Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And now, for a look at the weather

Camp Connell, Ca. -- We needed some snow.
Well, we got it. The photo shows the scene out our living room window at noon today, with the "more snow" weather forecast on TV. They say it may quit tonight for two days, then start again.
In the last eight days or so we have five to six feet of new snow.
It is enough to satisfy me, actually, but the TV folks say we are still behind the snowpack needed to avoid another drought year this summer and fall.
Don't get me wrong, we really like snow to admire and play in. But there are certain issues: Pat had to spend the night down the mountain to make a scheduled 7:30 a.m. meeting at our granddaughter's school; the meeting was canceled because of snowy roads; we missed church Sunday, and two board meetings were canceled due to icy roads; I can't go skiing either because the roads are too bad, or I am too timid to ski in deep powder, or as we call it here, Sierra Cement.

I could not get out the dirt road to the highway this morning even in my truck because of 18 inches of new, very wet, snow.

It was so wet Mr.Miller, the plow fellow, had to use a giant front-end loader to clear the road enough for his snow blowers to get to our driveway.
The top photo shows him clearing the road at the top of my driveway, and the bottom photo shows the blower clearing the drive by our doorway. My semi-buried truck is barely visible.

They did get it cleared enough for us to get in and out.
For now I am using this blogging break as an excuse not to go outside and shovel the garage entrance clear of the snow now piled up against it.

No problem.

Tonight, I will just throw a burger on the barbie and kick back and, probably, watch the snow. That's the barbie in the picture. It took about an hour to get the deck cleaned off, less than normal thanks to son Zack repairing the deck blower.

I think I'll have some fun and stay in and work on my taxes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Living in a post card

Our local web site posted a short video today of the road conditions in our neighborhood, after about a foot of new snow.

The webmaster referred to the scenery here as "living in a post card."
You can see what he means by following the link and clicking on the YouTube video.

The entire video is over seven minutes, maybe too much for most of you. If it is, advance to the last minute. Those who know this part of the country, or who have visited our home, will recognize the last minute of the video as showing the ride from Dorrington, home of the Lube Room saloon/ bar and grill, a quarter mile to the Camp Connell General Store (and our post office), and the turnoff to our side road.


Or the direct YouTube link


If you check the links too late, you'll have a chance to see how a local non-profit web site provides news and information and community links to the 104 full time, and hundreds more weekend and vacation folk who call this area home.


(Technical stuff) The picture below is of granddaughter Delaney during a snowball fight with Pat a week or so ago. The drive photos are of the new snow that fell this week.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hearst "Castle," or, where the money went

The five mile driveway from Hearst's harbor to his "house,"with the private airport still owned by the family.

San Simeon, CA - One of the more extraordinary state parks in the U.S., if not the world, has to be Hearst Castle, the palace that William Randolph Hearst built for himself on the family ranch he inherited from his mother.
Technically, it is a State Historical Monument, but it comes under the park system and is run like one.

If your idea of a state park is a campground, metal boxes to protect your food from animals, and lots of trees and hiking trails, forget about it. This place is about how the ultra rich spend their money trying to make a beautiful place even more so. You can decide if Hearst made it better, or somewhat tacky.
After almost 30 years of living in California, Pat and I made it a priority this year to visit this beautiful and unusual castle Hearst built in the latter decades of his life. It was, our tour guide said of Hearst building this place, his hobby. It kept him busy, and entertained him in his old age.The main "house" was far to large to get into a picture without an airplane.

It is the location, and the spectacular views, more than the castle, that really impressed us.
Hearst's father made a massive fortune in the silver mines of Nevada in the 1800s and bought thousands of acres of land, including huge ranches here. At one time they stretched for 50 miles along the California coast, they camped here for vacations, and the Hearst family still owns most of the ranch and coast lands surrounding the castle and environs.
Hearst the newspaper mogul, know as "W.R." to friends and "Chief" to his employees, was born into a enormously wealthy family led by a successful but usually absent father and a doting mother. His education was spotty, but polished by numerous "grand tours" of Europe where he caught the collecting bug and acquired a taste for rich decorations.
Hearst's father gave him the San Francisco Examiner which he had accepted for a gambling debt, and hoped it would keep the son out of trouble. It didn't, but young Hearst built the largest newspaper and magazine empire in America with that beginning, and made an even bigger fortune.The main living room, this shows about one-third of it, is where the family children played touch football on rainy days.

