Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Family Time in Hanford, California

Tuesday, Nov. 26th - Thursday, Dec. 26th

We arrived at John's sister Kathy's place just in time for Thanksgiving and her birthday which just happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day this year.  One day we went for a walk down to old China Alley near downtown.  We toured the Taoist Temple Museum, which is small, interesting and free, $2 donation suggested.  Hanford had the largest Chinese population between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1880s when they were building railroads.

Chinese silk squash, also known as the sponge squash, as it is what loofah (or luffa) sponges are made from.
When dried, the firm fibers in the fruit of a loofah plant become a loofah sponge. In water, a loofah works hard to exfoliate and massage, but because the fibers are natural, they feel soft and gentle. Using a natural loofah sponge increases circulation, giving your skin a healthy glow and putting you in a relaxed state of mind. Loofahs are gentle enough to be used every day. They are also an edible vegetable.  I never really knew what they were and I've never used one.  Might have to try it sometime.

Another day we were out walking and came by this place where there were at least 20 guinea pigs and a few guinea hens running around the yard and some out in the street.  When we were in Peru a few years ago, we learned that guinea pig was a national dish for them.  We actually tried one at a restaurant there.  It was a whole guinea pig deep fried and tasted okay, but was pretty greasy.

Just a few blocks from Kathy's house on a busy street corner, this guy feeds the ducks that come over from a pond in a nearby park.  There must be about 50 of them there everyday.  Notice all the oranges on the tree.  There are lots of orange trees, lemon trees, palm trees, pecans, pomegranates, grape vineyards for raisins, etc. in the San Joaquin Valley.  The air quality in the valley is supposed to be the worst in the country and the weather station sometimes has advisories to stay indoors as much as possible.

We took Kathy and a couple of her friends down to Bakersfield for one their famous Basque dinners.  The Basque people were a sheep herding people from the Basque region between France and Spain.  Bakersfield has the largest community of Basque people in the United States.  The meal is served in the back room of a bar that is very much like the one my folks ran when I was growing up.  They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week family style including a house wine, dessert, soup, salad, appetizer and a different entree every day.  They have some specialties, such as pickled tongue, which is very tasty.  It is really good and a unique cultural event.  Article about them above, if you would like to read more.

 Of course, we made our usual rounds of the casino buffets at Fresno and Lemoore while we were here.  That, plus all the holiday goodies, has set us back on our quest to trim down.  But it's soon time again for New Years resolutions and, hopefully, ours will last longer than the three days we made it last year.  As they say, "Hope springs eternal." or "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.".

On Christmas Day, our last evening here, we drove around town to look at Christmas lights.  I didn't get a picture, Dawn, but one of the houses we drove by had the leg lamp from the Christmas Story movie, in the window on the second floor landing.

This house had a radio station to tune into to listen to music timed to match the changing lights.  Their name "Loomis" is at the left side of the yard.  Very cool.

This place was just outside town and also had a radio station to tune into for music matching the timing of all the changing lights.  

Just a couple more views of the changing lights at the same place.

Great way to spend our last evening here on Christmas Day.  Thanks again Kathy for all the hospitality and entertainment.  Can't wait to come back next year, so try to enjoy the next 11 months without us, tick, tock, tick, tock, time flies! 

Thursday we head south and across Arizona toward Phoenix, where I catch a flight on January 8th to my niece's wedding in Jamaica.  Can't wait to see everybody again.

Happy New Year to all our family and friends,

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Placerville and Folsom, California and Carson City, Nevada

Wed, Nov. 20th - Tue, Nov. 26th

Unique mushrooms along a trail we hiked.  We stayed at the Placerville KOA.

Unusual restroom in the museum in Historic Downtown Folsom.  You walk into the cell and through the door labeled The John and June.  When you open the door to the restroom, you here, "Hello, my name is Johnny Cash" and the music starts playing "I hear the train a comin'.  It's rollin' round the bend,  and I ain't seen the sunshine since....."  And the walls are covered with pictures of Johnny Cash, posters, sheet music, record albums, etc.

1873 safe used to store gold.  It has a timer clock set to open a half hour before the Wells Fargo Stagecoach arrived.  Gold is heavier than lead and a cubic foot of gold weighs over a half ton.  In 1942 FDR ordered all gold mines closed, deemed non-essential.

