Monthly Archives: April 2019

China Without a Passport

Want to know how to visit China without a passport? Just do like my wife and me, and head to Grant Avenue, near downtown San Francisco. That’s the heart of Chinatown.

Our Muni bus regurgitated us into a crowd of Asians, like we’d been shanghaied, and sped away on it’s electric cable, leaving us disoriented in the Orient.

The iconic Transamerica Pyramid building towers above nearby Chinatown. At 853 feet, it was the tallest building in San Francisco from 1972 until 2018, when it was surpassed by the 1,070 foot Salesforce Tower.

Chinatown is aptly yclept. It’s abustle with throngs of Chinese immigrants, peppered with a few befuddled, agog, and somewhat frightened tourists. It occupies 24 square blocks of steep boulevards, mysterious alleyways, and hieroglyphic Hanzi characters on storefront signage.

Notice the alley beside this Buddha shop? Chinatown is famous, or perhaps notorious, for its alleys. Here, hidden from street view have been brothels, gambling halls, and other disreputable or low-profile establishments. And a Chinatown alley hosted the secret office of exiled Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, where he raised money to support the Chinese Revolution of 1911.

Most of the denizens of Chinatown are immigrants from Hong Kong or mainland China. They speak little or no English. And they eye foreigners like my wife and me with wariness and animosity. Or so we imagined.

A typical Chinatown street.

If you visit Chinatown, I suggest you learn Cantonese first, or bring along a translator. Mandarin was once the dominant language. But that started to change in the 1960’s, when Cantonese-speaking immigrants began arriving in earnest. But hell, it all sounds Greek to me.

We wandered the streets like lost foreign tourists, eyeing the exotic goods offered at storefronts with a mix of wonder and morbid curiosity. The sidewalks were difficult to navigate, due to the ruck of Asian pedestrians on this Wednesday afternoon. I understand that weekends are even worse.

Red seems to be the favorite color of the Chinese. Red represents good luck, in Chinese culture, and is also thought to scare away evil spirits.

Chinatown is the most densely populated community west of Manhattan, with 54,000 people per square mile (Manhattan has 70,000 per square mile). Many of the immigrants here were professionals of respectable status in China, but have had to settle for low-paying livelihoods in restaurants and garment factories, upon arriving in Chinatown. As a result, they live in impoverished and overcrowded conditions.

I wonder if these red cat souvenirs are meant to scare away evil mice?

I put my wallet in my front pocket, and kept my hand close by. My wife clutched her purse. We chuffed and staggered up and down steep streets, trying to figure out what to do in this byzantine warren of legs, traffic, and loud city noises.

My wife caught my attention and cupped her hand to my ear. “I’m scared!” her voice quivered. “Get me out of here.”

That’s all it took to bring out my knight in shining armor. “Of course, my fair lass, I shall lead you to safety! Just follow me!

“But first, I’m hungry. I want to try some Chinese food.”

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None of the eating establishments looked very palatable for western stomachs, until we passed by a rather large-looking restaurant buried in one of the many, ubiquitous old brick buildings. My wife’s face brightened and appeared relieved. “Hey!” she shouted above the din of traffic, “this place looks big and clean, like they cater to Americans!”

We stepped inside. It was a grand, brightly-lit, high-ceilinged eatery, decorated in traditional Chinese ornamentation. A clean-dressed waitress walked by, pushing a stainless steel cart, and smiled at us. She gestured for us to come in further. Hers was the first friendly face we had encountered in this suspicious community, and it helped us regain our confidence.

We were seated at a large table by a waitress who spoke a bowl of Cantonese with one or two garnishments of English. We had captured one of the last available tables. This large eatery was packed with jabbering diners of eastern dialect. We were the only westerners in the building.

Suddenly a train pulled up beside our table. It was two waitresses pushing and pulling a large stainless steel food incubator. They opened up covers, displaying various Chinese dishes. “You want? You want?” They inquired as they pulled out steaming dishes and proffered them under our noses.

We were flummoxed. We’d never encountered this type of food service before. We were accustomed to menus, indited with English descriptions, and with numerical price tags. You know, where you choose from the menu, and someone writes down your order, as you calculate in your head how much this is going to lighten your wallet. We waved off the waitresses, hoping for a menu option.

