Category Archives: Around home

Flagstaff, mile 781.7

Downtown Bakersfield.

We started in in Bakersfield CA and ended the day in Flagstaff AZ, 518.9 miles later. Much of it on back roads. The first part, out of Bakersfield and over Tehachapi pass into the high Mojave Desert at Mojave CA – strangely enough – then down to Barstow however, was mostly on freeways.      

Climbing up, out of the San Joaquin Valley up towards Tehachapi Pass on Highway 58.
Tehachapi Pass, covered in windmills with new, much bigger, windmills filling in the empty spaces.
Tehachapi Pass from the Mojave side.
Mojave Air and Space Port is the center of much of the burgeoning private work on getting into space without giant rockets. Both Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch are leading the charge. Mojave is a strange place in that it is both a dusty out-back desert town and one of the high tech centers of the Universe.
To the casual observer, the most noticeable part of Mojave Air and Space Port is the boneyard of parked planes. Some will be sold and refitted, some poor derelicts parted out.

On Highway 58, driving through Hinkley CA, made famous by Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich. To my way of thinking, this is the most desolate section of highway in California.
A view of Barstow CA, from the semi-official view spot.
We got gas in Barstow and quickly moved on.

Several miles past Barstow, near the famous Bagdad Cafe, we got on Route 66. The first thing we noticed about Route 66 is that almost all the non-locals were foreigners, “75% French”, we were told by Bagdad Cafe’s Bass Lady Andree Pruett.  Well, that was probably the second thing we noticed, the first was how dilapidated everything was; when the new I40 went in, bypassed most of the towns that had sprung up to service Route 66’s  travelers and the towns just dried up, people just got up and left, taking everything they could carry. The buildings are now old enough to be picturesque but there is still an air of lost dreams. The road was washed out before Needles, so we got back on Interstate 40 and stayed on it until we crossed the Colorado River at the border between California and Arizona, then got back on 66 and wandered through the hills/mountains under impossibly blue skies, through Oatman AZ and, eventually back to the freeway as it got dark. 

Pictures from a Saturday afternoon

Last Saturday, Michele and I went to the Inaugural Industrial Arts Horsepower Car Show and Street Fair in the old – for lack of a better word – industrial part of San Carlos. The alleged car show wasn’t much, a large number of Camaros and Mustangs, a heavy spattering of crome covered 50s and 60s cars that reflect Detroit at its most flamboyant, and several hotrods, one similar to the five-window deuce I had when I was 16 or 17.  The biggest surprise, however, was the change in this part of town. It seemed so Silicon Valley and au courant, I remembered it as a flyover area – so to speak – that was a combination of light manufacturing – actually, it was more like light fabrication – commercial sales places that sold stuff like piping or forklifts, and construction companies like plumbers. Under that memory is a deeper memory, of the legendary Lenkurk Electric Company and Lennart Erickson. The details, and probably the truth, has been sort of lost in my mythic past but Lenkurk was the biggest, flashest, company around, they made electrical stuff for the government, some of it secret and Lennart Erickson was an eccentric genius who even had a round bed with a fur blanket. I read now that Lenkurt Electric Company was a microwave and telecommunications company, it was started by both Lennart Erickson and Kurt Appert and it had about 4,000 employees.

We had a beer from a brewery, Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company, that is now in a building that once housed Varian Associates and, later Tesla Motors, it is now set up for parties. After wandering around for a couple of hours, we ended the day wine tasting at The Russian Ridge Winery, one of the eight local wineries.


Lightening last night; fire today

Yesterday’s twilight brought weather that was very strange; maybe not for lots of places, but for our little corner of the world. It was dry and hot most of the day, then – in the early evening – it clouded up and started to rain with big fat rain drops like it sometimes does in the Sierras after a hot day. With the rain, came thunder without lightning, although, intellectually, we knew there must be lightning somewhere and the sunlight was hiding what was going on just over the ridge. That evening, when we went out for dinner, the rain had stopped, the temperature dropped 30 degrees, and there was lightning everywhere. On the way home, we could see lightning sweeping across the bay and over the Fremont Hills. It was also warmer again which lead us to hypothecate that the temperature drop was from evaporation as everything was dry again.   

This morning we got several ALERTS on our phone – cell phones, not on the vestigial land line, we noticed – that there was a fire in nearby Bear Gulch and several roads were closed. Cal Fire started bringing in equipment but it was sitting in a meadow close to our house but far from the fire. Driving to Marin, the radio said that ten acres were burning, on the way back, they said fifty acres and a couple of helicopters had joined the Cal Fire trucks. Now, in the evening, the skies are clear, the temperature has dropped from a high of 90 to 75 and the helicopters are still flying. 

