Category Archives: Travel

Trinity-Klamath Road Trip: Plastic Flower and Missing Man

A flower, made of partly melted plastic spoons and spraypainted white, acquired during an August 2014 visit to Humboldt County, California.

On Christmas Day, I experienced a burst of motivation to clean off my desk to make room for some new electronics. That’s a project that’s still under way. But one of the discoveries I made as I tried to excavate the workspace was the odd and not entirely lovely object above.

It’s a handcrafted flower, in case you’re wondering. Made from partially melted black plastic spoons spraypainted white. It was offered for sale by a man I encountered during a brief stop at the Humboldt County wayside of Weitchpec in August 2014.

How I got there was I had driven up to Lewiston Dam, northwest of Redding, for a ceremony by members of Native American tribes in the area. They had called on the federal Bureau of Reclamation to increase releases into the Trinity River to protect migrating chinook salmon that were at risk of disease or death because of low flows and warm water downstream on the Klamath River.

The bureau, in fact, ordered increased releases into the Trinity River before the ceremony. But I made the trip, met some people, drove to a motel in Redding, had dinner, and wrote a little story on a related court case.

I only had one other item on my agenda: a visit to Shasta Lake, California’s biggest reservoir, which was very low in late August because of the ongoing drought. But with no one breathing down my neck to get back to the Bay Area, I decided it would be good to see a little of the country I had been writing about. I’d head up Highway 299 from Redding and follow the Trinity River up to the Klamath, then follow the Klamath east to Interstate 5, just above Yreka. I’d spend the night back in Mount Shasta — at the end of a drive of about 300 miles.

For the first part of the drive, not much transpired. Just one beautiful scene after another. The Trinity, swollen with the “extra” water released from the dams up stream, looked high and a little wild. After turning north off 299 onto Highway 96 at Willow Creek, I drove through the Hoopa Valley, home of one of northwestern California’s larger native tribes.

North of Hoopa, Highway 96 narrows as it climbs a ridge on the south bank of the river and after a few twisting miles reaches Weitchpec. The settlement, part of the Yurok tribe’s reservation, is the proverbial wide spot in the road. On one side, a couple of homes and mailboxes for outlying residents. On the other side, a grocery and a couple of weathered manufactured homes on a lot that overlooks the spot where the Trinity flows into the Klamath. There was an old, badly lettered sign that offered smoked salmon for sale.

My visit was brief. At first, I overshot the grocery and drove across the bridge across the Klamath. “I’ve got to have a picture of this,” I thought, so I swung back around, recrossed the bridge and parked at the store. I walked back across the span and snapped a few pictures, then returned to the store and walked around back, where I guessed I’d have the best view of the confluence.

A man approached me when I started to take pictures — maybe the resident of one of the mobile homes. A short, spare older man. I thought maybe I’d be called for trespassing — fair enough — and I explained I just wanted to get a shot of the spot where the two rivers joined. He agreed it was a good view. When I was done shooting — it was just a minute or two — he asked if I like salmon. Yeah, I said. Do you have any for sale? He said not yet, but that in a few weeks there would be some.

He was holding a plastic flower, the same one pictured at the top of the post. He showed it to me and said, “I make these and sell them.” How much do you sell them for, I asked. “Ten dollars,” he said.

I took a look. Not something I wanted. But by this time, I had taken in the man’s outfit. One detail stood out. He was wearing a large rectangular belt buckle that said “FUCK” in large chrome letters. That struck me as weird, and I decided I needed to take the guy’s picture. I offered him twenty bucks for the flower, and then asked if he’d pose. He was glad to.

My acquaintance in Weitchpec — he said his name was J.G. and J.K or K.G. Or maybe some different initials. He’s holding the plastic flower pictured at the top of the post.

As we walked back to the parking lot in front of the store, I asked his name. “J.K.,” he said. Or maybe it was J.G. or K.G. I didn’t write it down and at the distance of more than two years I honestly can’t remember.

I asked whether he was from Weitchpec. He said he was from the area, but had lived in the Bay Area for years, working as a mechanic for United Airlines in San Francisco. He had been back in the community for several years, he said. I did not ask the question I should have asked, which is why his belt buckle said “fuck.”

I thanked him for the flower, then went into the store. There were a couple of other customers, buying ice and other supplies for what I thought might be a camping trip. I went back to my rented car and got ready to leave when I noticed a community bulletin board on the store’s outside wall.