Interesting rules teachers had to abide by in 1872.

There were many personal collections of individuals in the adjoining Wells Fargo building, which was once the western terminus of the Pony Express.  Some of the collections included ornate cash registers, Old Spice bottles, Lucille Ball stuff, Michael Jackson stuff, M and M stuff, ceramic skunks, sheep of all kinds, yard sticks from different businesses (surely the cheapest collection) and Barbie Dolls.  250 million dolls were in private collections in 1949 and that was before the Barbie doll.  Imagine how many dolls are in collections now.  The most interesting was the Canal Postcards.  After WWII Britain had 1,000 miles of abandoned canals with inoperable locks with no funds for repairs.  Private citizens formed several organizations over the years in efforts to repair them.  As of 1981, they were still working on it, hopefully done by now.  

We had lunch just a few steps from the museum at Hop Sings Palace.  Does anyone remember Hop Sing on "Bonanza" in the 1950s?  The show created a renewed interest in Virginia City.  Years ago when our kids were little, we visited the Ponderosa Ranch near Tahoe.  During the Gold Rush, the mining boom moved from Folsom to Placerville and places like Gold Hill, Silver City and Virginia City developed in areas of the highest production of the Comstock Lode 1859 to 1860.  Virginia City, with its opulent lifestyles in the 1870s, was one of the great cities of the American West with a population of 20,000, bigger than L.A.

Folsom Prison, one of the nation's first maximum security prisons, opened in 1880 to relieve overcrowding in San Quentin.  There were 324 cells, each 8' x 7' with one 8" x 2" opening, no heat or plumbing, 2 straw mattresses on the floor, only a candle or oil lamp for heat and two buckets of water, one for washing and one for drinking.  Corporal punishment was used until 1912 for breaking prison rules, including straight jackets and stringing up prisoners by their thumbs and hands for a specific number of hours.  The prisoners quarried and crushed stone and built roads, bridges and the 1895 dam for the hydroelectric power plant on the American River that provided power as far away as Sacramento.  A Mexican citizen owned about 35,000 acres here in 1840 and through successful trade deals owned much of San Francisco when he died.  Captain J.L. Folsom heard of his death and hustled down to the Danish West Indies where he bought his estate from his mother.  He invested in the Sacramento Valley Railroad (first RR in the West 1856) and saw to it that it passed right along his property and through Granite City (renamed Folsom after his death) causing his land value to sky rocket.  Folsom was centrally located in the Mother Lode, a supply hub for miners in the Sierra.  

This ferris wheel in the prison museum was built out of 250,000 toothpicks over ten months by one of the inmates.  Chong Hing from Canton, China was prisoner #1.  Only six women were ever incarcerated here, the last in 1929.  A new prison was added in 1986.  The average daily population of the old and new prisons combined is 5,500 inmates.

I'm not sure if this L.A. Sheriff's bus was delivering or picking up, but I thought I better get my little Honey Bear out of there, before they grabbed him.

On the way over to see the Nevada State Capitol at Carson City on Friday.  Chains had been required here the day before, so we had to wait a day to go over.  The 1844 Fremont Expedition was the first official exploring party in this area and named most of the places.  One of Fremont's guides was Kit Carson, namesake of Carson City, Carson Valley and Carson River.  Nevada is over 86% federal land with over 65% Bureau of Land Management, over 8% Forest Service and over 5% U.S. Military.  Nevada had no internment camps, so lots of Japanese Americans moved here from San Francisco during WWII.  There were all kinds of military bases, airfields and training schools, including training of the group that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, and lots of mining and manufacturing of warfare products.  The atomic bomb was tested here along with 900 other atmospheric and nuclear tests, and storage of nuclear waste.  In 1951 the Atomic Energy Commission broadcast a nuclear blast called Operation Doom Town on TV with 15 million viewers and 600 witnesses on site, many of whom experienced high rates of cancer.  Detonations, usually done at dawn, flashed 100 times brighter than the sun and could be see 400 to 500 miles away and felt in many communities around Nevada and neighboring states.  Drawn by air bases in the Folsom area, several aerospace companies in the 1950s and 60s located among the dredge tailings from gold mining, including Douglas Aircrafte and Honeywell and Aerojet, now GenCorp.  The 1980s brought Intel, Kikkoman and Gekkeikan Sake USA, the largest sake brewery outside of Japan.  They have tastings like wineries, but we didn't have time to stop.  Maybe next time.

