outcroppings became carpeted with reposing pelicans, gulls, and similar flying kindred compounding the layer guano. I don’t believe I’ve ever witness and assemblage of the diversity and number of animals in a particular place and time at once engaged in serendipitous collision of forces of nature.

Since I have no evidence of the frenzy we watched on the bahia, I did find this brief video on YouTube from Los Angeles (CA) that resembles the scale of the birds we observed without the other larger sea borne predators that were present. Imagine being in the open water in an inflatable within yards of this phenomenon…

The Midriff, as this region in Baja is known and as I’ve noted is home to an extremely wide variety and richness of plant, animal, insect, and fish species, including all of the usual suspects for an arid desert bound by the Sea of Cortez, plus a large roster of other “weirdo” critters satisfying the species hunter seeking to add notches to his or her lifetime list. At LA Bay as many gringos call it, the most beautiful moment on most days comes at sunrise when a resplendent golden hue casts over the terrain or at sunset when the village lies deep in the shadow of the surrounding Sierra de San Borja and the islands and hills across the bay are bathed in an otherworldly magenta-lavender light, not unlike alpenglow in the Sierra. This is seen nowhere else in Baja.

As I sit recalling and writing of those singular experiences in the company of friends in an exploration of life, like that of the crew of the Western Flyer, exempt of concern about “matters of great importance we had left [that proved] were not important,” I am reassured that in the direct relationship among a small band of like minded, yet completely independent companions, on a journey of discovery, a wealth of understanding may be obtained.

Okay Dave, there’s the Pacific Ocean. So, I got us down to the beach. Do you think you can get us off?
Getting onto the beach was easy. Dave and Dwight engineered a driftwood highway solution to get us off the beach.
Last chance for a souvenir before crossing the border at Tijuana (Credit: Tj)

Our own interest lay in relationships of animal to animal. If one observes in this relational sense, it seems apparent that species are only commas in a sentence, that each species is at once the point and the base of a pyramid, that all life is relational to the point where an Einsteinian relativity seems to emerge. And then not only the meaning but the feeling about species grows misty. One merges into another, groups melt into ecological groups until the time when what we know as life meets and enters what we think of as non life: barnacle and rock, rock and earth, earth and tree, tree and rain and air. And the units nestle into the whole and are inseparable from it. Then one can come back to the microscope and the tide pool and the aquarium. But the little animals are found to be changed, no longer set apart and alone. And it is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call religious, most of the mystical outcrying which is one of the most prized and used and desired reactions of our species, is really the understanding and the attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known and unknowable. This is a simple thing to say, but the profound feeling of it made a Jesus, a St. Augustine, a St. Francis, a Roger Bacon, a Charles Darwin, and an Einstein. Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again. Ch. 21 from The Log From the Sea of Cortez

I often think of Baja. And as it is a thought, a memory, it is also a feeling and a knowing. I hope to travel there on the moto in the not too distant future. I don’t know that I will capture the feeling that lies within me from those first encounters. It would be nice to be once again joined by El Club de Placer del Chicos for they are as much a part of those thoughts, memories, and feelings that I know came to me at a very important juncture in my life. For this they have my eternal gratitude as does this place, a living thing that is a part of me and I will forever be a part of Baja. As Steinbeck understood, “…all things are one thing and that one thing is all things… And the units nestle into the whole and are inseparable from it…”

.

The Sun sets …
The Moon rises…
Who says ya’ can’t get no satisfaction…

The use by date has since expired from one of my prized mementoes of the last trip down to Baja*. It is in need of refreshing…

*And the ballena sings… (Credit: Tj)

Claimers & Disclaimers:

All photos are mine (Tj) unless otherwise credited. All others are ripped from the interwebs with lame attribution.

All recollections are subject to natural age related memory loss or confabulation, a memory error defined as the production of fabricated, distorted, or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world. People who confabulate present incorrect memories ranging from “subtle alterations to bizarre fabrications”, and are generally very confident about their recollections, despite contradictory evidence.

If it hadn’t been for remodeling and locating my photo album of Baja in the process of the shuffling about of the various contents of our home and the current Covid-19 crisis requiring age related social distancing and homesite hunkering I might have foregone this post. That I’ve been idled (READ: not infected!) by the CDC’s recommendation to avoid our invisible friend, there may well have resulted a few subtle alterations in my recall as the apocalypse rains down. I assure you, anything appearing to be bizarre was accurately recalled if only somewhat exaggerated…