Pacific Northwest Day 2 – Donner Pass

After driving all day through 115 degree heat across endless Nevada deserts, we reached the turn-off for Reno, which would take us to Lake Tahoe.  Hoping to camp in the pristine pine forests I remembered from my childhood, and wake up to take a dip in the lake, I drove the mountain roads with enthusiasm.  As night fell, the lights around the lake revealed that there was a lot more development here than I remembered.  Every single campground we passed was full.  Finally, we met a ranger at yet another full campground.  He had just come from Donner Pass, 45 minutes away, and informed us that every campground between Lake Tahoe and there was full, this being the last camping weekend before the start of school in California.  He mentioned that there was one site open at the Donner Memorial State Park campground, and if we wanted to chance it, it would be worth a try.  Having few other options, besides pricey motels, we made the drive.

Midnight at Donner Pass can be creepy, if you know the history.  But at least it wasn’t snowing…
After setting up the tent and organizing the rest of our camp for morning, we made a camp fire in the fire ring, but decided we were all too tired to eat.  So one by one, we settled into our bedrolls.   When I awoke the next morning, our camp was better than I had even hoped for at Lake Tahoe.  Old pines towered over 100 feet above us.  Donner Creek playfully spilled into Donner Lake, just yards away.  I cooked our breakfast on the campstove while we warmed ourselves by the fire ring.  After cleaning up the breakfast things, we repacked and broke camp.

We drove the short distance to the lake, and made use of one of the park’s many hiking trails.  By now, the sun was fully up and the temperatures in the high 70’s at our altitude.  Donner Lake was irresistible, so we donned swimsuits and went in.  Though there is really no designated swimming area, we were at a small inlet that was not very busy with boats, and had a very refreshing swim.  The water was clean and cold.  We could see the bottom of the lake up to about six feet.  After drying off in the warm sun, it was with deep regret that I changed back into my clothes, and we left our enchanted campground to continue our journey.  Today we would be visiting an old friend near Vacaville, then travelling through Mount Shasta in hopes of finding another camping spot for the night.


Prelude to the Pacific Northwest

Getting ready for vacation wears me out.  Trying to pack as little as possible and yet have everything we need sets off some lively discussions at our house.  Nevertheless, my travelling companions and I managed to divvy up the labor and circumvent any pre-trip explosions.  The plan, visit family and see some sights in Oregon and Washington over 3 weeks in August.  The mode, a 24 mile per gallon Jeep Cherokee and a newly acquired used tent trailer.  The new (to us) tent trailer was checked out, and minor repairs made.  Camping supplies were reorganized and streamlined into two boxes and a cooler.  Sleeping bags, camp chairs and camp stove were packed.  Personal items were packed, unpacked, and repacked into half the space.  This weary pilgrim fell into bed early to grab a few hours sleep before the epic vacation was to start.  At 2:20a.m., grumbling and threatening bodily harm to a certain travelling companion who begrudged me my last 10 minutes of sleep, I stumbled to the espresso machine and made myself a large double (would that be a quadruple?).  I dressed myself and my son, gathered my purse and book, and packed us into the back seat of the jeep, where we proceeded to fall directly back to sleep.  It was still too dark for any sight seeing anyway.

First stop, Las Vegas, Nevada.  Breakfast buffet at Palace Station.  The cheese blintzes were awesome, but the strawberry sauce I put on top of them was not.  Should have stuck with a dusting of powdered sugar.  Coffee and sausage were plentiful, and after some in our party topped off with ice cream cones, we made our way to Bass Pro Shop for air mattresses.  Unfortunately, we forgot the air pump at home, so had to get another one.  I was in favor of a 12volt that could be left attached, to inflate the mattresses while we set up the rest of our camp, got the fire going, cooked dinner, etc.  I was overrulled by manly men insisting on a bicycle style pump.  Okay by me, I’m not the one going to be inflating the air mattresses anyway.

Now with the sun up, the drive through Nevada towards Reno was alot of gray, hot, dreary desert.  It was too hot to stop anywhere to make sandwiches for lunch (our cooler and other food were in the tent trailer), so we just snacked.  A roadside stand boasted buffalo jerkey, but it was rather pricey, so we opted for garlic stuffed olives instead – yuck! were they sour!  Then we read the label and found they weren’t even local…

We stopped again to stretch our legs in Goldfield, Nevada.  While everyone else went over to inspect an ancient Mercedes diesel, I walked around the even more ancient Goldfield Hotel.  Repairs are apparently being attempted on the dilapidated building, but they do not appear to be historically correct, which is a disappointment because it must have been a beautiful building.  I must know: why such a huge hotel exists in such a remote town and what is the story of Goldfield?  I will report at a future date.

