Travel Vignettes


Years ago Lee and I traveled the equivalent of driving between the west and east coasts about 19 times to verify locations (adding GPS for remote sites) of more than 3,300 historical plaques in California for a guidebook. We encountered wildfires, earthquakes, wild critters, unusual accommodations and roads, a few of which I detailed previously. Some human confrontations appeared more frightening than those of natural disasters or wild animals.

A friend who grew up during the 1940s in Compton, California, warned us five decades later not to stop at red lights in Compton at risk of being robbed. We planned to drive through questionable neighborhoods between eight and ten in the morning because it seemed unlikely undesirables would be active that early.

In another Los Angeles community, we parked behind a city bus stop in front of a cemetery. Lee was in the process of dismantling his camera after shooting a photo. A black woman tapped on my passenger window and pointed to her bent arm. I immediately pressed the button to lock all doors. A black man stood at Lee’s window.
“Let’s go!” I said.
“Wait until I put this lens away.”
“No! Let’s go now! I’ll explain later.”

Groups of men knelt in circles playing games on street corners in Watts. We were forced to stop for a freight train crossing. Later, we narrowly avoided being boxed in at a dead-end alley.

Many historical plaques are in seedy sections of older cities. Parking is limited. Lee dropped me off to search for a plaque while he drove around the block to pick me up later. I felt uneasy when he was out of sight. I sensed black men wondering what that skinny, old white woman is doin’ in our neighborhood. I learned to walk confidently carrying a clipboard and to look like I knew where I was going even if I didn’t. Strangers avoided me because the clipboard gave the impression I was an official investigator of some kind. When Lee, with a camera strapped around his neck, accompanied me, we were mistaken for newspeople and given a wide berth by those who chose to avoid publicity.

No plaque was visible in front of a former mountain stage stop, now a bikers’ bar because of the 50 or more motorcycles parked outside. I gathered courage and my clipboard and entered the noisy saloon. As soon as I stepped inside, the room fell silent. All eyes looked at me.
Oh, oh. Now what did I get myself into?
The bartender ignored me until I shoved my clipboard in front of him and said, “I’m looking for this historical plaque that’s supposed to be on the front of your building.”
Relieved that I was not checking on permits or code violations, he showed me where the plaque hung before moving it to storage for building remodeling.
Noise and customers returned to normal.
Task accomplished.

Sunday morning we drove through a northern California Historic District Neighborhood of attractive Victorian homes. Red and orange autumn leaves fell from the trees lining the street.

Lee parked at the curb and I crossed the empty street to check the historical sign. A car stopped two car lengths behind Lee and honked the horn. I turned to see if it honked at Lee. A man dashed out of the house to the car as if his ride arrived. Three additional cars, one after another, stopped and honked.
I thought a lot of people in that house are waiting for rides.
When I returned to the car, Lee said, “I hope you’re finished because we’re getting out of here now.”
Another car stopped behind us and honked. Lee drove away before I fastened my seat belt.
“What’s your rush?” I asked.
“They’re dealing drugs behind us, exchanging little white envelopes and currency.”

In central California, we stopped at a roadside rest beside the San Joaquin River. Two men watering the grass chatted with each other and stared at us, the only visitors. When they turned, we saw “Prisoner” printed on the backs of their shirts. They entered the women’s restroom.
We drove to the other end of the park where a dozen men (also prisoners) leaned on their rakes and shovels and stared at us. Only one sheriff’s officer was visibly in charge. He also closely watched us. Time for us to find another picnic spot.

We left the main highway to search for a plaque and drove six miles on a dirt road that turned to a soft, sandy trail in the desert. Lee was ready to turn back when I saw a few trees ahead.
“Wait. That must be it!”
It was. It was also the campsite of two long-haired, bearded, unfriendly-looking men whose rifles were within easy reach. A large, black dog ran out barking at us.
Lee drove slowly by the monument while I tried to verify it.
The brass plaque was riddled with bullet holes as if it were used for target practice. At least it remained. Plaques in the gold country are pried off and turned in as scrap metal.

One human behavior that continues to haunt me was that of pioneer Robert Semple, president of California’s First Constitutional Convention in Monterey in1849. He arrived in California with the L.W. Hastings Party in 1845, was a member of the Bear Flag Party in 1846 and established the first newspaper published in California, The Californian, in Monterey. His marriage to Frances Cooper was the first wedding in Benicia, which he helped found in 1847, and in 1848 he established the first ferry across Carquinez Straits. In 1854 he was presumed dead at age 48 after a fall while horseback riding on his ranch in Colusa County where he was buried. When his coffin was removed from the ranch for re-burial in Williams Cemetery, it was discovered that his 6’8” body had turned halfway and there were scratch marks inside the coffin lid.


