From the Northern California coast, we cut in to the Central Valley for an extended visit with my sister Cindy. So nice hanging out with Cindy, her wonderful friends, and our Corgi nephew Hudson.
Special thanks to Cindy’s son Scott for providing the impetus for our never-ending roadtrip. His wedding in Sonora brought together the biggest-ever gathering of family from both coasts. We really enjoyed a beautiful wedding weekend/family reunion. A warm welcome to the family to Scott’s lovely and delightful bride Erica.
The Central Valley is agriculture on a colossal scale—vast fields of almonds, olives, rice, melons, and more. On clear days, mountains loom in the distance in all directions. A much needed rain hinted at the possibility of relief from two years of extreme drought. The hills greened almost instantly in appreciation.
Sonora, in the Sierra foothills, continues the charm and mystique of the Gold Rush days. A portion of nearby Columbia is preserved much like it was in the 1850s.
Along the way, we couldn’t resist a stop in Lodi for coffee and an excuse to play a Creedence song.
We took Cindy with us for a weekend along the coast. The drive from the Central Valley to Mendocino, on the coast, is California diversity on full display: fertile fields of the valley; ranches and vineyards of the foothills; stunning mountain views along the pass road; redwood forests in the western valleys; and finally the misty cliffs of the coastline.
California, Part III
It was nice to be back in San Francisco, for the first time in more than twenty years. We stayed with Joe’s niece Karen in the fabulous Castro district. Great hanging out with her and her family. We also had dinner with Joe’s niece Kelly and her husband Steve in Oakland.
San Francisco has always been one of my favorite cities—the perfect mix of history, eclectic architecture, dramatic scenery, culture, and nonconformist goofiness. We especially enjoyed exploring the elaborately landscaped staircases hidden among the city’s many hills. It helps that the weather was unusually perfect.
Leaving San Francisco, Joe and I continued south along the coast to Santa Cruz and inland a bit to Watsonville. Once again, California’s agriculture impressed, this time with rolling hills of Brussels sprouts meeting strawberry fields forever.
We spent several days with a couple of Joe’s college friends from Cal Poly: Donna and her husband Rick, and Joe and his husband Max.
California, Part IV
We had an amazing, foggy drive along the coast in the Big Sur region—the steepest and scariest stretch of California Route 1. Every view is breathtaking. Every turn opens up spectacular vistas. For a guy with a healthy fear of heights, much of the ride combines awe with significant trepidation. I was grateful for Joe’s steady driving through one hairpin switchback after another.
Here bulldozers and plow trucks keep a constant patrol in hopes of defending an improbable road against the hostile pull of gravity. The CalTrans crews often lose the battle—you can see dozens of places where a mountain once fell onto the road or the road into the sea. Repairs can take months or years. A portion of the road had been closed by a rockslide for several weeks in October but opened just in time for us.
Farther south, we spent a few days in San Luis Obispo, Joe’s old stomping grounds during his college years at Cal Poly. After four decades, a few things hadn’t changed at all; much more had changed completely.
Finally, in Ventura, we said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean after nearly twelve hundred miles of coastal driving. The next time we see the Pacific will be after transiting the Panama Canal on our own sailboat.
Heading east, we escaped the black hole of L.A. area traffic, crossed a desert of Joshua trees, and spent our last California night in Needles, on the Colorado River.
Arizona and New Mexico
A sign at the Grand Canyon tells the story of nineteenth century tourists making the long journey by stagecoach just to see whether rumors of this incredible place were true. As twenty-first century tourists, we can finally confirm the rumors firsthand.
Although iconic images of the Grand Canyon are well known to everyone, no photograph adequately conveys the grandeur and expansiveness.
Photographs also do not express the surprise factor. As you drive toward the canyon for a hundred uneventful miles, and then get out of the car and walk the last hundred yards toward an overlook, you have no visual indication of what you are approaching. Only at the last moment, as you step out onto a ledge, does the panorama suddenly and shockingly reveal itself.
An unexpected treat was the drive through Sedona—so many spectacular mesas, canyons, and painted buttes!
We visited my nephew Stephen and his fiancé Christina in their new home in a charming neighborhood of Phoenix. Stephen took us on a tour of the fascinating Desert Botanical Garden, a horticulturist’s paradise of succulents and other arid climate plants.
We were children for a day at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Think giant sandbox of sparkling white gypsum sand dunes contained by rugged mountains. As a reminder that the park is located entirely within a US Army missile base, a sign at a trailhead offers this warning: “Do not touch any strange objects. Sometimes military planes drop dangerous objects on our dunes.” We sledded and hiked the dunes all afternoon before watching the sun set over purple mountains as a bright moon rose in the twilight.
Texas and the northern Gulf Coast
In El Paso, we visited family and friends, including long-time friend and spiritual advisor Father Richard Sotelo.
The drive across Texas is very long at more than 850 miles. We took a break in the middle for a couple of days in Austin, the self-proclaimed capital of weirdness.
We loved the bayous, swamps, grasslands, and sugarcane fields of the northern Gulf Coast. Tons of birds, alligators, and other wildlife.
We would like to have spent a lot more time in New Orleans. It’s a paradise for music lovers and foodies. We made quick visits to the French Quarter, the Garden District, and some of the less fancy but equally interesting neighborhoods to the east.
We crossed the state line from Alabama, but our trip wasn’t quite over yet. We spent a bit of time discovering the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend Coast. For all the years we’ve been coming to Florida, neither of us had ever been to this part of the state.
The Big Bend is a two hundred mile stretch of Gulf coastline from Apalachicola on the panhandle curving around to Cedar Key on the peninsula. This is a completely different Florida: no barrier islands or white sand beaches; also no high-rises, no gated communities, no strip malls. Water and time move slowly. This is old Florida at its most enchanting—remote, sparsely populated, swampy, sleepy.
Back in urban Florida, we spent a relaxing Thanksgiving with long-time friends Patty and Bob in St. Petersburg.
Continuing down the peninsula, we took the slow route through Big Cypress Preserve and the Everglades. It’s a serene slice of natural heaven for people who love birds, alligators, and bugs.
On the home stretch to Key West, we crossed the familiar bridges of the Overseas Highway, surrounded by sparkling clear blue-green water. It occurred to us that our road trip has been just a warmup. We’re looking forward to the big sailing adventure ahead.
Now we’re back in the boatyard, where dreams are built with hard, sweaty work and lots of epoxy, fiberglass, sandpaper, and paint.
Miles driven: 11,650
States visited: 22
Duration: 63 days
Carbon emissions: 7,000 kg