Road Trip VIII, Days 5-9, Oakland to LA: Slowwwwwing Down

This is the part of the road trip where mileage doesn’t govern our days, and the Mate and I relish it. The Great Plains will happen soon enough—for now, we’re taking it easy. Some examples:

Strolling around the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland (LITERALLY strolling, with the wee twin cousins in their stroller), stopping to investigate the many tiny corner libraries (and leaving some of my books for Oaklanders to find):

The Flyong Burgowski takes Oakland!

Visiting friends in a retirement condo in San Franscisco, who have the most efficient filing cabinet I’ve ever seen:

Brilliant, right?

Going out of our way to hike in Montaña de Oro State Park, a place we’ve always passed up because we were too much in a hurry to get to Santa Barbara:

I mean, we ARE in SoCal…there must be beaches!

But I still took the time to notice how beautiful young poison oak looks when illuminated by the sun…

And today, visiting another friend in the greater LA area, I took myself for a power walk up a winding mountain highway that is, apparently, dearly beloved by motorcyclists and people with sports cars. Also regular cyclists, whom I prefer—dang, those motorcycles are loud!—although I had to admit that the folks on motors looked like they were having fun both up AND down the mountain.

VERY winding mountain highway.

But me? I just walked…and took advantage of the sights only slowness can offer.

Pretty invasives. (Actually, that’s a good name for Los Angeles itself, isn’t it?)

Next up: the big left turn—a.k.a., desert’s calling!

Road Trip VIII, Days 1-4, Tacoma to Oakland: Making The Familiar Strange

“Poetry is making the familiar strange.” That’s an unattributed quote I used to give my students, and it came to my mind as the Mate and I began the first leg of this, our eighth cross-country sojourn to North Carolina. It’s true that even though February travel argues for a quick race to the south, we have multiple routes available to us for that purpose. We don’t have to go Tacoma-Eugene-Redwood Coast-Oakland-Los Angeles. Yet we’ve taken that route six out of eight years.

That raises two questions. The first, Why? is easy: people. Specifically, dear very young people who are changing so rapidly that missing a year is like missing three, and dear older people whose health we never want to take for granted. We WILL go where they are, while we can.

…like these guys😍

The second question is tougher: how do we keep fresh our enthusiasm for this well-traveled route? And that’s where that quote comes in. In this first, familiar leg of our journey, I am giving my Noticing Muscles a workout, determined to keep the familiar strange.

So, walking in Tacoma’s beautiful Point Defiance Park, I ignored the shining trunks of the madrona trees to capture this bright red Oregon Grape.

Nothing like Christmas in February!

Then, instead of taking a classic picture of Mt. Rainier in all her fresh-snow glory, I focused on this cloud flexing its muscle.

We can do it!

In Eugene, walking with friends along the Coast Fork of the Willamette, I substituted a shot of moss-draped oaks for this intriguingly blank sign.

For when you’re feeling especially self-directed…

Not pictured: flock of wild turkeys.

Just before the California border, heading toward Cave Junction on beautiful US 199, we passed this sign (admittedly not our first glimpse, but I finally got the Mate to slow down so I could take its picture):

Apparently fully intentional—hey, let’s celebrate veggies AND dyslexia!

In the redwoods—oh, I have so many pictures of redwoods!—I forced myself away from the big trees…

OK, just ONE MORE big tree picture…!

ahem, I say, I forced myself to look down instead of up sometimes, and found…

British Soldier lichen!

And…

Tiny tree doing yoga!

Finally arriving in the Bay Area, the Mate and I went for a bike ride along the top of Tilden Park in Berkeley. And there…well, it’s not so much that my noticing muscles gave out, as that bikes aren’t the best mode of transport for photography.

So I had to settle for this fairly obvious shot:

Good ol’ Golden Gate in the distance

Not pictured: a pair of the glossiest ravens I’ve ever seen.

