Visiting Alabama for the First Time

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Birmingham Airport: First time seeing an Ebony magazine newsstand–I’ve seen CNN, NBC and Hudson News, among others. 

Alabama looked different than I expected. I’ve been to all of the other Southern states save Kentucky, and I thought Alabama would be flatter and dominated by farm crops. Blame digital map apps. If you are looking up where you are going on a paper map you can’t help but see that the Talladega National Forest is like a green smoothie spilled across the state. With Google Maps I zoom in on where I am going and if I don’t take the time to zoom out or use the other features, I make a mental map that is mostly flat.

I also expected more water. A small part of Alabama touches the gulf shore at Mobile, but for the most part Alabama receives its water from the sky. Far from the Mississippi River, the state and its largest communities are not dominated by rivers in the way so many other places are in the US.

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Alabama woods from Vulcan Park in Birmingham: The Appalachian Trail southern terminus is in Georgia, and the Talladega National Forest is the southern end of the Appalachians extending into Alabama.

There are more hills than I expected and the forests are the same mix of pine and hardwood that cover the Appalachians. We came for the civil rights history but these woods made me wonder about the indigenous people who were here even earlier. The Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, and Chickasaws, as well as the Alabama-Coushattas and the Yuchis hunted, danced and walked in these woods.

Our adventure is a civil rights crawl. Our plan is to drive our rental car to Montgomery-Tuskegee-Selma-Marion-Greensboro and Birmingham. Phyllis, Chantay and I have done internet research and we are also using the “Alabama Civil Rights Museum Trail” as a guide. We also look forward to eating good food and meeting friendly folks from ‘Bama all along the way.

Corn Maze Season: It’s A-Maizing!

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Harriet, Brian, Grace, Thea and Nora enjoying the Cool Patch Pumpkin entertainment.

My friends were dropping off their daughter at UC Davis and decided to make the Cool Patch Pumpkin corn maze a family adventure on opening day. The Watloves group managed to navigate the maze in just 1 hour 15 minutes. This left them time to play in the corn “bath”: a giant mass of dried corn kernels.

I asked Thea, the Rotary exchange student from Sweden, what she thought of it all. “It was fun,” Thea said. She said there was nothing like it in Sweden. She’s from a small town near the Arctic circle and is learning a lot about Northern California from her host family.

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Grace, Brian and Thea celebrate finding their way out of the maze.

While participants are provided a map and the occasional raised bridge to get their bearings in the tall stalks, the corn maze does provide an additional challenge as the furrows make for uneven walking. Maybe this is less of a problem as the season progresses and many feet have tramped the maze. There is an escape route for people who find themselves panicking. The website warns maze navigators not to call 9-1-1. I wanted to know if they handed out wands that send up sparks–alas only in Harry Potter novels. The Watloves benefited from a full moon and started while it was still light enough to read the map. Everyone must be out of the maze (and off the grounds) by 10 p.m. sharp, so the last entrants are allowed at 8 p.m.

All of the “fun” is affordable at $15 per person. Dixon (maze located at 6150 Dixon Avenue West) is close to the Bay Area and just 10 minutes from UC Davis.

Irresistible Sea Otters

otter-3As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I love the emails I receive reminding me of Sea Otter Awareness Week. I signed up to get an additional email everyday this week! Seven guaranteed smiles! I am willing to risk cuteness overload.

otter-1I have blogged about the sea otters before and their comeback on the Central Coast. But I was reminded of the role they play in our ecosystem when I read a story in Sonoma magazine about volunteer divers who are removing the sea urchins by hand from the kelp forests off the coast of Sonoma County to preserve the abalone population. Human beings are playing the role of the missing sea otter from the kelp forest.

Oh, the adorable sea otter is also a vital member of our coastal community. Is it imaginable that sea otters might expand their habitat to the North Coast?

To learn more about sea otters, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium website.

Celebrating USA Public Lands!

Yosemite NPLDThere are many different types of public lands in the United States, including local parks, state parks, national forests, and national parks. Yesterday was National Public Lands Day and I didn’t want to step past it. So much of my identify as a daughter of the West is associated with the open space protected by various public land covenants, especially those by the federal government.

I have ridden a horse on the public trails in the Sierra Nevada, walked and hiked among the redwoods and douglas firs of Yosemite and Redwood national parks. Our sensibilities around public access to the coast and to the sacred natural spaces is under attack. There are always people ready to exploit it for personal profit. I am so thankful that even something as small as the Effie Yeaw Nature Study Area in suburban Sacramento preserves a little bit of the wildness of Sacramento Valley and still remains for me and my grandson to enjoy. We only saw the fresh deer poop, not the deer themselves, but the potential remains to see something wild a short 20 minute car ride from his house. I do not want to take this for granted.

I also just learned from a father of a 4th grade student, that the National Park Foundation gives 4th graders and their families free park entry throughout the year. I hope all families with children around this age take advantage of this gift.

I’m going to sign off now and look at my calendar to find a time to visit Yosemite!

When Your Hometown Is Suddenly Discovered as a Destination

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Sacramento is the City of Trees even if some boosters are trying to make it the “Farm to Fork” capital. Tree lined streets make our city more livable in the height of 100+ degree summer days.

