Category Archives: California

Checking in From Northern California and Sending Thanks

I just wanted to send a quick note from Chico, California where we have come for an unknown amount of time. Our course of travel in the Upper Midwest got a little thrown off, but how great it is to be back with our family again! We are still RVers though and continue to reside in our little travel trailer. Although we are stationary at this time, I plan to continue to write blogs of our adventures in the last few months. Since my blogs are always behind, I still have quite a bit to write about our exploring in Indiana and Michigan. So stay tuned for more to come shortly! I also wanted to say thanks for the nice comments of concern on the last post of #beth’sdriver! We sure appreciate hearing from you!

Visiting Salvation Mountain and Slab City

Salvation Mountain

In the isolated desert of Imperial County, Southern California lies an interesting attraction I had been wanting to visit for several years. Leonard Knight had a love for Jesus he wanted to share and began doing this in 1984 by building a mountain. The first mountain he created collapsed in 1989, but he persisted in building another. Leonard used hay bales and clay he found onsite to construct his mountain, covering it with lots and lots of paint. In the year 2000, Salvation Mountain was deemed a National Folk Art site and in 2002 a National Treasure by Congress.

Salvation Mountain

When I first saw the mountain I was surprised how colorful and freshly painted it looked. Conditions in the desert are harsh and ongoing maintenance is needed to repair the mountain. The property is maintained by a non-profit group. The day we visited a volunteer crew was out cleaning and painting. The volunteers come from neighboring Slab City with even small children and their pets getting involved in the project. I noticed that one dog had a few large stripes of paint across its back. One woman who was working told me that the kids probably agreed to help because free pizza was being provided for the workers.

A yellow brick road starts at the bottom of the “Sea of Galilee” and winds its way up to the top. I climbed up there for a far reaching view of the desert and a look down the mountain side. In the photo above, you can see the beginning of the yellow brick road at the far left.

Next to the mountain Leonard built an enclosed area with passageways leading to several rooms. In a couple of the rooms are large trees he constructed using old tires for trunks and real tree limbs. Throughout the area he incorporated things he found in local dumps such as the car door I am standing next to pictured above. The rooms have also been brightly painted with images and signs. Although he planned to live in one of the rooms, most of the time he lived in his truck.

Rows of empty paint cans are a testament to all the work that has been done to build and preserve this one of a kind place. Many people seem to agree how special it is, because there were lots of visitors the day we were there. The mountain has been the subject of news programs, music videos and was featured in the film, “Into the Wild.”

Not only is the mountain painted and decorated, but also a number of vehicles on the property, including a tractor, Vespa, several cars and trucks. I liked the way the window of one old truck frames this view of another one.

In 2014, Leonard died at the age of 82 in a care facility near San Diego. It appears that his dreams for Salvation Mountain have been realized as many are coming and reading his messages of God and love. Whether they leave spiritually energized is of course up to each individual. I was impressed with Leonard’s faith, hard work and ingenuity.

Slab City next to Salvation Mountain is a community like no where else. It is here that people live off the grid, some for a short period of time in their RV’s to escape cold winter weather. But others are staying here indefinitely. Can you imagine living in a barren desert with no services such as running water, sewer, electricity or trash pickup? In spite of so many deprivations, a number of people are making a go of the place and have carved out a unique community. Many of them have found themselves with no where else to live. Some lack the desire to conform to a “normal” way of life and want to be left alone. This area was once a marine base which disbanded after World War II. Squatters moved in to take advantage of free public land and placed trailers, vehicles or built make shift residences on the concrete slabs that were left from the base. A former sentry post pictured above now welcomes visitors to “the last free place.”

Like Salvation Mountain, I had been wanting to visit Slab City for years. I watched you tube videos about the place and read news articles. I was curious what it would look like in person and once we got there we took a drive, stopping at a few places along the way. The “Range” is the most well known hangout and is the gathering place for live music on Saturday nights as well as other special events. It supposedly can draw quite a crowd. I would get a kick out of attending an event here, but Mark was not as enthusiastic about the idea. In front of the stage are rows of wooden benches as well as couches and chairs that have seen much better days, but still found comfy enough for spectators.