But no worries—most of the “view” I’m seeing in these well-travelled parts of the West are memories…and I haven’t found a way to capture those with my smartphone yet.

It’s That Time Again: Wing’s World Hits The Road

If you’ve been following Wing’s World for at least a year, you know by now that Wing & Mate take to the road in February with the regularity of migrating swans–minus, of course, the awesome grace.* Also we’re heading east, not north, and also, swans have that life-or-death impulse behind their travels, while ours is more…let’s say … discretionary.

(*please, no Wingspan jokes)

OK, bad metaphor. But anyway, for you newbies, fair warning: Wing’s World is about to morph into a travel blog for the next several weeks.

The original draw for this trip is described in this earlier post; click here to read.

For now, I’m going to enjoy throwing out a few teasers from past trips, answering the question, “Why take seven weeks to drive across the country in the off-season?”

  1. Beautiful places at their least crowded. Like…

    Like Guess Where National Park

2. Beautiful places we’d never even heard of

The Source of the Missouri River, in Montana.

3. Faraway friends with ridiculously cute kids who are growing up way too fast.

NC Wildflower Walk!

4. Hidden cool spots of cities we didn’t even think we liked.

Watching an ambitious grafitti artist at work in Dallas

5. Ridiculously cute animals on the farms of family members.

Ben the Sheepherding Donkey in Vermont 

6. Deserts!

Arches National Park (duh)

7. Mountains!

Long’s Peak in Colorado

8. Desert mountains!

Anza-Borrego SP in California

9. Bike paths! (We are FOOLS for bike paths.)

…like this rails-to-trails path along the Illinois River Canal

10. and…let’s not forget FOOD.

It’s all about the BBQ. With hush puppies, slaw, and fried okra. Not pictured: sweet tea.

‘Scuse me, I just got very hungry for some reason. But I’ll see you from the road!

Road Trip VII, Days 1-4: Los Angeles to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Wait–Day 1 is Los Angeles? Gretchen, did you move?

No, I cheated. Starting from my home in Washington State, I flew down to San Diego for a first-ever reunion with my sisters, while the Mate followed, at the wheel of our faithful Red Rover. We met in LA and started Road Trip VII from there.

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

The theme of the trip so far? It’s the raison d’etre of our road trips: the joy of moving through beauty.

Our favorite way is to feel the air on our skin. So Day 1, we hiked in the steep canyons of Hollywood, startlingly green from all that recent rain, ignoring the Oscars-related bustle going on just below.

Ah, air. Even LA air. If it’s sunny in February, my skin’s not picky about pollution.

Day 2, we rode our bikes through the cactus gardens of Saguaro National Park in Tucson, marveling at the variety of the plant forms.

Make your own caption for this one

Make your own caption for this one

Can we not find a better word than “desert” to describe such arid Edens? 

dsc02176img_2210But sometimes the air-on-skin model is too rough for our tender epidermes. Day 3, approaching Albuquerque from the south, we were looking forward to biking through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, glorying in the thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese and other migratory fowl who vacation there. But the wind had other ideas–or rather, the wind-blown dust did.

Scenery? What scenery?

Scenery? What scenery?

With poor little Red Rover getting sandblasted along I-25, we decided we wouldn’t fare too well. Boo. Sadness.

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

So we pushed on to Albuquerque, where, thanks to our buddy Beth, I was able to take two long power-walks through the wonderful neighborhoods of Northwest (backyard chickens, horses, goats–even an emu!) as the wind gradually relaxed to less-than-lethal levels.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Mmm…and chiles rellenos with fresh, deeply-green New Mexican chiles….whoops, sorry. Not today’s theme.

On Day 4, we finally got to experience air-on-skin, moving-through-beauty in the blessed slo-mo that is camping. In Palo Duro Canyon State Park, this red, rocky wonderland astonishing close to Amarillo–really!–we rode our bikes around in the last of the afternoon sun.

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Then in the morning we went for a hike.

