Monday, October 8

I left Visalia around 9 AM and headed South on US 99.

On my way out of town I decided to stop and get some road food - carrots, fig bars, etc. I stopped at Grocery Outlet and then spotted a Dollar Tree next door and decided to look around. To my surprise I found boxed ears!

Boxed ears

I decided to get a box of them to try out.
I never got around to eating them on the trip and they ended up flying back to good ole West Virginny with me.
When I finally did crack the box I found these little jewels.

Little ears

These ears (also called: Orejas, Palm Leaves, Butterfly Cookies) were about 1/3 the size of those I had purchased fresh from bakeries in both San Francisco and Nashville.

When I examined the box I was a bit taken aback to find this:

Product of Argentina

I know there is cheap labor out there, but still - how can a product be manufactured and packaged in Argentina, then shipped to Quebec and from there shipped to a Dollar Tree distribution complex and then shipped to the Visalia store and still be sold for only a dollar?
Hard to believe!

Ok, ok, - enough about my daggone ears! Back to the trip.

The plan was to exit US 99 at Delano and then pick up SR 155/Garces Hwy. The state map I had made it look pretty clear- cut. But, I soon found myself wandering around the back streets of Delano looking for 155. I made one stop at a residence - no luck. Flagged down a d FedEx driver who gave me the wrong directions. I finally stopped and asked a Utility crew and the put me in the right direction.

But, before we head down the Garces Highway, lets talk about Delano for a bit.


Delano, like Coalinga is one of those towns which may have stayed out of the national lime-light forever, except for one thing:

United Farm Workers Flag

“The scenes are straight out of the great grape strike of the late 1960s. In Southern California's Coachella Valley, Chicano laborers again cry 'Viva la Huelga' (long live the strike) at flashy sedans roaring through vineyard gates, and priests who join them are arrested for illegal picketing. Cesar Chavez again summons his workers to talk up a grape boycott.&rdquo

Source: Time Magazine Online

Between the years 1968-72 I lived in San Francisco with my mother, two sisters and three brothers. My sister Joan and her boyfriend, Julian were politicos and social activists of a kind. They enlightened the rest of us concerning the struggle of the migrant farm workers in California. Since there was little we could do other than decrie the capitalist system which kept the workers under its thumb (or so we believed) we decided we could show our support by joining the grape boycott led by César Chávez and the United Farm Workers.

“Long an advocate of non-violence, Chavez developed a new strategy and brought a bold, new dimension to the struggle against the grape growers. In July 1968, he launched the Great Grape Boycott, a nation-wide boycott against table grapes. Boycott offices were established in most major American cities and the Great Grape Boycott gained international recognition. Soon, many consumers around the nation supported the boycott and stopped purchasing table grapes. Prominent American union leaders, statesmen and celebrities also lent their names and support to the boycott. Walter Reuther (a native of Wheeling, West Virginia - my home town -mb) and the UAW placed its considerable clout behind Chavez and the boycott. In 1970, the UFWOC signed its first contract with a major grape grower, the Giumarra Corporation.”

Source: Reuther Library - Wayne State University.

So, now we have talked about the fruits, lets get on with nuts!

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

Just south of Delano (Kern County), I pulled off the road to have a snack. The sun was already intense so I parked in the shade of a large, open-topped trailer.

As I sat there, munching away I heard the roar of machinery and in the rear view mirror I could see someone on and odd looking contraption rolling down the berm of the road. He approached my car, swung out onto the road and shot me a look as if to say “What are you doing parked there?”

He then pulled up along side a hopper and conveyer which was situated to dump into an adjacent trailer. The bed of the vehicle he was driving tilted and I then saw his cargo - almonds. (California produces 87 of the worlds almonds.)

I grabbed my camera a went over to where the equipment was. The operator of the small trailer had jumped off and got in to the tractor which was hauling the big trailer. He moved the rig forward to allow the conveyer to have a new fill area and then ran back to the little trailer and started the bed tilting to dump in the hopper.