We learned to expect the unexpected while traveling in California.

After resting on a fire hydrant at Broadway and Main streets in Redwood City to check my notes and directions, I returned minutes later to see police vehicles and a fire engine blocking the intersection. A car collided with the fire hydrant where I sat and water was shooting three stories high.

Fire Hydrant in Redwood City

We drove into the parking area at the top of Priest’s Grade where, on a clear day, one can see seven California counties. Not today. Smoke billowed from underneath the one car in the lot. The driver stood by helplessly. Lee grabbed the fire extinguisher he carries in the truck and ran to spray it underneath the car. Smoke subsided, then orange flames flared up. Lee crouched behind the burning car and sprayed underneath it again. Once more it subsided, and then burst into flames. We heard a siren in the distance. When the engine arrived, all that remained was a blackened frame of the tourist’s rental car.

The only serious mishap we’ve had was the front 4-wheel drive universal joint broke while driving up the dirt Graniteville Road north from Malakoff Diggins. The floor gearshift vibrated, fell over onto Lee’s leg, and the loud noise from under the hood sounded as if the engine fell out and dropped onto the road. It was unlikely we’d meet any traffic on this deserted road at dusk. Neither the cell phone nor the shortwave radio picked up a signal. Fortunately, there was room to turn around. However, it took a while for Lee to discover that reverse worked only in neutral, drive worked in overdrive, and parking didn’t work at all.


 “I have some good news and some bad news,” the pilot said to the 10 of us at the boarding gate for the flight from Santa Catalina Island to Long Beach.

“The good news is all of you will be going home tonight.  The bad news is I can take only four of you.  The others will have to take the boat.”

I looked down from the Airport-in-the-Sky to the harbor at Avalon and watched the last scheduled boat for the day leave the dock.  What does he mean, “The others will have to take the boat.” What boat?

“As you can see,” the pilot continued, “the fog is closing in so I won’t be able to make a return flight tonight for the rest of you.  Because of rough seas today, the amphibian has had to land on the airstrip.  After several landings, the brakes gave out so I’ll be flying a seven-place plane.  There are two passengers bumped from the previous flight already on board.”

“We’ve been sitting in a bar since one o’clock waiting for this flight,” said the woman in a red, Porsche T-shirt. “If we wanted to take the boat, we would have left hours ago.”  Her male companion nodded in agreement.  They stood firmly by their three pieces of luggage.

“I’ve got an important dinner engagement in L.A. in two hours,” said the man with the briefcase.

“I’m very sorry for this inconvenience,” the pilot said, “but I can take only four of you.  These two (gesturing to two men) are company employees and will stay over.  Are there any volunteers for the boat?”

I saw fear in my young daughter’s eyes.  Earlier she nearly lost her lunch on the calm, glass-bottom boat ride.  How will she survive a two-hour ride across the channel?

The two young backpackers shrugged, picked up their sleeping bags, and boarded the van that had just brought us up the narrow, twisting road from Avalon.

Six of us remained:  the Porsche couple, the man with the briefcase, and the three of us.

“You can draw straws,” the pilot suggested.

“Our car is at the Long Beach Airport,” the Porsche woman said.  “The boat docks at San Pedro.  How will we get to our car?”

Our car is also at the Long Beach Airport.

“The company will pay your taxi fare.”

No one budged.

The pilot looked at his passenger list.  “ . . ., party of two; . . ., party of one; Schaefer, party of three.  I’ve got to consider weight.  (Good!  We didn’t have any luggage.) But I don’t want to split any party.”  He looked at my husband.

“Don’t look at me,” Lee said.  “You’re the pilot in command.  It’s your decision.”

Meanwhile, fog swirled overhead and fingers of it stretched around the island.

If he doesn’t decide soon, none of us will fly off the island tonight.

The pilot penciled his passenger list again.  “Maybe I’ll take the first four who checked in for the flight.”

The man with the briefcase was on the morning flight with us to Catalina.  He was waiting for the return flight when we checked in late that afternoon.  We did not see the Porsche couple.

Ours was a last minute decision to go to Catalina.  When we called from Long Beach to reserve overnight accommodations, we were told that a four- to six-months’ reservation is necessary.  In order to spend a day on the island, we reserved seats on the 9:30 a.m. seaplane flight to Catalina and the last return flight at 5:30 p.m. to Long Beach Airport.