Dawn's early light from our campsite

Dawn’s early light from our campsite

This was very welcome as a warmer-upper, as the blessedly still air pushed the temp down to 20 overnight. And we weren’t allowed to use our stove because of extreme fire danger. Brrr.

C'mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

C’mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Lest you think The Mate and I are too precipitous in our appreciation of nature’s gifts, just let me add: I could easily have written a post about the joys of being outdoors while holding still. But with a whole continent to cross, basketball games to watch and a bakery waiting for me to come back and work at…my skin and I choose to celebrate our happy reality: moving air.

Almost...warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality...)

Almost…warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality…)

Why Road Trip? A Top Five List

“You drove here?”

The Mate and I have become used to that question over our decades together–especially the last six years since we’ve added an annual Washington-to-North-Carolina sojourn to our regular Bay Area jaunts.

Why drive? I’ve been musing on this topic for the past several hundred I-5 miles. Thought I’d share the results.

1. Falling back in love with America. When you love someone, you notice tiny details, like the wrinkles at the corner of your sweetie’s smile. On road trips, I like to notice transitions between my beautiful country’s beautiful sectors. “Look–first redwood! We’re officially in coastal California!” “Aha–sagebrush! We’re in the Mountain West.”

Can't do this from an airplane!

Can’t do this from an airplane!

2. Discovering special unknowns. Like the sign on Oregon’s Rt. 199 that advertises “Sweet Cron.”  Or, for that matter, the jaw-dropping Smith River that Rt. 199 is honored to shadow.

3. Strengthening that marriage glue. The Mate does 80% of the driving. I do 100% of the Spanish studying, music listening, blogging, navigating and sandwich-making. Both of us are in our happy place–2 feet apart, but in two separate worlds from which we blow kisses and share smiles when we see a sign for “Sweet Cron.”

4. Bike paths. Hiking trails. (Not many of those in an airport.)

5. Old friends along the way–really a combination of #s 1-3. They remind us who we are, why we love each other, why we love them, why we love this country. Because we can just drive up to their door…and hear them say, “You drove here?”

Road Trip VI, Days 12-15, Anza-Borrego Desert Park: Musings on Rarity

I know–usually I title my posts based on the start and end points of the days in question. But would you read a post about “LA to Scottsdale?” Me neither.

Yes, we left LA last Friday and are now visiting friends in the greater Phoenix area. But in between we visited Son One up in the San Bernardino Mountains–think 5,000 feet above the valley, where the air is scented with cedar and more different kinds of pine than I can remember–and from there spent nearly three days in Anza-Borrego Desert Park.

Never heard of it? Neither had we, until recently. It’s only the second-largest state park in California (and simultaneously a national monument), but it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere: halfway between San Diego and Palm Springs. You have to WANT to go there.

The Mate and I went on two gloriously sunny hikes with our friends, noticing the touches of spring the recent rains have brought. I saw lots of tiny golden poppies, and red chuparosa looking like the custom-made hummingbird feeder it is.

Hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird feeder.

But the flowers that really caught my attention were the singletons.

In a whole giant desert full of agave, I saw exactly ONE blooming.

Also called Century Plant, 'cause supposedly that's how often it blooms

Also called Century Plant, ’cause supposedly that’s how often it blooms

And traditional-looking barrel-type cactus? Same thing: ONE.

Actually I've no idea what kind of cactus this is. Anyone?

Actually I’ve no idea what kind of cactus this is. Anyone?

So which pictures do I post and write about? Why, those two. They’re not the prettiest things we saw, just the rarest. Rare = Special.

Why is that? Is the answer too obvious, or too subtle to perceive?

 

Road Trip VI, Days 4-7: Oakland to Pinnacles National Park: Oh, Those California Hills

When I was 16, my dearest wish was to go to Stanford. No, not true; my dearest wish as to win the heart of a certain blue-eyed California man. But Stanford was second. Not for its courses of study or its resume-boosting power, understand. I was in love with the hills.

