Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Traveling has become more complex for us as time has passed. Pets (dog and cat) along with health issues have narrowed our traveling  scope considerably, even around our two homes. Still we have great remembrances of many places, not only for the fantastic opportunities we’ve always found to see and learn, but also some of the great, cheap, pet-friendly places we’ve discovered to stay.

I’ve decided to begin 2015 with those greatest hits…prompted by staying at a real miss on our trip south this year. Let me add that ever shortening daylight hours did little to increase our most recent road trip’s pleasure. The only saving grace? We saw a lot of Christmas lights.

So with proper fanfare and a nod to the entanglements of pet-friendly I give you:

Motel 6, San Simeon, CA.

As all you pet owners know, Motel 6s are the only “absolutely always take pets with no fee” on the road. Except in North Carolina which at the time we visited had a state law refusing pets in ANY motel, the only state we’ve had to drive completely across to find pet friendly lodgings. (FYI, North Carolina is a truly wide state east to west.)

It’s true Motel 6s have a certain (mostly deserved) reputation. Tom Bodett may leave the light on for you but at best the amenities range from OK, to a little scary with lumpy beds pushed up against the walls, to Yes, Harold, that is Anthony Perkins at the front desk. One May we arrived at the Motel 6 in Twenty Nine Palms CA (think Mojave Desert) just as they were completing steam cleaning the room’s carpet. Clean is always good. Still having to keep the heat on to dry the rug after a day spent cooking in the car was a little tough.

So it was a happy surprise to find the San Simeon Motel 6. The closest hotel to the Hearst Castle, it’s obviously been repurposed to a Motel 6 from a grander motel in the past. It’s got a real lobby, rooms with a view of the ocean which is just across the dunes, and a pretty darn good restaurant. The rooms are huge by Motel 6 standards and the staff very friendly.

Can you believe it? A Four Star Motel 6!

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Just Askin" thanks to Daily Kow

Just Askin”
thanks to Daily Kos

Here’s a Voter Lookup Site:

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Border Insecurity: Why big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer. by Sylvia Longmire. Palgrave/MacMillan. 2014. 250 pp.

Since traveling and living in the deep Southwest, I’ve often been stunned by the front and center role border issues occupy here. No mere distant possibility, close encounters of the border kind happen here with startling regularity. Our first sighting was in Imperial County where Interstate 8 dips almost to touch the border. There, in the late 90s, we watched as a old white beater Yugo pulled into the break down lane where someone scrambled from the drainage ditch into the back seat and off they went. Another time while in a Nogales, Sonora border crossing line I watched a teenager climb over the steel fence into Nogales Arizona. In the local Safeway parking lot I saw men handcuffed then pushed into the back of a Border Patrol van. This spring, again on I-8, off the roadside we saw five camouflage-clad men carrying assault weapons crouched and running through a boulder field. Just last monthBorder Patrol agents shot dead an alleged drug smuggler on a local golf course after he fled his SUV containing about 500 pounds of baled marijuana. Right now over 1000 illegal minors are being warehoused in Nogales about 30 miles south.

Border Insecurity CoverSo I was led to this brand new book, Border Insecurity for some  on-the-ground information.

Tucsonian, border security expert and consultant Sylvia Longmire does an admirable job of bringing readers up-to-date on the current situation at the border. Dense with facts, light on rant or jargon, Longmire’s book offers a cogent, non-partisan contribution to the ongoing conversation on border issues. Longmire divides illegal border crossers into three general types: drug smugglers and the drug cartels behind them; potential terrorists; and those seeking work. Recently Mexican drug cartels have taken over “coyote” operations and now use economic migrants as “mules”— slaves forced to carry drugs over the border or else. And as cartels become increasing violent, spillover effects plague Arizona’s border, placing additional burdens on already overstretched state, county and local law enforcement as well as the 5000+ Border Patrol agents who now cover the Tucson and Yuma Districts.

Topics range from the border “fence” (real and virtual) and other technical fixes, to dogs trained to sniff out drugs in cars, to the barbaric actions often involved in crossing, to money laundering, to what’s happening at the Canadian border.