I’ve lived in Sacramento most of my life. For the first 25 years everyone was content with being the Capitol and a rapidly growing suburban county. As Sacramento-native Joan Didion called it, people had a more mid-western sensibility about their wealth and well-being. Our problems were either hidden or denied. The community was segregated with waves of white flight out of South Sacramento to the burgeoning suburbs.

Our claim to fame was that we were “close to everything.” It was a great place to stop if you were on your way to Tahoe, or Napa, or San Francisco or Yosemite. Sacramento is at the confluence of two great rivers–the Sacramento and American–and a gateway to the Delta, but it’s attraction for the longest time was it was at the confluence of two great highways–Interstate Highways 5 and 80.

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Sacramento has long enjoyed a vibrant artists community. Every year more murals are added in Midtown and Downtown. 

People in the community liked that it was a less expensive, quieter place to raise children. People would complain about “the traffic” that wouldn’t register on the Los Angeles traffic meter. We also don’t have to worry about earthquakes and our floods appear to be managed for now.

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Local artists Suzanne Adan and Michael Stevens created Kit & Kaboodle, an exhibit for kids at the Crocker Art Museum. The Crocker is very kid friendly, and has a great cafe for adults.

The developers who ran local politics began to beat the drum for putting Sacramento on the map and making it a world class city. In the mid-eighties they had a lot of new houses to sell in Natomas, so land speculators and builders began the dubious proposition of making Sacramento famous by bringing a professional sports team to town. The Kansas City Kings basketball team arrived in 1985 to great fanfare and a new stadium in Natomas. It did raise Sacramento’s profile but it also gave other cities opportunity to mock us for being a Cowtown.

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My neighbor created this on her fence and I love it!

Periodically ever since, someone–a mayor or other city booster–declares Sacramento a destination. Self-declaration doesn’t count. In the travel world you have to be anointed a destination by the Conde Nast magazines. Or the New York Times travel editor. Preferably both.

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Sunset Magazine and other publications don’t mention the cemetery, but the Old City Cemetery of Sacramento is beautiful and fascinating. Docents offer a wide range of tours.

At last, thanks in large part to the spotlight that Sacramento-native Greta Gerwig shone on our fair city, Sacramento is getting the attention that some would say is long overdue. The New York Times recently released “36 Hours in Sacramento“!  It is so weird to read about the places you eat or shop regularly as destinations. Lovely too.

Once in my first professional job after grad school, the National Geographic hired our little think tank at UC Davis to review an article they were doing on the Great Central Valley. We looked at their map and shook our heads. They had Gilroy on the west side of the Valley. There were other errors as well and they didn’t correct all of the mistakes we identified for them. It made me skeptically at National Geographic maps ever since.

I love the 36 Hours series, but now having read the writer’s suggestions that would have you crisscrossing all over Sactown, I am going to refer to the 36 Hour recommendations but take the schedules with a grain of salt.  Thanks for the shout outs for local favorite restaurants and shopping destinations. We have always had a vibrant arts community and now more people are taking notice.

Sacramento has also been in the news lately because of the police shooting of an unarmed black man. Stephon Clark’s death has tested our community and revealed some problems many would rather ignore. We also have a serious homelessness problem. It appears the city council and county supervisors may finally be ready to deal with the issue. Hopefully we will begin to reform the inequities so we can truly achieve “great” status.

 

I Spy With My Little Eye a Whale

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Brie saw all of these species on her 3 hour cruise with Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

Oh how I wish I could bear being on a boat in the sea! I get seasick even in a kayak on a bay. I really, really want to go whale watching. I am looking into it for my next visit to Monterey Bay. spying

You can see dolphins and whales year round in Monterey Bay. From April 1 to December 14 you will likely see the most variety of species including humpback and blue whales, maybe even orcas. In the winter you will see grey whales.

TripAdvisor suggests 5 star rated Discovery Whale Watch. They advertise a 3 hour cruise for $42 for an adult and a 4 hour cruise for $48.

My friend Brie went out on the bay with Monterey Bay Whale Watch (with her dog!). She loved it, but her dog did not. Their rates are comparable with other cruises. They also offer 8 hour cruises. Given the likelihood I will get sick, I am looking for the most whales in the shortest time!

Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson is highly recommended for anyone who loves the ocean or whales. I’ve been reading it while visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium every day. It explains the surprising evolution of whales and how they may have become gigantic in size.

Of course you cannot visit the aquarium on Cannery Row, or read the last section of Pyenson’s book without wrestling with the impact humankind is having on the ocean and on magnificent creatures like the whales. We have to come to grips with our insatiable consumption of petroleum, and its byproduct plastic, as well as curtail our fishing. Can we do it in time? Will it matter if the earth’s oceans continue to heat up?

I love the ocean and want to be as close as I can be without getting in it. Check out what you can do to love the ocean and reduce plastic pollution.

 

 

 

Crazy Concentration of Little Libraries

Staying on the Monterey Peninsula and need something to read? Head to the corner of Short and Granite Streets in Pacific Grove for the craziest collection of little libraries. There is one on every corner, plus a children’s, YA, and non-fiction little library.

You can also leave behind a book you’ve finished. If you are looking for something new or a cup of coffee, head to The Bookworks at 677 Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove.