California Dreaming

Submitted 10 months ago
Created by
Lisa Ladd

A Journey Home

Although I lived in the Upper Valley for 30 years this spring, my original home was California. As much as I consider this area my home, there are things I miss.  The smell of Eucalyptus mixed with the Pacific Ocean, the hills dotted with oak trees, the endless vistas, and the cultural diversity which is not as common in this area.    After many years of delay, my partner and I recently spent two glorious weeks out West, avoiding the crazy storms and miserable drop in temperature that occurred in early January for the rest of you.

This trip was intended to be something of a farewell for me.  My last three trips to the San Francisco Bay Area marked the passing of my father, the move of my elderly mother to Quail Hollow from our home in Fremont, and subsequently a third trip to empty my childhood home and put it on the market.  My husband had always promised me we would go back to California, so I could show him my favorite places, and this year we finally made it.

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 I am fortunate to have family in both Southern and Northern California.  We decided to fly into Ontario, California, and spend a few days with my cousins in Wildomar, with the promise of a day in the desert and some excellent Mexican food. 

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is comprised of an amazing window into the geologic past of this wilderness, that encompasses 640,000 acres.  My cousins regularly camp in this park, and it boasts hiking, off-roading and a two excellent ranger stations that feature well marked paths describing the flora of the area.  The popular camping season begins in October and ends in May when it becomes too hot to spend much time in the park. Deserts are not for everyone, but if you have never experienced the sheer beauty of rock, sky and really unusual plants, put this place down as a possibility.  I kept looking at the tops of the cliffs to make sure there weren’t any bandits waiting to come get me, a product of watching spaghetti westerns with my dad growing up.

All too soon, it was time to head north to Bakersfield and Earlimart to meet up with more family and to check the progress of my cousin’s pistachio grove as well.  My uncle was a petroleum geologist, who lived and worked in several countries throughout his career, but for a time, lived in Bakersfield.  For many years, our favorite restaurant was a Basque place in the heart of old Bakersfield called the Pyrenees Cafe.  Although it has changed hands several times, much has remained the same.  Folks order their entrée, then share communal bowls of soup, salad, bread and side dishes.  It is a loud, fun place that grilled one of the best steaks I’ve had in years.  Though short, I was able to see more cousins and have a memorable meal in a city I haven’t visited in 35 years. 

We spent the next day and a half at Earlimart, looking at the pistachios and visiting a National Wildlife Refuge in Pixley, that had Sand Hill Cranes wintering in the preserve.  All around the reserve were farms, some raising nuts, others raising the new popular “Halos”, in addition to grapes, and dairy’s too.  Although we saw the cranes with our binoculars, they definitely stayed well away from visitors, though it was wonderful to hear them and spy on them from afar.  After five days with family it was time to head to the Coast and make our way towards my beloved Bay Area.   

 Much like our Upper Valley, California has had quite a few weather disasters in this past year, which effected our plans to head to the coast, due to a previous mudslide blocking parts of Route 1.  Trusting that our AAA California map would be accurate, we opted to take a small route through the Los Padres National Forest.  On our way, we made a detour to a Mission I had never visited.  For Californian’s, the history of the missions, established by the Spanish is taught with as much fervor as Colonial history is here in New England.  The Mission San Antonio de Padua, is one of the most beautifully restored missions I have visited, and was the third constructed by Father Junipero Serra.  Though it appears to be in the middle of nowhere this active parish is surrounded by a large army base, Fort Hunter-Liggett.  When visiting California, it is almost impossible to not be near a mission, and they are well worth visiting.

Back on the road we began our ascent into the Los Padres National Forest, with the intent of coming out the other side and having a late lunch in Morro Bay.  Thankfully we were traveling on a weekday as this road was one switchback after another with few turnouts and at times very narrow, with no guardrails.  We only had a one white-knuckled moment, and the views we were rewarded with made the adventure one we won’t soon forget. 

Once in Morro Bay we had a nice lunch on the water, and were treated to sea otters and California Sea Lions to keep us entertained.  With darkness descending we headed up the road to our hotel in Cambria planning to get a good night’s sleep before we headed north to another favorite place which you will read about next week.



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