USA Trip


16th December 2005 - 9th January 2006

California - Los Angeles to San Francisco



Big Sur coastline, arguably the most spectacular stretch of California's coastline.


Continuing up the coast, I entered the northern section of Los Padres National Forest. The forest is divided between two non-contiguous areas. The northern division is within Monterey County and northern San Luis Obispo County and includes the beautiful Big Sur Coast and scenic interior areas. Personally I regard this is the most dramatic and scenic section of the Californian coastline. The "main division" of the forest includes lands within San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Kern Counties. Los Padres includes most of the mountainous land along the California coast from Ventura to Monterey, extending inland. Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the central coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. It is truly dramatic, even though the shrubland is brown at this time of the year. I was in my element and wished I had more time to stop for walks, particulary the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The sheer distances one has to cover when travelling in America are underestimated. The weather was good, even though the landscape was shrouded in mist. Rockfalls were in evidence along the route, judging by the roadworks. I stopped to buy a sandwich. It boasts the Waterfall Trail, showcasing the beautiful McWay Falls. A dramatic man-made structure appears in the form of Bixby Creek Bridge, a reinforced concrete open-spandrel arch bridge in Big Sur, 120 miles south of San Francisco, along Highway 1.  Further along is Point Sur lighthouse. 


Soon I had reached Monterey and then Santa Cruz. Monterey had long been famous for the abundant fishery in Monterey Bay. That changed in the 1950s, when the local fishery business collapsed due to overfishing. A few of the old fishermen's cabins from the early twentieth century have been preserved as they stood along Cannery Row. The famous Cannery Row has now been turned into a tourist attraction, with restaurants and shops in the historical site. It is also the location of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In June 1967 the city was the venue of the Monterey Pop Festival, when over 200,000 people attended. The festival became legendary for the first major American appearances by Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix, inspired by Pete Townsend's guitar-smashing, ended his Monterey performance by kneeling over his guitar with reverence, pouring lighter fluid over it, setting it aflame, and then smashing it up. The present-day site of Santa Cruz was the location of a Native American settlement since ancient times. It was also one of the earliest settlements of the Spanish in the later part of the 1700s. Now known for its alternative community lifestyles and liberal political leanings, Santa Cruz is a bastion for many sub-cultures and counter-cultures.  

Bixby Creek Bridge on the Big Sur in summer - photo from wiki website


Awesome scenery along California's Big Sur.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is an oceanfront amusement park in Santa Cruz. Founded in 1907 and operated by the family-owned Santa Cruz Seaside Company, it is California's oldest surviving amusement park. The eastern end is dominated by the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster which opened in 1924, built in just 47 days at a cost of $50,000. Time was marching on and the afternoon traffic began to build up.  I took Highway 17 up to San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley. This is where things started to go pear-shaped. I had anticipated a different approach into San Francisco from the south, in trying, ultimately, to get to Napa, my destination that day. Instead of driving up the east side of the Bay area towards Oakland, I ended up on Highway 280 towards downtown San Francisco, finding myself in 5 lanes of traffic at peak hour. Coming over a rise, the sight of San Francisco skyline as it came into view was one I'll never forget. In fact I was petrified. I realised I could go no further once I reached the Golden Gate Bridge, turning off into a road that led steeply up a hillside. Having pulled over to the side, a huge truck came charging up the hillside from behind but, owing to my presence ahead (I was not posing an obstruction), he slowed down. Unable to make it up the hill, he came to a halt and then jack-knifed.

Bixby Creek Bridge, along Big Sur, California.

