Have you ever found a hidden spot and promised yourself that you would return?
Admittedly, no place is ever truly hidden. But the amount of effort to find it is usually a direct ratio to the number of visitors. On our first visit to Florence Lake, California, we found a remote campground that would be perfect to canoe into. It was off the main trail and hidden from the water.
First problem; we didn’t have a canoe. Five years later, I had inherited the family canoe and driven it cross country. Second, the lake is seasonally drained and we needed water. Third, problem was that it was summertime and it was rare to get days off together. So, when everything came together in July, we grabbed the opportunity.
As the puzzle came together and reality outpaced the dream. To be out alone, paddling the calm summer waters of Florence Lake was amazing. The site was the perfect vantage to see the extent of the lake at sunrise and sunset. Hiking into the center of the Sierra’s was a quick paddle away.
No trip is an adventure until something goes wrong. Our adventure came on the final morning. As we packed to leave, an early thunderstorm came rolling through from the east. Our dream became Sheba’s nightmare as she couldn’t make herself small enough hiding in the tent.
The excitement started when, after the thunderstorm had exited to the west, we loaded the canoe and pushed off only to find the storm had reversed direction and was blowing back in. We were now racing the storm.
A couple of years ago, we were staying in the West Village of Manhattan when I decided to check our family tree to see if any ancestors might have lived nearby. To my surprise, my Great Great Grandfather lived and worked right around the corner. In less than 5 minutes, we were standing in front his home.
Originally a 5 story building built in 1880 in a Neo-Grecian style, the building was now a partially occupied two story in much need of repair. It was just within the Meatpacking District which, as a whole, was showing obvious signs of resurgence.
I found out later that the building originally had a grocer downstairs and tenements upstairs built for John Glass & Sons. The height was reduced to 2 stories in the 1940’s (which explained the number of residents in the 1890 census). What did remain of the original building were the cast iron pilasters framing the door. Cast iron is one of my favorite building materials so I was fascinated by the artistic details.
We walked down the street to find that the barber shop was no longer there. Call it urban renewal. The new building was from 1911 so the building where my Great Great Grandfather had worked in 1890 was razed 20 years after his occupancy.
When my mother met us a couple of days later, it was great to show her our find. She was unaware of this part of the family history but she was able to fill in all the pieces of the puzzle around it and tell us more family stories from the neighborhood.
Last fall, we visited the neighborhood again. Most of the building and much of the Meatpacking District had been restored. Our first trip had been an introduction and the second opened new doors. It was amazing to see some of the same buildings that my Great Great Grandfather would have seen in the district the way he would have seen it. After a clerk in a new shop made statements about what went on in the basement, I did some further research. On the outside the neighborhood might have looked the same but I don’t think there was a transvestite sex club in the basement when my Great Great Grandfather lived there in the 1890’s.
Admittedly, I have a fascination with boats in general. But there is something about taking a car engine, putting it on a post in the back of a boat, adding a long driveshaft and propeller and racing up and down a river. Long-tails were everywhere in Thailand. From fishing to ferries, the long-tails were being used for all different purposes. I never tired watching them. Although, it was a little disconcerting to see the amount of water leaking in the front. Our guide, Pong, gave us these words of wisdom, “As long a more water is running out the back than coming in the front, you are good.”
One of the best ways I have found to understand our travels is to try and name my photos. Whether art, architecture, flora, fauna, insect, or arachnid, I try to find the proper name to label my photo. Why? Because it is never just a name. It is a better understanding of the “place.” It’s a story. It’s not just a statue; it’s an artist’s impression, a history, a tactile material. With each building comes a style, an architect, a reason for being. Every plant has a genus and family, displaying seasonal variation, a flower and fruit; a connection to the forest or desert and natural community as a whole. Animals can be local or migratory, engaging in all kinds of activity. What activity did I witness?
It’s not a perfect system. I have plenty of photos without a name but I have learned so much along the way.