Her major conclusion is that tough decisions must be made to develop realistic Federal policies, plans and benchmarks, rather than having a frustrated Congress impose strict but unrealistic legislative metrics to measure border control “success”, for example the pie-in-the-sky 95% reduction in illegal crossings currently proposed. Since the vast majority are crossing for jobs she posits they do not pose a direct threat and should be dealt with separately from the obvious homeland security risks posed by lawless drug cartels and potential terrorists. She also recommends closer scrutiny of the real value of costly high tech “solutions”—now deployed or dreamed of. It’s an eye-opening synopsis of our current situation which also offers some hope for the future.

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North Shore Promotion  courtesy of Salton Sea Museum

North Shore Promotion
courtesy of Salton Sea Museum

In the 1950s and 60s the Salton Sea was a favorite resort destination for Southern Californians who boated, swam and fished at its seaside resorts. Desi Arnaz and Dwight Eisenhower golfed there; Guy Lombardo and Frank Sinatra raced boats.

Guy Lombardo, Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra at the Salton Sea photo courtesy of the Salton Sea Museum

Guy Lombardo, Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra at the Salton Sea
photo courtesy of the Salton Sea Museum

But alarms raised about pollutants caused recreation to plummet and in 1976 and 1977 two tropical storms, both “100 year storms”, followed by seven years of increased rainfall, flooded the resorts and vacation homes, leaving veritable “ghost towns” behind.

At Desert Beach photo courtesy of Salton Sea Museum

At Desert Beach
photo courtesy of Salton Sea Museum

Since 1977, a group of dedicated volunteers, the Sea and Desert Interpretive Association, working with CA. State Parks and the Salton Sea Restoration Project have been working to clear up false rumors, address bad publicity and get on with the job of restoration. As the Sea and Desert Association’s brochure states: “There is no evidence of the sea being polluted or having any harmful chemical or sewage. It is said that the Salton Sea is cleaner than Lake Tahoe. While dead fish are not a real pretty sight or smell, we are experiencing  the life cycle in action. The fish remain plentiful and healthy…and the fishing is great.”

Still the Sea faces enormous problems, the major one being quickening salinity rises that are bound to occur once agricultural water runoff dries up. This is slated to begin in earnest in 2017 as the Imperial Valley begins to sell its ag water to San Diego. The plans to mitigate what will obviously be profound if not catastrophic results for the Sea and its avian and fish life, seem, to be either prohibitively expensive or too large scale to be realistic. Still there are promising technologies and potential economic uses for by-products of de-salination.

On February 27, 2014 a new way to generate dollars for restoration was put forward—Barbara Boxer, California’s US Senator and two southern California congressmen, Raul Ruiz and Juan Vargas requested, by formal letter, that the Department of Interior designate the Salton Sea as  a renewable energy development area, making it easier to extendi its geothermal generating capacity beyond the current seven plants, clustered in three facilities. Income from new plants could be directed toward restoring the Sea.

Salton Sea Geothermal Plants photo courtesy of Center for Land Use Interpretation

Salton Sea Geothermal Plants
photo courtesy of Center for Land Use Interpretation

The problems are large; the costs high. But the importance of the Salton Sea as a diverse and very rare mixed ecosystem on the Pacific Flyway makes finding a way toward restoration a high priority—for all of us.

For further information see:




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It seems like we’d taken every road available to cross southern California—all four interstates (yes we’ve even gone through Vegas on I-15) as well as backroads like State Route 62 through Twenty Nine Palms which we got to by driving through Joshua Tree National Park. While they’ve added distance as well as time to the journeys, the detours have provided ways to see backcountry SoCal that many people never experience.

IMG_2371 - Version 2

The Salton Sea © SR Euston

This trip we chose to return from LA via I-10 through Palm Springs and then head south at Indio. Looking for lunch we ended up at Mecca, a crossing of the roads where we continued south around the eastern side of the Salton Sea on State Route 111.

I’m not sure what I expected but it definitely wasn’t this: a beautifully glistening enormous lake, 228 feet below sea level, the largest in California with a 380 square mile surface compared to Lake Tahoe’s 193. This particular iteration of this inland sea, a sink which has been alternating between flooded and dry for thousands of years, was created by Colorado River overflow flooding which began in 1905 and was finally blocked off in1907.  Since being closed off from the river, the sea now receives water only from a few small rivers; its major source is runoff from the adjacent farmland in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys.  Consequently, salinity rises each year and is now 25% higher than the Pacific Ocean. In 1930 a National Wildlife Refuge was established; in 1955 a state park.

