Over the last few months
vast numbers of people, possibly as many as two, have asked me why I
haven't sent any reports on my travels recently. The truth is, I
have not done much traveling lately, but I thought I would combine
several short trips into a single roundup report.
Snowy Trip to Vegas
The first trip was the
longest and also the most "adventurous," although not the
good kind of adventure. My grandson Mikie's hockey team had a
tournament in Las Vegas over President's Day weekend, February
13-15. Tim, my son-in-law, had to work, but Mikie, my daughter Teri,
and I got started about 9:30, expecting to make the 400 mile trip in
about eight hours, with the usual stops for gas, lunch, etc. It was
pouring down rain, and driving conditions on the State 99 freeway
were somewhat like going through a car wash. Since the route goes
over 4,000 foot Tehachapi Pass, I wondered about snow, but my
daughter had called the road information line and there were no
closures or delays. However, that was then, and things change.
Our first traffic jam was getting off highway
99 onto highway 58 at Bakersfield...an accident had traffic at a
crawl in the right lane and the ramp; it probably took us a half
hour to get going again.
Our mostly flat valley slopes up very gently as
you approach the mountains on all sides, and Highway 58 starts to
rise noticeably about 20 miles east of Bakersfield. As soon as we
started uphill, we got into snow. Traffic slowed to about 30 MPH
but was moving steadily for several miles, then came to a stop about
two miles below Keene.
For the next two hours, we moved about a half
mile, in increments of 50 to 100 yards at a time. It snowed off and on, with
some rain, but did not build up on the road, and I think we could
have gone through OK except for the cause of the stoppage, which
turned out to be a truck jackknifed in the road.
On the positive side, we were in wooded
foothills, and the scenery was great, with snow covering everything.
A small group of horses trotted across a distant meadow several
times, as if posing for a postcard.
Also, Mikie handled the delay fairly well,
having reached a point in life where he recognizes the uselessness
of complaining about a situation over which you have no control. He
did suggest we go up the shoulder, after we saw an emergency vehicle
do so, but we explained that eventually we would get to whatever was
stopping traffic, and the other unhappy motorists would not be
thrilled about letting us back into the traffic lane.
Eventually the CHP and CalTrans workers on the
scene determined that the road would be blocked for hours, and had
everyone turn around. I already had an alternate route in mind, and
just below where we turned around, we took Highway 223 southwest to
the small town of Arvin, where we had a 4 p.m. lunch and got gas. We
then continued on to I-5 and over the Tejon Pass, also about 4,000
feet but free of problems, then headed east on State 138, north on
State 14, and finally joined highway 58 again, a little short of the
half way point on our original route. By this time it was nearly
dark, but we plodded on, getting to Las Vegas around 10:30, a twelve
hour trip. Other than a brief traffic back-up at Kramer Junction
where US 395 crosses 58, we had no further problems. There was a
little snow along the road at
on I-15 between Baker and the state line, and in the higher
spots in Nevada on the 45 mile stretch from the state line to Las
Other team families were luckier - Teri texted
some of them, and they took the I-5 route directly, skipping the
two-hour delay. Others took the route through Lake Isabella over
Walker Pass, which was clear, and still others left late enough in
the day that highway 58 was open, although they were escorted slowly
over the pass by the CHP.
The hockey tournament was not as successful as
we would have liked, but we had a good time anyway. Mikie and
various team members played hockey in the hallway for long periods
every day, and were even joined by several kids from the Utah
team that beat them in the first game. It was a good opportunity to
find out that the “enemy” are actually nice kids just like those
on your own team.
On Sunday between games we went to Shark Reef
at Mandalay Bay Hotel/Casino. Despite my advanced age, it was my very
first visit to an aquarium, and it was a great experience. I was
especially impressed by the jellyfish, rays, and sea turtles, along
with lots of sharks, sawfish, and many other fish.
