Sunday, October 7

On Saturday I spent most of the morning doing some preliminary packing and organizing. In only one week I would be flying home, and in the interim I would be on the road. Now that I no longer had my bike, which had been stolen, it meant I had quite a large suitcase I could stuff full. Which I did.

Since Bruce, my host, was arriving back on Sunday I decided to do a little light housekeeping and generally straighten up before my departure to visit The Atkinsons and see some new territory.

The two previous times I had been in the Bay Area I had contacted Steve Atkinson, a buddy from Morgantown who had been a CS major at WVU, about getting together to visit. Steve had graduated and moved to Silicon Valley to put his degree to work. We were not able to hook up those two previous times, but I was determined we would get to visit this time.

I called Steve and told him I planned to spend a week on the road exploring the Central Valley and Eastern Sierras and wanted to stop by on my way through. But, now it was not just Steve I would be visiting. He had the great fortune to meet Erin and they are now happily married with a lovely little boy Andrew.

So, Steve checked with the boss, got the nod, and I was on my way to Milpitas.

Click on these photos for a higher resolution.
They will be slow to load with a dial-up connection.


I arrived in Milpitas around 2PM and after getting settled in we all went to a local park they like to visit in nearby San Jose.

Above is Erin and Andrew looking very happy on a nice sunny day.


A look at the water feature at the park and the surrounding hills. Dry, dry, dry! But beautiful nonetheless.


Erin and Steve, my hosts and proud parents of Andrew.


Nothing like a home cooked meal. What a feast!

The next morning I said my farewells and headed south on Highway 101. My destination was Pinnacles NM about two hours away.

I exited 101 just south of Gilroy, the so called Garlic Capital of the World and headed south east towards Hollister.

Hollister is well-known among geologists because it portrays one of the best examples of aseismic creep anywhere in the world. The Calaveras Fault (a branch of the San Andreas Fault system) bisects the city north and south, roughly along Locust Ave./Powell St. The streets running east/west across the fault have significant visible offsets. The fault runs directly under several houses. Even though they are visibly contorted the houses are still habitable as the owners have reinforced them to withstand the dislocation of their foundations. There was extensive damage in the town after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Hollister is one of at least three California towns claiming the title of "Earthquake Capital of the World" [1], two others being Coalinga and Parkfield .

Source: Wikipedia


The terrain in this part of California is characterized by low, rolling hills and long, narrow valleys and low annual rainfall. It is part of the Coastal Mountains Region.

California bio regions

Source: CERES - California Resources Agency

A look in the rear view mirror shows the extent of this vineyard. It went on for miles.

Although dry as bone now, if the fall rains come on schedule this area will soon be green and lush - for a while.

CA Precip Map

This precip map shows pretty clearly why the California water wars were fought and water rights and usage still play a major role in California's economy and the day-to-day life of many of it's residents.

Los Angeles Aqueduct: the beginning of the water wars
The water wars began when Frederick Eaton was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1898, and appointed his friend, William Mulholland, the superintendent of the newly-created Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).

Eaton and Mulholland had a vision of a Los Angeles that would become far bigger than the Los Angeles of the turn of the century. The limiting factor of Los Angeles' growth was water supply. Eaton and Mulholland realized that the Owens Valley had a large amount of runoff from the Sierra Nevada, and a gravity-fed aqueduct could deliver the Owens water to Los Angeles.

Source: Wikipedia

California's Central Valley resembles a great elongate bath tub. Its present, remarkably flat surface consists largely of material eroded from the rising Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges to the east and west, respectively, and deposited in low alluvial fans. On more than one occasion the valley impounded a large lake, which left behind a veneer of muddy deposits. About 650,000 years ago, rising waters of the most recent lake carved a gap through the mountain range to the west and drained into the Pacific Ocean through a low pass just south of the city of San Francisco.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Continuing south on Rt 25 I drove through the small towns of Tres Pinos, Paicines and nearby Paicines Ranch.

While doing the web research for this page I stumbled on this Letter to the Editor in a local paper.

The Rancho San Benito project has done a stellar job marketing to our community, and it sounds like the new mini-city would be a very nice place to live. The design of a city center with high-density housing, surrounded by lower density housing will promote walking and a vibrant "downtown". The additional money into the county coffers and the contributions to the community foundation are enticing as well.

However, little else about the plan sounds good for San Benito County or Hollister. The route of the connection to 101 will not make sense to take, unless you happen to live at El Rancho San Benito and want to go South. The residents of El Rancho San Benito will be shopping in Gilroy's big-box stores (a few miles away), and not in Hollister (12 miles away) resulting in zero gain for San Benito County and further ghost-towning of downtown Hollister.

No matter what your view is on this complex subject, more independent discussion needs to take place before we can decide, and we'll have to decide soon: we'll vote in our supes in November, and we'll vote yes/no on the project sometime in 2007. The DMB forums and outreach efforts are great, but they are necessarily biased, so I've set up a new website and e-mail discussion list at ElRanchoSanBenito.US which I hope every interested party will join. See you there!

Paul McNett

Source: The Weekend Pinnacle Online

Looks like this proposed "planned community" is causing quite a stir in the area.

I reached the Pinnacles East Entrance around noon, had 5 bucks extorted out of me and then drove on to the Visitors Center.

This map section shows the 5 mile loop I hiked. It was very warm that day and the first half of the route was in full sun and quite steep in places.

Click on this to get an interesting arial view of the Pinncles region.

Source: © Google Maps

My first glimpse of some of the towering rock formations.

It was dusty dry and hot but the conifers provided some shade and greenery.