The remainder of our first day is spent driving through the unmerciful heat of the Nevada desert.  We finally reach our first camp at midnight, Donner Pass, but that will have to wait until my next post…


Grand Canyon Pilgrimage – August 2011

I just spent the most awesome day at the Grand Canyon with my daughter and her friends.  It was kind of a last minute thing, they were camping up there for the weekend, would I like to meet them?  Hmm…how much gas is in the car?  Yup, I’ll be there.  I really needed a day off from my worries and anxieties and I can’t think of a better therapy than a day in one of the National Parks.  Of course the fact that I live only 90 minutes away helps, also.
Our adventure started in Tusayan, with a visit to the Indian PowWow Swap Meet.  While the younguns shopped for beads and baubles I chatted up some of the Navajo vendors and even found one with whom I shared a mutual friend.  I wished I had some spending money, because the silver, turquoise and beading was authentic Navajo, exquisite, and inexpensive.  Next stop, the IMAX Theater for a showing of Grand Canyon: The Movie.  I enjoyed the film for its reenactment of the Anasazi occupation and Major John Wesley Powell’s river exploration of the Canyon.  Afterward we took in the Condor Encounter in the courtyard.  Hoping to see actual California Condors up close, we were disappointed to find out that only injured and non-flying California Condors were allowed and none were currently available.  However, we were entertained and delighted by the “smart” raven who took a dollar bill from an audience member and dropped it in the donation box; and the dancing crane.


Finally we proceeded to the park.  Prepaid passes are the only way to go during peak season.  Our cars were ushered straight into the prepaid lane and our entry into the park expedited.  The first stop, as usual was Mather Point and the main Visitor’s Center.  Boy, have there been alot of changes in the six months since I was last there!  Extra parking, more bathrooms, and a complete remodel in progress on the visitor center.  I walked in and back out, making a beeline for the bookstore.  At least everything is still familiar there.  The boy and I picked up our summer visitors guides and stamped them with the commemorative stamps (free).  We browsed the new offerings, and played with the raven puppets, then regrouped with our peeps and went for a 2 mile stroll down the paved, safety-railed Rim Trail.



Several times we noted tourists trying to feed the squirrels.  Bigtime no-no!  Those cute little friendly furballs have fleas and ticks which will jump onto humans just as happily and transmit lovely souveniers such as bubonic plague, lyme disease and if little furball decides to bite, he could be transmitting rabies as well.  Not to mention that feeding them does them no favors, as they become reliant upon human handouts and will not survive the winter on their own.  Best to enjoy the wildlife with your eyes, not your hands!  Okay, rest now, my rant’s over.


Though I much prefer to visit the Canyon mid-week in the off season, this particular Saturday was glorious.  There were crowds, but they were friendly and not overwhelming.  I think the presence of extra park rangers on the trails greatly contributed to the relaxed, genial atmosphere.  Our recent rains seem to have given the sky a more sparkling blueness, and made the air more fresh and sweet.  The view from the Rim Trail is dramatic.  Some spots drop straight down over 5,000 feet.  Others are deceptively inviting, yet treacherous and slippery.  You can walk the trail a hundred times and get a different perspective every time.


It was such a refreshing day, and totally occupied my mind, relieving anxiety, and relaxing tension.  Once back in my car at the IMAX, with a cup of coffee, I was ready to get back to reality, though perfectly willing to stay at the canyon if that had been an option.  I know that God, who made such a glorious wonder as the Grand Canyon, also cares about me and my seemingly insignificant troubles.  In getting my mind off of them for a day, I found some solutions and rediscovered gratitude.

Grand Canyon Caverns

One of our favorite day trips is to the Grand Canyon Caverns in Peach Springs, Arizona. About 17 miles west of Seligman on Route 66, it is actually about 3 hours from Grand Canyon National Park. The Caverns get their name from the source of the fresh air that flows through them – the Grand Canyon, which is actually about 200 miles further up the road on Route 66, then I-40, then Route 64.
Being 200 feet under the earth is a leap of faith for me, I don’t like to be enclosed and “trapped”. But I have never had a problem with the caverns. Perhaps it is because of the airflow. We got to descend in an elevator. Original tourists, in the 1920’s, got to pay 25 cents to hang off a rope with a lantern. This trip, the whole trail was open. We got to walk through all the rooms on the first and second levels, including where the giant sloth is reconstructed. One room is loaded with C rations dating from World War II: barrels and boxes of food and water, and one roll of toilet paper. Hmm… There are several more levels beneath that have not been fully explored or excavated. The privately owned caverns depend on paying their own way in developing their potential. What? No government bailouts? You gotta admire that.
These could be earlier visitors – but aren’t those battery powered headlamps? In addition to the giant sloth, a popular attraction on the tour is the mummified bobcat, right next to the perfectly preserved wedding bouquets. Several weddings have taken place in the caverns. Guides will explain that the caverns were once underwater caves, and tease your imagination with visions of the creatures who might have lived there. They will point out several ancient (now dry) waterfalls, and as you leave, offer you petrified ham and eggs. Don’t overdress for the tour, the caverns stay 55 degrees F year round. And don’t forget your tennis shoes in the summer – you’re not allowed on the tour with sandals.

