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Further South: Lassen, Lake Wildwood, Sonora, and HOME
Sept 28-October 4, 2015Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Written September 28+
After a wonderful weekend, we left "Connie's Bend Lodge" bright and early on Monday morning. We had a long way to travel. The goal was Lassen Volcanic National Park, six or seven hours driving away from Bend. Our path would be all on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, bypassing the well-traveled Interstate 5.
We considered a swing by Crater Lake, but concluded we had a full day planned without the extra couple of hours we might spare. Besides, this gives us a reason to drive back. We did TRY to make a history.tourism stop at the site of the WWII Tule Lake Segregation Center. This isolated corner of California had served as a POW camp for Italian and German soldiers. The prisoners had been requested by local farmers as inexpensive field laborers. Stories are that it was a reasonable bargain for both farmers and prisoners, but this neck of the woods isn't the best in sunny California, so one can have doubts. (Besides, it was against the Geneva Convention to use POWs as laborers.)
Far less positively, Tule Lake also served as a "Segregation Center" for Japanese American families who had been relocated from their coastal homes. By reputation, Tule Lake was one of the harshest relocation centers and included a prison section for personnel considered less than loyal to America. (This begs the question about all those Japanese-Americans who were in fact both judged loyal Americans AND imprisoned.)
For our tourism/history visit, however, the Segregation Center was closed. There were instructions to a museum back up the road, but we decided we were running late. Such a museum would have to wait for another visit.
Six or seven hours after leaving Connie's, we passed through the northern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The first landmark inside the entrance is a stone building that has housed a museum for 90 years, first under the management of Benjamin Franklin Loomis and later by the National Park Service.
Loomis was an early promoter of the area and was perhaps most famous for a series of six photos he took of a 1917 eruption of Mount Lassen. I was fascinated by the skill it took. First, he and his helper had to be at the right place at the right time. It wasn't an accident, as they had staked out the rumbling mountain for months. Then, when the eruption started without much warning, Loomis managed to expose six separate glass photographic plates, all within a few minutes. Nowadays, any tourist would have been able to swing an iPhone into action and shoot the whole eruption, but in 1917, things were different.
Loomis also established the first seismograph on Lassen, the prototype for dozens that now dot the area. His lab was housed in a cute little stone building, next to his museum. It housed a massive, two-axis seismograph, anchored directly to the bed rock and state-of-the-art for the time. Interesting guy.
We also got our first glimpse of Mount Lassen and we started a driving tour of many of the park's signature features.
Our first encounter with Lassen's famous geothermal attractions came at "Supan's Sulfur Works". This spot had been a sulfur mine since 1865 and the springs had also been used as an attraction for the Sudan family's cabins and health baths. Today, the Parks Service warns of the dangers of walking on the fragile ground covering the constantly-boiling gray mud. We took heed.
By evening, we finally made it to our motel, the Lassen Mineral Lodge in Mineral, California. This humble, family run motel-restaurant-bar-general-store seemed like it had been run, little changed, since the times of the original Supan Sulfur resort or B.F. Loomis' museum. There really are few tourist housing options near Lassen, so we were happy enough with the relatively low cost, the generous meals, and the friendly restaurant staff. (We won't say what staff was NOT so friendly, since I think he is the senior owner of the establishment.)
Tuesday. This would be a full Lassen Volcanic National Park (LVNP) day. The Lassen Mineral Lodge has no TV and only the restaurant has a wifi, so we spent considerable breakfast time getting back in touch with the outside world. On this trip, this is not the first time we have been without television and I think we can handle missing CNN for several days at a time! Internet, however, is something else. We have become completely dependent on email, diary updating, news updates, and even Facebook (reading, not writing!). I'm not sure if we could ever "get away from it all".
The Lodge is a short 15 minute drive from the southern entrance to LVNP. There is a nice welcome center at the entrance, with plenty of displays describing the local geology, history, and Indian and settler populations. The highlight was a 20-minute film, summarizing everything. Taxes well spent, especially considering our $10 forever passes from the Parks Service. A great benefit for just getting old.
On the drive further up, we passed "Brokeoff Mountain". I love the name, since the majority of the mountain "broke off" in a violent eruption about a thousand years ago. All the mountains and peaks and ridges around here have their own histories, with activity sometimes violent and sometimes glacially slow. One of our lessons at the film earlier was that LVNP contains volcanoes of all types, from sudden eruptions to long and slow lava flows and even places with decades-long glacial grinding.
As our first hike, we chose "Bumpass's Hell", another great name. The 19th Century explorer gained fame while showing the area to newspapermen. He was so enthusiastic about pointing out the various boiling mud pots and fumaroles that he ignored his own advice, stepped on thin crust, and severely injured his leg in the hot, boiling, acidic mud.
By now, we were getting hungry, but were not looking forward to the Mineral Lodge basic fare. A visit to Yelp showed us a much nicer option at the Artesian View restaurant at Highland Ranch Resort. We talked with Joe, the executive chef, and determined that the fish was fresh and his description a winner. It was nice to "almost finish" our travel dining this way. We only have four dinners left, all with friends, where we will probably have fewer food surprises.
At some point, we should assess our trip overall. We could rank hotel stays, road vista, good and bad surprises, and food. Later.