I was off before trouble ensued and drove downtown to a service station, as I was practically out of petrol, taking the last exit before the Bay Bridge to Oakland and filling up in Bryant Street. Here I received directions to "cross the Bay Bridge and keep going straight" and "head towards Sacramento".  I also phoned Barry. It was bumper to bumper traffic on the bridge and beyond.  Still confused, I took a wild guess and chose to stay on Highway 80 past Berkeley, heading north. The next shock in store for me arose when I reached yet another bridge and a toll station. I turned off again to enquire and check. I was close to a nervous breakdown. I headed back towards the toll station, taking the prepaid gate by mistake (months later I received a fine), crossing over another bridge to the suburb of Vallejo on the Eastshore Freeway. From this point on I gained in confidence, my route finally tying up with the Mapquest directions I had prepared. I finally reached Barry's house around 21h00 that evening, a distance of 46 miles from the service station. I was quite proud of the fact that I did not capitulate and request a "search party".

California skyline at night - photo courtesy of wiki


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  Tuesday I went with Barry to the Kendall Jackson Winery in Santa Rosa.  It is a long way to go, especially in the morning traffic, all of 47 miles from Napa to Sonoma Valley. We dropped off the car I had hired at an Alamo station en route, the ensuing conversation with the suave black attendant proving quite entertaining, as each tried to outdo the other in the art of smooth talk. Didn't quite know our Barry had such a gift of the gab.

 We arrived at the winery and I then borrowed Barry's vehicle for the rest of the day, heading west all along River Road to the Pacific Coast through the Russian River Valley via Guernville. The Russian River flows from the counties of Mendocino and Sonoma. The river takes its name from the Russian trappers and fur traders who came south from Alaska and explored the river in the early 19th century, and established their Fort Ross trade colony 10 miles northwest of its mouth, built with the help of the local Indians. They called it the Slavyanka River. The redwoods that lined its banks drew loggers to the river in the late 19th century. They grew in the riverbed with such vigour that just a few centuries ago, the valley had the greatest biomass density on the planet, according to local lore. The local Pomo Indians used the area as a summer camp and called it "Ceola" (Cee-Oh-Lay) which meant "shady place."  Many of the trees were logged in the 1800s, giving rise to the first English name for the place - "Stumptown." The Russians remained until 1841, when the area came under Mexican rule. It is a beautiful stretch, still heavily forested, the valleys along the River Road route cleared for vineyards.


Russian River Valley wine farm, Sonoma County, California.


  After stopping at Jenner Bay to view the tempestuous Pacific waves pounding the shoreline, I headed south towards Bodega Bay, a shallow, rocky inlet, approximately 5 miles across. Bodega Bay is protected on its north end from the Pacific Ocean by Bodega Head, which shelters the small Bodega  Harbour and is separated from the main bay by a jetty. The San Andreas Fault runs parallel to the coastline and bisects Bodega Head, which lies on the Pacific Plate; whereas the town (a Spanish term meaning warehouse) is on the North American Plate. Bodega Bay was discovered in 1775 by the Spanish explorer Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, after whom it is named. Bodega Bay was the setting of the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film, The Bird. Long before Euro-Americans inhabited the area surrounding Sonoma County the Miwok and Pomo Indians lived throughout region. The Coastal Miwok fished, hunted, and gathered on a seasonal basis in the coastal areas for their sustenance. The Russians enslaved the Pomo and exploited the area’s natural resources, until they left in 1841.  

Bodega Bay - photo not taken by self; Bodega Bay in relation to San Francisco.


Spanish missionaries began inhabiting coastal California in the late 1700s, setting up missions regardless of prior occupation of the land. By the 1800s the Spanish had begun to use the local Miwok and Pomo Indians as labourers. California came under Mexican control during this time and plots were granted to Mexican citizens, who built ranchos along the Sonoma coast. Many of the area’s Indians went into servitude for Mexicans who through state confiscation now controlled much of the land that was previously under the stewardship of the Native Americans who laboured for them. By 1850 those Native Americans who were not working as farm labourers, engaged in fishing to earn a livelihood. I explored the coastal region, then headed for Healdsburg, a town which serves as a commercial centre for the northern Sonoma County. It was still raining heavily as I wandered the 19th century plaza of up-market boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and cafes. Healdsburg hosts a jazz music festival in June. I drove back to the wine-tasting room where Barry worked. I wanted to purchase some wine but Barry wouldn't hear of it. i did buy some KJ merchandise in the form of a jacket, so I could argue that I have "been there, done it and got the T-shirt". The Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates vineyard and winery, under the Kendall-Jackson brand started by the Jess Jackson family in 1974, now continues under the umbrella company, Jackson Family Wines, that Jackson later created. In the 1980s, Kendall-Jackson rejected the California wine industry's trend toward vineyard-specific wine labelling. It ignored the concept of terroir in favour of blending wines from different regions to achieve desired wine characteristics.