La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

mission la purisima ca roof detail

With vistas of rocky beaches, farms, sandy beaches, and ranches, the drive to La Purisima Mission State Historic Park from Los Angeles reminds me of everything I like about Southern California.  Entering the park itself is like stepping back in time.

mission la purisima ca mission bell     mission la purisima ca footbridge     mission la purisima ca goat

Sheep and goats fill the corrals, turkeys gobble, and horses graze.  We look around for an Indian shepherd, or a neophyte coming to gather the dried hides to be tanned, but apparently this is a non-living history day.  The pastoral quiet is soothing.

mission la purisima ca horses     mission la purisima ca turkeys     mission la purisima ca barracks

Because it is a State Historic Park, La Purisima receives grant funding and has enjoyed massive restoration.  Beginning in 1935, the California Conservation Corps performed painstaking research. CCC completely restored the buildings using the original construction methods, adobe bricks, clay tiles, handmade furniture. 

mission la purisima ca sheep     mission la purisima ca hides     mission la purisima ca entry

Many living history events are held here throughout the year. This gives visitors the opportunity to see first-hand what life was like when the mission was at its peak. Docents and reenactors demonstrate mission crafts and skills. From grinding corn and making tortillas, to spinning wool and soap and candle making, everything is produced by the mission. 

mission la purisima ca bell wall     mission la purisima ca barns     mission la purisima ca tallow vats

mission la purisima ca tallow     mission la purisima ca tallow shed

The tallow vats above were used to melt animal fat in preparation for making soap and candles.  An abalone shell to hold holy water at the entrance to the church is representative of California’s coastal bounty.  The church itself is sparse, much as it must have been when the 11th Mission was founded and the faithful stood and knelt or sat on the bare floor.

mission la purisima ca abalone holy water

Extreme would be the word to describe the history of La Purisima. The mission was founded on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1797. In just one year, there were over 900 residents. Construction began on a new church but by 1804, the neophyte population had reached 1,520. 

mission la purisima ca candler     mission la purisima ca choir loft     mission la purisima ca baptismal font

Scandal is nothing new to the Catholic Church. Accusations of mistreatment of the indians brought an investigation of the Franciscan padres and the military by the Spanish Governor.  The accusations proved unfounded.

mission la purisima ca altar     mission la purisima ca wagon     mission la purisima ca altar wall detail

Extreme disaster followed extreme prosperity.  In 1804, death and disease began to claim the lives of the Indian converts.  The massive earthquake of 1812, followed by heavy rains, leveled the mission and its outbuildings.

mission la purisima ca altar main     mission la purisima ca altar left     mission la purisima ca stations

Due to the devastation of the original mission, the padres relocated the new mission to the north. The new construction marked a departure from the traditional quadrangle mission plan.  Laying the buildings out in a line worked better with the natural contours of the land. This allowed for a quick escape as well as preserving the farmland.  As a result, extreme prosperity returned.

mission la purisima ca beams     mission la purisima ca soldier room     mission la purisima ca corporals apt

Because of the direction of Father Mariano Payeras, the mission continued to enjoy peace and prosperity.  Unfortunately, after his death in 1823, the Chumash began to revolt against the military. Finally, the Mexican government took control of the property in 1834.

mission la purisima ca spinning wheel     mission la purisima ca mayor domo room     mission la purisima ca olive mill

The government sold La Purisima at auction and as a result, the mission fell into ruin.

mission la purisima ca olive press     mission la purisima ca loom     mission la purisima ca wool cards

Fortunes began to improve in 1903 when then owner Union Oil Company realized that the mission grounds were an important part of history. Remarkably, the company donated much of the land to the State of California and restoration began.

mission la purisima ca carpenter shop     mission la purisima ca leather shop     mission la purisima ca kitchen

Today, La Purisima Mission is building a new Visitor Center Complex. It will include a museum, exhibits and gift shop. The Mission offers many school programs and activities, as well as numerous living history events and an annual art show and sale.

     mission la purisima ca kiln     mission la purisima ca indian apts     mission la purisima ca lavanderia     mission la purisima ca drinking fountain

La Purisima Mission and State Historic Park

2295 Purisima Rd.

Lompoc, CA  93436