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California Missions -- The Middle Group

April 13-17, 2015
Written April 14+

Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Marianne has had a goal of seeing all the California Missions, not perhaps for a great religious zeal, but for a good excuse to travel a bit in our home state.  That's why we have started on a full week of driving.  We will try to keep this record up-to-date, but that's not always practical - or fun.  And fun is our purpose here.

d150413a_01_track.jpgd150413a_03_breakfast.jpgOn Monday (13th), we left Fresno early, before breakfast even, and headed down Highway 99.  As anyone who has traveled these parts knows, it is a not-very-exciting route, surrounded by farms and farm industry.  However, we have now done this a few times and it feels like a familiar road trip, including our standard breakfast stop in Tulare at Apple Annie's.  Nothing special, just tradition and, in California, traditions set in quickly.

Refreshed, we headed to "The Grapevine", the high pass that separates the LA Basin from the rest of California.  The first time over, it's interesting, but I think we've passed that stage.  Just into the basin, we turned toward the Pacific and our first mission: Mission San Buenaventura.

I'll try to tell our story with pictures:
Warning:  A zillion mission pictures.  Here's an index to help, but there are still too many for most people, I'm sure.
-- San Buenaventura
-- Santa Barbara
-- Santa Ines
-- La Purissima
-- San Luis Obispo
-- Soledad
-- San Antonio
-- San Miguel

San Buenaventura was first founded in 1749 and, like most of the missions, has been repeatedly rebuilt and restored over the years.  Today, it is an almost-modern church, serving the people of Ventura.
Buenaventura has a traditional quadrangle form, with walls and buildings enclosing a courtyard, originally the farm and workshop yard, but today a very pleasant garden.  It includes a statue of Fray Junipero Serra, the most famous of the Mission founders.  Buenaventura was the ninth and last of the missions he founded.  (I graduated from Junipero Serra High School, so I have a soft spot for the man.)
The inside of the church was like most of the mission churches we would see: a long, narrow, adobe-walled room, colorfully painted.  Buenaventura's had some of the relics, even from Serra's time, behind glass in a niche off the main hall.  All mission churches also seemed to have confessionals, although not always very private ones.
Each mission tour also included a museum, with relics of the old California past.  Here, I was impressed by the old wooden bell, a standard feature before missions were rich enough to order brass bells.  A humble start. 
Overall impression?  A good start.  Very nice garden.  Humble museum, but it did give some background, much of which I will probably forget.

Mission #2 would be up in Santa Barbara, where we would also spend two nights as a base for other missions. 
The mission building may be the most grand of the entire 21 in (US) California.  It is one of the few that was built of local sandstone, but only after the adobe walls were almost destroyed in the 1812 earthquake.
Father Serra welcomed us here too, and the inner courtyard was very traditional.  The graveyard featured a massive 130-year-old fig tree, imported from Australia.
Inside, the church was almost ornate, at least by poor mission standards.  Only Santa Barbara has a burial crypt, who's two closure stones list the residents.  (It seemed like European churches buried whole religious communities underneath church floors.  The colonies were simpler.)
The Santa Barbara Mission museum was pretty complete, including restored rooms from the colonial era.  There were also three stone statues, carved by a Chumash Indian carver, the only locally-carved stone art works in the mission system.   Marianne continued on her quest for a souvenir cross from every stop.
Overall impressions?  A wonderful structure, set in a beautiful area of a very beautiful city.  Everything done "right", perhaps beyond the budgets of other mission churches.
After two churches, we stopped for the night in downtown SA at the Hotel Santa Barbara.