View of Lake Tahoe.  The popularity of skiing increased tremendously after the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.  A Truckee doctor developed the Spademan quick-release binding after seeing 150 skiers with broken legs in his office following a busy weekend of skiing in the Lake Tahoe area.

1871 Victorian State Capitol at Carson City, where Governor Brian Sandoval shook our hands and welcomed us to their state.  Then, I guess due to the blank look on our faces, he had to tell us that he was the governor.  Oops.  He gave us each a souvenir coin with his face and name on it, I guess to help us remember him.  Nevada is the fastest growing state in the nation with 70% of their population in the Las Vegas metro area.  Gambling was outlawed from 1910 to 1931, but since then the lights of the casinos have been twinkling bigger and brighter every year.  

The State History Museum is just a couple blocks west of the Capitol.  One of the exhibits is a small boy's denim overalls.  The boy was five years old when he died in 1905 and his clothes were all packed in a trunk that was found in 2005.  They are the oldest known pair of blue jeans in Nevada.  In the 1870s a Latvian taylor living in Reno, named Jacob Davis, changed the way we dress.  A woman wanted a custom made pair of trousers for her husband, a woodcutter.  He was aware of the difficulty getting sturdy work clothes for use in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. With few wives or taylors, miners depended on ready made clothes.  He decided to secure the pockets with copper rivets and charged $3.00 for the overalls.  He soon had many orders and decided to patent his design.  He didn't have money for the patent fee and asked San Francisco dry goods merchant, Levi Strauss, to be his partner.  By the end of 1873 the Levi Strauss Company was manufacturing riveted denim overalls in standard sizes (a new concept) to withstand the abuses of mining and an American classic was born.  140 years later we're still wearing them.

Millain's execution was called "the most gala to date" in Nevada at the time.  Ms. Bulette, a favorite courtesan of the miners and notable for her good works among the sick and needy in the Comstock's first terrible winters, was found murdered for her jewels.  His eventual hanging was attended by all Virginia City.  Women waved handkerchiefs and men munched sandwiches and passed fraternal bottles as the trap was sprung.  Then everyone went back to town to attend a lecture given by a local boy who had made good, Mark Twain, on his adventures in the Holy Land.  He originally came here with his brother, Orion Clemens, the newly appointed Territorial Secretary to be his secretary.  There were no funds for a secretary, so he tried mining and eventually found success writing for the Virginia City newspaper.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Cycling came to the West in the late 1860s with clubs forming, sponsoring relay races, hill climbs, drills, etc.  The Reno Wheelmen (above) were Pacific Coast Champions several times between 1900 and 1905 and set a world speed record in 1905 of one mile in one minute and 35 seconds on their Rambler Quad in Salt Lake City.  Ownership of High Wheeled bicycles came to replace the horse and carriage as a symbol of status and was also easier to care for.

John Sparks, famous cattle rancher, was governor in 1909 when the South Pacific Railroad was realigned through the new town of Sparks just outside Reno.  My brother used to live in Sparks right across the road from the infamous Mustang Ranch.

The Desert Bighorn Sheep in the mountain ranges of the southern two thirds of the state was almost eliminated by the 1930s and reintroduced in 1967 and is the official state animal.  This is a mount in the State History Museum in a room full of beautiful animals and magnificent birds.  The state flower is the sagebrush.

This is Amethyst.  The museum has a whole room full of beautiful rocks.  Over 100 different minerals are mined in Nevada, many billions of dollars worth of gold, silver and copper alone.  There are over 1,500 ghost towns across the state.  In 1880 local breweries produced 25,000 barrels of beer and more was shipped in on refrigerated freight cars and that doesn't include wine and liquor.  I guess those miners really liked to drink and they had the gold and silver to pay for it.  Lots of people were in the business of mining the miners.

Of the 3,500 known minerals, around 850 have been found in Nevada, helping it to become a territory in 1861, and a state in 1864 in part due to the rich mines in the Comstock Lode.  They are the third largest producer of gold in the world, the top U.S. producer of silver, barite, magnasite and diatomite, a top producer of mercury and the only producer of lithium carbonate.  They also have all kinds of crystals and turquoise, as in pictures above.