When we checked in at nine the next morning, the attendant greeted us with an omen of things to come.  “The waves are too high for the seaplane to land at Avalon,” she said.  “You’ll fly over in the seaplane but it will land at the airport on top of the island.  The company will provide transportation down to Avalon.”

For the 5:30 p.m. return flight to Long Beach, the sea at Avalon was still too rough for the amphibian so we were bussed up the mountain to the Airport-in-the Sky.  However, the attendant neglected to mention the mechanical failure and the incoming fog.

The Airport-in-the-Sky is aptly named.  Two mountain tops were leveled and the adjoining ravine filled to create a plateau for the airport.

Fog crept along the edge of the runway.  I shivered in my summer dress and sandals as I awaited the pilot’s decision.

Who will be the four passengers to fly off the island tonight?

“I’ve decided to take . . . (the man with the briefcase) and the three Schaefers.”

We heaved sighs of relief and hurried toward the aircraft.  Fog obscured the end of the runway as we climbed aboard.  The pilot taxied through puffs of fog, gathered momentum, and lifted off at the edge of the precipice.

Minutes later we flew in clear sky over the channel and the passenger boat we had watched leave Avalon 90 minutes earlier.



I miss roadside Burma Shave signs. Humorous rhyming jingles, placed one line at a time on each of seven orange signs spaced several yards behind one another, advertised Burma Shave along major highways when a major highway contained only two lanes. We youngsters, always  included (whether we wanted to or not) in the weekend leisurely family drives, often tired of the license plate game. Fewer cars travelled at slower speeds. The sight of orange signs ahead broke the monotony of open space and always perked us up. We knew a chuckle or laugh awaited.

In today’s stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic or speeding on eight-lane freeways, chuckles or laughs join yesteryear’s Burma Shave signs.

The child in me still looks for roadside humor. Here are some I’d like to share:

Sign Flowers for Mothers DayUnless Mom likes to fish, why gift her with a can of worms?

Fog Line at Sweeney Ridge, San Bruno, California
Sweeney Ridge, San Bruno, California

Entering Tsunami Hazard Zone, Northern California and Oregon, Pacific coastline
Not humorous, but it caught my attention.
Northern California and Oregon, Pacific coastline

Speed Limit Sign - Borax Visitor Center, Boron, CaliforniaBorax Visitor Center, Boron, California

Sign outside Ironwood Correctional Facility, Riverside County, California
Ironwood Correctional Facility, Riverside County, California

Sign Reads: Park off Pavement-Sea Level - Death Valley, California
Death Valley, California

My favorite is not pictured because these are posted on private property by a rancher who granted us permission to cross his land on condition that we not stop except to open and close his gates. Placed several feet behind one another, like Burma Shave signs of yesteryear, the first sign posted BEWARE, the second, DOG BITES, the third, MAN SHOOTS, and the final, YOU ARE NOW IN RANGE with circles around the word NOW as if it were an archery target.

Read all 600 of the original Burma Shave jingles in The Verse by the Side of the Road by Frank Rowsome, Jr.



Stay alert, especially in California, and you’ll see a variety of wild critters: foxes and coyotes and roadrunners in the desert. Even the city of San Francisco is home to colorful wild parrots on Telegraph Hill, feisty raccoons in the Presidio, and sewer rats the size of Chihuahuas on downtown street corners.

We walked five miles in 103° temperature to a closed campground at Folsom Lake searching for a marker of the historic gold town of Condemned Bar. We avoided rattlesnakes and poison oak but encountered four large wild turkeys.

Want to see a country road covered with crawling tarantulas? Drive through Sisquoc-Foxen Canyon east from Santa Maria during their September-October mating season.

From a distance, the spire in the otherwise empty field in a remote area near Flournoy looked like the historical marker for which we had been searching. The area was not fenced nor posted as private property. We walked cautiously through knee-high grasses, alert for rattlesnakes. “Watch it,” Lee said. “Here’s an electric fence.” We stepped over the foot-high obstacle into another: The field came alive with swarms of grasshoppers that covered us.

Many outdoor restrooms are built of cement blocks without a door. The entrance angles at a “U” shape so no one sees in or out. In bear country, signs at the doorway caution people that a bear may be inside.  From the safety of our car at Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay Vista Point, we watched a large cinnamon-colored bear eat from three open garbage cans next to the restrooms. A sports car pulled in ahead of us. A man jumped out the passenger side and ran to the restroom. He stopped in his tracks when he saw that he startled the bear. The young man dashed back to the car and it sped away.