How many places of significance do you pass on a daily basis that you never seem to have time to stop at? A friend from Paris laughed as I posed the question. Why are we so different when we travel? We seek out art, architecture, history, wild places, and adventure on vacation but when it surrounds we are so caught up in our daily routine to stop. Admittedly, I have a long commute (100 miles). On my commute, I pass 3 California missions, 2 historic adobes, 1 national park, 1 national forest, countless wineries, and lots of other points of local interest. It took 7 years of thinking, “I need to climb that” before I stopped to hike Chalone Peak. It took 9 1/2 years of looking at the state historic marker for the Mission Soledad for me to put my camera in the car 3 days ahead and commit to stopping on my way home from work. It’s not that I am sitting in a dark basement letting life pass me by. What amazes me is that we are so busy, it’s almost like a switch is thrown when we travel, and we find the time to stop at what interests us. Yet, on a daily basis it takes a Herculean effort to change the routine, the priorities, and the distractions.
I used to stop by Pinnacles National Monument to run or hike, but Chalone Peak was the allusive goal. Somehow, I needed to stop and say today is the day.
I took a day off this spring and decided to take the long way home. Via the Steinbeck House (Salinas, California), the Sargent House (Salinas, California), the Sheriff William Joseph Nesbitt House (Salinas, California), the Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (Soledad, California), the Mission San Miguel Arcangel (San Miguel, California), the Rios-Caledonia Adobe (San Miguel, California), and the Estrella Adobe Church (Paso Robles, California). I promise that it won’t take another 10 years to go back.
When traveling with dogs life goes a little slower. Regular stops are mandatory. They don’t know the itinerary and can’t plan their bodily functions around your driving needs. They need a walk; a tired dog is a happy dog on the road. Our walks with the dogs are a circuitous affair following smells we don’t even realize surround us. If you are using the 50′ x 50′ dead zone relegated in the back corner of the rest stop, this obligation can be an inconvenient chore. Why not stop interesting places? Grab the opportunity to see things that you might have passed right by. It’s been fun to reflect on the back roads, uninhabited exits, and pullouts covered in snow where we’ve stopped. The sunsets, the rivers, the forests, the historic sites; all seen due to a random stop to walk the dogs. The highlight was a Pink Lady Slipper found near Raquette Lake, New York. My wife had just asked if there were orchids in the Adirondacks. Twenty minutes later we stopped at a random pullout, went for a walk in the woods, looked down and there it was. A beautiful orchid in full bloom.
Haven’t you always wondered what was at the end of Zzyzx Rd? After passing it for years, we finally stopped to walk the dogs in the Mojave National Preserve, California.
We try to travel without regrets but it is hard sometimes. On a trip to New Zealand last year we had plans to see my cousin in Auckland and a friend near Queenstown; opposite ends of the north and south islands. The guide books warned against trying to get anywhere in New Zealand quickly but we’re from California. We’re used to long days in the car. How bad could it be?
Half way through the North Island, the frustration was setting in. We were getting off schedule and it was only getting worse. The dreaded holiday schedule; when you only have so much time off but want to see it all. We had the experience of driving a loop around the United States in 21 days to draw on and had to make the decision “what do we want our vacation experience to be like.” Do we want to “see it all” or get out and experience the country?
The purpose of our trip around the U.S. was to “see it all.” And, we did.
“That’s beautiful”…..”Take a picture, we need to keep going.”
“Can we stay?”…..”Sure, what do you want to cut from the itinerary?”
On the ferry between islands we found another couple like ourselves. Bundled up on the top deck, throwing on more and more clothes to fight the ever-present wind rather than retreating inside to the stench of sea sickness and stale beer. They were from Wellington so we presented the situation to them. We asked, “If you were us, would you stick with the plan and drive the west coast of the South Island (enduring long days in the car)? Or, if you stayed on the north end of the island, where would you choose to go?” The first part of the question was mute; you can’t make that decision for someone else. Weighing the options on where a “local” would choose is where the discussion got interesting.
Ultimately, it was our decision to get out of the camper-van but we followed the couples recommendations on places to go and things to see. I know what we missed from the guidebooks but I can’t imagine passing by the experiences that we had. Treasures that you don’t see from the car window.
Next time we will take the other road.