California Public Roads

La Gloria Road and the Bold Cow, Apr 2019

Cycling La Gloria Road to the summit of Gabilan Mountain Range (it’s highest peak is 3,455’/1,053 m), in San Benito County, is one of my favorite California adventures to date. On the way, we stopped at CalFire Bear Valley Station (famous for its helicopter), near the turn off to La Gloria Road, to ask for advice regarding where to park.

The friendly firefighters said we’re welcome to park at the fire station when they know they won’t need to leave the station, which requires them to lock the gate to the parking lot and helipad. But they did have to leave the station that day, and so recommended finding a place to park on the side of La Gloria Road. I was glad we did, because the initial ascent up La Gloria Road is pretty steep.

The 1 1/2 lane, graded dirt road has been in use for over a hundred years. It had recently been graded, but there was already some washboarding, as well as tree roots, rocks and snakes to avoid – all of which added some fun, technical challenges to the ride.

Gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer)? It was about 4′ (1.2 m) long.

The road was perfectly quiet. Over the course of five hours, we saw a handful of trucks – the inhabitants all smiled and waved, and gave us plenty of clearance – and an SUV with fishing rods poking out of the back.

Flame skimmer (Libellula saturata)?

The ride to the summit was easy and the ascent gradual, but the ride back required some skill. The biggest challenge was remaining in control on the bends, where it was easy to skid out of control in the loose dirt.

We had carefully selected a sunny, spring day for the ride. It was 20°C (70°F) with a gentle breeze, and as we approached the summit, the cooling effect of Monterey Bay added a freshness to the air that we could feel in our lungs.

Golden poppy (Eschscholzia californica), California’s state flower.

The landscape was breathtaking – pristine, unusual, diverse. At the summit, a meadow stretched across the horizon. And it. smelled. heavenly! Every so often a breeze would waft a fragrance resembling Old Spice cologne across our noses!

It was past peak wildflower season in California, and yet sections of this meadow were blanketed with flowers.

But perhaps the most memorable part of the ride was an encounter with a cow. As a kid, my brothers and I would fall over laughing at my dad’s animal noises. His cow-noise was the best. Far from sounding like the consonant+vowel phoneme pair kids growing up in Australia in the 1980s were introduced to in their first few days of school – i.e., “moo” – my dad’s cow vocalization tapped into a phoneme rarely used in the English language. His cow-noise is a very French-sounding “mœ.”

Gauthier had just left to scope out some more of the road, when a little, black cow head appeared above the grassy trench where we were picnicking. Naturally I greeted it with my most charming “mœ.” “Hello cute, cow fellow,” I hoped to communicate, “You have the most lovely pasture. I hope you don’t mind us sharing it with you.”

The cow came closer, and we talked some more. I should say, I talked some more; the cow was silent. I’m not usually so gregarious, but it made constant eye contact, which I took to be a sign of encouragement. Then all of a sudden hoof beats, like the sound of powerfully undulating helicopter blades, approached from the distance.

The herd slowed to an amble as they neared the fence separating Oliver (who was far more interested in where Gauthier had gone than the cows), and I, and our new cow friends from them. Their vocalizations possessed a tone of authority. “What’s going on here?” they seemed to demand. “Mœ,” I said to them – and barely attracted their attention. So I opened up my diaphragm and let out a long, deep “mœ.” To see their heads whip around in unison and stare, you’d think they’d never heard a human say “mœ” before. I let out a couple more assertive “mœs,” intended to communicate that “we are all friends here,” and the herd collectively decided to depart, and trotted away.

The wire fence offered new insight into the character of our new friend. “Now why was the herd on one side of the fence, and this cow and her companions on the other?” I wondered to myself. I looked around. The fence was definitely intended to restrict the cows’ movement to a fenced-off enclosure. “A bold and artful escapee and her nervous followers,” I reasoned.

What the cow was musing – or mœsing – I cannot say, but apparently her thoughts led her to the conclusion that it would be safe to advance farther. As she rounded the top of the trench, her shiny black coat came into focus, as well as an alarming quantity of offal attached to her rear end, and a host of flies.

When we were finally face-to-face, she paused for a moment, then broke eye contact and looked over my shoulder towards the road. Then with a swish of her tail, as if to say, “See ya later,” she continued walking. After pausing again to give her companions – who had avoided me by taking a long, arced route across the trench – time to catch up, she turned left towards Soledad and sauntered down the road.