I honestly only remember one posting: a flyer asking for help in locating a Southern California man who had gone missing in the area two months earlier.

Missing poster for Jeff Joseph in Weitchpec, Humboldt County.

I snapped a picture of the flyer. It’s a habit, growing out of curiosity about the missing and their stories.

But the outline of Jeff Joseph’s story — he had apparently come to this remote part of Humboldt County to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes — triggered a quick episode of paranoia.

Not that I was up there to grow pot, but here I was, a stranger to the area who had not told anyone where I’d be that day. I was driving a new-looking (though nothing fancy) rented car; I had shown my extravagant-looking (but not really expensive) camera around; I had pulled out my wallet and handed a guy a twenty like it was nothing. Gee — it would be easy for me to go missing, too, wouldn’t it, if someone tried to waylay me?

Nothing happened, obviously, beyond my sudden awareness that I could be vulnerable, too.

On my way up the Klamath on Highway 96, I encountered the Happy Camp Fire, the state’s biggest for 2014, burning the forest near the community of Seiad Valley. The fire was active the evening I was driving east toward Interstate 5, and I saw locals and fire crews watching the blaze send towering pyrocumulus clouds into the sky and torch big trees in the distance.

Eventually I made it out to the interstate, and before midnight I was in Mount Shasta, too late to get dinner but just a short drive from Shasta Lake and then a quick trip home. (The album at the end of the post shows some of the scenes I’ve described.)

Finding the plastic flower again earlier in the week made me look up Jeff Joseph again. He’s never been found.

2014 Fire and Drought Tour

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by | December 29, 2016 · 3:16 pm

Solar Eclipse Countdown: Out There in Flyover Country

2017 EclipseLike many another skywatcher who has never seen a total solar eclipse, I’m scouting places to see the big event that will, failing a world-ending electoral event in the interim, occur a year from now.

For Californians, Oregon is the natural eclipse-watching destination. The path of totality will cross the Beaver State just north of Bend, east of the Cascades and an area that’s reliably sunny.

Lots of people have figured out that this part of Oregon is strategically located. The owner of a 72-room motel in Madras, along the line where totality will be longest in the area — 2 minutes and 3 seconds — says his place has been booked for more than three years.

I admit I can imagine a crowd descending on the area and the roads resembling something like rush hour here in the Bay Area. It’s not an inspiring thought. Still, we’re checking to see what lodging alternatives there might be up there.

My thoughts also tend further east. Maybe to the High Plains. It’s a different world out there. In noodling around looking for places one might stay out in flyover country, I happened across the following description of a tiny hostelry in a very small town. It’s one of the best things I’ve read today. Here it is:

There is a very slim chance that you are going to visit the Longhorn Motel in Tryon Nebraska. There are several reasons for this, chief among them that almost no one lives in Tryon, and it is not on the road to anywhere. The Longhorn’s primary mission in life is to serve as an overflow bedroom when more than one relative comes to visit a resident of Tryon at the same time.

You will not break down in or near Tryon because, as noted above, it is not on the road to anywhere.

Should you need to visit in Tryon, the Longhorn is the ONLY place to stay. That is literally the truth. The rooms are quite small but very clean. Your hosts, Mr. and Mrs Pyzer, are without a doubt the friendliest motel hosts in the business, There is a small TV in each room connected to the satellite system, so there is a wide range of programing available. If you want coffee in the morning the Pyzers will give you the fixins before you turn in. Even though they have a bona fide monopoly on rooms to rent, $40 will get you the finest room in the place.

Sadly there is not WIFI hook up, but all is not lost. One block west on the other side of highway 92/97 sits the McPherson County public school. The school has a nice strong signal to which you can connect if you park near the handicapped parking spots along the highway in front of the school.

The Longhorn does not provide breakfast but just a block and a half west you will find Aunt Bea’s Restaurant. Aunt Bea is a middle aged gentleman who fires up the grill about 9 each morning and can whip you up a sausage breakfast that should make Ronald MacDonald hide his head in shame.

As I said before, you are probably not going to be in or near Tryon, but if you are, you will experience first hand the friendly nature of the folks who live in Nebraska’s fabulous Sandhills. If you do not know what the Sandhills are – you do need to get out more.

Room Tip: All the rooms are good but #3 is the best among equals!

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Air Blog: New York

Just to note: A high approach to JFK about 5:15 p.m. on a beautiful early autumn Thursday. We flew over Scranton, Pennsylvania, then just north of the Delaware Water Gap and the New Jersey Meadowlands, then did a long, slowly descending pass over upper Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn and Queens again, finally looping back over the barrier islands and the western Long Island suburbs to the airport.