Lee and I explored the Malakoff gold diggings north of Grass Valley where the ‘49er miners washed away all top soil with hydraulic hoses exposing pink, orange, beige, and white rock formations. A few caves of former gold mines remain. At the entrance of one cave, we heard extremely loud snoring. Is a transient sleeping in this remote area? Curious, we stepped closer. A deep, growling sound rumbled from the darkness. We agreed the “snoring” definitely was not human. I hadn’t moved so fast back to the car since I ran the 100-yard dash in high school.

Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park is one place to be especially alert and careful because of the numerous bears. This is bear country!

Visitors checking in at the lodges are warned not to leave anything in their vehicle overnight. Carry everything into your room or cabin. Bears smell and are attracted to any and everything with a scent. This includes anti-freeze, motor oil, soap, bug repellent, empty snack or food wrappers, crumbs on the seat or floor, and all food inside ice chests inside vehicles and locked trunks.

A chart at the check-in desk indicates the number of bear break-ins to vehicles in the parking lot per month. We checked in on the 14th day of the month after 13 previous break-ins. Accompanying pictures showed visitors’ cars, trucks and motorhomes with their doors ripped off, windows broken, seats yanked out, and trunks smashed as if rammed by a tank. Bears possess unbelievable strength.

The following morning, we carried all of our belongings back to the car, checked out of our room, and drove to the Big Stump Basin. We planned to walk the one-mile loop trail on our way out of the park. Ours was the only vehicle in the parking lot. Should we leave our snacks in the car or carry everything with us? We chose to leave the food and hoped for the best.

A quarter mile into the trail, we saw large, very fresh, bear scat near a berry thicket that had been picked clean. I jiggled my bear bell. A quarter mile farther, another fresh bear scat. Too late to turn back now.

I felt chills on the back of my neck and turned to look up on the rocky ledge behind us. I thought I glimpsed the swish of a rope-like tail. Was it a cougar, also known as the “ghost cat”?

Flashback to the late 1940s: As one of six teenage Camp Fire Girls, I rode in the back of a dusty pickup truck up the middle of a dry, rocky stream bed into the hills above Laytonville one weekend on a practice run for us wannabe counselors to prepare for summer camp. At dusk we sat on our sleeping bags placed on the ground as spokes of a wheel around our camp fire. Two piercing screams, one distant and one nearby from the surrounding hills, sent chills up our backs. They sounded like screams of women in pain.

“It’s only a mountain lion,” our adult leader said. “It won’t come down to bother us.” Then she retreated to sleep in the cabin.

The screams continued during the night. We were too frightened to move or whisper. None of us slept well, but we must have slept soundly. In the morning, we quivered with more chills when we discovered big cat paw prints in the sandy soil around our sleeping bags.

Fast forward to the Big Stump Basin loop trail: Half a mile to go down the scenic, deserted, and quiet trail except for my clanging bear bell. No more berry thickets or bear scat. Around the bend we saw our car, still the only vehicle in the parking lot and untouched by bear claws.

Bear jams at Yellowstone National Park are considered roadblocks but most visitors anticipate them. No traffic ahead or behind us so we stopped to watch a large cinnamon-colored bear emerge from the Madison River. Wet and muddy, it approached our right front fender, clambered onto the hood, and stared at us through the windshield. Then the bear repeatedly pulled the windshield wiper straight out and let it snap back against the glass. We had created our own bear jam. Traffic backed up on both sides of the road. Onlookers laughed and shot pictures of the bear’s little game. Eventually bored with this “toy”, the bear slid off our left front fender and ambled across the road. It left a muddy mess on our hood and one bent windshield wiper.

Bear Near Car



Part of the fun of a vacation is the anticipation and planning, but not all well-planned vacations go as planned. Some spur-of-the-moment adventures turn out to be more memorable.

A camper walking down a trail to fetch water from the river met a black bear walking up the trail . . .

A private pilot pre-flighting his plane removes a bird nest from behind the propeller along with three small eggs and the bird sitting on them . . .

Picnickers at an interstate rest stop turn and wave to the departing motorhome as it broadcasts the tune, “On the Road Again” . . .

We’ve traveled a variety of back roads, each an experience. We were forced to stop while cowhands moved unruly cattle and shepherds herded sheep along country roads. Bison surrounded and intimidated us as we looked up at them through our vehicle window.