Resources Consulted:
AA Roads Forum, Topic: La Gloria Road
Commonly Encountered California Snakes, CaliforniaHerps.com
Flame Skimmer, International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species
Gabilan Range, Revolvy
Santa Cruz County Amphibians and Reptile

March Rains in San Mateo – Newts on Gazos Creek Fire Road, 2019

I really do love the rain. Know who else loves the rain?

Newts! We went looking for them on Gazos Creek fire road twice in March.

Gazos Creek emptying energetically into the Pacific ocean.

We stopped by Gazos Creek Beach on the way.

Gazos Creek Beach

Behind a green gate that demarcates the end of Gazos Creek Road and the beginning of Gazos Creek fire road stretched about a mile of puddles (aka vernal ponds)…

On the right you can see the green gate where Gazos Creek fire road starts.

…and we found groups of frolicking California newts (Taricha torosa) in almost every puddle!

Do you see it?

Apparently, they have rather poor manners and are prone to staring.

A frisky thrupple.

The orange color of the tiny stream flowing along the edge of the trail is caused by iron-oxidizing bacteria.

Gorgeous Western maidenhair fern (Adiantum aleuticum; aka Western five finger fern)

The surface of this rock wall was covered in candy cap mushrooms!

Black elfin saddle (Helvella lacunosa)?

Banana slug! They’re so big! It was above me in this picture, so picture it being 20 percent bigger than it appears!

The one thing that we really wanted to see, but didn’t see, were marbled murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus). The National Audubon Society calls them “a strange, mysterious little seabird” because their nesting behavior was unknown until the 1970s, when it was discovered that they nest high in trees in old-growth forest several miles inland from the Northern Pacific coast. In March, murrelet parents take turns incubating the egg, changing places every 24 hours at dawn for a month. While one parent sits on the egg, the other forages at sea. We’re not giving up on seeing a marbled murrelet. Maybe we’ll see one next March!

Resources Consulted
“A New Way to Clean the Environment?” (19 June 2016) by Elizabeth Shockman in Public Radio International
Black Elfin Saddle, Wild Macro: Natural Fine Art Photography by Timothy Boomer
California’s Native Ferns, Regional Parks Foundation
Gazos Creek Road, MTB Project
Gazos Creek Road Turns to Dust, Bay Area Rides
Life Cycle of Marbled Murrelets, Black Hills Audubon Society
Marbled Murrelet, National Audubon Society
New Species of Mushroom Discovered on UC Berkeley Campus (7 December 2014), sciencespacerobots.com
Staring Down the Mysterious California Newt (6 April 2017), SoCalWild
Why is My Creek Orange? The Story of Iron-Oxidizing Bacteria, Marin County Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program

A Wintry Ride on Old Haul Road, Jan 2019

It was a quiet ride along Pescadero Road (a minor road that follows the serpentine path of Pescadero Creek) to Old Haul Road. We passed working farms, cow pastures and cottages. As we passed the last farm before entering the thick, shady redwood forest surrounding Loma Mar (population 113), the temperature dropped abruptly, an interesting characteristic of this region, which is made up of hundreds of micro-climates.

After a while, we turned off Pescadero Creek Road onto Wurr Road…

and crossed Pescadero Creek.

Pescadero Creek

Wurr Road has a steel stringer bridge with a timber deck, built in 1962, around the time the State started buying back land from farmers and lumber companies.

Wurr Road Bridge

We stopped on the bridge for a little while and took in our surroundings. A cloud of smoke escaped from the chimney pipe of a nearby timber frame cabin and blew towards the coast, a fisher held his rod over the creek in search of trout and salmon as fishers must have done for centuries (pescadero means “fishing place”), and Pescadero Creek moved slowly over prehistoric river rocks, fallen trees, fish and fishermen’s feet on its journey back to the ocean.

Pescadero Creek County Park is San Mateo County’s largest park at 5,700 acres. It is one of three parks in the Pescadero Creek Park Complex, which also includes Sam McDonald County Park and Memorial County Park. Click here to be directed to a Parks Department brochure and map.

Wurr Road

Pescadero Creek County Park has miles of trails. Old Haul Road is one of them. The County website describes it as a multi-use route for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians that intersects with many of the other trails within the park.

Wurr Road

The website advises that visitors should be aware that Old Haul Road is the main access road for maintenance crews, and should expect to meet the occasional heavy truck and tractors along the way.