It was interesting to watch - for me anyway. He started the conveyer and then dumped the rest of the load into the hopper. As the almonds went up the conveyer they went through a screen which separated out the twigs and other debris and dropped them to the ground. At one point I saw a small plush toy of Bert (of Bert and Ernie) getting a ride up the conveyer. One can only guess as to how this ended up being augered into the hopper - kids in the fields during the harvest?

Seeing this action piqued my interest about almonds and I turned up some interesting information.

The Almond Orchard

“There are currently hundreds-of-thousands of acres of Almond orchards up and down the Central Valley of California. Owning an Almond orchard is a year round effort, and for many, is a way of life. Almond trees start blooming in mid February and continue blooming through the middle of March.

'Growers', as the owners of the Almond orchards are known, bring in Bees to assist in the pollination of the Almond trees. As the season progresses, (between mid-March and July), buds turn to blossoms. Blossoms eventually turn into what are called Nutletes, which in turn develop into full grown Almonds.

In the later part of July, it's time for the harvest. Growers use a vehicle known as a 'Tree Shaker' to literally shake the nuts from the branches of the trees. Nuts are then allowed to lay on the ground to dry. The nuts are then raked into rows where the harvester then sweeps them up from the orchard floor.

The harvested Almonds are transported to a hulling/shelling facility to have the leathery hull removed from the Almond, and if desired, have the hard shell removed as well. The Almonds are then taken to a receiving station for further processing.”

Source: Blue Diamond Almonds

Optimism prevails as ’06 almond harvest begins

“There’s a whole lot of shaking going on in California’s almond orchards as the state’s 6,000 almond producers move into high gear harvesting the fourth statewide crop of or more in the past five years.

It’s not just the tree shakers doing the shaking. It is also the handshakes and high fives from growers and handlers who are gathering the crop looking at mighty handsome harvest time prices; $2.45 cents per pound for Nonpareil and $1.90 for California varieties.

Between 70 million and 80 million pounds of this year’s crop will be hulled and shelled through one of the five hulling/shelling plants operated by Central California Almond Growers Association (CCAGA) in Kerman, Calif., and Sanger, Calif. CCCAGA is the largest huller/sheller in the world and will process $200 million worth of almonds by Thanksgiving.”

Source: Western Farm Press

But, wait - that's not all! It turns out there is a controversy over the implementation of mandatory almond pasteurization.

“Starting in August or September of 2007, raw almonds available in the USA, Canada and Mexico, will no longer be "truly raw" due to a mandate passed by the USDA, FDA and the California Almond Board, announcing that all almonds including organic must be pasteurized.

The problem is the law has been passed with little public input (if any) or notification whatsoever. In addition all pasteurized almonds available in the marketplace will still be labeled as raw almonds. Can this be considered fraudulence or an out right lie? Are you willing to give up your food freedom choices?

The primary reasons for passing this law are two isolated outbreaks of salmonella, in conjunction with conventional almond farms a few years ago. To the best of our knowledge no salmonella outbreaks have EVER been associated with organic almonds.”

Source: Go Petition Pty Ltd 2007

Here is what the Almond Board of California has to say.

“Was the almond industry mandated by
the government to develop a plan?

No.  Almonds are a safe, nutritious food that can be widely enjoyed.  This Action Plan is a voluntary initiative by the industry to further ensure the safety and quality of almonds; it has not been mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or any other governmental agency.

Will pasteurization affect almond quality?

The ABC’s objective is that treatments must achieve a minimum 4-log reduction with no significant degradation of the sensory and quality characteristics of almonds, such as the flavor, color, texture, or skin integrity.   Evaluation of technologies includes comparing pre- and post- treatment almonds to ensure that the sensory qualities are not adversely affected.  A comprehensive research and evaluation project is now underway, which will generate more robust data on the sensory and quality attributes of treated almonds. The initial sensory and quality evaluation was reviewed by food processors and manufacturers in January of 2007.  Their initial response, pending research completion,  was:  Collectively, while there are some differences noted in comparing treated with control, there are no indications at this point in the research of significant degradation or product deterioration.  The next scheduled research review is September, 2007.  For more information on sensory and quality evaluation click here. ” 

Source:Almond Board of California

Read more about food contamination.