Following the sign, we drove on to the “library” where used books can be borrowed. This is probably the most disheveled and dusty library one could visit but a fascinating place to poke around. When I stopped in, a young woman was working at the Counter while talking to two visitors. I noticed one guy dusting off books on a shelf with a whisk broom. I was surprised at how many books could be found here. There was even a section with the title, “Homeschooling.” Outside the makeshift building were sitting areas with the oft seen worn out couches and chairs.

Moving on with the quest to find a cold drink for the often thirsty Mark, we stopped at a colorful trailer that he thought might be some sort of store. A lady from across the way came over to talk and told me the trailer was actually an “Airbnb” that she was helping to operate. A friend of hers had painted the trailer. I pondered the thought of an Airbnb in the middle of Slab City and couldn’t imagine it since I assumed there were no basic amenities. But when I looked up California Ponderosa I found a website listing several abodes for rent including the trailer, a small cabin and a barn offering water and solar power. You never know what you might find here, but apparently Slab City can also be a vacation spot if interested.

I couldn’t resist a stop to read the signs at one residence. This person had cleverly set up a “wishing basket” and a “wish list.” We didn’t have anything with us to put in the wish basket. I noted at other Slab City spots water seemed to be an often requested item, not surprising when water doesn’t run freely and must be brought in.

We were surprised to see an ice cream truck and stopped to see if they might have a soda as well as a drumstick per Mark’s request. It was yes to the drumstick, but no for a soda. But a young man who had stopped at the truck told me there were sodas across the street. I headed over to the makeshift dwelling called “Katamari” and went in.

This seemed to be a combination hangout, bar and community water source with a gathering of 10 people lounging about. I felt like a fish out of water. A tiny, cute baby pig playing with two dogs first caught my attention. I asked about the possibility of a Diet Coke and was told they had no diet drinks and I was the first person he could remember stopping in to ask for one. I told him it was for my husband and I never touched the stuff. One of the “proprietors” agreed, saying, “too much aspartame and not good for you,” as I eyed them filling shot glasses on the counter and putting something in the liquid. A menu sign was propped on the counter offering burgers, hot dogs (regular and vegan), grilled cheese and fries. Not sure how these items were cooked as no kitchen was in sight. This place was a true Slab City cultural experience.

As we continued we passed evidence of other enterprises such as a sign pointing to the “Internet Cafe,” advertised as the only place to get online and offering free coffee. Another sign advertised breakfast for those hungry in the A.M. At one residence a prosperous looking garden was in the works. I felt sorry for several people trying to dig a camper out of a sandy wash. Here at the Slabs you have to be careful where you drive, especially off road. Our last stop was a site dedicated to the arts called “East Jesus.” At the entrance you know you are in for something different when you see a car covered with old doll parts.

One of the docents explained that the installations were all about making art out of trash and junk. He told us that artists come from around the world to work here and the “outdoor museum” is always expanding. There was plenty to see from the barely bizarre to the extremely bizarre. We walked past a collapsed house, towers, old vehicles, a plane and statues. Much of the stuff is hard to explain but amusing to see. One installation featured old televisions piled on top of each other with sayings on the white painted screens. Plastic chairs were provided in front in case people wanted to sit and ponder the meaning.

One crazily decorated car was a favorite for photo ops. People stood in the seat and did different poses or just sat like I did. Next to the car you can see an elephant made from old tires.

I hope you enjoyed our tour of Salvation Mountain and the Slabs, both unusual places to visit. In the next blog we settle in Tucson for a little while.

Holiday Fun in Northern California

We have been staying at the French Camp RV Park north of Manteca for over a month now and really enjoying being back near family and friends!   It has been a fun holiday season and I thought I would share some of our activities and photos.   Spending time with the grandkids and family was a goal and we were able to share with them some of the season highlights.   Luke tried out for his church’s Christmas play and won a part.   The group practiced for about four months and it was quite a production with lots of singing, dancing and stories about the birth of a very special baby in Bethlehem.   In the photo above, Luke plays a cow and can be seen second from the right (not just a cow, but the head cow).   After the play we went out for a big sushi dinner celebration, Luke’s choice.  For a young guy, he is a pretty good sushi eater!

The day after the Christmas play, a group of friends of our daughter Shannon and son-in-law Jonathan got together at their house for Christmas caroling in the neighborhood.    I hadn’t been caroling in some years and it was a vocal workout and a fun night.   We had a good-sized group of adults and kids and we stopped at a number of homes and saw some amazing decorations and lights.   Hopefully we brought some holiday cheer to a number of families that night!   See photo below.