The ecosystem is a study in contrasts and conflicts. On the one hand, the fish, introduced tilapia especially, continue to thrive and the Salton Sea is considered by some to be the most productive fishery in the world. On the other hand, it’s so productive that periodically there are massive die offs, probably the result of overpopulation leading to oxygen depletion. The blazing summer temperatures don’t help either. Evaporation increases the Sea’s salinity and reduces the ability of the water to hold oxygen.

On the third hand, the Salton Sea with its mix of marine, freshwater, desert, wetland and agricultural lands, is considered California’s “Crown Jewel of Avian Biodiversity”, with over 400 species sighted, second only to the Texas Gulf Coast. Several million birds migrate through annually relying on its ready supply of food. On the other (fourth?) hand, major bird die offs have happened periodically, particularly in the 1990s when 170,000 eared grebes, as well as 1000 endangered brown pelicans and 15 to 20% of the white pelican’s western population died, probably from an deadly mix of avian viruses and bacteria.

From the crusty shoreline (which looks a little like Yellowstone’s mineral hot springs) we easily spot white pelicans and black necked stilts. Rather than sand, the beach is made up of millions of fan shaped translucent fish scales and a lot of dead fish.

Shoreline, Salton Sea © AME

Shoreline, Salton Sea © AME

An eerie feeling of abandonment hangs in the air.  Forlorn, almost abandoned.

What’s happening to the Salton Sea?

Next: Salton Sea past, Salton Sea future

For general park information see: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=639 and http://seaanddesert.org/facts.html.

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This is a question I’ve been asking myself every since I arrived thirty years ago. I’ve finally gotten down to “I know it when I see it.”

Of course it’s partially flat out geography. West of the 100th meridian to the Pacific coast was John Wesley Powell’s idea in 1879, the 100th meridian being where there was no longer sufficient rainfall (>20 inches/year) to support large scale agriculture without irrigation. It slices North and South Dakota as well as Nebraska about in half, then heads through western Kansas, across the Oklahoma panhandle and through West Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, the coast from about San Francisco to the Canadian border gets a lot more than 20 inches of rain. Our own Port Orford averages 80. Still, the dividing line seems good enough to me because I know Seattle and Portland and Eureka are western towns (even though it’s generally raining).

Courtesy of radio-blogs.com

Courtesy of radio-blogs.com

Patricia Limerick adds some of her own characteristics beyond mere geography in Something in the Soil. And the plot thickens. Here are her ten common characteristics, noting that not every place has them all but there is sufficient overlap to “give the whole some conceptual unity.” Here’s my interpretations of her top 10:

1. The West is arid to semi-arid. Still pioneers came from that back east riot of green, and wanted to reproduce it here. Thus massive irrigation and inter-basin water transfer projects.

2. The West has lots of Native Americans. There are sufficient large reservations (as well as casinos) to confirm the Indians haven’t vanished and their culture(s) continue to contribute to the Western mythos.

3. The West shares a border with Mexico (which she labels a third world country) and took a large part of this US region from the Mexicans in a war of conquest. A strong Hispanic strand remains in the culture.

4. The West abuts the Pacific Ocean, making the US a bi-coastal nation, open to influences both from Europe and Asia.

5. The West contains a large amount of public land, most of it administered by the US Forest Service and the US Department of Interior (DOI).

6. Federal ownership, especially DOI, of vast western lands makes the federal government a central and critical player in regional governance and politics.

7. The West has had a long history of economic boom and bust from natural resource extraction industries.

8. The West has fed into its own myth of freedom and adventure. With that has come a heavy reliance on tourism as well as the need to meet mythic expectations.

9. The West serves as the nation’s dumping ground, for everything from toxic waste to troublesome groups of people (think Native Americans, Mormons etc.)

10. Putting all these factors together it’s clear the story of the West is hardly over., and the limits and results of past conquest of people and land continues to show on the landscape and the culture.

Overall while I’m not sure this is the list I would come up with, it seems to work pretty well overall. The underlining of the federal presence and role is a particularly valuable one.

