Arcata is where… (July 31 2016)

redwoodparkAfter a nice restful night boondocking in Garberville, it is a short jaunt back up to Arcata. Although I am sad to be away from the Ranch, I love being in Arcata.

Why? Let me count the ways!

* It will always be Hippie Central

While some of the original flower children have “grown up” there is always an influx of newer, younger bohemians looking for that Utopia, keeping Arcata the most left-wing town in the U.S. (as far as I know.)

* Big Business (note capital letters) is not welcome here

“That’s why the area remains depressed,” bitch the old-timers who may have once been happy to panhandle for food money. “It’s too anti-business here!” Yes, they burned down every McDonald’s that tried to open shop in town until Mickey D finally got it. “You don’t deserve a McDonald’s!” they said in a huff on their way out. There IS a McDonald’s out on the edge of town, but if you want burgers, you can get great ones at V&N’s or Stars, so who needs terrible fast food? There are no Starbucks, no Barnes & Nobles, no Bed, Bath & Beyond, no Best Buy, no WalMart…


* Everyone is Community Minded

Actually, the town is very supportive of its businesses. Everyone makes an effort to buy local. So if you have a unique product or service (or even a not-so-unique product or service) this is a great place to start. In recent years, there has been an even bigger push for Humboldt Made, in branding and marketing, and as long-time cannabis businesses get ready for the decriminalization of their product, there is much talk about how to “protect” Humboldt weed.

* Creativity Abounds

And they never put on that “I’m an artiste…” attitude. The first time I came here, I met a big group of artists. They were awesomely good, but many had day jobs as car stereo installers, sales clerks, etc. If these people lived in Tokyo, they would have been the biggest sensation! Every small town has its group of artists, but the people here are really, really good. It must be the long, dark winters. Central California is just too nice most of the year to be sitting inside making art (as I found out!)


* Materialism is the scourge

You won’t know that there are any wealthy people here because no one wants to be perceived as materialistic. There are tons of junker cars, junker bikes, thrift stores. Everyone looks like they are wearing 30 year old clothing. I fit right in. Here, Big Dog and I are not the eccentric weirdos we are elsewhere.



In every way. From the Green Party (Arcata elected the first-ever Green party city council majority in 1996 and was the first city in the nation to pass a law nullifying the USA PATRIOT Act) to its eco-consciousness to the land around, everything is green, green, green. It has the most amazing wastewater treatment system in the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, was the first municipality to ban the growth of any type of Genetically Modified Organism within city limits (with exceptions for research and education,) and tons of eco-activists.

* It’s Young

More than 30% of the population is between 18 and 24, and the median age is around 26 years. The City Council is sometimes composed in part by college students. But more than actual chronological age, it’s a youthful town. Or maybe I should say, ageless. My mother who came to visit a few years ago couldn’t stop giggling over all the grey-haired “youngsters” skateboarding around town. We all think we’re 18 here.

* It’s got a Heart

And I don’t mean compassion for the homeless, but a geographical heart. Most American towns no longer have a center. Arcata still has its Plaza and what an active plaza it is! From the weekly Farmer’s Markets to the start of the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race to the Oyster Festival to the political happenings to all the people just hanging out or sleeping, it is a plaza much like the zocalos of Mexico.


* The Local Baseball Team is named after one of my favorite foods

Arcata is home to the Humboldt Crabs, the nation’s longest continuously operated semi-pro baseball team that’s played every season since 1945! And they serve soy dogs at the ballpark.




Back Behind the Redwood Curtain (July 30 2016)

After a furious Fruit Season at the ranch, we are heading back up the coast to Arcata. We don’t know where we will spend the night but it’s unlikely we will get all the way up there today.

A wildfire’s been blazing near Big Sur and we start to smell smoke as we approach the Salinas Valley. It thickens near King City and by Gilroy it is dense (and fighting with Big Time Garlic Smells – is the Garlic Festival going on right now?) and remains until we get through San Jose. We’re on Highway 280 now.

I always look forward to the statue of Padre Junipero Serra pointing the way, next to the highway near Palo Alto. It’s a terrible rendition and looks as much like Yoda as it does Father Serra.

“Did we pass Yoda yet?”

“No, I think it’s coming up.”

“Was it before or after Yoda House?” That’s the name I’ve given to the strange bubbly stucco house with rounded roofs and organic form. It’s actually more popularly known as the “Flintstone House.”