The 2017 eclipse from Eastern Oregon

Michele and I went to Eastern Oregon to watch the eclipse. Our theory was that it is the closest place that would most likely have no crowds and clear skies. Actually, I didn’t go to watch the eclipse as much as to watch people, especially Michele, watching the eclipse. My experience is that people who are interested in something like this are also usually very interesting themselves. Getting ready to go, our biggest worry was that it would be so crowded that the local gas stations would be sold out of gas and we would not even be able to get near a place to watch.  

Our plan was to get as high as possible so we could see the moon’s shadow race across the landscape. Several months ago, Michele called Peter and  Ophelia in Boise Idaho, near the Oregon border, and asked them what their plans were. That prompted Peter to make a couple of recon runs and he thought the best place would be Lookout Mountain near Lime, Oregon which was right at the center of the Totality. We were going to a wedding in Napa on Saturday evening and the eclipse was on Monday; Lime is day’s drive away so it seemed perfect. Then we started reading about the expected crowds and the campgrounds being sold out and all motels and Airbandbs in Oregon being sold out a year in advance and we started worrying that Lookout Mountain would be a magnet. Michele began to say things like “Well if we can just get to the Oregon border on Interstate 84, near Ontario, we’ll be in the Totality Zone and that will be a win.”

Pre-eclipse Sunday, as we were getting close to our destination – about two hours out – we switched into desert survival mode, getting gas every time the tank dropped down to 3/4s. The first station had pretty long lines, partially because it was Oregon which doesn’t have self-service, but also because the traffic was getting denser. But when I asked how busy it was, the attendant said it was terrible, they had 795 cars yesterday; when I asked what a normal day was, he said about 200. That translates to four times normal and normal for Eastern Oregon is almost empty so our too packed to move fears were much assuaged. A couple of hours later, we drove up an empty washboard dirt/rock road to a ridge below Lookout Mountain and it was astoundingly deserted. 

We found a wide spot in the road that was wide enough to park and set up a table, had a can of fine wine, cold chicken barbecued the Friday before, an Asian salad kit from Whole Foods, and watched a memorable sunset. After the sunset appreciation period, a couple of guys – that were parked at the next wide spot in the road – came over for a drink. It turned out they were rocket engineers from NASA – JPL, actually – and they had spent months pouring over topo maps of the Western United States before deciding that the hill by our car was the best place in the United States to watch the eclipse. By sheer luck on our part and stellar reconnaissance skills on Peter’s part, we had ended up at a superior location.  

Below is a gratuitous picture of Michele enjoying a lazy morning by sleeping in. We were on a ridge and it was windy all night so we used our cooler, “camping box”, and table, as a wind break. Behind her is the hill from which we watched the Great American Eclipse. The light was already getting dim by the time we got to to the top of our viewing hill and the temperature was noticeably dropping. There we ran into the biggest crowd, sixteen by actual count, that we saw all day. It seemed to be all NASA or NASA related and it was the kind of crowd that, during totality, when Michele, looking at a very dim Mercury, said “It’s dark enough that I can see a star.”, six people said “planet” together; it was the kind of crowd that wore their dark glasses even as it got darker, to improve their night vision; it was the kind of crowd that laid out a piece of paper to watch for Shadow Bands, although, all I ever saw were crescent-shaped patterns.   As the moon moved across the sun, cutting off the light, from 1% to 95%, the change was slow and not noticeable without actually stopping and consciously looking around. Yes, it was getting colder and the shadows were getting softer but it was still very much daylight even if it was slightly green. We stood along the ridge, in the cold air, watching for the distant mountains to disappear in a dark shadow traveling at something like 2000 miles per hour, then – suddenly – it got dark, and a NASA guy near me, who had been wearing two pairs of dark glasses, quietly said “Look at the corona without your eclipse glasses and let your eyes adjust to the corona, look at how soft and delicate it is.” I looked up and it seemed huge; a giant black hole surrounded by a lacy corona reaching way out into the night sky. A night sky that was dark but only dark enough for us to see Venus and tiny Mercury almost swallowed by the corona.

This was my second eclipse, the first being in Fatehpur Sikri, India and what I most remember about that eclipse was looking around and seeing bright light off in the distance….in every direction. About the time I got focused enough to get several pictures of the light around us, the double glasses guy softly said, “Five seconds to the diamond ring.” I looked up again and the moon seemed to be close enough to touch, black and silent in the cold night sky, surrounded by a lacy corona. Then a speck of light shown from the upper corner of the black moon, instantly – seemingly – the spec became a bright light and, then exploded into The Sun too bright to look at even though it was probably 99% of totality. It was daylight again, dim and cold and slightly green, but daylight. The Great American Eclipse of 2017 was over.