Late one afternoon, we arrived without reservations in a remote mountain town during a Grange convention. No vacancies anywhere.  “You might try the Laundromat two blocks over,” the desk clerk suggested. Of the six rooms at the Laundromat, only one was available and that was opposite the busy laundry room and next to the manager’s quarters. It contained a bed, a ceiling light bulb, and a night stand. Nothing else. We considered ourselves lucky until we tried to sleep. The manager’s pet parrot kept us awake for hours whistling the same tune over and over again through the paper-thin walls.

Contrast the Laundromat accommodations with this southern California extremely hot motel room next to a golf course:
Golf Sign

Another evening at a Glendale, California motel, we started to relax in the breeze through the open windows of our room when a banging outside all the ground floor windows startled us. Although it was only dusk, the manager rapped on every door and window and shouted, “Time to close and lock your windows!” The appearance of a good neighborhood misled us.

We found the closest dwelling to a road at Sawyer’s Bar in northern California. A woman sipped morning coffee at a kitchen table next to the window in her shingled house beside the main road. If my passenger window had been down and her kitchen window open, I could have reached out and plucked the flowers from her vase on the table.

Fifteen miles of the General’s Highway in Sequoia National Park climb one mile in elevation with 23 switchbacks and 200 curves. But the worst mountain road, at 7,800-feet elevation, must be the Mineral King Road to Silver City. Plan one and a half hours to drive the 25 miles of graded, steep, narrow road with 698 tight turns. When you reach the parking area at the end of the road, two surprises await: 1) Yellow-bellied marmots like to chew radiator hoses and vehicle wiring and 2) No services are available.

First prize for signage goes to a Nevada County dirt road at a one-lane wooden suspension bridge over the south fork of the Yuba River. The sign, “End of county maintained road,” is posted at the bridge. There is no turnaround. We crossed the bridge because it looked like there was a wide spot to turn around on the other side. Once across however, we stared up the hill in front of us trying to figure out where the road continued over protruding tree roots among giant boulders. The sign should declare, “End of road. Period.”

Speaking of signs, would this large, red sign entice you “to get away from it all” in the great outdoors? Posted at the trailhead to the Devil’s Post Pile National Monument in California:




and Spring is the best time to look. Heavy rains and snow melt wash gold down from the hills to settle in swollen streambeds and rivers.

According to the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, gold was present in hard rock when the earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. Molten rock and hot water solutions carry gold up through cracks in the earth’s crust. Geologists believe more gold remains deep down in bedrock than all of the gold previously mined in California.

The most popular and productive surface gold mining areas in California are the rivers and tributaries on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada below 5,000-feet elevation: especially theYuba, Feather and American rivers. In northern California, the Klamath, Salmon and Trinity rivers have been productive along with the Kern River, Placerita and San Gabriel Canyons in southern California.

Ask at gold country visitor centers, museums, and rock shops for directions to local recreation areas that allow gold panning either for free or a fee. Do not trespass or prospect on private property.

We knew they were mining gold and earning a good living where property is fenced so no one can see in or over the fence, and every few feet are signs “Private Property”, “Keep Out”, “This Means You”, and “Trespassers Will Be Shot”. As the road ascended, we looked down to the Klamath River and watched wet-suited dredgers at work.

We inquired at a southern California lodge about the location of a historical plaque on their property. It was in the area where member visitors paid to camp and pan for gold. They denied us admittance so we knew they were accumulating gold.

One small mountain community in Sierra County posted no signs. We saw no one and heard no activity, but we felt eyes watching us as we turned around at the dead end of town. Cabins dotted the hillside. Each served as an entrance tunnel to a mine dug behind it. I’d like to be a fly on the wall when those townsfolk gather ‘round the pot-bellied stove in the general store and swap tales.


It required several attempts for us to gain access to Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base in San Diego County, California. Civilians are denied entrance during any “world conflict” or “police action”. In other words, war.

During one narrow window when our country was not involved in a war, we joined the line of vehicles at the main gate at Oceanside. All the vehicles ahead of us were waved through. The guard directed us to “Pull out, park over there, and register inside.”

We explained that we wanted to see four historical points of interest dating from 1769 to 1864 within the boundaries of Camp Pendleton for our book in progress. We presented a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance to receive a self-guiding tour pass.

“Stay on the main road, and do not drive on dirt roads,” the young man ordered.

We thought it humorous to see “Troop Crossing” and “Tank Crossing” signs until sprinting troops and fast-rolling tanks suddenly appeared on the dirt roads intersecting the main road.

With our self-guiding map, it was easy to locate the El Camino Real bell, the 1798 Santa Margarita Ranch House (now private quarters), Las Flores Asistencia (1823), Las Flores Adobe (1864), and La Cristianita (1769).