The website also explains that much of the road follows the route of a narrow gauge railroad line that hauled logs to the various mills that once flourished in the Santa Cruz Mountains. “Even today you can find rusty choker cables used to skid and lift logs on to flatcars,” it says.

An information board at the trail head (just past a small parking lot) offers the following information: “Pescadero Creek County Park shares its eastern border with Portola Redwoods State Park; trails also connect to Big Basin Redwoods State park. The ranger station in Memorial County Park serves as headquarters for all three parks. The park sits atop a deposit of natural gas and crude oil, which pools in Tarwater Creek and seeps into Jones Gulch Creek. Trees in the park include coast redwood, Santa Cruz cypress, tanoak, and knobcone pine. Visitors may see black-tailed deer and occasional coyote and mountain lions.”

As a beginner mountain biker, the 5.7 mile (9.2 km) trail was an absolute blast to ride. Having finally figured out how to use my gears effectively, the intermittent humps, none higher than 369 feet (112 m) and cumulatively totaling about 1350 feet (411 m), were a thrill to ride over.

The only other people we saw were a group of boys accompanied by an adult, all on mountain bikes, and a ranger in a pickup truck. One of the young mountain bikers made me laugh when he yelled at the top of his lungs, “I-can’t-ride-any-more!” I thought to myself, “If his little lungs can create sounds that are capable of reaching that decibel, he’ll be alright.”

Gliophorus psittacinus (parrot mushroom)?

Galerina Marginata (Autumn Galerina)?

A terrible photo, but an exciting find: a turret spider’s burrow! We find them easily now. When spiderlings leave their mother’s burrow, they don’t venture far (because they’re small and dehydrate easily), so it’s common to find a large turret surrounded by several smaller ones. We’ve seen up to a dozen!

The banana slug… not a relative of the banana spider. They grow up to 10 inches (25 cm) long! The hole in the side of its body (they’re hermaphrodites) is called a Pneumostome. Also called a breathing pore, it allows air to enter the animal’s single lung,

Donkeys!

Resources Consulted:
California banana slugs: Fun Facts About Our Vibrant, Terrestrial Molluscs, Golden Gates Natural Parks Conservancy
California Fungi—Gliophorus psittacinus, MykoWeb
“Five Common Mushrooms that can Poison Your Pet,” by By Dr. Tina Wismer for VetStreet
Old Haul Road, Bay Area Mountain Bike Rides
Old Haul Road, County of San Mateo Parks Department
Pescadero Creek (Wikipedia)
Turret Spider, Friends of Edgewood
“Turret Spiders Launch Surprise Attacks From Tiny Towers,” by Josh Cassidy for KQED Science
Wurr Road Bridge, Bridgehunter.com Historic and Notable Bridges of the U.S.

Cycling Monterey Wine Country, Jan 2019

In his indefatigable quest to find flat routes that my battered but trusty three-speed could handle, my husband discovered River Road, a quiet, paved road through Monterey wine country. As it turned out, the new bike was ready before we had a chance to explore River Road, so River Road became the location of my maiden voyage on the Monocog.

Early one brisk January morning, we traveled through Salinas River Valley – the “Silicon Valley” of agriculture – and found a convenient place to park on an expansive patch of dirt at the juncture of a fork in the road.

As we unloaded the bikes – flipped them upside down, attaching front wheels with the flick of a lever and screwing in pedals with a few turns of a wrench – a sudden and steady stream of vehicles in the same condition as my three-speed drove past. “An early shift getting off of work?” I wondered.

Facing Gabilan Mountains

To the left were the Gabilan Mountains (Pinnacles National Park was just visible in the distance), and to the right were the Santa Lucia Mountains, the eastern boundary of Big Sur.

Pinnacles National Park viewed from River Road

We were alone except for the fog, which, having engulfed much of the Santa Lucia, seemed to have paused for a glass of pinot noir.

Salinas River Valley is Monterey County’s primary wine growing region. The following information was taken from the Arroyo Seco Winegrowers website.

Positioned north-to-south, the Salinas River Valley is a direct and unobstructed corridor from the ocean, beginning at Monterey Bay. The geography of the corridor creates a “Thermal Rainbow”: as one moves south away from Monterey Bay the temperature rises dramatically. The effect is heightened by a very deep underwater canyon similar in size and scope to the Grand Canyon. It impacts the saturation and penetration of fog as well as the strength of winds that sweep through the valley. The result of this rare geographic condition is extreme cooling and regional temperature variances, all of which contribute to the uniqueness of Monterey County as a grape growing region.