I first saw them while out visiting my aunt in the Bay Area. I was a little North Carolina girl, raised in the unspectacular beauty of the rural south. Those golden hills, graceful grass swellings studded with tortuous oaks–I had never seen anything like them. To walk upon them, I felt, would be like walking into a painting. No scruffy underbrush of poison ivy and blackberry. No copperheads. Clean and pure.

(Courtesy Wikimedia; I did not have my camera handy--but can't you just hear them calling you?)

(Courtesy Wikimedia; I did not have my camera handy–but can’t you just hear them calling you?)

I did not get to do that. By the time of collegiate commitment, I was in a deep relationship with that California man–my Mate–who had grown up literally across the tracks from Stanford and scorned all things Cardinal in a visceral way. I stuck to the east coast, and I’ve never regretted that choice. And later visits to this area, seeing my in-laws, taught me that those hills were never as pristine as they looked, being, A) laced with poison oak and B) largely private property, and therefore C) loaded with cow poop. Neither clean nor pure.

But driving past them now, when they’re green with recent rain? My heart is 16 again. Northern California is so freakin’ gorgeous.

I’m reminded of lyrics from one of my favorite songwriters, Kate Wolf:

Here in California, the fruit hangs heavy on the vine

 but there’s no gold, thought I’d warn ya–

and the hills turn brown in the summertime.

Yeah, yeah, I get it, Kate–youthful dreams are just that. Life doesn’t turn out that way. But in my case, it turned out better. Thanks, life.

I’ll write about the Pinnacles later. Right now I’m too busy connecting with my inner teenager.

Road Trip VI, Days 1-3: Tacoma to Oakland: Pitcher Plants and Sticky-fingered Hugs

Two year-olds have their own gravitational pull. Two year-old TWINS have a pull exponentially stronger. That explains why, for the second year in a row, our road trip brings us first to Oakland. That’s where these cuties live–our pseudo-grandkids. (They’re actually some sort of cousin, but who looks at anthropological charts when they can look at these guys?)

These guys.

These guys.

But much as we’ve looked forward to being hugged with little sticky fingers, The Mate and I have not rushed headlong to Oakland. There are too many pretty places in between. After a short visit with vibrant old friends in Eugene, we zipped off the interstate and headed for the California redwoods, which exert a pull of their own. And that meant…

Oh boy! Highway 199! We love this road. From the bowl of Grants Pass (“Grass Pants,” to our family), it winds up through mixed-forest hills to the high valley of the Illinois River, near Cave Junction. Acting on a tip from a friend who grew up here, we turned off on Eight Dollar Mountain Road and went for a bike ride and then a hike-picnic in a very unusual ecosystem.

This place.

This place.

Pine trees + manzanita = Dry. Moss + pitcher plants (tall, insectivorous swamp-denizens) = Wet. This little mountain features both of them together. How weird is that?

These guys.

These guys.

Another cool feature of our outing: serpentinite. Yes, I did read the info kiosk that told me exactly what makes this glossy green stone so green and glossy–and no, I don’t remember what it said. All I know is, I picnicked sitting on something we dubbed “the emerald throne.”

This stuff.

This stuff.

And then, yes…off we drove to our happy place among the redwood giants, about whom I’ve written before. And from there along the crashing coast, back up and over the hills, moving through fog from redwoods to oaks to vineyards to the Bay. And the babies. Feeling gratitude for all creatures great and small.

Coolest Freecycle Ever: Community Playgrounds

This isn’t an official travel blog post. For The Mate and me, a jaunt down to the Bay Area for Thanksgiving doesn’t count as a serious, blogworthy Road Trip. But we’re still on the road, and I want to share this cool thing we saw, so maybe it does count after all.