La Cristianita

La Cristianita

During another narrow window when our country was not involved in a “police action”, we approached the main gate at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California, with trepidation. Beale is the home of the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird. It is unlikely we’ll be allowed on this base.

Ours was the only vehicle in sight for miles. I gathered our vehicle registration and proof of insurance ready to hand over. We explained to the young guard at the gate that we wanted to see three historical sites for our book in progress. With a salute, he waved us through. No questions. No permits. He must have thought we were someone else.

We saw no people anywhere. Jet aircraft sat on the flightline like ghostly big birds. Everything looked frozen in time. A security vehicle approached.

Uh, oh. Now we’ll have to leave, I thought.

It cruised by ignoring us.

We learned from experience to ask for directions at a firehouse and stopped at the nearest one. Firefighters know the location of everything and the best way to get there. This was no exception.

The officer in charge welcomed us in through a large room where men napped in lounge chairs. He supplied us with maps detailing the sites we sought. He must have thought we were someone else.

We considered ourselves fortunate to have easily found the Museum of the Forgotten Warriors, the World War II German Prisoner of War cell blocks, and A Gathering of Eagles 1963 film site.

Two days later, after exploring the area outside the base, we planned to drive the shortcut through the middle of the base instead of the circuitous route around to the other side.

“Sorry, sir,” a different guard said. “You’ll have to turn around here.”




Around the bend and down the grade of two-lane Highway 188, two Tecates sit on either side of the narrow river bordering California and Mexico. Trucks, semi and pickup, horns blaring, race every which way including straight down the middle of the street churning dust and dirt while drivers shake fists at on-coming traffic.

“We’re looking for Thing Road,” I said.
“I’m looking out for these crazy drivers,” Lee said.
“Thing Road! Here it is! Stop!”
“I can’t stop here. I’ll park over there.”

Highway 188 and Thing Road, in the center of California’s Tecate, is the perfect spot for the historical plaque commemorating Rancho Tecate’s pioneer era of Indian and bandit raids and smuggling Chinese and liquor. But nothing was there.

Across the way, a chain-link fence surrounded two modular trailers housing the Border Patrol. No sign posted Keep Out. The gate was open.
“Park in there,” I said. “I’ll ask here.”
I walked up the steps and through the open door. “Hello! Anyone here? Hello, hello!”
I walked down the hallway and peered into rooms clicking and buzzing with electronic equipment.

A uniformed officer appeared. “How did you get in?” he asked.
“Through the open door,” I said and quickly showed him the printout of the plaque I was looking for before he could usher me outside.
He had never seen it. He directed me to the store owner at the end of the street. “If anyone knows where it is, he does. He’s been here the longest.”

When we drove out of the Border Patrol parking lot, Mexican drivers who previously honked and shook their fists at us, gave us a wide berth and the right-of-way.

Lee parked in front of the store at the end of the street. An attractive young woman led me into the owner’s office. The well-dressed man wore impressive jewelry and exuded wealth and power as he sat behind an ornate desk. Two muscular men stood beside his desk. Paintings graced the wood-paneled walls of the large office. The “boss” motioned for me to sit in plush furniture.

This is something out of a movie, I thought. What am I doing here?

The “boss” confessed he had never seen the plaque. Neither had his assistants.

Alert to Squibob Chapter E Clampus Vitus: The plaque you dedicated on October 4, 1980, near junction of Highway 188 and Thing Road, in Tecate, California, has vanished.

 * * *

 A white Border Patrol truck followed us in our black Bronco on the road along the California-Mexico border. Maybe not the same vehicle because it kept a distance sometimes disappearing from view. Their white truck and our black truck were the only vehicles on the road that afternoon. From San Ysidro to Border Field State Park at the Pacific Ocean, a different Border Patrol vehicle followed closely.

Signs in the irrigation ditch beside the road warned of danger from contaminated water.

We pulled into the empty parking lot at the end of Monument Road. The Border Patrol vehicle stopped at the other end of the lot.

Mexican men sat shoulder to shoulder on the low rock wall around the parking lot. They all stared at us with the same pleading expression.

Curled barbed wire on top of a chain-link fence separated California from Mexico. Beyond the open field on the other side of the fence, the Tijuana bull fighting arena loomed in the distance. The fence continued into the Pacific Ocean past the low tide mark. A few women and children waded around the fence to enter California. The Border Patrol officer met them on the beach, spoke in Spanish, and motioned for them to go back. They obediently turned around and traced their steps.