Out of the almond orchards and into grapes. Miles and miles of grapes.

“Viticulture was originally brought to California by Spanish Franciscan friars, who in 1769 began cultivating grapes at California missions in order to produce sacramental wines. It was not until the 1800s that the production of table grapes became popular. William Wolfskill, a former trapper, is credited with planting the first table grape vineyard on land just outside of present-day Los Angeles in 1839 (California Table Grape Commission). By the mid 1800s, as the gold rush brought more and more miners to California, would-be miners began investing in table grape vineyards instead of ore to make their living selling fresh fruit to the miners.

Today, California accounts for 99 percent of all U.S. commercially grown table grapes, and table grape vineyards cover more than 80,000 acres in the state. However, compared to other grape uses, the table grape industry accounts for a small portion of the total grapes grown. In 2004, of the $2.76 billion in total value of California grape production, fresh table grapes accounted for only 20 percent ($535 million). The majority (by value) of California grape production was used for wine (58%), with raisin production accounting for an additional 22 percent. Also in terms of value, Washington state is the major producer of grapes used for juice (NASS)”.

Source: Ag Marketing Resource Center

These are table grape vines.

Can you imagine looking down this row and knowing you had to pick all the grapes?

I saw several of these staging areas for packing grapes into what looked like styrofoam boxes.

“Most table grapes are field packed, which means that workers cut bunches of grapes, and take them to the end of each row, where they are packed into boxes, and taken to cold storage locations. Many table grape operations are major employers of farm workers: Zaninovich table grape farm in California's San Joaquin Valley sold about five million 25-pound boxes of grapes annually at an average price of $10-$15 per box in the mid-1990s, and hired 1,000 farm workers to help generate $50 million in annual grape sales.”

Source: Rural Migration News

A lemon grove along the Garces Highway south of Delano. Note the pole mounted turbine blades for frost control.

“California produces about 87 percent of the U.S. lemon crop, with Arizona producing the rest. Ventura County is California’s number-one lemon producer, with almost half the total number of bearing acres, followed by Riverside, Imperial, Tulare, Kern, and San Diego. Harvesting begins in August in the desert areas before moving up the coast and into the Central Valley area.

Over the past three seasons, California produced an average of 754 million tons of lemons annually. During this time, about 66 percent of the crop went to the fresh market, with the remainder going to processing. Fresh lemons are marketed throughout the year; however, demand is generally strongest in the summer months.”

Source: USDA

As I drove eastward in to the foothills along the Garces Highway I left the fertile and irrigated valleys and made my way up into the arid mountains.

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

This aerial view of the Delano area shows the dramatic transition from the vast central valley to the foothills and mountains of the Sierras.

Source: Google maps

As I made my way higher into the mountains the Oak Woodlands were transitioned into a forest of pines and junipers.

This photo was taken near Howling Gulch and the small town of Woody, EL 1600'. A bit further down the Garces Highway I came to the town of Glennville, EL 3176', at the intersection of Garces and White River Roads. Glennville began as a trading post at the intersection of two Indian trails. The community was named for the Glenn brothers, who settled there in the 1850s.

Had I know there was a small hotel and cafe there I night have planned to stay over.

At Wofford Heights SR 155 (previously the Garces Highway) turns due south at Lake Isabella and intersects SR 178
(Isabella - Walker Pass Road). I did not take any pictures in the area of Lake Isabella.