It was impossible to get good photos inside, although I did manage
to get one fair
Another storm was predicted
for Monday, but the on-line Weather Channel
showed that the worst of it would be late, so we got up at
and were on the road by 4:35. There was slushy snow falling on the east side of Tehachapi and
fluffy flakes through the top, but no snow on the west side at all,
just rain off and on all the way home. We got home just after.
Day Trip to Mariposa
I grew up in Mariposa County, about 70
miles from Fresno, and have been going there regularly ever since I
left for college in 1957. After my parents passed away, having lived
there since 1938, I continued to go there - first to help and visit
my mother, and after her death in 2007, to sort out all the stuff
she left behind. This project was finished about a year ago, and my
sister and I listed the house for sale. Needless to say, it's not a
good time to be selling houses, and we had virtually no potential
we turned it over to a rental agent. I had removed the final few
items in early February, and had only one thing left - a small roto-tiller
that my dad used to dig the garden.
My friend Janell Sidney, who lives on a five
acre plot in Madera, decided she could use it, and on February 24 we
went up there to get it, and to have lunch and check out some of the many
Once again, I was driving in rain much of the way. We went through
Raymond, a tiny town in Madera County, whose main claim to fame is
being the location of a large granite quarry that produced stone
blocks for banks and other buildings in San Francisco and throughout
Despite the clouds and
obstructed view of the mountains, it was a beautiful drive, with
every little drainage running as a creek, and the trees and grass a
bright spring green. Once in Mariposa County, the route passes the historic
which has been in the same family since Gold Rush Days. The ranch is
marked by long stretches of rock walls, which the original owner had
built, using Chinese labor.
In Mariposa we had lunch at the
home of the wonderful "goldpanner spuds" (like potato
chips, but thick and crispy). We did some shopping, then drove up to Midpines Summit,
about two miles and 1,000 feet in elevation above town, where there
was still quite a bit of snow from previous storms (but melting in the rain).
In the 1970s my parents purchased seven undeveloped acres on Carlton Road,
so we drove past there. We had wanted to get out and walk around, but it was too wet
and rainy for that.
We finished up by loading the roto-tiller, and
headed home down state highway 140, then through the farmlands of
Merced and Madera Counties through LeGrand back to Janell's place.
Table Mountain Hikes
North of Fresno, where
State Highway 145 crosses State 41 in Madera County, there is a
series of low table-top mountains. Similar land forms appear on both
sides of the San Joaquin River adjacent to and above Millerton Lake,
a distance of probably ten miles or so from first ones (known
generally as Little Table Mountain). I think the
first time I went to the top of Little Table was when my daughters
were teenagers. I've been in the area with various friends and my
grandsons over the years, and had wanted to make the hike this year.
The table tops are
actually the bed of the ancient river, and are caused by a basalt flows
ending about 10,000 years ago. Over
time, the surrounding country eroded away, but the volcanic rock protected
certain spots, forming areas topped with basalt cliffs ranging from
10 to 70 feet high. Little Table Mountain is somewhat
different. This structure was at the bottom where the receding
waters flowed and each layer of sediment gives an idea of how much
water was flowing by the size of rocks held in the individual layer.
In addition to the table
tops, the area is notable for large boulders of basalt that were
either left behind after the erosion, or tumbled down from the
cliffs. One such boulder is tall and narrow, and we've
given it the name "Stonehenge."
On Saturday, March 14, I
set out with my friend
Janell, her grandson Mark, and my daughter Jennifer. It was a very
nice day, sunny but not too warm, and the wildflowers were starting
Unfortunately Mark got sick before we reached
our destination, so he and
Janell waited while Jennifer and I went on to the top. From there
you get a nice view of the snow
covered Sierra Nevada mountains, as well as nearby Friant Dam and
We had planned to go out
to eat after our hike, but Janell wanted to get Mark home, so we
agreed to do a "make-up" hike in the near future.