While we checked the 1851 boundary marker of the SW corner of the U.S.A and the NW corner of Mexico, the Border Patrol vehicle drove away.

At home weeks later we read about rampant drug and human smuggling through both Tecates. Some things never change.

Caution Sign Along I5 in San Diego, CA

I-5 In San Diego


U.S.A.-Mexico Boundary Monument

U.S.A.-Mexico Boundary Monument


Petroglyphs are prehistoric images chiseled with stone and bone tools onto rock surfaces.

Pictographs are prehistoric images painted with dyes made from plants and mineral pigments mixed with water.

Many are found in California but few are easily accessible. Most require a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a GPS device to locate. Desert trails are either soft sand where you feel you are losing control or a hard washboard surface where you feel your insides rattling and hear your teeth chattering. Some roads have high centers strewn with boulders and chuckholes. Chaparral and mesquite scratch paint on vehicles. If you feel adventurous, check out the following:

In Riverside County, the Pictograph Maze Stone near Hemet, California Historic Landmark 557. Hwy 74, Florida Avenue exit N on California Avenue, 2.7 miles to gate at Maze Stone Park; walk 0.3 mile to end of road.

Petroglyphs at Corn Springs in the Mojave Desert. I-10 exit to Corn Springs Road; turn W, then E, 6.8 miles S on dirt Corn Springs Road. Petroglyphs at Corn Springs in the Mojave Desert.

In Inyo County, ask at Bishop Chamber of Commerce for directions to petroglyphs.

petroglyphs outside Bishop in Inyo County

Petroglyphs in Bishop, California

Petroglyphs in Bishop, California

Petroglyphs in Bishop, California

Use caution through the narrow, one way, no turn-around Titus Canyon (Leadfield) in Death Valley. You don’t want to be trapped in a flash flood.

Petroglyphs Sign in Titus Canyon, California

The Maturango Museum at Ridgecrest in Kern County offers rock art tours. Las Flores Avenue at China Lake Blvd.

Chumash Painted Cave is a California State Historic Park in Santa Barbara County.Hwy 54, 2.5 miles S of San Marcos Pass; E on Painted Cave Road 1.9 miles on steep, narrow winding road. Caves on north hillside above road. Off-road parking space for one vehicle.Caution: No trailers or motorhomes.


In the late 1940s to early 1950s, winter enthusiasts in California’s Sierra Nevada believed truckers and skiers were the only people who knew how to drive in snow. They were also the only people courageous or foolish enough to drive in blizzard conditions.

Late one night in a snowstorm when I arrived where I remembered the lodge to be perched up the hill, I parked as far off U.S. Highway 40 as possible next to a four-foot snow bank on one side leaving room for two-lane traffic on the other. In the morning, I found a traffic citation speared on my antenna. A foot of snow covered my car. A peaked roof rose above the other side of the now seven-foot snow bank. I thought I was cited for parking in front of a driveway, but it was for illegal parking obstructing snow removal.

Car in front of driveway

Car parked off US Highway 40

My protest, which included two pictures in support of my defense of parking as far off the roadway as practicable, leaving an unobstructed width of the highway free for passage of other vehicles, and a clear view of a stopped vehicle from a distance of 200 feet left open, was in vain.

The Truckee Justice Court judge replied, in part, “Illegal parking in this area is one of our bigger problems . . . parking areas in the Summit area are much too small for the number of cars needing space. This causes a traffic hazard and has often resulted in closing the highway to all traffic.

Until more room is created the only hope of control is in placing a rather high price on the numerous parking violations . . . around 100 come into this court in one day.

“I hope this will help you to realize the problem . . . and to understand why the bail is set at $10.00.”


A New Year Weekend

The New Year weekend welcoming 1952 was a memorable one for many in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Eager to start the New Year skiing, I boarded a Greyhound bus in the San Francisco Bay area headed to Reno, Nevada, with a stop to drop me off at Donner Summit. Snow fell in the foothills, and zero visibility closed Highway 40 at Colfax. I joined other stranded skiers warming themselves around the potbellied stove in the one-room train depot at Colfax while awaiting word for the highway to reopen.

“Hey, let’s switch to the train!” someone suggested.

We were told the Southern Pacific streamliner the City of San Francisco had stalled up on the summit in the blizzard. As soon as it moved, we would be on our way.

We boarded a train we dubbed the Jesse James Special with broken windows, torn curtains and upholstery, and a rivulet flowing down the center aisle. No one cared because we were finally on our way to Donner Summit!

The train backed up. We sang about bottles of beer on the wall and eventually dozed off.