But still I would have to say, simple geography works pretty well. As does, “I know it when I’m there.” It’s definitely “something in the soil.”

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Recently we picked up the 2000 book Something in the Soil by Patricia Nelson Limerick. Limerick is leading historian of the “New West Movement”, a group who, in the 1990s, broke away from Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1890 paradigm that the frontier was closed (and so in essence, the West’s unique history had ended) to a much broader and more inclusive, as well as continuing, story. The New Western History presents a more nuanced vision based on different historical “truths”. Here are four.

275534The West, in fact, continued to be settled long after 1890. Western history was hardly complete if defined by white male pioneers from “back east” but needed to include the women and children who accompanied them as well as people moving north, west, and east—Mexicans, African Americans,  and Asians. [Author’s aside: as well as “back easterners” arriving by ships coming up the Pacific Coast as they did to my coastal Oregon town] And don’t forget the continued present of Native Americans. Western history should re-focus away from the romance evoked by the word “frontier” and its underlying implication of US exceptionalism and onto the global reality that taking over Western lands was no more than another example of conquest. Finally it’s necessary to abandon the myth of black hat/white hat style of clear-cut morality which permeates western lore to acknowledge that the West is populated by folks as human as everybody else. As Limerick suggests we’re really all “gray hats.”

Although this new Western history may sound fairly “old hat” in 2014 (ignoring race, ethnicity, environmental issues and that the “end of the frontier” hardly ended the conflicts that continue to play out in the West? Seriously?) it was received by many as cutting edge, unorthodox, and to some historians borderline heretical when it broke into the old “frontier” paradigm.

I have to admit as someone who grew up back east knowing the West only through John Ford movies like Stagecoach, and TV series like Gunsmoke, the Lone Ranger, and Zorro (at least it’s a nod to Old Hispanic California) it rattles my mythos. And still living here, choosing to live here for most of my adult life, it can’t be denied there is something unique “out here.” While all the “out heres” seem so different—New Mexico, Montana, SoCal and the Oregon Coast hardly feel exactly alike to me—they are definitely more related  geographically and culturally to each other than they are to the backeast regions of New England, the South or the Midwest.

I was drawn to the title Something in the Soil. It felt, even vaguely smelled, somehow exactly descriptive of the West. As she explains, in fact, it was a (very negative) reaction of a Bostonian to Limerick’s new history paradigm. As she concludes: “Of course, the West has had a very full life as an abstraction, an ideal, and a dream. And yet the West is also actual, material and substantial—’something in the soil,’a set of actual places now holding layer upon layer of memory.”




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from the Estate of RH Euston

from the Estate of RH Euston


A picture in faded sepia. A father and two boys stand behind a great green prickly pear cactus, the boy’s faces full of sun, graced with a  shimmer of security and contentment.  The father, well, a father’s firm gaze looks straight into the camera lens.  The day is lazily, autumnally hazy. The blight of smog has yet to suffocate the Los Angles Basin. It’s a warm late afternoon. It’s Sunday. The resinous smell of an old eucalyptus tree mingles with the scent of  nearby chaparral.

Though the picture is now almost three quarters of a century old, I know the setting and the time: the La Crescenta Valley, at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, when in 1944 a few vineyards still survived on terraces and when in the deep mauve of sundown I heard dogs barking, that domestic call echoing across the valley, breaking an almost rural quietude

But the  year is 1944. Around the world the greatest war is in its most fateful stage. But for one hundredth of a second, the world in one tiny spot on earth is at peace.

My father and my brother are gone years ago. My father from ripe old age. He and I walk  for a last time, in Spring, carefully, slowly rounding the gentle curve of the San Diego mobile home park, while I point out and name every kind of flower and tree that I can. He seems to understand, maybe, I think, from the smell of jasmine and lemon. Is this his last taste, his last smell, his last seeing of the natural world around which so much of his life revolved? Days later he lies unconscious in a white bed in San Diego Kaiser Hospital,  intravenous vines twining around his pale arms. He finally sleeps, and soon joins the infinity of the Pacific Ocean, as he wished.