18 million year old elm leaf fossil beautifully preserved in shale from Churchill County, Nevada. They had fossils of sea shells, fish, snakes and even ants and mosquitos.  I think it's so interesting how well preserved they are and how they can find them and figure out how old they are.

Massive 50-year-old Imperial Mammoth bull skeleton fossil found on Black Rock Desert in 1972 entombed in a deep slough along Quinn River.  The scrape marks of his feet preserved all around him showed his last efforts to climb out of the muddy trap 17,000 years ago.  Kind of sounds like something that "Bones" lady on TV would say.

Governors Mansion completed in 1909 is supposed to be haunted by a woman and a young girl, perhaps the first First Lady and her daughter (the only child ever born in the mansion), and a man, perhaps a servant who enjoyed working there so much that he was unwilling to leave.  Nevada Day, Oct. 31, 1864, celebrates their becoming the 36th state and is the only day there are public tours.  The mansion is all lit up and decorated for the holidays with performers, and the Governor takes pictures with the kids and gives them Halloween candy.  It pretty much covers an entire city block which cost $10.00 and the original mansion cost $22,700.
When applying for statehood a copy of their state constitution was sent both by ship and stagecoach, but was not going to arrive in time for the legislative deadline, so the entire constitution was sent by telegraph at a cost of $3,416.77, the longest and most costly telegram sent at the time, and Lincoln signed the proclamation.  

Across the street from the Governors Mansion, is the 1879 home of lumber baron Duane L. Bliss, who built the SS Tahoe to stop at his Railroad pier, so tourists could step from his steam ship to his Inn.  It was the largest home in Nevada at the time and the first entirely lit by gas.   

Sign in the El Dorado County Historical Museum in Placerville.  Still seems like a good rule for present day.

Some antique toys in the Museum.  Animal Ten Pins, ever heard of it?  

Parlor Croquet, an indoor version of the popular lawn game.  Miniature wooden set designed to be set up on a table.

My, how phones have changed.  They were the death of the telegraph, which was the death of the Pony Express.  The first telegram sent from California to the East was on Oct. 24, 1861 by California Chief Supreme Court Justice to President Lincoln to declare California's loyalty to the Union.  In June of 1914 the last pole of the Transcontinental Telephone was erected in Wendover, Nevada.  On Jan. 15, 1915 Alexander Graham Bell in New York called Watson in San Francisco, using the exact same words he used on the first ever phone call in 1876 when Watson was just a few rooms away.   "Mr. Watson come here.  I want to see you."  Watson replied that it would take a bit longer this time to comply.   

Different ways people around the world answered the phone, and now we don't even speak, we just text.  I wonder what Alexander Bell would think about that.  Sometimes I think I have trouble changing and keeping up with the times, but there was a Maytag Washing Machine in the museum that was bought in the 1930s and used by one woman until her death in the 1990s.  Wow!  That's for her and the machine.

Sheep herders wagon with bed, stove and cupboards built in, almost like modern day RVing.  Another interesting thing in the Placerville Museum was an old, wooden wheelbarrow built by John Studebaker.  He came to find gold, but quickly realized he could make more money selling wheelbarrows to the miners.  He took his fortune back to South Bend, Indiana where he invested in the family wagon and carriage business, which eventually became Studebaker Automobile Company.  There is an original Hwy. 30 marker imbedded in the front of the building where he built the wheelbarrows.  But here, from Salt Lake City to Sacramento, it is called Hwy. 50.  His biographer tells the story that Studebaker and Hinds saw four men enter and remove heavy sacks of gold from the safe after the bank was closed due to a banking panic.  The sheriff confronted the thieves (actually the bank owners) and they got their gold back.  Studebaker wheeled his and Hind's money up Main Street in one of his own wheelbarrows and buried it in the dirt floor of the blacksmith shop where he worked.