Oh, and by the way: It’s my brother John’s birthday today — the reason I was on the plane. Happy birthday, JPB.

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Road Blog: Apparition

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The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, about 40 miles south of the Las Vegas Strip on Interstate 15. The towers you see (shot from the passenger’s seat of a car traveling about 70 mph toward Los Angeles) are each 459 feet high.

The simple version of how the plant works: Each tower is surrounded by an immense field of mirrors that focus sunlight on a collector at the top of the tower. Thus the beams of light made visible by the desert haze. That intense heat drives turbines that generate electricity. (This isn’t the first time this type of plant has appeared on this here blog.)

For the more complex version of what’s really happening at the plant, check out my friend Pete’s coverage of Ivanpah here and here.

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Road Blog: Impulse Trip to Seattle

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At Safeco Field: Ken Stutz, Pete Cafone, me.

In Seattle, a trip planned on an impulse a couple of months back. I came up here because a guy I used to work with at the San Francisco Examiner, Pete Cafone, mentioned on Facebook he wanted to see the Mariners play at Safeco Field.

I’ve seen Pete all of three or four times since I left the Examiner early the morning of January 2, 1996, when I completed my final shift and went on to a Web startup. (It is hard to believe that was nearly 20 years ago, but here I am walking around with a bunch of people my age all saying the same thing.) The last time Pete and I met was at a memorial/celebration for a copy editor we’d worked with, Courtenay Peddle, who died several years ago of kidney failure, the last of a series of health crises that began almost immediately upon his retirement.

At work, Pete and I weren’t particularly close. I worked a series of newsroom desk jobs while he was one of the evening editors in sports. He seemed loud, tough and funny; he seemed to be a hard drinker, not that we ever drank together; he was from Philadelphia; I knew his birthday was on Christmas; and he liked to talk. Anyway, we got along, and in the few times we crossed paths, it was always good to see him.

So Pete and I aren’t really best buddies. How did it happened I offered to meet him up here for a game — not exactly a casual trip?

I see Pete’s posts on Facebook. He’s detailed a long series of road trips he’s taken since he took a buyout from the San Francisco Chronicle six years ago. More recently, he’s recounted a series of health challenges of his own. Here’s what he posted on March 22:

Pete, aka Mr. Positive, has some negativity to report, something we seldom do. As most followers of these postings know, Humpty Dumpty was recently put back together to restore his plumbing to its original form. Unfortunately Humpty has cracked in 3 places and the leakage has created numerous infections — including cdif, an infection in the colon — over the past 5 weeks. As a result, early this coming week we will have our 5th operation in the last year and a half since the first one on Halloween 2013 to remove a rectal tumor. The plan calls for a return to an illeostomy bag while the current mess gets cleaned up and heals. Mr. Positive expects to recover well & soon enough to go on an 11-day trip to Alaska starting May 18. The first 6 days will be on a cruise out of Vancouver, the next 4 on land which includes a fantastic train ride and stays at 2 different spots in Denali National Park and the final day is set for Safeco Field in Seattle to see the Mariners against the Indians. Safeco will be Pete’s 29th baseball ballpark of the current 30 in use — leaving Miami’s new park the only one still to go (we saw a game in the old one the last year before they moved to the new one). So as you can see, there’s no time to be lamenting the latest setback. It’s on to new frontiers.

On the surface, sure, that’s a pretty graphic medical report. You got any pictures to go with that?

But there’s a lot more there, too: frankness, courage, optimism, and joy in new adventures are the first things that come to mind. And without really thinking about it too much — or at all — I found myself making plans to meet Pete up here. Just as a gesture, I guess, in admiration of all those qualities; and also because I knew it would be fun and because I hadn’t seen a game up here, either.

One final piece of this journey fell into place a couple of weeks after Pete’s post. I was having lunch with another friend, Garth, in early April and mentioned I might be coming up to Seattle. When I told him what the trip was about, he said he had a connection for Mariners tickets. He got us four seats in the lower stands, right by first base. All I really had to do was show up and make sure the tickets were at will call for Pete.