The winding Lombard Street, comprising eight sharp turns.


Over the next three days I went into San Francisco. In certain ways it was a disaster. For starters, the weather was awful, raining incessantly. Secondly, I was hood-winked into purchasing a sub-standard camera lens and the memory of this unpalatable experience still sends cold shivers down my spine and sends me into a state of deep depression. On the positive side, the aforementioned article now serves as a useful paperweight in Barry's home study! The first of these visits, on Wednesday 21st December, Barry took the day off and drove in to San Francisco, as he had an appointment elsewhere. We stopped off at TripTel in Van Ness Avenue, a cell phone rental company based in downtown San Francisco and at LAX and SF airports. I needed one for the rest of 3-week trip and purchased a contract from a rather petite, young Russian girl. Barry then could not resist taking me down arguably San Francisco's most famous tourist attraction, a steep one block section in Lombard Street that consists of tight, hairpin bends. I was dropped off at Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf, which I explored for the rest of the day. Queues lined up outside the ticket office for Alcatraz cruises. I was hoping the weather would improve and I missed the opportunity in the days to follow. Instead I explored the pier, wandering along Jefferson Street towards The Cannery. I purchased an African thumb piano at Lark In The Morning, a brilliant musical instrument shop located in the Cannery Shopping Centre at Fisherman's Wharf. Handmade instruments made by at least 200 International family businesses around the world provide a tremendous quantity of styles and types of handmade instruments for aficionados and beginners. Both ancient and modern grace this imaginative and magically intelligent shop.  

Lombard street in summer - photo from wiki website


Balclutha at San Francisco Maritime Museum; View from the deck of the ferryboat Eureka; Balclutha, a square-rigged sailing ship built in 1886.


The Cannery, formerly the largest peach cannery in the world but now a vibrant marketplace, similar to Canary Wharf in Cape Town, and many others. It boasts a world-class jazz club. Many of the restaurants and stands serve fresh seafood predominantly, most notably dungeness crab and clam chowder (soup thickened with flour) served in a sourdough bread bowl. I loved the arts and crafts at the Kachina Indian gallery, where I became engaged in a conversation with the Indian shop assistant, going by the rather Anglo-Saxon name of Amy Thompson. Purchasing an entrance ticket, I toured the San Francisco Maritime Museum and the historic vessels along Hyde Street Pier. The entire fleet include Balclutha, an 1886-built square rigged sailing ship, Eureka, an 1890-built steam ferryboat, two schooners and two tugs from this period. I later met up with Barry and his son, Carter and we had a late lunch together.


Images of the devastation caused by the San Francisco earthquake and resultant fire of 1906 - photos from wiki website


The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was a major earthquake that the city and the coast of northern California at 5:12 A.M. on Wednesday, 18th April, 1906. Shaking was felt from Oregon to Los Angeles, and inland as far as central Nevada. The earthquake and resulting fire is remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the USA. The death toll from the earthquake and resulting fire represents the greatest loss of life from a natural disaster in California's history. The earthquake was caused by a rupture on the San Andreas Fault. This fault runs the length of California from the Salton Sea in the south to Cape Mendocino to the north, a distance of about 800 miles. The earthquake ruptured the northern third of the fault for a distance of 296 miles. The most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the earthquake is a moment magnitude (Mw) of 7.8.  As damaging as the earthquake and its aftershocks were, the fires that burned out of control afterward were much more destructive. Fires broke out in many parts of town, some initially fuelled by natural gas mains broken by the quake. Worst of all, many were set when fire-fighters, untrained in the use of dynamite, attempted to dynamite buildings to create firebreaks, which resulted in the destruction of more than half of buildings that would have otherwise survived. The fires lasted for four days and nights.