“In 1953, the U. S. Corps of Engineers built earthen dams across two forks of the Kern River to create the Isabella reservoir, Kern County's largest body of water year round with a surface area of 11,200 acres. The communities of Wofford Heights, Lake Isabella and Kernville now bustle with outdoor enthusiasts: fishermen, boatmen, hikers and campers. Kernville, just to the north on Highway 178 beside the north fork of the Kern River, boasts a historic past as an 1850's gold rush camp. The town pays tribute to its rip-roaring past with its Whiskey Flats Days and the exhibits in the Kern Valley Museum.

Source: The Kern County Parks Department

As I descended the Isabella - Walker Pass Road I came into a beautiful area of Joshua Trees. I was not expecting to see any of the amazing yucca plants and was quite delighted to see them.

“The Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is an unusual tree-like species of Yucca, a member of the Lily Family (Liliaceae), and sometimes considered in the Agave Family (Agavaceae).

It grows uniquely in the desert southwest of the United States, principally in California's Mohave Desert, Antelope Valley and the surrounding area, and also in parts of Arizona, Nevada, and the southwest corner of Utah. It is found typically in the high desert, around 4000 feet (1200 m) elevation where there are freezing temperatures during winter nights, and very hot, dry summers. The small annual rainfall occurs primarily in the winter, with occasional dustings of snow. Thus, while this is a severe climate, it is not quite as hot or dry as the lower elevation Sonoran deserts.”

Source: Flower Essence Society

This Joshua Tree was about 12 feet tall.

A closer look at the leaves and seed capsules still attached to the flower stalk.

Funky "bark"!

An interesting bit of bird-lore:

“The Ladder-backed woodpecker excavates nest cavities in the Agave and Yucca's dead flower stalks and Joshua tree. Most vegetation in the desert is either to short and accessible to predators or too narrow in diameter to excavate a hole. The Ladder-backed woodpecker also nests in riparian areas that border the desert. Here they nest in snags of cottonwoods, willows, or mesquite. Niche filled by the Ladder-backed woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker , Picoides scalaris (upper), and Nuttall's Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii (lower), hand-colored lithograph

Image source: Report on the United States and Mexican boundary survey, hand-colored lithograph. (Volume on Birds, edited by Spencer Fullerton Baird.)

The Ladder-backed woodpecker eats the agave beetle larva. The adult beetles are essential for pollination. However, the larva eat the maturing fruit. The Ladder-backed woodpecker helps to control their population and keep things in balance. The Ladder-back woodpecker also uses the old Agave flower stalk as a nest site.”

Text source: Las Pilitas Nursery

Another plant I did not expect to see: Cholla cactus.

On my ERTs to Arizona I always saw lots of Cholla so this was like seeing an old friend.

“Cholla - pronounced cho-ya, is a Spanish word that means joints or jointed. There are nine different species of Cholla in the Tucson Basin. Another name for Cholla is Jumping Cactus, because of the disconcerting habit of coming unjointed easily. If you touch even one spine it is enough to detach a joint, then when you move more joints become lodged in your skin.

To make matters worse, the spines are barbed and therefore difficult to remove. We desert rats carry a comb with us. Remove the spines by sticking the comb under the cactus and flipping it away. The trick is to not flip it back into your skin. The next step is to take a pair of pliers and remove the remaining barbs. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?”

Source: O'Farrell Family Web Pages

I think these yellow flowered shrubs are Rubber Rabbitbrush Chrysothamnus nauseosus.

“Rabbit brush is a nondescript two to four foot perennial that erupts in late summer with a passionate display of appealing yellow that has stopped many an artist and butterfly. It is native in many forms over much of the west and mid-west. If you are planting a revegetation site you'll need to find the origin of the mother plant or you are liable to have a plant from the Great Plains trying to grow in Southern California project. If you're trying to plant a native garden in California, this one will do fine. When in flower Rabbit brush will commonly have twenty butterflies on it at once.”

Source: Las Pilitas

Soon I came to the end of the Isabella - Walker Pass Road where it T's into SR 14 (Midland Trail) at Freeman Junction.

Travelling 6 miles north on SR 14 I intersected US 395 near the settlement of Inyokern.