On Wednesday we needed to drive south, to friends Barbara and Mike at their community of Lake Wildwood. The GPS navigator suggested a two-and-a-half-hour route over to Interstate 5, down Highway 97, and then back east on Interstate 80, all roads much-traveled. Instead, we chose highways 36, 89, 49, and 20. This was a less-traveled route that would take us twice as long. Even after six weeks on the road, we opted for just a bit more scenery.
The early part of the drive took us through high plains pastures, sparse pine forests, and a few towns, villages really. These were not the unpopulated spaces of eastern Oregon or Montana, but there was an emptiness that sets this region apart from the rest of California. We did find a good bakery in Quincy for a mid-morning break, but that's not enough for more hours of driving. It was a nice drive, but we may not need to make it again.
The last part of the drive, west on Highway 49, was more challenging: a twisty, narrow, downhill road that seemed to go on forever. (We should have been driving the old Boxster!) I think we passed through just two small mountain communities in over an hour of driving. There were a fair number of small and not-so-small homes along the road, but I could not imagine living in this isolation, particularly in long, snowy winters. Oh well, everyone has their preference and the mountains did offer a great backdrop.
In any event, we made it and were welcomed by Barbara and Mike at their lovely home in Lake Wildwood. We have known Barbara for thirty years and Mike for half that. One purpose of our long trip has been to spend some time with friends whom we have missed over the overseas years and our warm welcome demonstrated the value of that goal. Barbara's daughter Nicole dropped by with grandson Conner and Barbara was an enthusiastic and doting grandmother.
Thursday remained undefined until after noon. The morning was rainy, so tennis games (Barbara), long dog-walks (Mike), and sightseeing (us) were all canceled. Not a real problem, since we are all retired after all, and California needs the water more than we need the exercise. I think.
Eventually, we did get out for a drive to explore the neighborhood. First, Barbara drove us around Lake Wildwood, their gated community of 2,800 homes. It is a very nice community, with a fairly wide range of home styles, from smallish to really largish. Too bad it's not just a bit closer to towns bigger than Grass Valley and Nevada City.
We tried to convince Pilot Peak Winery to open up for tasting, but were unsuccessful. Something about having to actually do some real wine-making work. From there, we wandered the local roads, looking at homes and village highlights such as Rough and Ready, an old town that MUST have some sort of gold rush story to match the name. (It does.)
From there, it was into Grass Valley, another gold rush town that is now the largest in Nevada County. The old downtown buildings are nicely restored and Marianne and Barbara did some window shopping, while Mike and I just followed along. Not our thing. Eventually, we made it to the Smith Vineyards tasting room and succeeded in tasting some Sierra Foothills wine. I don't know how many different wine regions California now has, but it seems like every farm community tries to convert itself to a new and expensive Napa Valley. (Even Fresno tries, but that is a whole different story!)
All this work made us hungry, so we headed over to Nevada City (in California, not Nevada. It's confusing.) Lefty's Grill served up some great pasta and pizza, so much that it forced us to take an after-dinner walk. Nevada City seemed as cute as Grass Valley, with very similar old gold rush architecture. The stated purpose of walking to work off Lefty's calories was thwarted by a stop at the local chocolate and ice cream store. We HAVE to get back on our diets. Later.
Back in Lake Wildwood, we settled in for an evening of TV news and conversation. Staying with friends is a relaxing highlight of our seven-week trip, but I do look forward to restarting our own home routines. Just a few days away.
On Friday, our stay at the Wildwood Resort started slowly. Lots of girl conversation and one last beauty treatment from the professional. It has been a fun stay, but we need to get on our way and Barbara and Mike need to resume their routines as well: tennis (Mike) and grandson (Barbara). We all have our routines and I think we are ready to restart ours.
We were facing another longish drive, on more curvy and hilly roads. Again, there had been a quicker, straighter path, but we chose to stay on Highway 49, the oldest of the gold country highways. Midway through, we stopped at Sutter Creek, a cute little tourist town, wall to wall with shops and restaurants. The Sierra foothills are experiencing a slow shift from seasonal tourism to full-time retirement, as folks from the Bay Area sell their expensive homes and move inland. The area is still too rural for us, though.
In Sonora, we checked into the Sonora Inn, an old time hotel. It seemed like a combination of old elegance and worn history. I suppose I should have taken pictures of our little room, but it needed a wider-angle lens than I had available. It was the smallest room of our seven-week trip, but clean and remodeled. Hard to say if we would or would not recommend the place. We'll see.
The goal for our Sonora visit was to meet with guys from my college fraternity. A group of them from the San Francisco Bay Area have been gathering annually for years and, this year, we were invited by Ted and Nancy, the host and hostess. It turned out that most of the guys were a few years ahead of me in school, so the 45 years since graduation didn't really matter. I'd NEVER known them! Nevertheless, they welcomed us to be part of the group.
On Saturday, we had just a single goal: dinner at Nancy and Ted's for the half-dozen Sigma Tau Omega (STO) couples. Marianne and I are the newbies in the Bay Area group that has reportedly been doing this for over three decades. We were privileged to be allowed into such an established event.
This is a very animated group and conversation continued non-stop from 2pm snacks through 10pm coffee and dessert. We had way too many calories, but all that talking required fuel. We managed polite discussion of politics, religion, family, news, and personal history and philosophy. Talking about all these sensitive subjects in a grown-up manner earns congratulations!
We look forward to the 2016 October STO gathering!
On Sunday, we return home, after 45 days on the road.
It will be the start of another story.
John and Marianne
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