Road Blog: Writing It Down

We’re on an overnight trip to Fort Bragg, up on the Mendocino County coast, and that’s where I’m writing from right now.

While assessing the weather and lodging possibilities (there was actually rain in the forecast for most of California for Sunday, and on Saturday, there were big thunderstorms with very heavy rain northeast of Los Angeles), the Pinnacles came up. As in Pinnacles National Park.

Before that, the park was called Pinnacles National Monument. We drove down there once — the park is about 100 miles south of us as the crow doesn’t really fly — after hearing that some very, very rare California condors were nesting there.

In recalling that trip the other day, Kate mentioned a couple things she remembered about it. Specifically: Talking to someone who had talked about how curious and mischievous condors could be, and how some of the immense birds had visited a construction site where he had worked and managed to open a box of nails and spread them around.

Huh — that sounded familiar. What I remembered hearing — wasn’t sure whether it was on that trip or another — was that condors had a thing for insulation-type material and that they had been known to rip it out of the roofs of homes under construction or even tear apart the operator’s seat on a bulldozer. I wasn’t sure, though. Then I wondered whether I had written any of that stuff down somewhere. “Somewhere” being right here in whatever you call this long, long collection of scribblings.

So I searched — there actually is a functioning search on this site — and a post from March 2010 emerged. It said in part:

“… While we stood in the parking lot outside the visitors center, Kate pointed and said, “Look!” Big bird overhead. Didn’t look like a vulture; bigger body and heavier wings. Didn’t look like an eagle; heavier wings with those splayed-out feathers at the tips. We grabbed the binoculars and each looked. No doubt about it: a California condor. In two or three minutes it was joined by one, then four, then five others: six condors wheeling upward–directly above the visitors center. One-thirtieth of the wild population, circling overhead.

“There were about 40 people standing in line to catch a shuttle bus to a trailhead higher up, and not one of them was looking up or seemed aware of what was happening above them. I couldn’t resist calling out, “Look up, everyone,” and Kate walked over to point out what we were seeing. Binoculars and spotting scopes came up. I had my radio sound kit with me and talked to a few people about the condors. I found two people in line who had close encounters with them in Big Sur. One of the people was a volunteer condor guide and knew all about the birds, the other had managed a construction project that the condors visited. The endangered birds pulled stunts like pulling out a 50-pound box of nails and strewing it around the site. The condors apparently love to dig into things and would rip out insulation when they could get at it; on one occasion, a bird ripped out the seat from a bulldozer.”

I was gratified that I had taken note of the moment and written perhaps a fraction of it down. I might even still have the audio I recorded from that day — haven’t checked yet. (The one sobering thought: This was nine years ago.

This morning — the early sun that lit up the ocean in our clear view to the west has given way to a flat low overcast — Kate saw a man outside our motel who reminded her of someone we encountered during our 2017 Eclipse Odyssey.

On our second night out on the road from Berkeley, we had stayed in Twin Falls, Idaho. Before shoving off on Day 3, we hiked up to a pet supply store to buy a bed for Scout (aka The Dog), who didn’t seem to be very comfortable in the back seat of our rented Toyota 4Runner. When we got to the little mall where the store was, we could see we were right on the very edge of the Snake Creek Canyon, which is a sight. It’s remembered in popular lore as the chasm that Evel Knievel launched himself partway across in a September 1974 stunt that happened to occur the same day that President Gerald Ford pardoned the previous officeholder, Richard Nixon, though Nixon had not yet been criminally charged in connection with the Watergate break-in and coverup. (No, it seems I cannot mention Knievel’s Snake River “jump” without saying something about Nixon’s pardon — the two events are welded together in my mind.)

Back to Kate, though: She remarked on this person we met in Twin Falls a couple years ago. I remembered we sat in some shade outside the visitors center after watching people base jump from the U.S. 93 bridge and paragliding the several hundred feet down to the river. I remember telling him we were from Berkeley and that he met that with some California reminiscence.

I couldn’t remember all the specifics, so looked to see whether I had written anything at all about that encounter. Here is what I found:

“We started out in Twin Falls, Idaho, today, walking through a mall to the Petco with, guaranteed, the most scenic view in all of Petco World. Or, it would be the most scenic view if the entrance was at the back of the store, because that’s where you can look down into the Snake River Canyon of Evel Knievel fame.

“Alas, Evel is pulling his cheap stunts in the afterlife now (and maybe still getting upstaged by Richard Nixon). But there were base jumpers leaping, one after another, from the big beautiful steel arch bridge that carries U.S. 93 across the canyon. Here’s a video — watch it full screen — that sort of conveys what that was about:

“At the visitors center, near the Petco and overlooking the bridge, I had a talk with a guy who arrived with a daypack and a longboard-style skateboard who confided early on, “I’m a bum. I live down in the canyon.” But what he really wanted was to talk about losing a camera over the side of the canyon rim earlier in the week. He also confided he was an old time base jumper who had gone off the high bridge outside Auburn many times (OK — he said 1,000 times).”

Which isn’t to say I captured a wealth of detail. But — maybe this reflection is sparked in part by listening in the car to an Anne Lamott lecture on writing and the importance of attentiveness — I was glad that I had put something down that sort of anchors the historical moment.

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