The evening was beautiful and I never had to put on the jacket I brought. Pete was with his friend Ken Stutz — Ken’s father gave Pete his first job back in the mid-1960s at a local paper in Burlington County, New Jersey, and Ken is a veteran of sports desks in Philadelphia and San Jose. We kept score, though the slick paper in the Mariners program wasn’t easy to write on. Pete bought me a beer (he stopped drinking years ago). Then the game was over (though not before the Mariners’ closer, Fernando Rodney, did his damnedest to cough up a two-run lead). Before the post game fireworks started, Pete and Ken left for the parking garage so they could beat the mob out of the park.

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Along the Road: Leonidas Taylor and the Steamer Belle

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Again, from our recent trip to Woodland: Headed from Woodland toward Sacramento, Old River Road is a levee highway, generally keeping to the top of the embankment separating the Sacramento River from the flood plain to the west and south. If you like seeing the river, the surviving remnant of riparian landscape and the adjacent farms — orchards interspersed with fields ready for row crops — it’s a beautiful drive.

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I’m guessing about halfway between Woodland and Sacramento, you pass the obelisk above. It’s along a stretch of 55 mph highway, meaning much of the traffic is faster, and the pullout is minuscule. We ran past it heading south toward Sacramento, then turned around and pulled in heading the wrong way up the road.

The obelisk is a memorial to a young Philadelphia native named Leonidas Taylor, one of the many victims of steamboat disasters/mishaps in mid-19th century America. He was clerk aboard the steamer Belle, which, according to newspaper accounts from the time, left Sacramento at at a little after 7 a.m. on February 5, 1856, and headed up the foggy river bound for Red Bluffs (today, it’s Red Bluff, singular). That’s roughly 120 miles in a straight line, and one would guess about 150 river miles. About 40 people were aboard.

About an hour later, 10 miles above Sacramento, the Belle’s boiler blew. The explosion obliterated the front half of the 75-ton sternwheeler, flinging passengers, cargo and wreckage into the Sacramento. The Belle sank quickly. The papers reported about half those aboard were killed in the blast or drowned. Here’s how the Sacramento Union described the toll:

From the most reliable information obtainable, we cannot learn that there were over forty souls on board. Of this number, however, we fear that a great proportion are no longer in the land of the living, and there is little probability that their names will all be recorded, save in the registry of Heaven. This deplorable tragedy, as well it might, has cast a deep gloom over our city.

Among those whose name was known was Taylor — referred to in the early press accounts as Alonzo Taylor. His family reportedly offered a $500 reward for recovery of his body. Today he is unique among the Belle casualties in having a permanent roadside monument that passers-by snap pictures of and blog about.

The obelisk, said to be of Italian marble, was put in place about eight months after the Belle blew up. Here’s the item from the October, 7, 1856, number of the Union:

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And yes, that’s precisely the inscription we read when we stopped on Old River Road a few weeks back — weathered but clearly visible. The monument itself is a little different from what the Union describes. The base is neither 5 feet square nor 5 feet high, and the shaft is about 10 feet, not 13. I’m guessing that the needs of various road makers and levee builders over the intervening 159 years have probably led to some alteration in size and location. Still — pretty surprising to me that it has survived for so long. I’m tempted to go out to the spot next February 5 to see if there’s some little ceremony out there.

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Along the Road: West Sacramento

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Earlier this month, Kate and I drove up to Woodland, a town west of Sacramento, to check out some pickup-truck campers. And since we were up there near the Sacramento River, we took the opportunity to explore a little, driving east and south on Main Street, then Old River Road, to West Sacramento.

We stopped at the junction of Old River Road and Yolo County Road 126 so I could take some pictures of the Sacramento Weir — a structure designed to let high water flow from the river just north of downtown Sacramento into the Yolo Bypass. So I did take some of those pictures of the bypass, which hasn’t had water flowing through it in several years.

But there was also this roadside memorial, for one Jesus Martinez Mora, who died in a traffic accident on this stretch of road in March 2009. Here’s the story from the Sacramento Bee:

The man killed in a fiery two-vehicle crash Monday night in Yolo County has been identified as Jose Jesus Mora Martinez, 65, of Sacramento.

Robert LaBrash, Yolo County’s chief deputy coroner, said cause of death remains under investigation.

The crash occurred on Old River Road about 7:15 p.m. just south of County Road 126 and west of the Sacramento River, said Robert Lagomarsino, a California Highway Patrol officer.

Witnesses said a 1997 Chevrolet pickup truck, driven by Martinez, speeding south on Old River Road, failed to negotiate a curve, Lagomarsino said.

The vehicle went onto the shoulder and spun toward the northbound lane and into the path of a 1996 Toyota Corolla carrying four people, including two babies.