Gradually vineyards replaced farms.

And the sun rose higher in the sky and burned off all the fog.

Dirt trails skirted the paved road

The ascent was negligible, but made for a fun ride back to the car.

On the way home we drove south on Aroyo Seco Road to Greenfield before turning around and stopping at Fourth Street Tap House in Gonzales where there are 28 beers on tap and everyone loves dogs.

Resources Consulted:
Arroyo Seco Rd, Cycling California
Aroyo Seco AVA, Aroyo Seco Wine Growers
Cycling the Arroyo Seco-Indians Road, Xasáuan Today
On A Mission Recap, Huckleberry Bicycles

A Mostly Flat Route in Nor Cal, May 2018

Start point: 36°40’21N 121°15’08W elev 257m
U-turn point: 36°31’04N 121°08’15W elev 415m
Total ascension (2 ways): 316m (1,037′)


Our bikes, which had taken us over the rounded hills of England’s South Downs, up and down the plateaus of Cornwall, and through French forests and Florida swamps, were not quite up to the task of taking us over the steep hills of California’s mountain ranges, where mountain biking was born. So we set to building new bikes. Until then, we sought out the flattest routes we could find.

On a sunny, still day in May, we took scenic Highway 25 in Paicines, near Hollister, San Benito County, all the way to the entrance of Pinnacles National Monument. It was a 15 mile (8 km) ride one way, and was mostly flat except for a single section that accounted for most of the ascent, which was a bit of a challenge on a three speed.

Highway 25 is also known as Airline Highway. Sections of the road are so flat and so straight that we wondered if the road had once served as a landing strip, but some cursory online research offered another explanation. Steve Johnson, of the Road Pickle blog, explained that “before the advent of radio communications, airplane pilots used the highway as a visual aid.”

The road follows the San Andreas fault. It was a very surreal experience to be straddling two tectonic plates.

The many folded hills looked like arms nestling grazing cattle.

The scenery is so beautiful that the road is eligible for State Scenic Highway designation.

If you go, you won’t regret stopping at Eva Mae’s Café . Although they don’t allow dogs inside the café, they insisted on bringing a table outside for us. The hospitality and the food were both excellent.

Resources Consulted:
“California Scenic Highway Mapping System,” Department of Transportation
“California State Route 25; the Airline Highway,” Sure, Why Not
“Earth Science: Chapter 7 – Faults, Earthquakes, and Landscapes,” Geology Cafe
“Eva Mae’s Café,” Facebook
“Fault line and fault zone illustrated for the San Andreas Fault in the Santa Cruz Mountains near San Jose, California,” Geology Cafe
“Immaculate Conception Church,” Mapquest
“Maps – Pinnacles National Park,” National Park Service
“Pinnacles National Park, California,” National Park Service
Road Pickle: The Adventures of Sash and Steve
“The San Andreas Fault,” Geology.com
State Route 25 (Wikipedia)
“Where’s the San Andreas Fault,” USGS website

Landing in Concord, Aug 2017

In August of 2017, we relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. Not yet certain of where we would be working, we took the most affordable Airbnb we could find, which happened to be in Concord, in the foothills of Mount Diablo, the tallest mountain peak in the Bay Area at 3,849 ft (1,173 m) with one of the largest viewsheds in the Western United States. Apart from it’s geographic significance, it has religious significance to many Native Americans, and early Christian settlers told of miracles happening there. Mount Diablo State Park labels offer a lot of information about the hill’s significance.

Mount Diablo is in the far background of this picture, taken in Concord Community Park, which has some of the boldest, cheekiest squirrels Ollie or I have ever seen.

The huge size of the suburban roads and houses, and the brightness of the sun, which made the colors of the California landscape vivid, especially the reds and yellows of the parched hillsides, came as a shock after a year spent in the U.K.

This picture was taken in Concord Community Park, which is watered by a sprinkler system every night.

We were struck by the shape of these [valley oak? coastal live oak?] acorns. I’ve got one preserved at home, and it’s about 2 inches (5 cm) long.

No longer able to rely on public transportation, our bicycles became our main mode of transportation until we found a car. Riding on the street posed challenges as bike lanes don’t connect to one another and drivers in Concord don’t offer cyclists the courtesy that drivers in other regions of the Bay Area do. But Concord has something very special – the Contra Costa Canal Trail, which connects to the California State Riding and Hiking Trail.