They gave us annoyed looks and pulled away. But within seconds a new train pulled up, with new waitresses, and new offerings of exotic meals.

At this point we realized there would be no menus. So we carefully examined each dish. Finally we chose some spicy barbecue pork, and wontons that turned out to be stuffed with ground shrimp.

“Drink?” a new waitress walked up and inquired.

I wasn’t sure how much all of this was going to cost, so I decided to just order water.

“No free wata!” the waitress scolded. And she left in a huff.

Fortunately, complimentary tea was served, and although tea is poison I went ahead and slaked my thirst with the hot leaf juice anyway. And come to think of it, I’ve heard you should never drink the water in China, so perhaps tea was a safe choice for the circumstance.

I could take or leave the wontons, but the pork was heavenly, and I slurped and smacked down as many helpings as my clumsy chopsticks could handle.

As we ate, more food trains pulled up, with multiple offerings of delectables. The waitresses were pushy, and I began to wonder how much they expected us to eat here. Finally I shouted in my best Spanish, “No mas! No mas!” Spanish is the foreign language I’m most familiar with, so this was the best I could do for communication. But I think my angry look got the message across, and the food trains ceased.

I quaked in my hiking boots as we approached the cashier. The check was written in Hanzi characters, so we had no idea what this would cost. Were they going to try to soak us for $100? $500? $1,000? Would we be thrown into a Chinese prison if we refused to pay an exorbitant tab, and then have to contact the American Consulate?

It came to about $23. We threw in a $4 tip and then got the hell out of there.

We finally found a Muni and got on board. Within minutes the bus transported us back to America and dropped us off near our hotel.

We were back home safe, in our motherland. And we did not have to pass through Customs, or show anyone our passports. Which kind of surprised us. The contrast between Chinatown and the rest of San Francisco is very stark.

And as for China itself, we have both concluded that it’s a country we never have to visit. Because we’ve already been there.

We’ve been to Chinatown.

Alcatraz #1259

Tired, broke, and homeless, Bill Baker found an unlocked car door and got out of the weather. He lay sleeping there for a while, until a rap on the window woke him up. It was the cops.

He got four years in the Oregon State Penitentiary for attempted car theft. Even though he had no intention to steal the car, nor did he possess the keys.

Thus began a lifetime of revolving door incarceration for this 19-year-old.

He was a hell raiser in the Oregon Pen, and spent much of his time in the hole with other hell raisers. Together they attempted a daring, and nearly successful escape.

Soon after being released he was arrested again, in Portland, for stealing cigarettes from a warehouse. But this time he actually succeeded at busting out of jail. He stole a car for real, and fled to Washington state. That was a big mistake, crossing the state line, because there he was caught and charged with a federal crime for the interstate transportation of a stolen auto.

He was sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. But on the long bus ride, wouldn’t you know it? He tried to escape again. They weren’t having any of that, so shortly after he arrived in Leavenworth, this now 23-year-old recidivist was shipped back West, for the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.

That was in 1957. As inmate #1259, he spent the next two-and-a-half years in this supermax. But he was getting older and wiser. He decided to grow up and make something of himself while in Alcatraz. So he learned a career. He found a mentor, who was a fellow inmate, and this man taught him how to write hot checks.

That earned him multiple stints in prison over the course of his working life. But he finally retired from the business of hot check writing at the age of 80, and began a new, more honest career as a celebrated author. He wrote the book, Alcatraz #1259.

Bill Baker is one of only two former inmates of Alcatraz who is still living. And these days he’s a celebrity at Alcatraz Island, rather than a prisoner. He talks to tourists about his experiences in Alcatraz prison, and signs copies of his book they purchase in the gift shop.

Alcatraz #1259 tells about this penitentiary from an inmate’s perspective. Baker’s writing is raw and candid. There’s no sugar coating, but there’s no bitterness either.

He treats guards and wardens with both respect and contempt, in measures he believes are well deserved. He humanizes fellow inmates. He makes no excuses, nor apologies, for his crimes. And he warns of the consequences for choosing a life of crime.

His writing style is folksy, reflecting his rural Kentucky background. And it’s also friendly and laced with humor. Bill Baker comes across as a down-home character that anyone would love to have as a cellmate.