Not-quite-bustling downtown.
The Andersen's Cafe.  Great cakes and pastries, up to fine European standards.  Unfortunately, their dinners, while offering Continental dishes, did not quite hit the European mark for execution.
We have few pictures of the Hotel Santa Barbara because it really was not as picturesque as we had hoped.  Nice, but probably not a stop we will make a family tradition.  The old elevator was fun though, slow and calm, kind of like the people we ran across in SB.
Our first dinner was at Holdren's a steak and fish restaurant.  Great meal.
After our Holdren meal, I needed to walk off calories, so set off for Stearns Wharf, about a half-dozen blocks from our hotel.  Some of those blocks were a bit seedy, but even these locals acted friendly enough.  The wharf and beach and even a rough slough I passed, all glowed in the after-sunset light. 
Overall impression of Santa Barbara?  Of course, a lovely place with fantastic weather.  Relaxed.

d150414_01_track.jpgOur Tuesday missions were different from those in urban Ventura and Santa Barbara.  Our first of the day was Mission Santa Ines.  This mission is set on the outskirts of Solvang, a smallish farming and tourism community.  The approach to the mission is past fields and vineyards, perhaps not much changed since the 1807 founding of this mission.

The pleasant courtyard offered a fountain for the local crow to wash down breakfast.
The graveyard gave poignant memories of old families and very young lives.
The portico, a standard in sunny California.
The museum explained the Spanish empire.  A history lesson.  There were also Latin song books and scriptures.
Marianne's cross shopping.

Overall impression?  Beautiful garden and setting.  A graveyard with stories.

Our second Tuesday mission was La Purissima Mission State Historic Park (Near the town of Lompoc) - a completely different experience from our previous missions.  All the others were run as current-day churches, to a large degree, but Purissima is a state park run as a detailed history lesson.  During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) rebuilt Purissima using largely authentic methods.  Visiting the mission really was a step back in time.
La Purissima was constructed in a long line after the 1812 earthquake destroyed the more traditional quadrangle structures.  The 1930's reconstruction tried to be historically accurate, down to using leather straps to hold the roof together. 
The mission had a church and a smaller chapel, authentically redone without modern pews.  Old parishioners were tougher and didn't need comfy seating.
The long residence building was filled with reconstructed rooms, such as this soldiers' quarters.  It looked ready for inspection, 80 years after the re-staging.
Other rooms held a kitchen, saddlery, living room, and dining room.
Several signs told the story of the CCC reconstruction work.
Details included an old bell (standard for these mission displays), hide displays (unique) and authentic corrosion of the plaster (something we remember from our 18th century farm buildings in Bavaria!).
The reconstruction of a Chumash family dwelling might illustrate how advanced the adobe mission structures would have seemed.  The mission also has a collection of farm pigs, horses, chickens, and turkeys, all raised in traditional ways.  I also spotted a field mouse, responsible for hundreds of holes throughout the property (again, something that reminded me of the Pommersfelden yard.)
Overall impression?  Clearly our favorite mission.  The detail of the reconstruction made history come alive.

Wednesday.  Two goals: Mission San Luis Obispo and lunch with friends.  First, the mission.
Mission San Luis Obispo bought us back to a mission in a town setting.  This makes a lot of sense since it was missions that formed the basis for settlements that became towns and cities, but it is harder to envision missions in modern settings as the rural outposts they originally were.
San Luis Obispo's gardens were among the best.  We are jealous of this coastal climate.  Fresno weather bakes plants in the summer months.
The inside of the church looks like it was painted yesterday, it is so clean and fresh. but reproducing an original style.
The little museum has an extensive collection of kitchenware and shards.  We used to joke in Europe when small town museums made such a big deal of broken pottery and other bits, so this must be universal museum practice. (There were some more-complete displays as well.)
Overall impression?  Great gardens.  Bright and cheerful church interior.

Driving up to San Luis Obispo, or SLO as it is sometimes called, we drove past huge farm fields with workers bent over the current strawberry crop.  Later berry crops waited under acres of greenhouses.   This made us hungry enough to stop at the Santa Maria farmer's market!
The best part of the day was lunch, with Susan and Jerry Ebner.  Jerry was my college room mate, 50 years ago.  Unfortunately, our paths seldom cross, not more than once every 25 years, I'm afraid.  Despite the intermission, we were welcomed into their home and felt in minutes like regular, everyday friends.  We told grandkid stories, as is required of our generation.  We compared maladies, as also seems de rigor. We ended with a promise to get together much more frequently -- AND WE WILL, I promise.