The driver of the Toyota was John Ostergaard Jensen, 25, of Woodland. His passengers were Adrienne Day, 24, a 1-year-old girl and a 3-month-old, Lagomarsino said.

Ostergaard Jensen braked when he saw the out-of-control vehicle but struck the truck’s right side, causing it to flip onto its roof and burn, killing Martinez.

The Toyota also caught fire, but all four people inside escaped. Ostergaard Jensen and Day complained of pain, and Day suffered an abrasion to her shoulder. The two children suffered minor injuries.

It’s easy to see how something bad could happen at this spot. The approach from both directions is straight and fast, followed by a short, compressed S turn with a marked 35 mph speed advisory. While I was standing there, I saw a couple of drivers struggle a little to keep their cars in their lane.

And just out of curiosity, I checked for media accounts of other accidents at the same spot, and found these:

February 2013: A motorcyclist loses control on the curve and slides into group of pedestrians.

October 2014: Husband and wife killed in motorcycle crash after losing control on the curve.

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Road Blog: Madera County

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It’s far too late, or early — the end of March has turned into April Fool’s Day — to go into detail about what’s pictured here. Suffice it to say: One of the many feedlots I passed Tuesday afternoon while tooling along the back roads of Merced and Madera and Fresno counties on the way to Pine Flat Lake. As usual, I took my time with scenes like this and so when I finally got to the lake — one of the 10 biggest reservoirs in the state — twilight was coming on.

Anyway. The cows/cattle were beautiful, and I told them so. I kept thinking someone was going to show up to shoo me away from taking pictures, accuse me of being an animal sympathizer or such like. Nothing like that happened.

Now I’m going to bed.

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Air Blog: Over the Sierra

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Here’s a shot (click for larger image) from my flight to Chicago last week as the plane headed northeast toward the north end of Lake Tahoe. That’s French Meadows Reservoir, on the Middle Fork of the American River, at the top, Hell Hole Reservoir, on the Rubicon River, at the bottom.

Both reservoirs are at about 25 to 30 percent capacity; Hell Hole is at about 50 percent of its average level for this time of year, French Meadows is at about 66 percent average. Both are operated by the Placer County Water Agency, which supplies or sells water to in much of the Sacramento metropolitan area and northeast along the Interstate 80 corridor.

Besides the signs of drought in the image, one other notable feature: the brown area to the lower left and between the two reservoirs is part of the 97,000 acres burned in the King Fire in September.

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Road Blog: Chicagoland

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Chicagoland. Where did that name come from, anyway? I just submitted that question to WBEZ’s Curious City, which is a really interesting project if you haven’t heard it or seen it, so maybe they’ll investigate. I can tell from a brief scan of Google Books that my main assumption about the history — that it was the post-World War II brainchild of some advertising or marketing ace, is apparently incorrect. The name Chicagoland shows up at least as far back as the late 1920s. The favorite title I’ve found listed so far is 1938’s “Chicagoland Household Pests and How to Get Rid of Them.”

Fast forward to Tuesday, and here were my day’s activities in Chicagoland: I breakfasted with my sister Ann’s family on the North Side. I watched it rain. I drove down to the South Side (and a little beyond) to meet my brother Chris and visit the various Brekke, Hogan, O’Malley and Morans graves at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. We went to lunch (Smashburger on 95th Street in Oak Lawn). Then I made a slow northward trek to Mount Olive Cemetery, where much of my dad’s family was buried.

I rounded out the excursion with a drive down Irving Park Road to the Dairy Queen near Central Avenue. I had a chocolate malted and actually said aloud, “Here’s to you, Pop.” He was a longtime DQ customer, and he and I visited that location many times in the last few years before he died.

It was cold out, in the 30s and windy, and after dark, but I wanted to check out a taxidermy place across the street from the Dairy Queen to see if I could get a decent shot of specimens in the windows. I don’t think I did. Then I walked west a couple blocks, cross Irving Park, then walk back east, just looking at what was happening in he storefronts along the way.

Dr. Charlemagne Guerrero, M.D. A music store advertising lessons in guitar and music theory. A dance studio with a kids’ ballet class going on. Several bars — Pub OK and The Martini Club and a couple I didn’t get the names of. A Polish antique store. Dr. M.A. Starsiak, general dentistry. A barber shop. A door bearing a sign reading “Emperor’s Headquarters.” Then I was back across the street from the taxidermy shop.

The warm car afterward was nice.

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