Ollie is just discernable in the shadow.

Quoting from the East Bay Parks Regional District website: “The CA State Riding and Hiking Trail connects Martinez to Lime Ridge Open Space in Concord, beginning at the Carquinez Regional Shoreline. The trail passes over the Franklin Hills and connects with the John Muir Historical Site. It passes through the residential areas and parks of Martinez before entering Pleasant Hill where it shares a paved, multi-use trail with the Contra Costa Canal Trail. It follows the Canal Trail past Walnut Creek’s Larkey Park and Heather Farm Park then crosses Lime Ridge Open Space, residential areas and Newhall Community Park in Concord. The trail then continues southwest towards Lime Ridge and will eventually connect to Mt. Diablo State Park.”

This is the section of the Contra Costa Canal Trail that took us from our Airbnb, near Concord Community Park, to Rivendell Bicycle Works.

One of the many great things about the Contra Costa Trail is that it nearly intersects with BART stations in Concord and Walnut Creek. One of the first things we did upon arriving in Concord was to take the Trail to Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek, home to one of our heroes, Grant Peterson. We were mildly star-struck when he adjusted my brakes on the spot. Not only does Rivendell design, manufacture and sell really cool lugged steel frame construction bikes, but it also sells tons of hard-to-find bike parts and accessories. We stocked up on “unracer” patches and other goodies.

Another fun trip to take is the Contra Costa Trail from Concord to the Walnut Creek BART Station, then the BART from Walnut Creek Station to Civic Center/UN Plaza Station, and then ride from the Civic Center/UN Plaza Station to Golden Gate Park. BART staff are super friendly and more than happy to help. But if you’ve never been to San Francisco before, take heed that the Civic Center/UN Plaza Station is an epicenter of San Francisco’s homelessness problem.

One day when we were cycling around Concord, we were surprised to stumble upon an Eichler neighborhood.

Joe Eichler was a post-WWII building developer who valued “correct” architectural aesthetic over making a large profit. He is one of the America’s most famous building developers. Most people assume he designed the Eichler homes (myself amongst them), but they were in fact originally designed by Anshen & Allen.

Eichler homes were affordably-priced, mass-produced, modern works of art consisting of 3 bedrooms/2 baths, blank front facades, flat or peaked rooves, rear and side walls of floor-to-ceiling glass, kitchens open to the family room, wood siding and post-and-beam ceilings, radiant-heat concrete floors, and atriums, spanning 650 to 1,500 square feet with enclosed backyards.

“The use of Anshen & Allens’ ‘concentric circle’ or ‘bull’s-eye’ site plan, which featured cul-de-sac streets that reduced vehicular traffic, created varied views of the houses and more privacy” (“Design for Living: Eichler Homes,” by Jerry Ditto, Lanning Stern, 1995).

Eichler homes sell for a pretty penny today, but originally targeted middle class families.

Significantly, Joe Eichler, a product of the frontier ideology of individualism and equality associated with California, sold to non-whites, facing down complaints from white home-owners.

Nearby there was an example of a far more modest Post-WWII, flat-roofed development.

We loved our stay in Concord. If you’re looking for a place to stay in the Bay Area, and don’t need to be close to San Francisco, consider Concord. It was a fantastic introduction to the California countryside, and only a 60 minute BART ride away from San Francisco. By the way, Mike Gianni’s Airbnb is amazing (look for my review posted in October 2017).

Resources Consulted:
Airbnb, Luxury 37′ Triple Slide Motorhome in Concord
Anshen & Allen (Wikipedia)
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), About
California Department of Parks and Recreation, Mount Diablo State Park
California State Riding and Hiking Trail (list of trails)
City of Concord California, Parks
Ditto, Jerry, Lanning Stern, Marvin Wax, Joseph L. Eichler, Joseph L. Eichler, and Joseph L. Eichler. 1995. Eichler homes: design for living. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
East Bay Regional Park District, California Riding and Hiking Trial
Grant Peterson (Wikipedia)
List of summits of the San Francisco Bay Area (Wikipedia)
Lugged steel frame construction (Wikipedia)
Mount Diablo (Wikipedia)
Review of “Just Ride” by Grant Peterson in the New York Times, 27 July 2012
Rivendell Bicycle Works
UC Berkeley Environmental Deisgn Archives, Oakland & Imada
University of California Oak Woodland Management, California’s Oak Woodland Species