“Characterized by extreme aridity, Inyokern is situated in a wide valley at the base of the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Rugged mountains more than 10,000 ft. (3000 m) in elevation west of the area create a pronounced rain-shadow effect, resulting in a shrub-steppe habitat zone with annual rainfall of less than 3 inches. The flora of the valley floor consists primarily of Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentate), White Burr Sage (Ambrosia dumosa), and several varieties of native bunch grasses.

The transition zone of the nearby foothills also contain mixtures of Pinion Pine, Joshua tree forests, and concentrated riparian habitat surrounding the small streams descending from the mountain peaks. Wildlife ranges from black bear, mountain lion, and mule deer in the mountain and transition zones to the kangaroo rat and the endangered desert tortoise on the valley floor. A special note on the local wildlife is the local subspecies of rattlesnake, the Mojave rattlesnake (also called the Mojave green rattlesnake). This snake, which is common in the area, produces pit viper venom common to the general species but also produces a neuro-toxin that paralyzes the victim within 15 minutes. Fortunately the subspecies is docile and a fatal bite is rare.

Inyokern is often indicated on world climate maps. This notoriety is unique for a town of its size. Inyokern has the highest insolation of any locale on the North American continent, having over 355 days of sunshine each year. In addition, the town is home to the past and current world champion musical saw players.”

Source: WikiPedia

“Inyo means 'dwelling place of the great spirit.' Kern derives its name from the Kern River which was named for Edward Kern, cartographer for General John C. Fremont's 1845 expedition, which crossed Walker Pass. The Kern River was originally named Rio Bravo de San Felipe by Father Francisco Garces when he explored the area in 1776. Kern County was nearly named Buena Vista County for the large, and now drained, Buena Vista Lake between Bakersfield and Taft.”

Source: WikiPedia

About 10 miles to the east Inyokern is Ridgecrest.

“In 1943, adequate facilities were needed for test and evaluation of rockets being developed for the Navy by the California Institute of Technology (CalTech); at the same time, the Navy also needed a new proving ground for aviation ordnance. The Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) was established in response to those needs in November 1943, forming the foundations of NWC. The NOTS mission was defined in a letter by the Secretary of the Navy dated 8 November 1943:

'. . . A station having for its primary function the research, development and testing of weapons, and having additional function of furnishing primary training in the use of such weapons.'

It was due to this decision by the Navy that the town of Ridgecrest grew by quantum leaps over the next 10 years. Subsequently, it has matured into a very nice little community that supports the Navy mission and the civilians who work on the Naval Station as well as the civilian community at large. ”

Source:High Desert Memories

Ridgecrest is at the base of China Lake - dry lake or playa.

“A playa; also known as an alkali flat, sabkha, or salt flat; is a dry lake bed, generally the shore of, or a remnant of, an endorheic lake. Such flats consist of fine-grained sediments infused with alkali salts. Their surface is generally very dry, hard and smooth in the summer months, but wet and very soft in the winter months. Playas are small, round depressions in the surface of the ground. A playa lake is formed when rain fills this hole with water, creating a small lake. Playas can also form when the water table intersects the surface and water seeps into them.”

Source: WikiPedia

China Lakeis at the base of Owens Lake. Now primarily know for it Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake or NAWS China Lake

“The area was once also home to Native Americans, whose presence here is marked by thousands of archaeological sites, and to early miners and settlers whose cabins and mining structures are still found scattered throughout the Station. Among the notable archaeological sites is the National Park Service's Coso Rock Art District, an area of some 99 square miles which contains more than 20,000 documented petroglyphs.”

Source: WikiPedia

I continued on up US 395 to Lone Pine where I would spend the next 3 days poking around Alabama Hills, Mt Whitney and Death Valley area.

rails Motel, Lone Pine, California

I arrived in Lone Pine around 4:30, and checked into the Trails Motel.

Here is my route map for the day. It was about 240 miles.

Here is my route map for the day. It was about 240 miles.

Source: Google Maps

Day 20 - FINIS

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