Thursday - More Missions
d150416_02_map.jpgd150416_01_drivewater.jpgThursday would be our most ambitious mission-day: Three missions.  The third, San Miguel, was a repeat from a previous visit, so we hoped it would be little more than a drive-by.  Speaking of driving, we chose to start the day with La Mission de Maria Santisima, Nuestra Senora de la Soledad ("Soledad" henceforth).  The hour-and-a-half drive from our hotel in San Luis Obispo took us through dry California hills and irrigated farm fields, orchards, and vineyards. Water is all that is needed for settlement in this area, maybe in all of California, and we hope rains return next year, or these fertile farms may not survive.

La Mission ... Soledad was our smallest and most remote mission so far, and because of that it became an instant favorite.
The garden and front courtyard were small but well tended.  The bell signs we had been seeing at each mission and, from place to place, alongside the highway, had been erected in 1906 to help early automobile adventurers find the old mission highway.  Today, some are replicas and others, like this, are originals.
Inside was a modest church.  The pleas on the cross were modern and touching.  The 14 stations of the cross were originals, from the old mission days.
The Soledad museum was small like the mission itself, but it was not without real touchstones of the old world.  Brass bells seem to be a feature of all the old mission museums, presumably because everything else rots or washes away.
Soledad is an active archaeological site with work continuing to define the extent of the original walls and workshops.  It makes it easy to see how adobe simply melts away, unless protected by plaster and people.
Overall impression: A very personal scale.  Location is a special part of the California farm valleys.

Mission San Antoinio de Padua had an interesting location: in the middle of Army Fort Hunter Liggett.  Frankie, the docent, later told us the entrance actually causes a significant fraction of visitors to simply give up rather than approach through the forbidding entrance. For us, it was a bit like being back on Marianne's old German bases, but I'll admit it did take some getting used to.
Eventually, we came to the mission entrance, marked with historical markers and the mission's cattle-branded water trough.
The grounds held the almost-standard Serra statue.  More interesting were an olive tree and a grapevine dating from the 19th century.
Elsewhere on the grounds were remnants of the days as a working home to padres and Indians.  Today, it is possible to rent this "casita" ($200/night) or one of the Franciscan friar cells ($60 to $125/night) for a personal retreat.  An interesting idea.
The church itself was the standard long, narrow layout.  This sign says that the first wedding in California was held at Mission San Antonio in May, 1773.
The museum, like the mission, was small but with an authentic feel.  Frankie, the docent, asked us to make sure we spread the word that Mission San Antonio is worth seeing so they can have more customers to support the restoration and maintenance work  Consider yourself told!
The museum held a large collection of Indian baskets, many with very fine details.
Overall impression:  My favorite.  A feel of a real mission and the thought of retreating here for a few days is interesting.  Maybe another time.

Mission San Miguel was our last and none too soon.  We arrived shortly before their 5pm closing time, but I'll admit I was more than happy to not spend more time on our mission mission -- two mission per day is enough, three is too many!  Mostly, we considered the stop successful because Marianne could add the eighth element to her mission-cross collection.
Overall impression:  Nice, village-church mission.

We made it back to San Luis Obispo tired, but not yet finished.  For dinner, the hotel had recommended a visit to the Thursday evening downtown market.  Sounded good.  However, this was a big student-recruit weekend and the downtown was packed with folks a third our age -- even their parents seemed young!  We grabbed a bratwurst and returned home and crashed.

On Friday, we drove the two-and-a-half hours to Fresno, crossing some of the most desolate territory in California.  Downtown Fresno actually looked like an oasis and we were glad to really be home.

Overall impression:  A good trip, contributing to our understanding of our new country.  Religiously inspiring?  Probably not, but a retreat at San Antonio could provide that in the future.

Stay tuned.

John and Marianne


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