Jetty scene at dusk, with Alcatraz in the background.


The two days that followed, I took a bus to Vallejo and a Baylink ferry across the bay to Ferry Plaza, between Piers 1 and 2.  I walked North Beach along Columbus Avenue, taking in a number of prominent locations famous in the 1950's, including the City Lights Bookstore (no. 261), founded in 1953 by then unknown Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin, as the nation's first all-paperback bookstore. The Beat Generation is a term used to describe both a group of American writers who came to prominence in the late 1950s and early  1960s, and the cultural phenomena that they wrote about and inspired (later sometimes called "beatniks"). Across the renamed Jack Kerouac Alley from the bookstore is Vesuvio's, (no. 255), a bar founded in 1948 by Henri Lenoir, once frequented by the Beat Generation celebrities. A beloved, beret-wearing fixture of San Francisco's Italian-themed North Beach neighbourhood was Enrico Banducci, who founded the city's first sidewalk cafe, the eponymous Enrico's on Broadway, where the clientele included fire-fighters and felons, Frank Sinatra's rat pack and performers from nearby strip clubs. Enrico Banducci, who provided a stage for up-and-coming comedians such as Mort Sahl, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby at his hungry i nightclub during the 1950s and 60s, died of natural causes in October, 2007. He was 85.


On the Bayside ferry approaching Bay Bridge, San Francisco - note the inclement December weather.


Another famous bar and cafe was Tosca's (no. 242), the walls of the bar and cafe lined with murals of Tuscany and a jukebox playing selections from Italian opera. I passed a salon with large windows, where some guy  surrounded by a bevy of women, looked as if he was having his legs waxed an his nail clipped, for all to see. What a sight!  Caffé Trieste is a famous chain of five Italian-themed coffee houses, founded in 1956 by Giovanni Giotta (or "Papa Gianni" as he came to be known), who hailed from the small fishing town of Rovigno, Italy (now part of Croatia). The first location, which still survives, is in San Francisco's North Beach. It quickly became popular among the neighbourhood's primarily Italian residents. "It was all Italian people," Giotta said, "But I got the American people to like cappuccino." The cafe also became popular among the many young Beat writers and artists who lived in North Beach in n the 1950s and 1960s. Caffe Trieste celebrated its 50th anniversary in April, 2006.

Caffé Trieste, frequented by beatniks of the 1950s and 1960s.


Images of the cable car system in San Francisco, near Chinatown (the lens used for these shots now serves as a paperweight in Barry's study in Napa).


View of downtown San Francisco in Jackson Street, which serves as the route for the Powell Street cablecars.

San Francisco's Chinatown was the port of entry for early Taishanese and Zhongshanese Chinese immigrants from the southern Guangdong province of China from the 1850s to the 1900s.  The neighbourhood was completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake that levelled most of the city. I paid a visit to Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal cathedral located on Nob Hill. The cathedral community is known for its open-mindedness, and is willing to accept teachings from religions besides Christianity. The cathedral has become an international pilgrimage centre for church-goer and visitor alike, famed for its replica of Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, two labyrinths (one outdoors and the other indoors) on the floor and varied stained-glass windows, an impressive building indeed. Heading back towards the bay, I spotted the Hard Rock cafe and popped in for a coffee. The walls are lined with memorabilia such as guitars and clothing, of famous musicians such as Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Van Halen. On the 18h45 ferry to Vallejo I met Lyn, a federal investigator for Civil Rights. I politely declined a lift to Napa but settled for a drink in the pub, waiting for the Napa bus.