This seems to be his first and only book, and his dearth of writing experience is detectable through occasional misspellings and unpolished grammar. But that only adds to his story’s authenticity, in my view. It leaves the impression he’s not trying to pull anything over on the reader.

Even so, some passages came across to me as startlingly eloquent and thought-provoking. I’ll just steal a few quotes from this ex-convict, to show you what I mean:

“A water tower rises high above Alcatraz Island shivering on long iron legs in the cold January wind.”

“Happiness comes in small packages in prison. But it comes. It has to get through the gray filter of awareness that you’re locked up. But it gets through, somehow, maybe not as powerful as cruising down the road with the wind at your back and all your red lights green, like when you’re free, but it gets through in smaller portions. It’s all relative. To a junkyard dog a bone is pure heaven.”

“Love is a four-letter word in prison, one you don’t use when fuck will do, for you dare not show your weakness in the middle of a jungle where a spear may pierce that most vulnerable place in your heart. And loneliness is a word you never use even in a whisper.”

“I have no love for the law, nor they for me, but me and the law had a congenial dumb and dumber relationship, they being dumb and me being dumber.”

“If you’re thinking about going into hot checks as a criminal career you might ought to toughen up your immune system so you can eat a lot of rotten prison food.”

“Never make somebody afraid of you, because a coward can be just as dangerous as anybody if he’s afraid you’re going to do something to him.”

“It’s easier to do time if you don’t fight it.”

“THE FIRST LAW OF SPACETIME: Space and time are equivalent, and neither space nor time can exist independent of the other.”

“My church is a place where space is equivalent to time and Mother Nature is equivalent to God. It’s a place also where the good and the bad are equivalent, where neither the good nor the bad can exist independent of the other, for if it wasn’t for the bad there wouldn’t be any good.”

My wife and I met Bill Baker. We shook his hand in the Alcatraz Island gift shop, and he kindly signed our copy of his book. He came across just as folksy and friendly and funny as he comes across in the pages of his autobiography.

Bill Baker is the real thing. The genuine article. And a national treasure. He’s 85 now, and I suspect he hasn’t much space or time left on this Earth. So don’t waste your space or time. Steal a car, write some hot checks, or do whatever else it takes to get inside Alcatraz and meet the man.

But lacking that, just order his book through Amazon.com, and let yourself have a fun little reading escape.

When you get on Amazon, aim your searchlights for Alcatraz #1259, by William G. Baker.

The Golden Gate Strait State

Note: All photos in this post were taken from the Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, and at the time was the longest and highest suspension bridge in the world. It spans 4,200 feet, and towers 746 feet high. It’s regarded as the most beautiful and most photographed bridge in the world. It’s also the second-most used bridge in the world for suicide, after the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. With a deck level of 245 feet, it takes just four seconds for a jumper to go from the Golden Gate to the Pearly Gates.

The Golden Gate is a narrow strait of whirlpools, eddies, and undertows, that will suck you under, twirl you around, and spit you out onto the teeth of sharp, wave-battered rocks. It connects the Pacific Ocean to the San Francisco Bay. It’s often used to symbolize the state of California, and I believe it’s an apt symbol.

The treacherous currents that guard the Golden Gate are symbolic of hardships newcomers tend to encounter, after being lured here by promises of sunny weather, fame, or fortune.

Fort Point is a Civil War era fort nestled beneath the southern approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. It nearly saw action in August, 1865, from the Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah. But as the ship approached, the captain learned that the war was over and broke off his planned attack. This is different from today, where many Confederates still fly the Stars and Bars, celebrate monuments to rebel Generals, and apparently haven’t heard that the Civil War is over.

It was dubbed the Golden Gate by U.S. Army Major John C. Fremont, in 1846, shortly before he usurped military control of the new California Republic. This was nearly two years before gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, so the name had nothing to do with the gold rush.

Fremont envisioned golden riches pouring in from the Asian empires of Japan and China, and saw this strait as “a golden gate to trade with the Orient.”

Alcatraz Island lies just beyond the Golden Gate.

This Golden Gate was difficult to discover. Spanish explorers blithely sailed past it for two hundreds years, often anchoring in Drake’s Bay, just 30 miles north. They never imagined they were so close to the largest bay on the Pacific side of the Americas.

Shrouded in fog, and guarded by rocks and unpredictable currents, Spanish sailors had avoided the area of this golden entrance, and thus never encountered it. It was finally discovered by a land expedition, in 1769.

A zoom view of Alcatraz Island. Here, many newcomers to California were given a solidly built home with no chance of eviction, a steady job, and three square meals a day.

In the same way, those who dream of California are often deterred by the foggy mystery of trying to find a decent paying job, and by the dangers of high rent, long commutes, and outrageous gas prices.

I had a similar experience. I left California when I was 17, seeking fortune in easier lands. I returned five times, and struggled until I was 40, before I finally gained a solid footing in this, my home state.

The mouth of the Golden Gate, with San Francisco across the strait.

More than a hundred ships have gone down, attempting to navigate the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay. The most common cause of shipwreck has been a loss of power that allows the strong currents to pull vessels into rocks, or onto the shallow waters of sandy beaches. If you come to California, be sure to bring plenty of reserve power with you, lest our treacherous economy beach you on the shores of financial ruin.

This zoom view of the rocks, waves, and currents at the mouth of the Golden Gate shows the strait’s treacherous navigation conditions.

California has always been deluge and drought, boom and bust, growth and wildfires. Be warned. If you wish to migrate to this hyped-up “paradise”, exercise caution. Test the wind. Trim your sails. Then stand by close to a lifeboat before daring passage through the Golden Gate.

The Gatlin Brothers can tell you a little bit more about All The Gold In California:

Cranky Pants Battling Autoimmune Disease

I know a Canadian lady with autoimmune disease. Her name is Cranky Pants. She’s cranky, because she’s in constant pain and discomfort from this disabling and difficult disease. And she wears pants. And even her dog has autoimmune disease. And her dog is also cranky.

Cranky has started her own YouTube channel, where she talks about this disease, and invites discussion. If you have autoimmune disease, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, IBD, or any of the others (heck there’s about 80 of them), or if you suspect you may have this health condition, I think you’ll find Cranky’s YouTube channel informative.

Cranky is nice, fun, and helpful, in spite of the name she’s given herself. You can check out her channel and see for yourself, by watching her latest video, below:

The Winchester Mystery House

Sarah Pardee was born in 1841, to middle-class parents, in New Haven, Connecticut. Just 40 years later she became one of the richest women in the world.

In 1862, she married William Wirt Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester. Oliver Winchester owned the New Haven Arms Company, and was getting rich selling the Henry rifle.

In 1866, Oliver renamed his business the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and the first Winchester repeating rifles began production. The Winchester quickly gained popularity, especially with pioneers, and eventually became known as the gun that won the West.

Oliver earned a fast fortune running this company. And when he died in December, 1880, Sarah’s husband, William, inherited much of it. Then, just three months later, William died of tuberculosis.

This left Sarah with an inheritance of $20 million dollars, which was the equivalent to over $500 million, today. She was also left with a near 50% holding in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which allowed her to rake in $1,000 per day in dividend income. That’s the equivalent to over $25,000 per day, or more than $9 million per year, in today’s money.

You may envy her, but the widow Winchester was no stranger to tragedy. In 1866 her only child, Annie Pardee Winchester, died just 40 days after birth. And of course her husband, a man whom she truly loved, died 15 years later. No amount of money could dissolve her lifelong grief over these losses.

Much of Sarah’s life, after her great inheritance, remains a mystery. But it’s commonly believed that she was an occultist, who held seances and tried to communicate with the dead, including her late-husband and daughter.

It’s believed she once visited a famous Boston medium named Adam Coons. And it’s said that Coons warned her that she was cursed by the Winchester fortune, due to the many people who’d been slain by the Winchester rifle.

Coons allegedly relayed instructions from angry spirits, telling Sarah to move to California and build a great house for all the ghosts of those who had been gunned down. And he told her to never stop building, as the sound of all the construction noise would confuse the spirits and keep them from harming her.

And so, in 1884, Sarah Winchester purchased an unfinished farmhouse south of San Francisco Bay, in what is now San Jose, California. And she commenced a never-ending job of finishing it.

She hired a crew of contractors and paid them three times the going wage. They remained very loyal to Sarah, and set to work, continuously building room after room, addition after addition, round-the-clock, for the next 38 years.