What this park is really about, for me anyway, is a era in American history when massive fortunes were made by a very few people, and they had to decide what to do with the money when they got older. After buying a seat in Congress, but failing to buy the governorship or presidency, Hearst built himself a castle. He filled it with celebrities who came when he called, and entertained himself by building, tearing down, rebuilding, and acquiring more stuff.The dining room served the rich, famous and politicians

The tour guide was full of detailed information about Hearst and the place, and did a great job. I came away thinking he admired Hearst, despite his arrogance and questionable business and political tactics.
Biographers have been less kind, but then tour guides are not expected to harp on the sorted details when the family still lives close by. Hearst was not a good husband in the traditional sense. He provided his wife, a dancer he met when she was a teenager, with a rich and famous lifestyle but lived most of his years publicly with his mistress, a movie star barely mentioned during the tour.The outdoor pool, decorated with some imported art and some reproductions.

One of several guest houses.

The indoor pool, with touches of gold leaf, was too scary for some guests so the employees used it.
If you are wondering what I think of all this, here it is:
-- It is a great state park, well run and kept, and shows part of American history we should know and understand;
-- Hearst was arrogant, spoiled, egotistical part looney and part genius. He was not a great journalist, but he knew how to make money;
-- The castle sits on some of the most beautiful land in the United States, and is surrounded by thousands of acres even more spectacular still in family hands. It is preserved as a cattle ranch and will not be developed, which is a good thing even though I suspect the corporation got a tax break for doing that;
-- The park staff does a wonderful job, and every Californian should visit this place.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the current owners of all that land -- the Hearst Ranch -- would donate it all to the state or the U.S. for a park so the public could actually explore California as it once was-- open and wild and spectacular. The current situation is pretty good, but the land remains a ranch raising cattle, with lots of signs telling the public to stay away.
Most of the coast of California is in the hands of corporations or a few rich families. The public sees it from the road or through narrow windows called "beach access," and some of the agreement calls for more access, which is good, but it could be so much better.
It would be one of the best parks in the state, do honor to the family, and in a small way pay back all those workers who toiled for generations for the Hearst Corporation and created all that wealth.
Maybe now is a good time for the next step.

There's lots more available at:
A New York Times story about the land status in 2003:
The current Hearst organization:
The state park:


Morro Bay - falcon watching

Morro Bay, CA - This is a small former-fishing town, once home to a booming abalone fishing operation, that now caters to tourists. And birds. And wildlife.
We found a reasonably-priced room looking over the water, an expensive but tasty Italian dinner, and the next morning lucked into meeting Bob Eiseberg. Bob apparently works for a living driving heavy equipment, but his love is obviously tracking the rare and wonderful Peregrine falcons that nest and play around Morro Rock.
We found Bob standing by his truck, and telescope, enjoying the morning sun and a cup of coffee. He was a wonderful and willing source of information about the wildlife along this part of the California coast.

Bob apparently spends a lot of his time in the parking lot on the south side of Morro Rock, helping people like us, and sharing his telescope.

Shortly after we left him several school groups came in busloads, and the teachers were "looking for Bob."
He told us about two nesting pairs of falcons that live high up on the rock. Showed us through his telescope the a male on the butcher block (dining table) where it devours its prey. Showed us the female on a nearby rock, and discussed the mating and nesting habits.
Here's a bad picture of the nest area:

And a borrowed picture so you can see this beautiful bird:

Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds in the world, they fly up to 200 miles an hour to capture their flying prey on the wing, and we almost killed them all with DDT and other habitat impacts in the mid-1900's. But thanks to the Endangered Species Act, and the resilience of the birds, there are now more than a thousand in the U.S. and Canada. Oddly enough, or maybe not, they have adapted to urban environments and some pairs roost in big city skyscraper window ledges.
But here at Morro Rock, they can find the sort of cliffs and plentiful smaller birds, that make this a more natural home.

You can check out more information about these birds at the following link:

While we were there we walked around the base of the rock to the ocean side,

and checked the tide pools,

and then watched a family of sea otters playing and having breakfast of shellfish.

The otters are plentiful here, and you could spend hours just watching them. They dive down and pick up rocks on the bottom, grab a tasty shellfish or clam, and bring it back to te surface. Then they flip onto their back, sit the rock down on top of their stomach, and crack open the shell so they can get at breakfast.
Sea Otters have the thickest and warmest fur of any sea mammal, and for that reason were almost hinted to extinction until they were protected. They are making a comeback, but even today there are less than 3,000 of these animals on the California coast.
Here's a link to check them out:

(Yes, we know we need a better camera with a good telephoto lens, and as soon as the bills are paid, it's on our list!)