Memorabilia at San Francisco's Hard Rock Cafe, on the Embarcadero.

Taking the 10h30 ferry on the Friday morning, it was very misty. Birds scurried across the surface of the water. I walked up Market Street by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 3rd Avenue, it's location since the transformation in 1995. The iconic architectural showpiece facility was designed by Mario Botta, from Switzerland. One of the exhibits was by Chuck Close, an American painter and photographer who achieved fame as a photorealist, through his massive-scale portraits. Though a catastrophic blood clot in 1988 left him severely paralyzed, he has continued to paint and produce work which remains sought after by museums and collectors. Also of interest were paintings by Mexican artist Diego Rivera, active communist and husband of Frida Kahlo (her life inspired the famous movie "Frida"). Rivera's large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Renaissance. The San Francisco cable car system is the world's last permanently operational manually-operated cable-car system, and is an icon of the city. There are three lines, the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason street lines, which share a section of the lines up to Mason Street, and the California Street line. Unlike the double-ended cable-car cars that are found on the California Street line, the Powell Street cable cars were built to move in one direction only, hence the need for a turntable at the end of each line. After the last passengers have disembarked, the car is pushed onto the turntable and rotated manually by the conductor and the gripman, the latter being a highly skilled job requiring great upper body strength. By 1979 the cable car system had become unsafe, and it needed to be closed for 7 months for urgently-needed repairs. A subsequent engineering evaluation concluded that it needed comprehensive rebuilding at a cost of $60 million. In 1982 the system was closed again for a complete rebuild and reopened on 21st June, 1984 and upgrades have continued. I walked up to Powell Street and bought a ticket, travelling down to Fisherman's Wharf, where I had grilled salmon for lunch at the Hard Rock. I found the cable car conductor amusing and highly entertaining, only adding to the fun. I then walked back all the way to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and spent two hours till it closed at 18h00.  

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, designed by Mario Botta.


Christmas Eve proved a quiet affair in Napa at the Dodds household. Barry's wife Kim was wrapping multitudes of Christmas presents for kids from dysfunctional homes, which had to be dropped off late in the evening. Barry left with Carter, who has something on. Upon his return, we had a snack. I believe that Kim continued with her task till the early hours, so on Sunday morning she slept while I accompanied Barry and the others to the Christmas morning service at his local Free Baptist Church. The evening meal turned out to be a lavish affair, with Barry's sister Mel and her husband present, as well as Barry's parents, all of whom I had last seen in 1982. I began to look ahead to the next leg of the journey. I went online and booked a hotel in the Las Vegas area and a flight from Flagstaff to LAX, as I had anticipated I would not have sufficient time to drive to Los Angeles through the Joshua Tree National Park.


Golden Gate Bridge viewed from Vista Point, San Francisco Museum.

Barry had decided that he would accompany us for the start of the next leg of our journey, the drive to Yosemite. I say "we" because a friend from our Xerox hiking club was flying over to SFO to join up with me Boxing Day. Barry's son Carter was coming along, as well as Alesya and her boyfriend, so he packed stuff for the trip. Unfortunately, en route into San Francisco, Barry realised he had left his things behind, so a U-turn was forced upon us. The delay meant that we were cutting it fine. I had planned to take back the sub-standard lens I had bought but decided to write this off as a bad experience, as I wished to avoid an ugly confrontation that would undoubtedly ensue, given Barry's understandable demeanour towards the proprietor, the last time we were there. We took Highway 101 into San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping at Vista point to admire the view and take photographs. We enquired at Triptel as to why I was not able to send SMSs on the cell-phone I had hired from them. We headed for San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to pick up Sandra.

USA Trip

16th December 2005 - 9th January 2006

Part One - California [1] [2] [3]

Part Two - Nevada

Part Three - Utah

Part Four - Arizona

(to follow)

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