One night Shannon, Jonathan, Luke, Levi and myself went to the Folsom Zoo Wild Nights and Holiday Lights event.   We were able to walk all around this small zoo that was decorated with many lights and Christmas trees.   We weren’t sure if any animals would be up at night to greet us but we were in luck.   We saw wolves, bear, tigers, donkeys, raccoon, bobcat and parrots.

Our grandson Levi is in kindergarten and on the last day of school before winter break, all of the kindergarten classes put on a program for family members and friends.   They sang quite a few songs and really got into the holiday spirit!   After the program we were invited to their classrooms for many treats.   In the picture Levi is on the back row, sixth from the left.

We had an early Christmas celebration with Shannon, Jonathan, Luke and Levi before they went to Texas to celebrate Christmas with Jonathan’s family.   Our son Matt and daughter-in-law Emma from the Los Angeles area also got to join us.   It was great to all be together again!

We had a tasty brunch, opened gifts and enjoyed each other’s company.   In the photo below, Mark wears his chauffeur hat he got – the perfect gift since he always talks about how he is my “driver” as we explore around the country together.

The grandkids kept things lively as we ran around shooting laser guns at each other and watched them race their new remote control cars on the street – crashing, tumbling upside down, running into us and trying out new obstacles, like the ramp in the photo below.

We then played the fun Saran Wrap ball game which has become a bit of a tradition.   Shannon and I before the game wrapped prizes in layer after layer of Saran Wrap creating a big ball.   To play, the person next to the first unwrapper rolls two die while the person quickly unwraps layers.   Any prizes that fall out the person gets to keep.   Once the roller hits doubles the person has to stop unwrapping and pass the ball to the person next to them and then starts rolling the die.   This goes on until the ball has been completely unwrapped.   In the photo below, Levi looks at the treats he unwrapped with the green plastic ball next to him.

There were 23 at my extended family’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities in El Dorado Hills.   It was a delight to see and catch up with so many family members again!   On Christmas Eve Dan hosted a marvelous homemade Cioppino seafood dinner set up in his garage.   In the photo below, my sister Barbara, Dan and nephew Jesse get the crab ready.

After we all ate dinner we played bingo, a family tradition that has been going on for so long that I have lost track of how many years.   The fun part of bingo is the many gifts or prizes.   If you bingo you can choose one or steal someone else’s.   It got louder and livelier as the game went on.   The bingo prizes used to be primarily simple items and often times gag gifts that sometimes reappeared year after year.   But now they have evolved to becoming nicer and more expensive.

Christmas Day was at my niece Elaine and and nephew Phillip’s house and they put on quite a gourmet meal.   My nephew Phillip is a whiz at prime rib and he had lots of meat to get ready, two big slabs.

There are actually a few gourmets in the family including my sister Barbara who always makes large pans of the most delicious yeast rolls you will ever taste.   Her rolls are demanded for every holiday dinner, it wouldn’t be one without them.   In addition, she and my nieces made a fancy four layer mousse cake for dessert that took parts of two days of their time.   It was beautiful to look at and just as good to eat, see photo below.   Besides this cake, they also made two large glass dishes of trifle for Christmas Eve dessert – one was cranberry and the other gingerbread.   For those that don’t know, trifle is a dessert made with sponge cake, fruit, custard and whipped cream.

After all that gourmet eating and great conversation it was quite a switch to go back to our quiet little trailer and more simple food.

We had wonderful holiday celebrations and hope the same with you!

Where We Are – November 19, 2018

I wanted to do a blog post in “real time” to give an update on where we are now as well as where we have been in our travels during the last few weeks.    We arrived to Chico, California last Friday and are visiting for a week with my parents, leaving the day after Thanksgiving.   We are looking forward to the holiday with family as our daughter Shannon, son-in-law Jonathan and grandsons Luke and Levi will also be coming to Chico for Thanksgiving.   In my last blog I wrote about exploring Kentucky.   After we left there we went a short distance for a week stay in Tennessee before heading east to our camp along the Mississippi River near the town of West Memphis.   Then we traveled further west for a five night stay in Oklahoma City.    In future blogs I will continue to write about our experiences in those places.    In addition, I still have posts I want to do on our summer travels through the New England states, so lots more to come!    As I write this we have now traveled and stayed in 31 states!   Mark and I like the photo above because in our travels we often have to park near the “big rigs” when stopping for a break or meal since our truck and trailer wouldn’t fit in a regular parking spot.   But parking next to those rigs makes us look so tiny and out of place.