Kids come with a lot of stuff, right? Tricycles and scooters and playhouses and various plastic contraptions with dials and buttons and little squishy horns that (none too soon) lose their squawks. Kids grow. Parents get more stuff, keeping up with the demand. Until finally, the kids are in high school, the garage is full, and the choice arises: endless yard sale, or multiple trips to Goodwill?

But in Oakland, at least, parents have created a third alternative: bring those toys to the nearest playground. And oh, boy–talk about Toddler Heaven!

What to play with first????

What to play with first????

We could have stayed there all day if we’d had enough snacks.

Gentlekids, start your engines!

Gentlekids, start your engines!

After all, we all know that other people’s toys are always the best, right?

Even big kids like Son Two are captivated!

Even big kids like Son Two are captivated!

Yes, of COURSE I know such community playgrounds only work in a climate like California’s. Try this in Washington or Oregon, in the South or Midwest or New England, and…ugh. The mental pictures I get–mold, cracked plastic–not pretty.

But a girl can dream, right? What do you think?

 

 

Road Trip V, Days 38-41, June Lake, CA to Tacoma (aka Almost Home!): Top Four Reasons to Road-Trip

1. Discover America. More specifically, discover hidden treasures no one ever thought of telling you about. Here are some of our faves from this trip.

Caprock Canyon State Park, south of Amarillo, TX. (In a previous post I mis-labeled it as Capstone.) can’t wait to come back with more time!

I'm coming back!

I’m coming back!

Secret Canyon near Page, AZ. Nothing like as crowded as its famous cousin, Antelope Canyon, but just as breathtaking.

More, more!

More, more!

June Lake, CA. It’s the cute, low-rent version of Mammoth Lakes, which caters to skiers and hikers. We loved its understated beauty and lack of Starbucks.

Like a mini Lake Tahoe!

Like a mini Lake Tahoe!

Mono Lake. This one’s a bit more famous, having been saved by activists in the 1990s after thirsty LA had drained it down to a dustbowl. But The Mate and I had never taken the time to get off the highway and explore its incredible “forest” of tufa formations.

The shell of an ancient freshwater spring into the saline lake. Really.

The shell of an ancient freshwater spring into the saline lake. Really.

Bizz Johnson Bike Trail, Susanville, CA. Susanville?! What the heck is there to do in Susanville? Ride this amazing rail-trail, that’s what: 16 miles through a wild canyon, complete with multiple river crossings, huge Ponderosa pines, flowers, and even some tunnels!

Best bike path yet!

Best bike path yet!

LaPine State Park, just south of Bend, OR. Here the Deschutes River is serene, and you can wind along its banks without having someone blow past you on a $2,000 mountain bike like they do in Bend.

Would've loved to have camped here, but it got down to 19. We're not that tough.

Would’ve loved to have camped here, but it got down to 19. We’re not that tough.

2. Renew ties with family members and old friends you might not otherwise see. Last year we visited with a newly-met cousin in Indiana. This year we checked in with some other cousins whose twins are 18 months old–such a precious, fleeting age! We potlucked with friends we made back in 1981 when I took time out from college to be an intern at a little mountain school. And, of course, we got together with our Tarheel Tribe to act like idiots, watching basketball and eating BBQ.

3. Get closer with your traveling partner. My Mate and I joke that any couple contemplating marriage ought to be sent on a 6-week road trip to find out if they’re truly compatible. I call our annual road trip “marriage glue.”

The Mate and I in the NC mountains

The Mate and I in the NC mountains

4. Fall back in love with where you live. I have enjoyed every single day of Road Trip V. But on our penultimate day, as I visited a waterfall in the Columbia Gorge, within sight of my home state, just the smell of wet fir trees was enough to choke me up.

Ahhhh...welcome back to Ecotopia!

Ahhhh…welcome back to Ecotopia!

Those are my reasons. If you have others, I’d love to hear them. But for now, travel-blogger Gretchen turns back into regular ol’ blog-about-whatever Gretchen…until next year!