My brother brightens the picture with the innocence of an Andy Hardy movie character, with stocky frame, short sleeves and wavy hair, his smile that of a buoyant teenager in the 1940s who runs track and wears a letterman’s sweater with golden track shoes pined to a big “G”, who edites the high school newspaper, who wins blistering towel fights with his little unarmed sibling, my brother who graduates from UCLA Phi Beta Kappa, serves as a second Lieutenant in the peace time army, and who talks and writesabout high adventure. But in adult life he chooses to live close to home, work in Los Angeles, travels about the world. His life closes very near home.

I alone remain, putting memory to work, to find the direction of the past in the ravines and hills of the mind. The “I” is not the boy of seven standing before the cactus, suspenders rounding the shoulders, in love with this magic afternoon. But in the picture the “I” of that certain afternoon has come to life for a moment in this very present. That one hundredth of a second of camera time has brought life to a long ago moment in the life of a family, of a place called Southern California, at the cusp of its great transition into the world of the present. Its shimmering, beckoning autumnal imprint has traveled those long halls of memory to a far distant vanishing point. Thus the magic of that quicksilver, evanescent click of the shudder.    SRE

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This year’s Fourth of July celebration theme was “An Old Fashioned Fourth.”

If my childhood Fourths served as the model, the festivities would have begun with a fried chicken picnic dinner on a blanket while watching fireworks across the town pond. This would have been followed by excitedly forbidden (if not downright illegal) bottle rocket blasts set off by my best friend’s father in their backyard, with all the neighborhood parents standing around alternatively saying “Now Lew, that’s not really legal is it?” followed by appreciative oohs and aahs as colored sparks filled the sky.

If it were my husband’s and his pals’ “Old Fashioned Fourth” it would have included rice-paper wrapped, LA Chinatown procured, firecrackers placed by each dad next to the breakfast bowl of shredded wheat. Another delightfully questionable walk on the wild side for a solidly middle class, definitely law-abiding neighborhood citizenry.

And at Port Orford’s 2013 Parade? We had: horses, fire engines, the local ambulance sporting fake body parts, a flock of motorcylists, a large group in matching red T-shirts riding on a flatbed, a woman in the back of an old convertible wearing a beaded wedding dress, and a float featuring a loin-clothed “Indian”, Uncle Sam, a colonially-costumed guy reciting the Declaration of Independence (I think he was meant to be Ben Franklin), a young man in full dress military uniform, and someone wearing a chef’s toque holding a dog on a leash.

As you can see here in Port Orford we all imagine our “Old Fashioned Fourths” differently.

For our Fourth, the Friends of the Port Orford Library decided to honor our librarians past, present and future. For the Parade we dressed up as Port Orford librarians of yesteryear, although somewhat mysteriously to me, we carried name signs of today’s librarians. (I guess we were doing double duty and/or channeling past lives.) And our entry included kids (representing future librarians) riding a pick-up and chanting “Read Books! Read Books!” all the way from the start at the Crazy Norwegian’s Restaurant on the south end of town, to the terminus at the “God Bless America” liquor store 14 blocks north. For this amazing entry we netted “Best of Class.” I’m not certain how many classes there are or who our competition might have been. Still a prize is a prize.

One thing that doesn’t change is we throw candy to the kids lining the streets. Now that’s a new fashioned Fourth I can get behind.

And here’s a Fourth of July band I can never get enough of; .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODu888i14-I

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Of course desert wildflowers aren’t the only showy displays in the Mojave. There are the Joshua trees themselves.

Generally described in terms like bizarre, twisted, strange and gangly (the plant specialist in the park brochure even uses the term “grotesque”), we find vast Joshua tree forests along the loop trip through the park’s northern portion anything but. Different or unique for sure, but hardly worthy of John Fremont’s description, “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.”

Maybe the problem is that Joshua trees aren’t, in fact, trees at all. They’re members of the Lily family—a monocot and subspecies of flowering plants that include grasses and orchids, as well as Fan Palms which we discovered years ago at the end of the park’s Lost Oasis Trail.

Below is a slide show of Joshua trees and their environs so you can judge for yourself. We even unearthed a photo of Fan Palms taken in the early 90s. I guess if you’re looking for a sugar maple or a doug fir you might be disappointed. But if you’re looking for another desert denizen (like that other desert “tree” the Saguaro) then, like us, you may find these fibrous giants rare, fascinating, maybe even closer to something from a fairy tale than a horror story.


All Photos © SR Euston

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