At dawn, it was still snowing, but the train had stopped.
Someone yelled, “Donner Summit!”
We grabbed our gear and jumped off. Outside we couldn’t get our bearings. No one recognized any landmarks. Fresh snow covered everything.

During the night, the train had continued to back up to allow crews to pass to aid the City of San Francisco. We were a mile below the Colfax depot.

Postscript:  Blizzard conditions for three days and nights hampered rescue teams trying to reach the passenger train pulled by three locomotives that were almost buried under 25 feet of snow. Relief Diesels stalled and wheels froze on the tracks. Not until plows cleared U.S. Highway 40, did the 256 passengers and crew reach safety.

Similar snows in the same area the winter of 1846-1847 led to the Donner Party tragedy.




Twenty-six years ago on October 17, 1989, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook Northern California just before Game 3 of the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

Half an hour before the quake struck, Lee and I walked the self-guiding Earthquake Trail on the San Andreas Fault Line beside Mission San Juan Bautista, about thirty miles south from the Loma Prieta epicenter. Then we drove a few miles to the outskirts of Hollister and checked into the Ridgemark guest cottages. The ground trembled at 5:02 p.m. for fifteen seconds.

For twenty years we lived in the East Bay hills on the active Hayward Fault and dealt with many quakes. As taught in grammar school, we braced ourselves in a doorway. Across the room, sliding glass doors, open because of hot weather that day, closed and opened during the rolling motion. Glass wavered in the large picture window. The hanging ceiling light fixture swayed back and forth. Power outage blackened television, radio, and lights. Several aftershocks later, all shaking and rattling ceased.

“OK, it’s over. Nothing’s broken. Let’s go eat.”

At the resort’s darkened dining room, a visibly frightened hostess said, “Sorry, we’re closed. Our power is out.”

We walked back to our cottage. No lights, no telephone, no food.

We sat in our big Bronco and heard a radio alert that the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed.

More aftershocks. Our Bronco bounced and swayed as if it were a carnival ride. Neighboring guests hurriedly packed their vehicles and fled.

We drove a few blocks to find a restaurant. Darkened traffic lights caused congested intersections. The power outage forced gas stations, restaurants, and businesses to close. Supermarkets turned away customers at the door. Goods fell off shelves and littered floors.

We drove another block and found an open Yogurt and Submarine Sandwich Shoppe.
“Sorry, I’m closing,” the young man said. “Power’s out.”
“Oh, please,” we begged. “Just a sandwich.”
He slapped turkey slices between French rolls, ushered us out the door, and locked it behind us.

We returned to our cottage patio facing the golf course to eat cold turkey sandwiches with fruit, trail mix, and water we always carry with us. Aftershocks continued. An orange sun set behind the hills. Sirens screamed in the distance.

As the sole occupants left at the resort, we felt abandoned.

Our cottage stood firm. No broken windows. No cracked walls or ceiling. The hanging light fixture remained intact.

We believed it safe to sleep inside.

Aftershocks during the night rocked our bed. Our small flashlight rolled back and forth on the nightstand. Sirens continued through our sleepless night.

In the morning, the office and dining room remained closed. Our Bronco radio reported that parts of Highway 101 split, and cracks opened ditches in the pavement. Downtown Hollister was impassible. Brick buildings fell onto streets.

A kindly groundskeeper directed us to follow a country road east around the back way and north to where it meets Highway 101 near Gilroy. We drove slowly to avoid cracks in the pavement and empty farm crates scattered on and beside the road. We saw no activity, no people, no animals, no vehicles.

Normal travel time on the highway between Hollister and San Jose is one hour. Our detour lasted three hours.

We had no way of knowing which Bay Area bridges and elevated freeways collapsed. We avoided them all and drove  northeast from San Jose on 680 to Stockton, north on I-5 to Lodi, northwest on 12 to Suisun, west on 80 to 37 and home to Novato.

Two days later, we learned that the quake caused a portion of the Mission San Juan Bautista bell tower to topple onto the area where we stood half an hour before the earth shook.


Summer Vacation:

Whew! These first few weeks of summer are posting warmer than normal temperatures. Reminds me of my first vacation on my own in my first car. A mechanic checked my year-old car before I left the San Francisco Bay area to drive to Salt Lake City. When I cruised into Wendover, Nevada, a gas station attendant convinced me that I would need two new tires before attempting to cross the Great Salt Lake Desert. What to do with the two “old” tires that really didn’t look worn to me?

For two weeks, I drove through Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon with two “spare” tires stacked on the back seat.


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