Yoda House comes first, a beacon of bright orange on the hill. And then, Father Junipero Yoda appears, in his dune-colored glory, his index finger pointing accusingly.

We make “pull my finger” jokes about it each time we pass by. Immature us, we never tire of it.

We should have known better than to be traveling on a weekend because as we enter San Francisco, we find ourselves in the worse congestion ever.

“My god, it’s taking us 2 hours to get from the south end of San Francisco to the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge!”

“And look at all those people on the bridge!”

It wasn’t even a very nice day.

Photo from a better (and less congested) day. Suicide Prevention Hotlines abound here.

“Did it just take us an hour to cross the bay?”

The heatwave has not abated and gets hotter and hotter as we go up into Mendocino. Hopland is so sizzling, we just have to stop for a beer.

“Let’s get dinner at Taqueria Maria in Willits!”

Taqueria Maria is a simple Mexican diner with terrific food, as well as groceries and sundries. We found this place last year and it has become our favorite spot for chow. The tacos were as tasty as ever and the tostada with ceviche was still huge and yummmm.

Hunger sated, we power on, cruising through Standish Hickey to see if there are any campsites open (no) and keep going …all the way to Garberville. It’s getting dark.

“I don’t want to drive in the dark,” says Big Dog. “Not through the best part of 101.”

Just outside of town is a quarry. It’s gated and locked and probably won’t be open until Monday so we just park in front of their gate for the night.


Monterey and Carmel (June 28 2016)

dsc06544The day after our night in the Walmart parking lot, we drove through Napa with its many vineyards, tourists and nice restaurants. It is beautiful and the small towns are very upscale. But here, too, it is incredibly hot.

Relief finally comes when we get to the Bay Area.

Big Dog wanted to look at some properties in the Carmel Valley, so we take the Laureles Grade to Carmel Valley, then to Monterey to stay at his friends M and S’s place. Big Dog met M and her partner at that time while he was traveling through Central and South America, probably in Ecuador. Now, she is a silver haired lady with a funny, former hippie husband and Gracie, their corgi princess.

Their house in an old residential neighborhood has a huge lot below where we can boondock while going on our properties scout.

Monterey is sunny while we are there but the Carmel coast is fogged in and surprisingly busy. The fog is fine. The crowds are not. Guess we won’t be moving here!

Two days later, we are back on the road, going down Highway 1 as it hugs the coast, through the cliffs of Big Sur, the beaches of San Simeon and beyond. It is busy with summertime traffic but still gorgeous.

We try to get back to the Ranch before the sun sets but it beats us and we drive the last few miles in the dark.


Heatwave at the Lakes (June 25 2016)

dsc06538Big Dog would be happy to stay in Arcata but we need to get back to the Ranch for the Fruit Season. Unlike last year, we are getting a bumper crop of peaches, nectarines and plums.

“Let’s go through Lake County and check it out,” he suggests.

“Are you sure you want to leave now? The Kate Wolf Music Festival is going on in Laytonville.” I’m imagining huge traffic problems around there.

Thankfully, it was right in the middle of the festival, so attendees were neither coming nor going and we slipped right by.

After filling up at the Coyote Valley Casino (“Howl Yeah!”), we get off 101 to Highway 20 and to the first lake in Lake County: Lake Mendocino.

dsc06524It’s small and pretty but very busy with the summer weekend crowd. Just beyond it, we take a stroll through a tiny, old-timey town, then to Clear Lake about the size of Le Mans in Switzerland. They even have a town called Lucerne on the eastern shore. Unfortunately, it is hellishly hot everywhere.

dsc06529dsc06532We drive around the lake, stopping at a State Park for a look around but all the campgrounds are taken.

“There’s a Walmart nearby,” says Big Dog. We had heard from many RVers about being able to boondock in the Walmart parking lot. Not the most appealing choice, but the easiest.

It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it is quite busy until they close, and then noisy with leaf blowers and street sweepers. It finally quiets down about the time the temps begin to drop and we can finally sleep. I feel like one of those homeless people living out of their car!


Highway 101 – Part 2 (June 12 2016)

dsc07371Big Dog and Bailey pick me up in Berkeley in the late morning and we begin the long haul north. Big Dog is already in a foul mood from getting badly lost on his way to my friend’s house in Berkeley – he’s gotten too used to having his own personal navigator (me) – and the traffic towards the Richmond Bridge is absolutely horrific.

