Category Archives: California

Sacramento’s Old City Cemetery

If you happen to find yourself in Sacramento with some time on your hands, I highly recommend taking a stroll through the Old City Cemetery. While the thought of touring a cemetery may seem odd, I assure you that this one is worth the detour. We were there on a Sunday and the site was teeming with workers, primarily gardeners. I soon understood why—the place was filled with flowers and plants of all varieties. While famous denizens include John Sutter, Jr. (founder of Sacramento), railroad magnate Mark Hopkins, William Hamilton (youngest son of Alexander Hamilton), and art collector E. B. Crocker, it was mostly the statuary on lesser-known graves that caught my eye. And the flowers, my god, the flowers.

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Seriously, I like historic cemeteries in general, but even putting that aside, this is one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever been in.

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Death Valley Image Gallery

Click images for slideshow view.

Death Valley National Park

As the driest, hottest, and lowest place in North America, Death Valley is certainly a land of extremes. At 3.4 million acres, it’s also the largest national park in the Lower 48, about the size of my home state of Connecticut.

Lowest Lows and Highest Highs: Looking at Telescope Peak (11,049 ft) from Badwater Basin (282 ft below sea level)

What I couldn’t imagine before visiting is how beautiful it is, with a variety of things to see and do, even a castle.

Scotty's Castle rivals that of Hearst in the beauty of some of its furnishings. Seriously.
The former Harmony Borax Works, just north of Furnace Creek. Mmmm... borax.
Ubehebe Crater: Just another hole in the ground. Or is it?

Badwater Basin and Salt Flats above is one of the hottest spots in the valley (FYI: plan on drinking one gallon of water a day in the hotter months) and, according to The Tree of Life, a slice of heaven. However, as evidenced by their names, things in Death Valley are generally not seen as heaven on earth.

Devil's Cornfield
Devil's Golf Course

Dante's Ridge looking down on Badwater Basin

These menacing names belie the fun that can be had in the park. One of the most entertaining features, especially for kids, are the sand dunes. The easiest to get to are those just outside Stovepipe Wells.

The Mesquite Flat Dunes are about 150 feet high and a popular spot for running, jumping, surfing, and just plain mellowing out and watching the sunset.

Photographic opportunities abound throughout the park, especially at sunrise (yeah, that never happened) and sunset. You can see more images in my Death Valley Image Gallery.*

Artist's Palette at dusk is particularly beautiful.
Zabriskie Point is a stunning vista throughout the day.

Death Valley is certainly worth a detour and is one of my favorite national parks thus far. I can’t wait to go back.

*7% of the credit for these photographs goes to @javachik, who graciously loaned me her camera for the weekend.

Redwood National Park

Having just traveled on the Redwood Highway (aka US 101) this past weekend, I realized that a post on Redwood National Park was long overdue. I avoided writing about this park immediately after my July road trip because it was such an odd experience for me. Walking through the trees is itself intensely spiritual, but, for me, driving through the park became almost Proustian as my childhood flashed before me and I realized with a shock that I had been there before.

Lost in the monarchs of the mists of time

“A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.”
—William Blake

I had known that on a long-ago trip to California with my family we had driven through a redwood tree, but I couldn’t remember where, and I was sure we hadn’t gone that far north. But, as I saw kitschy roadside attraction after kitschy roadside attraction (the Trees of Mystery, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, the One Log House), it all came flooding back.

It is truly a wondrous place.

Is this the next concept in the Planet of the Apes franchise?
Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Redwood National Park is actually made up of three state parks with additional land added on, totaling over 130,000 acres, but in no real pattern. So, one weaves in and out of the park as one drives along. It is probably for this reason that the National Park Service does not charge its usual vehicle fee. At the Kuchel Visitor Center near Orick, the ranger told me to avoid Lady Bird Johnson Grove (generally the most crowded spot since every guidebook mentions it) and said I would see just as many old growth trees by taking my planned route on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and the Howland Hill Road in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a brief detour off of Hwy 101 that takes you through Elk Prairie Meadow and right by the aptly named “Big Tree Wayside” stop. Although one sees them elsewhere, this is probably your best chance of spotting elk.

A Roosevelt elk in Prairie Creek State Park
At first I thought there was only one elk in this field and that these were branches!

Elk were not the only wildlife I saw. In an incredible, but ultimately sad, turn of events, a gray whale and her baby had swum up the Klamath River a few weeks before my arrival and had taken up residency under the Klamath Bridge, where hoards of tourists would flock from one side to the other as the whale swam beneath it. The baby was successfully driven out to sea, but the mother eventually beached herself and died weeks later.

Gray whale in the Klamath River

Howland Hill Road, at the northern-most end of the park just south of the Oregon border, is a bit harder to find but is absolutely worth the trouble. If you follow the entire road, past Stout Grove and out to Route 199, you can loop around and rejoin US 101 without doubling back. The drive is an incredible experience with trees immediately on either side looming over the (often) one-lane road.

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Stout Grove, off Howland Hill Road

If you want to get a taste of the redwoods and can’t make it all the way up north, you can drive the Avenue of the Giants, a 30-mile stretch of road that parallels Highway 101 as it winds its way through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The southern entrance of this route is at Phillipsville and the northern at Pepperwood, just 200 miles or so north of San Francisco. If you want to walk among the trees for a bit, I recommend the Loop Trail in the Founders Grove. Even though Return of the Jedi was actually filmed on private land just north of the National Park, this trail was where I most felt like I was on that movie set.

Can't you just see an Ewok climbing over this at any moment?

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic, located in the Shasta Cascade region, is one of California’s eight national parks, although many people (even in California) have never heard of it. The park centers on Lassen Peak (10,457 ft), one of California’s three active volcanoes, along with Mount Shasta directly to the north and Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevada. Previously believed to be extinct, it experienced a series of over 150 eruptions from 1914 to 1917, but has been quiet since 1921.

Like Crater Lake, the main park road (Hwy 89), which climbs to 8,500 feet, is closed throughout the winter and spring; this year it did not open until July 16. Although this main road was designed to take in all the notable features of the park, including volcanic peaks, hot springs, boiling mud pots, and glacial lakes, unlike Crater Lake, I felt like I really could have benefitted from spending more time in the park and hiking a bit. It was so peaceful, it almost made me want to camp.

I definitely want to go back when I have the time to do so.