By the time she died in 1922, her farmhouse had expanded to 161 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys, two basements, and three elevators. And this was after part of the house had been destroyed by the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

It had many toilets, but only one was functioning. The other restrooms were built as decoys to confuse the spirits. In fact, much of the construction was intended to confuse these victims of the Winchester rifle. Every pillar, inside and outside, was installed upside-down. Hallways led to dead ends. A staircase led to a ceiling. Doors opened to steep drop-offs, or to bare walls. A skylight was installed in a floor. Other skylights were covered by roofs.

The front of the Winchester Mystery House. Or is it a side? There are so many entrances, it’s hard for a ghost to know. Notice the upside-down porch pillars?

She decorated the house with beautiful Tiffany stained glass and crystal windows. And many windows were designed with the number 13 in mind, as this was Sarah’s favorite number. So some windows had 13 panes, or a design would repeat 13 times within a window.

Her will, in fact, contained 13 parts, and was signed 13 times.

Another outdoor photo of the Winchester Mystery House. A sign near the entrance warned that photography was forbidden inside the house. I hate snooty policies like that. So after snapping a number of outdoor photos, I returned my camera to the car. But when the tour began, our guide told us that photography really WAS allowed inside, just not flash photography. I could have kicked myself. Or the guide. Someone needs to change that sign.

She died in her sleep at age 81, from heart failure. Or who knows, perhaps one of the spirits finally managed to exact revenge upon this Winchester gun heiress.

When her workers heard of her death they immediately halted construction, leaving nails half driven into walls. They knew the end had come for their fat paychecks.

Sarah was the architect of all the additions and remodelings. And she left no blueprints. She employed a gingerbread architectural style, which is fairly common to Victorian-era buildings in the United States.

Sarah bequeathed all of her possessions, except her sprawling mansion, to her niece and personal secretary. She made no mention of her mansion, in the will. So her niece emptied the house, trucking most of Sarah’s possessions to an auction. And it supposedly took six trucks working eight hours a day for six weeks, to remove all the furniture from the home.

The Foreman’s house, which is one of several outbuildings behind the Winchester mansion. The guy who lived here must have kept very busy.

Appraisers were confounded, and considered the mansion worthless. Nonetheless, it sold at auction for $135,000. The investor leased, then sold the mansion to John and Mayme Brown, who opened it to the public as a tourist attraction, just five months after Sarah’s death.

The horse stable, which is connected to the house. It was designed so that Mrs. Winchester’s carriage could be driven indoors, thus alleviating her from being soiled by raindrops, blowing dust, or other weather-borne unpleasantries.

Today it’s dubbed the Winchester Mystery House, and for an adult ticket price of $39, you can visit and explore many of the rooms of this odd mansion. The house is reputed to be haunted, and occasionally tourists and tour guides report strange happenings, such as swinging chandeliers, apparitions, and ghostly voices.

So it’s quite popular with tourists around October 31st.

Click here to learn more about the Winchester Mystery House.

This weather vane is one of the few remaining parts of the original farmhouse, that are identifiable. The farmhouse was renovated and added onto so extensively, that most of its original structure belies location and identification.

Stolen Quote: My Last Theft

We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own “to do” list. ~ Michelle Obama, First Lady


This will be my last theft of a quote. I’m walking the strait and narrow from here out, and leaving alone the pearls of wisdom uttered by others.

My life has become a blivet bag. I’ve been trying to stuff 10 pounds of life into a 5 pound bag, and something has to give. And so I’ve decided to give up on the daily Stolen Quote.

It’s time I get my priorities straight, and put myself higher on my “to do” list, as Michelle Obama advises.

This blog will continue, but I won’t be posting on a daily basis anymore. I love sharing the unicorns that I catch, and I enjoy reading and responding to your comments. But the thing is, I need more time for the chase. Spending too much time on my Catching Unicorns blog can ironically keep me from catching unicorns.

This blog has also been remodeled. I do that from time to time in an effort to keep things unique and interesting. Unicorns love change, and hate constantly familiar surroundings. It’s hard to keep them captive in the same old, overgrazed pastures.

I hope you like the changes. If you have any suggestions for additional changes, please put them in the suggestion box. It’s located about one-inch past the right edge of your monitor.

Okay, okay, you can leave them in a comment.

My light-fingered ways can’t resist stealing just one more quote, so I’ll finish with this purloined gem, from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:

The Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now by counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! Throw all these thunderheads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

Leaving on a Road Trip

The Winchester House in San Jose, California, was one of our first stops. This 161 room mansion was the home of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester gun fortune. With all those rooms, she could have expanded to a hotel chain.

It’s 4:00 am, and we’re up and moving, looking forward to our next road trip and a cure for cabin fever. I pull the car up close to the front door and start loading luggage.

If a man knows what’s best for him, he will put the woman’s luggage in the car first, before he tries to find room for his own.

The Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco behind it.

My wife belts out an order: “Take the black bag!”

She means the multi-colored bag with the black handle. I don’t know this, so I stand in front of it looking stupid, trying to find the black bag. “Oh, I’ll get it myself!” she huffs impatiently, and snatches the bag and puts it by the front door for me to carry the rest of the way.

Five of the 21 California missions are in the San Francisco bay area. We pilgrimed to all five. Poppies bloom beside the northernmost mission, in Sonoma.

Our pack of dogs follows her every movement, as she frantically darts about the house looking for this and that to take on the trip. She screeches, “Move you fucking dummies or I will kill you!” She doesn’t mean a word of it, and the dogs know that. They continue to mosey and mill about her feet.

Sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, in San Francisco. Their playful ways reminded us of our dogs at home.

The dogs are aware that something is up. They’ve watched our madcap routine before. They know we’re abandoning them. They’re casting forlorn looks at us. We avoid their eye contact.

A meat market in Chinatown, San Francisco. For some reason, this too reminded us of our dogs at home.

I was hoping we could leave by 4:45. But no, she hasn’t poured her coffee yet. Coffee. That poisonous impedimenta that slows us down like leg irons, everywhere we go.

Time to leave the motel? No, wait, not until she walks to the lobby, pours one last cup of joe, and admixes the precise blend of cream and sugar to make it just right. Time to leave the restaurant? Nope. Not until she gets a cup of coffee to go, again carefully mixing in the perfect blend of condiments. Time to get out of the car and walk to the tourist attraction? Uh-uh. Not until she grabs her styrofoam tumbler of java, locates the ice chest, and creates a cup of iced coffee.

Lombard Street, in San Francisco. This is putatively the crookedest street in the world. So I guess a lot of politicians live here.

Ice. Coffee. And tea, also. Banes of my existence. I don’t use ice in my drinks, and I don’t drink coffee or tea. But she does. And it throws quicksand in our path to vacationland.

The north fork of the American River, near Auburn, California. Gold was first discovered on the south fork, sparking the 49er gold rush. It would have been discovered on the north fork first, but the prospector there had to brew a cup of coffee, and missed his chance.

At 4:55 am we finally drive off, feeling electric with excitement. Her electricity supercharges her mouth, and she starts yacking and yacking and yacking, while my ears sink lower and lower and lower, until they drop off my skull. But that’s okay, after just 300 miles of this she finally tires and nods off.

We ventured over the Sierras between snowstorms, and caught this wintry view of Lake Tahoe.

We see many sights on this trip, some of which I’ll be blogging about. And we make just as many memories. We laugh, we grouse, and we’re awestruck by all the new, unique things we encounter.

Mono Lake, and the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. Los Angeles has a 350 mile-long straw, which it uses to suck up the snowmelt that would normally flow into this lake. It’s caused ecological catastrophe, and has been a source of controversy since 1941.

Finally, after a long, circuitous route through northern and southern California, and a few bits and pieces of Nevada, we drive home. We’re looking forward to familiar territory, our cabin fever cured. The dogs yap at the door, and paw us with happy feet as we step over the threshold.

13,754 foot Mt. Morgan, in the Sierra Nevada, overlooking Bishop, California.

This was how my last vacation went, and basically how they all go. It isn’t easy traveling with someone whose habits are different from mine. But I adjust to her, and she adjusts to me. And this makes it a whole lot better than traveling alone.

Because it wouldn’t be a vacation without her.

We spiced things up a bit, by going from 40 degree temperatures one day, to the 80’s the next, with this side trip through Death Valley.

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