We don’t like this stretch between SF and just beyond Santa Rosa. It’s mostly a blur of fast driving, agitated drivers, agile maneuvering. Every time we make this trip, I am astounded and a bit heartbroken at the development between Salinas and Santa Rosa. New lanes keep appearing on the highway, towns are getting bypassed.

But then, the last strip mall falls behind you and you are back in Rural California. Shopping centers are replaced by rolling hills covered in grapes; pretty little farmhouses take the place of ugly McMansions.

For me, Northern California begins with the first tie-dye village of Hopland, home of Real Goods, the solar people.

Willits is “Gateway to the Redwoods” according to the big sign that greets visitors traveling north, or “Heart of Mendocino County” if you are traveling south. They are 2 sides of the same sign that spans Route 101 now. But not for long. A bypass has been under construction and soon, you will have to get off 101 to drive through the town.

From here north is my favorite part of 101. There’s Richardson’s Grove and the Standish-Hickey State Park with its giant redwoods. And you can’t forget the roadside attractions, either. Confusion Hill (Is Seeing Believing?), the One Tree House, carved inside a real tree (Believe it or not!), the One Log House, the Drive Thru Tree, the Bigfoot souvenir shop.

Route 101 goes through, or by, other tie-dye towns as it snakes along with the Eel River. Garberville, Redway… then the Pacific Lumber Company town of Scotia. Everyone who lives there works for The Company, or services those who do.

As the redwoods open up, there are fields and wetlands and green, green pastures where mom and kid cows munch, lounge and frolic. Then, finally the Eureka/Arcata area, circled by the tallest redwoods, teensy slivers of sandbars and breathtaking wetlands.

dsc06476The Redwood Curtain used to be much thicker and Arcata, a pretty little town of fanciful Victorian architecture, colorful denizens and majestic redwoods, was much more hidden. Today, it seems to be on everyone’s map and the town is filled with out-of-towners.

But some things remain the same.

A few years ago, as we arrived and were driving through downtown Arcata, an old hippie stood in front of our truck at a stop sign and “flew” his glass pipe over the hood of our vehicle like a benediction. Nice to be back!


Highway 101 – Part 1 (June 11 2016)

Sprockets, Big Dog and Tanuki are on the road again, but this time, with Bailey, the Blue-eyed Bitch.

She’s the border collie-terrier mix that adopted us over the past several years and has become my Best Friend. No one knows how it happened but she was living on her own as a street girl for years before Animal Services trapped her. (Bailey was almost too smart for them and it took weeks for them to get her.)

“My mom took one look at her and adopted her, but she was too wild,” explained K, one of our ranch residents. “So she told me to find her a new home.”

Yes. Pretty, but with a serious personality disorder. It was easy for K to find a new home, but once there, Bailey bit her new owner and got sent back. Lucky me.

“We understand each other,” I told K. It takes a bitch to know a bitch.

dsc06269“Are you sure you want to take her to Arcata?” asked Big Dog.

No. I wasn’t sure at all. But as our departure kept getting pushed back, I would lie awake at night stressing about leaving her behind, so at the last minute, we packed up her blanket, toys, collar, leash and food with the rest of our stuff going north.

I was scheduled to attend an anti-nuke gathering in San Francisco and Berkeley, so we left in the morning, going up Highway 41 from the coast to Atascadero, then onto 101 towards San Francisco.

Bailey is good in a vehicle but it was new being in Sprockets and sharing the front seat with me.

“She should be in the back,” Big Dog warned, but The Bitch has a mind of her own and there is no telling her what to do.

Bailey’s “other” favorite seat


Humboldt is where Big Dog went to University, became an adult, had adventures, ran restaurants, made a documentary, started buying real estate, formed a corporation… In other words, roots spread deep and wide. He’s been on this route a million times but in the last decade plus, so have I.

I know all the north-south highways in California like the back of my hand now and used to pride myself in being a damn good cheap gas spotter. Today, thanks to the Gas Buddy app, my talents have become obsolete.