Placerville(1854), also known as Dry Diggings or Hangtown, is just 8 miles from Sutter's Mill.  It was the supply town for surrounding mining camps and transportation terminus for the famous Comstock Lode.  The nickname of Hangtown was first used in 1849 when three men were hanged here after a speedy trial.  They were giving the storefront a facelift.  The store is named for the nearby stump of the infamous Hanging Tree and housed the Hangman's Tree Bar for many years.  Many of the restaurants around here have something called Hangtown Fry, which is a concoction of eggs, bacon and oysters from an old gold rush era recipe.   The United States Trio, one of Hangtown's largest gaming halls, promoted the short-lived bloody sport of bull, bear and donkey fighting on Circus Hill. When the public shut him down, he turned to marketing liquor and cards and the gaming tables of his large canvas tent "groaned with bags of gold dust and glittering piles of coins".  

The incredible and famous hardware store in downtown Placerville has everything under the sun and is totally organized.  This is just part of the selection of cabinet handles they had on display.  They must have had about 100 different kinds of work gloves.  If you can't find what you need here, you might as well give up.     

Original Bell Tower in downtown Placerville used as a fire siren and still used for fires.  After exploring downtown, we had lunch at Mel's Diner.

Stone marker at the location of the original Sutter Mill in Coloma, original county seat of El Dorado County, which was later moved to Placerville.  Just a few yards north of the marker is where gold was discovered by John Marshall (Sutter's partner) in 1848, starting the 49ers Gold Rush.  They purchased 15 acres from the Native Americans, but California's Military Governor rejected their claim because " the U.S. Government does not recognize the rights of Indians to lease, rent or sell their lands".  Really?  Unless they're selling to the U.S. Government, I guess.  By the end of 1849 there were 90,000 gold seekers in the area from all over the world.  300,000 Indians lived in California before contact with Europeans and Americans.  By 1860 there were less than 30,000 and they were treated as aliens in there own land.  Hardships during the Gold Rush were caused by miners polluting streams and rivers, killing game and cutting down trees.  Yet the Native Americans survived and their numbers have finally returned to what they were when gold was discovered.  The Maidu tribe used to gather acorns for food.  A family of six could collect 34,500 pounds in three weeks, enough food to feed the family for over a year.  They ground it into a flour that made a high protein bread.  Only forty minutes of work per day was necessary to sustain a comfortable lifestyle.  Sounds great, doesn't it?

View back toward where the first gold was discovered on the South Fork of the American River.  Marshall Gold Discovery State Park encompasses most of the historic town of Coloma with about 200 residents.  The discovery of gold here resulted in the admission of California as the 31st state to the Union in 1850.

The stone block ruins of the El Dorado County Jail, the third jail built in Coloma and used from 1857 to 1862.  After the discovery of gold January 24, 1948, the population jumped to 4,000 by July and that was just the beginning.  In a couple years the gold petered out and the miners moved on to Placerville and other places following the Mother Lode.

We hiked up the hill to 1856 Saint John's Church with a small 1850s cemetery behind it.

John Marshall's cabin across the road from the old cemetery in the rear of the church.  The ditch to the right is one of many mining ditches still in the area.  They were built to carry the vast amounts of water needed for placer mining.  Thousands of miles of ditches and flumes built in gold country brought immense profits to their owners.  They were later used to irrigate orchards, vineyards and pastures in the foothills.  This one is 7 miles long and was probably dug partially by Marshall, along with the terraces on his 15 acres here, where he raised grapes and made wine.  

At the top of the hill overlooking the site of the mill and gold discovery, this huge monument (California's first State Historic Monument) was put up in 1890, five years after John Marshall's death.

We walked down this road coming back down the hill from the monument to the park.

A couple afternoons we drove around Apple Hill Valley which is a group of orchards, Christmas Tree farms and wineries that cater to tourists with tastings, fruit stands, crafts, homemade treats and canned goods and kids activities like mazes, pumpkin patches and petting zoos.  Among the jars of canned goods I spotted jars labeled Frog Balls, pickled Brussels sprouts.  I wonder if they're any better than regular Brussels sprouts.  I should have bought a jar and tried them.  Opportunity lost.  Oh well.

We had lunch and tasted some wines and ciders.  I wanted to buy one of these signs, but I got voted down.  All we ended up with was a jug of apple cider for John and a caramel apple for me, both very good.   

Tuesday, the 26th, we drove down to John's sister's place where we will camp in her driveway until Christmas, or until she kicks us out, whichever comes first.  So try to behave John.!

Quote of the Day:  "If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything in between can be dealt with."  Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our friends and family.