We scheduled our next hike for the following
Saturday. It turned out that Jennifer and Mark could not make it,
but Janell and I were joined by my grandson Mikie and her twin
daughters, Nichole and Jessica, and their boyfriends, Dominick and
We went first to "Stonehenge,"
where the boys had fun attempting to climb the rock (pretty much
impossible without special equipment). Then we went up to the top of
Little Table Mountain. There is a large metal cross that
once stood on top of the hill, but which has been down since the
early 1980s. People have been applying their names and graffiti to
it ever since, so the boys
carved their names and girlfriends' names into it.
The weather was perfect again, and we saw lots
of buzzards, who seldom flap their wings, but instead drift up and down on
thermals. Although it was green and there were maybe even more
flowers, the vegetation was noticeably dryer than the week before.
our walk we ate at the Dam
Diner (named for nearby Friant Dam) in the little town of Friant.
It was noted for
its excellent burgers and fries, but sadly, it is closed as of 2015.
Dolphins, Hiking and
Dining in Orange County
My cousin, Katie Leary,
and her boyfriend Chuck Calanni live in Aliso Viejo in Orange County. I
wrote about my last
visit to them in 2006. I had tried to schedule a visit as part
of some of my other Arizona and Southern California trips, but
finally decided that the best approach was a visit devoted strictly
I left home a little
after 9 a.m. on March 27, and had a good, fast trip down State 99
and I-5, with a lunch stop in Valencia, home of Magic Mountain.
The fast part ended when I reached the northern part of Los Angeles,
where traffic slowed to a crawl. For about one hour it was stop and
go traffic, seldom going faster than 10 MPH. The next hour, we
achieved speeds up to 20 and sometimes 35 MPH, then finally near
Knott's Berry Farm, traffic cleared up and I was able to go at a
normal pace till I got to my exit.
I was arriving a little
early (around 3:30 p.m.) so I was concerned that no one would be
home, but I learned that Chuck and Katie now work out of their home.
They have both been in information technology for a long time, and
now have a credit card processing business. They do have to go out
to see prospective clients or attend meetings, but many days they can work without
leaving home, a definite plus in the LA/Orange metro area.
Katie's daughter Shauna
lives and works in nearby San Clemente, which is on the ocean and on
the border between Orange and San Diego Counties. Not long after I
arrived we drove to her place, which she shares with two roommates.
We then went to a restaurant on the San Clemente pier, where they
feature not only happy hour drinks, but a nightly happy hour dinner
plate for $3. This time it was a Chinese dish, and very good. By the
time we finished dinner, the sun had set, putting on a nice show as
it disappeared into the Pacific.
This area is one of the
prime surfing spots in southern California, so while we waited for a
table, we strolled out part way on the pier, watching the many
surfers ride the waves.
Saturday a full schedule
was planned. While Chuck ran an errand, Katie and I drove a short
distance to where a hiking trail begins. Despite being in a metro
area of millions, there is a large tract of undeveloped land,
& Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, which has miles of hiking
trails. We followed a trail that went uphill, mostly a very gentle
slope, to a place where we could see the ocean. Nearby is another
trail that goes down through a canyon all the way to the ocean; and
the area offers a wide variety of easy to difficult hikes. It's also
a popular spot for mountain biking, and we saw a number of riders
during our walk.
Southern California has
had a fairly good amount of rain this year, and the trail is lined
with many species of wildflowers, along with prickly pear and a few
examples of other cactus.
In the afternoon we went
to Dana Point to go out on a whale watching boat. We did not see any
whales, but shortly after we left the harbor we began seeing
dolphins. Over the next half hour or so we saw literally hundreds of
dolphins, some right by the boat. Often there would be anywhere from
two to ten of them breaking the surface at the same time.
The staff on the boat
said they feed mostly on sardines, and the fish also draw hundreds
of birds, including lots of pelicans, cormorants, and gulls.