As with all landscapes, without something for scale it is difficult to get a feel for the size and scope of what is in this photos.

Top of the world! This was at the intersection of Condor Gulch and High Peaks Trails.

The spectacular scenery did not make it through to these shots.


This is the Goldenback Fern (Pityrogramma triangularis) growing amongst Bigelow's Spike-Moss (Selaginella bigelovii).

Generally, ferns are thought of as plants growing in moist, shady conditions. Some do. Others, can make it in full blazing sun on rocks that cook in the afternoon heat. These are the xeric ferns.

Xeric Ferns
I know, it should be "Xerophytic", but the diminutive is so commonly used that I thought I'd use it here. In either case it refers to a group of ferns that live in very arid places where you would never expect a fern to live. One thinks of ferns as living in damp shady spots but many of them live in the sands of the desert or in the rocks and rubble of barren hillsides. They use a number of different stratagems to accomplish this.

Many xeric ferns live in quick draining sandy soil or rocky shale which delivers the occasional water to their roots and also prevents the formation of stagnant water which can just as quickly rot their roots A number of the xerics live in areas where the annual rainfall is condensed into a couple of months in the dead of winter. These plants produce new fronds very rapidly after the first rain, then the sori will mature and dehisce, shedding their spores, before the heat of summer can shrivel the plants in preparation for the next year's rains. Many of these plants live on the shady side of rocks or boulders where their roots can seek the cool damp shade under the rocks.

Source: San Diego Fern Society

Here you can see the trail section I just ascended.

You will have to take my word for it when I say this is a California Condor.

California Condors have the largest wingspan of any North American bird - up to 10'. When these birds were flying over head it sounded like the swooping wings of a dragon.

Pinnacles is a release site for these birds and part of the recovery program for this rare species.

The little dot on top the rock is a Condor.

At the top, the trail got a little spooky, at least for me. These carved steps and railing, although quite safe, played havoc with my "high anxiety".

Both the walkway and the carved-in-rock steps were at the summit of this hike. Brutal work!

I cannot imagine the time and effort it took to cut this stairway...

... or this passageway. Amazing.

This was supposed to be a shot of the wavy rocks in the background - but I got distracted.

I departed Pinnacles around 4:00pm and was back in the Oak savanna along Rt 25.

Before European settlement, the oak savanna ecosystem was sustained by a fire cycle. Fires, set by lightning or Native Americans, ensured that the savanna areas did not turn into forests. Only trees with a high tolerance for fire, principally certain oak species, were able to survive. On sandy soils, black oak (Quercus velutina) predominated. On rich soils bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) was the major tree in central North America. These savanna areas provided habitat for a many grazing animals, including bison, elk and deer.

European settlers cleared much of the savanna for agricultural use. In addition, they suppressed the fire cycle. Thus surviving pockets of savanna typically became less like savannahs and more like forests or thickets. Many oak savanna plant and animal species became extinct or rare.

In the 1970s, conservationist began to try to restore and preserve these surviving pockets of savanna.

Source: WikiPedia

There is something about the Oak savanna landscape which totally captivates me.

About 35 miles south of Pinnacles I turned on to Rt 198 and headed east towards Priest Valley and Coalinga. About halfway to Coalinga the road climbed up to a great vista point and I could see many miles to the East and North.


I don't think most people realize how many hundreds of square miles of open country there are in California. It has been a real eye opener to me to see such vast expanses of mostly undeveloped country-side.

Click on the image above to see a stunning arial view of the area mentioned above.

Source: © Google Maps

Now this was weird. At the vista point, behind a rock outcrop I found this. A rubber apron, coveralls, latex gloves, empty plastic bags.

I found this pillow case, plastic bags and more latex gloves near-by. To me this looked like a place where something had been butchered. But I saw no blood or remains of any kind.

Had it not been for the quake of '83 I doubt that I, or any one else east of the Sierras would ever have heard of Coalinga.

Coalinga made national news on May 2, 1983, as the site of an earthquake that destroyed more than 800 homes and other buildings, and was felt as far away as Los Angeles and western Nevada. That temblor is known as the Coalinga Earthquake. The 1983 earthquake came as a surprise because active faults are quite remote from this coal town. Many buildings such as the PG & E building are made of unreinforced masonry and suffered major damage. After the earthquake shirts were sold, one saying "I survived the Coalinga earthquake" and the other said "Where the hell is Coalinga?"

Source: WikiPedia

It was getting on towards sunset by now an I had another 70 miles to go before I reached Visalia, where I would spend the nite. When I arrived it was dark and I could not remember where I had stayed previously in 2001.

I drove around for about a half an hour and finally ended up near a chain drug store so I thought I would go in and ask about hotels in the area. I pulled into the parking lot got out of the car and as I looked around I could see that nearly everyone was looking right at me. As people came out to the drug store, they looked right at me.

Why? I can only speculate, but I was obviously deep in the heart of a non-Anglo neighborhood and I got the feeling people where looking at me as if wondering: "What are you doing here?"

I continued to get the looks as I wandered around the store. I stumbled on a manager who gave me directions and I headed down the road, immediately getting lost.

I ended up on SR 63 South (Mooney Blvd) which started to look promising and then I spotted the Econo Lodge (1400 S. Mooney) and I recognized it as the same place my brother William and I had stayed in 2001. I was hungry and thirsty so I pulled into a nearby beverage store and then headed down the road looking for supper.

I spotted an In-N-Out Burger and remembered eating there with brother Bill, who introduced me to this local chain. So, I placed my order, got to the motel, checked in, cracked a brew and gobbled my burgers. Ahh...a most interesting day.

Day 18  &  19 - FINIS

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