Once we left Oklahoma the push west began, especially to get through Northern New Mexico and Arizona before the cold weather.    A storm front with snow and temperatures in the teens at night was due to hit so we drove more miles each day then we originally had planned as temperatures below freezing play havoc on our water hoses and system.    While passing through the Texas panhandle we had to stop for a late lunch at the Big Texan in Amarillo, a famous steak house with lots of character and great food.   I couldn’t pass up a steak here even though I felt some guilt since I had eaten a steak the night before at Cattlemen’s, the famous steakhouse in Oklahoma City.   No more red meat for me for awhile!    Eating some homemade gelato for dessert in the big chair wasn’t too bad either.

After stopping twice for the night in New Mexico and a two night stop in Kingman, Arizona, we found ourselves back in California after being gone for almost 15 months.   We stopped for several nights at one of our all time favorite camping spots – Orange Grove RV Park outside of Bakersfield.   If you like oranges, you would really like this place as it is set in the middle of an orange orchard with RV sites between the trees.   When the oranges are ripe, usually beginning in December, guests can pick all the oranges they want during their stay.   We always seem to find ourselves here just before they are fully ripe.   But it is still fun to hang around the orange trees admiring the fruit and enjoying the ambience of being in a citrus grove.    They were almost ripe and I couldn’t resist trying one, or maybe several.    Shh, don’t tell anyone, we are loyal customers here (smile).   This park is really large and a great place to walk.   Around the outside of the Park are more orchards and pickers were out there harvesting with their ladders and boxes.

Another great thing about staying here is that the California Fruit Depot is just around the corner and you can stock up on oranges there.    When we visited we watched a number of workers sorting and boxing fruit in the packing shed next door to the store.   This is the most generous place I have seen with their samples.   Not only do they sell varieties of citrus, but they also have lots of dates, dried fruits, nuts and candies, most which can be freely sampled from little containers throughout their very small store.    The place is so easygoing that two years ago when we were here a worker forgot to ring up a bag of oranges I was buying after totaling my purchases and told me I could just have them for free.

Leaving Bakersfield we started our long drive north up Highway 99 through California’s Central Valley, the saddest drive I have done in my beloved state.    During the whole trip the air quality was horrible due to the terrible Camp Fire still burning north in Butte County as well as fires south in the Los Angeles area.   All we saw were brown and grey skies with limited visibility.   It got even worse once we reached the outskirts of Chico (photos above and below).   We drove past burned fields and saw where the fire jumped the highway to the other side.   Most readers are probably aware of the Camp Fire, but for those who are not, it is the worst fire in California’s history and as I write, it is still only about 66 percent contained.   The death toll has continued to rise each day with 77 deaths now reported and close to 1,000 still missing or unaccounted for.   I am sure this will be remembered as one of the greatest tragedies in California’s history as the town of Paradise, population 26,000 was virtually destroyed.   It is unbelievably sad what people have gone through.

Although the fire came close, the city of Chico was fortunately spared.   The city mobilized to take in evacuees with shelters opened as well as a tent city next to Walmart.   Most of these evacuees have nothing to return to as their homes and businesses were wiped out.   We arrived to hazardous air quality in Chico with a number of residents wearing special masks with air filters that have been passed out by agencies or sold in certain stores.   My parents acquired masks as well which they have been wearing when venturing out.   The recommendation by authorities is stay inside which we have been doing these past several days.   Not only Chico’s air was hazardous but also the Sacramento area which was noted a few days ago to be the city with the most hazardous air quality in the world,  worse than the big cities in China and India.   Even San Francisco which is some distance away has suffered very poor air quality.    Very unhealthy air has pretty much hit all the Northern California Central Valley cities, including our former residence Modesto.   Luckily, the air here in Chico is starting to improve and today we saw less brown sky and a little more blue.   Below is a picture of me and my parents with their masks.

In spite of the tragedy around us, we are having a really good visit here in Chico.   We have had so much to talk about and catch up on!   Great conversations, special times!    Below, another photo of my parents looking hale and hearty in their hand knit Irish wool sweaters.   Thanks for checking in and reading!