Though Interstate 5 has many attractions (not the least of which is the amazing feedlot in Coalinga), my favorite route is the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) and Highway 101. Through the Central Coast region, it is all rolling hills, vineyards, oaks and cattle. Then, the land flattens out into a giant agrarian vista. It’s fun to try to guess what’s growing out there. There’re always different kinds of lettuce. Some tomatoes, beans… and, of course, at Gilroy it’s garlic, garlic, garlic. The AIR smells like garlic. They don’t call it the Garlic Capital of the World for nothing! And as you’re daydreaming about Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley, all too soon you approach the Bay Area.

Traffic is terrible. I thought I had hours to spare, but now it looks like I will get to The City just in time.

Big Dog and Bailey continue across the Bay and on to Orinda to spend the night at his friend’s place. As they roll away, I see Bailey has completely taken over my seat.

Activist friends at Union Square in SF

Back in Balandra (Feb 21 2016)

It’s a beautiful bay and the manta ray ballet was amazing, but at 7am, it is already windy so we have to go find somewhere else.

DSC05781We spend some time at the restaurant on their WiFi, slowly sipping their coffee. By the time we are ready to go, the Sunday crowd starts arriving. At first, it’s just a few family groups, then a number of gringo groups with jet skis, kayaks and small boats. We pass a multitude of cars as we leave.

DSC05779“I need to check tire pressure. They feel kind of low,” says Big Dog. Luckily, there is a Pemex just out of Los Planes.

“The back tire has a nail in it!” he announces.

Holy shit.

“As long as it stays there, it’s a slow leak,” he adds.

Well, we should get to a llantera, a tire shop, in no time. They are all over the roads in Mexico, especially near gnarly topes.

DSC05787We go down potholed sections of the road carefully, heading towards La Paz. There are numerous depositos (to get beer) and a few mecanicos (to service other parts of your vehicle) yet we don’t pass a single llantera until we are into La Paz proper. Finally, in town, on one of the biggest roads, we spot a big tire shop and pull in. There are just two guys working there – the main one looks like he’s just a kid – but they are finishing up with a sedan.

DSC05793DSC05791DSC05792They quickly fix the tire (not the one that’s been in Stuckyville twice) for P100, and back on the road you go, first for some lunch.


DSC05797A big, plastic lobster is standing on its tail on one street corner. The open air seafood place is busy with customers – a good sign. We get a big mixed shellfish cocktail to share. Now, the Mexican seafood cocktails are different from the kind you know in the U.S. They are a mix of seafood and chopped onions, tomatoes, peppers and avocado in a kind of cold tomato soup, or juice. Sometimes it’s Clamato. They come with an assortment of bottled salsas and tostadas and soda crackers called Salditas. This one had shrimp, different clams, caracoles, scallops and octopus. Mmmmm.

DSC05796DSC05795We haven’t really seen the center of La Paz yet so we park on a side street and walk around a bit. Even the tourist zone is better here than in the south.

Bars and restaurants line the street in front of the malecón which is decorated with large sculptures, like Puerto Vallarta, but here they are all different styles. The range of quality is also quite astounding – who curated these? Or did they accept all entries? Some of the sculptures are downright strange. The recycling trash bins must be fun for the kids, though, shaped into cute seals and turtles.

From there, it’s out to the beaches. Every one is packed today, a Sunday. Balandra is so full there is no more parking, with cars and trucks overflowing onto the road.

“Let’s try Tecolote.”

DSC05819DSC05820DSC05821There are plenty of people here, too, but Mexicans far outnumber the gringos. Lots of families and lots of groups of young people. Everyone is happy. Everyone is smiling, waving, saying “hello” and “good afternoon” to us foreigners. There are mariachis as well as music escaping from cars. I just love love love this Mexico.

DSC05815DSC05820The beach is nice and long but the small waves are pretty frisky so hardly anyone is actually in the water. A few bars have some gringos, glomming together here like they do in other beach towns, and there are about a dozen campers scattered throughout. There are also climbers on the big rock behind you. For a moment, we consider staying, but Big Dog likes Balandra and we were looking forward to kayaking it, so as the sun goes down, we move, hoping the day visitors are pulling out.


DSC05816Balandra is still busy but people are moving out and we get a parking spot in front of the bay. It is extreme low tide – nearly the entire bay is exposed!

While others pack up and move out, we set up table, chairs and the BBQ. There is a full moon out there in the eastern sky already. Soon we are one of the few vehicles left…

End of Day Miles: 1710 mi.