When we got back to
shore, we headed to Olamendi's
Mexican restaurant, on the Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, where we had an excellent dinner. We then drove down
to the shore and walked through Heisler
Park, which features a paved and beautifully landscaped
pathway that follows the edge of the cliff above the sea, with a
number of beach access trails leading off from it.
Sunday was a little more
relaxing (although all our activities count as relaxation for
working people). We went to the nearby Laguna
Niguel Regional Park and took a walk around a
fair sized lake, about two and a half miles total. The park was
crowded, which was a surprise to Chuck and Katie, since they
normally go on weekdays when it is virtually empty.
The trail is lined with
wild flowers, including huge patches of wild mustard, as well as a
yellow-flowering tree that we could not identify, and the usual
southern California favorite, eucalyptus.
The rest of the day was
fairly quiet and relaxing, hanging around the house. In the evening
Katie's daughter Shauna and two friends came over. Chuck and Katie
did an excellent barbecue, and we had a great visit.
During my time there we were
entertained by Ebee, their Bengal cat. She loves to be outside, but
can't be out alone, and they put her on a long tether when she is
out. Despite being in a metro area of more than 15 million people,
the area is visited by raccoons, hawks and the occasional coyote.
Chuck and Katie were both
doing something, and I was sitting outside reading when I heard Ebee
meowing inside the house. Then I heard a loud scratching sound on
the window screen and realized I had better bring her outside before
she clawed through (indeed, they have had to replace the screen).
Once outside, Ebee spends most of her time keeping an eye on the
many birds that are attracted by feeders and an extensive flower
garden. When I went inside, I brought her in. She protested loudly,
but did not struggle at all; it seems she's learned that resistance
is futile, but that freedom of speech does indeed extend to cats.
Inside, she has a ping
pong ball she plays with. If you toss it up the stairs five or six
steps, she will leap up before it can roll down, and attack it as if
it were a dangerous killer mouse.
Katie had an early
meeting and was up and gone by about 7 a.m. Monday. Chuck had to
visit a client, but did not have to leave till around 9, so I had
breakfast with him, and was ready to get on the road a little after 9.
Following Chuck's advice I took I-405 (the San Diego Freeway), which
joins I-5 at the northern end of the San Fernando Valley.
Except for about 15
minutes of 30 to 40 MPH traffic, I was able to travel at usual
freeway speeds all the way through the metro area and home. I
stopped for gas and at a couple of rest stops, and had lunch at the
Black Bear Diner in Tulare. I had heard good things about this
chain, and I can recommend that you try it if you encounter one.
I got home around 3:30,
having decided that the enjoyment of the trip was worth the traffic
hassle through L.A.
--Dick Estel, April 2009
(Some photos are from previous visits to the location)
Snow near Highway 58
east of Bakersfield
This was our view
for nearly two hours
Mikie & the boys from Utah
Sting Rays at Shark Reef, Mandalay Boy
Old water tank in Raymond
Rock wall near the Raymond Road
The Quick Ranch
Snow at Midpines Summit
Our house in Mariposa
Basalt cliffs on Little
The view from the top
The boulder known as
Getting to the roots of the matter
Jennifer by the fallen cross
Dominick, Jessica, Kyle, Mikie (on rock), Tinker Bell (held by
Jessica & Kyle; south end
Table Mountain in the background
Dominick clings to the few
Not Stonehenge, but still,
Houses viewed from Aliso
& Wood Canyons trail
View down Laguna Canyon to
Wild cucumber by the trail
Dana Point from the boat
Dolphins feeding off Dana
Chuck & Katie on the
Sand and surf at Laguna Beach
Landscaping at Heisler Park
Century Plant in
Sunset from Laguna Beach
Mustard flowers in Laguna
Chuck & Katie in the
Lake in the park
Shauna, Cory, Dick, Ricky
relaxing after a good dinner (K. Leary photo)
Ebee stands guard
Some old guy resting in
Katie's back yard (K. Leary photo)