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August 26th 2011
Published: June 15th 2012
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California Native American artifactsCalifornia Native American artifactsCalifornia Native American artifacts

Early Califorinia artifacts from the Oakland Museum of California
Today, I spent the day in the other big city in this area, Oakland.

Even more than Tampa and St. Petersburg (see (Sort of) Wild Florida) San Francisco and Oakland are as different as close cities can be.

San Francisco is artistry and creativity and joy de vive.

Oakland is business and shipping and grit.

San Francisco gave the 1960s the hippies and the beats.

For Oakland, it was militant groups like the Black Panthers.

Gertrude Stein (see San Francisco Modern) famously described her home town as “there is no there there”.

To reach Oakland, one drives over the other famous bridge built in the Depression, the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge.

Even this shows a difference between the two cities.

The bridge is double decked, with one set of traffic lanes above the other.

The upper deck holds the lanes heading to San Francisco, which give a beautiful view of the bay and city when the fog cooperates.

The lanes heading to Oakland, by contrast, give a lovely unchanging view of a steel tube.

This was a huge disappointment.

Back on land, the bridge deposits drivers in a huge tangle of concrete.
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Artifacts from the Spanish exploration of California

I weaved my way through onto the downtown expressway.

It ran through a trench dug in the earth, for a reason.

This road is the replacement for one of the most tragic consequences of the Loma Pietra earthquake in 1989.

At the time, the expressway was a double deck elevated highway.

When it was built in the 1950s, engineers knew less about earthquake danger than they do now.

In the 1970s, they determined the joints between the deck slabs and the posts could fail, so they connected the slabs together with steel cables.

They did not anticipate what actually happened, the posts themselves crumbling, which brought down the slabs like a series of dominos.

Dozens of drivers were instantly crushed to death.

Heroic efforts to rescue the remainder filled the news for days afterward.

The replacement road is in the earth, ensuring such a thing will never happen again.

Oakland Museum of California

Oakland has very few sites aimed at visitors, and many bypass the area completely.

They are missing out on something special.

Oakland is home to the Oakland Museum of California, an essential stop for anyone that wants to learn about the golden
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Artifacts from the Mission period of California, from the Oakland Museum

It covers the history, art, and ecology of California with incredible detail.

The science portion of the museum is under renovation.

Its most famous feature is a series of dioramas illustrating the geology of different parts of California.

These were spread through the other parts of the museum.

California Art

I saw the art section first.

American art in California started with Hudson River School (see The World’s Craziest Streets) artists like Alfred Bierstadt and Thomas Hill, who saw the landscape as a spiritual antidote to the industrial grime of the east.

Many of these paintings featured Yosemite Valley, with varying degrees of accuracy.

Other artists focused on subjects like redwood trees and Lake Tahoe.

The next wave of artists were realists like William Hahn and George Henry Burgess, who painted subjects throughout the west.

A romanticism for the “lost frontier” had swept the country in the late 1800s (see The Western Tradition), and these artists fed that market.

In addition to landscapes, they painted narratives about traders and adventurers.

That led into a section of California Impressionism.

A branch of the popular American Impressionist movement, artists like E. Charlton Fortune and Guy Rose emphasized the bright sunlight
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Recreation of the house of a prosperous settler, from when Mexico ruled California
and vivid colors of California landscapes, all painted with splotches of color.

After World War I, art in California, like the rest of the United States, became more diverse.

Ansel Adams arrived in Yosemite and started taking the photographs that made him famous.

Some artists like Lucian Labaudt followed the lead of Diego Rivera and the Mexican social realists and painted scenes of the urban downtrodden.

Others like John Langley Howard followed the American Scene realists.

A few like Agnes Pelton became surrealists.

A loosely affiliated group in San Francisco called the Society of the Six, lead by Seldon Conner Gile and Bernard Von Eichman, created modernist landscapes with simplified forms and bright colors.

American art exploded in the years after World War II.

California art exploded right along with it.

For the first time, artists in the state mostly created their own trends rather than following those from elsewhere.

Art in the state became an incredible smorgasbord of style and subject.

Much of this production happened with little notice outside the state until the late 1960s, thanks to the fame of the New York art scene.

Since then, California art has
Mariano Guadalupe VallejoMariano Guadalupe VallejoMariano Guadalupe Vallejo

Artifacts belonging to Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a supporter of the 1836 California Republic
ascended to the top ranks of contemporary practice.

Like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, this art is organized by subject.

The work is literally all over the place, having little in common aside from all being produced in the same state.

One section is on ‘place’.

It contains paintings like a map of Los Angeles done in rough red and black paint, Untitled (Map of Los Angeles) by Manuel Ocampo, which depicts the city as a powder keg.

A mere six years later, the area exploded in the Rodney King riots.

Michael McMillen created Aristotle’s Cage, an elaborate model of a trailer park in the Mojave Desert, another sardonic comment on the state as a land of limitless opportunity.

Another section is on politics.

It contains a conceptual piece of a wicker chair by Sam Durant, with photos of people sitting in the chair behind it.

It is a memorial to Huey Newton.

Anyone who knows California history remembers that Huey Newton, the founder of the Black Panthers, posed for a famous picture sitting in an identical chair with a machine gun.

Another picture is a replica of the famous
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Some of the proposals for the state's boundaries at the 1849 Constitutional Convention
Sun Maid raisin box, Sun Mad by Ester Hernandez.

This time, the maid is actually a skeleton and the text mentions the lethal pesticides sprayed on the fields.

Another section covers portraits.

These paintings range from photorealistic depictions of people to highly distorted figures along the lines of the German Expressionists (see Arch Madness).

For these, the subject matter is often as important has the means of expression.

One portrait is hippies in a junkyard.

A photo shows Allen Ginsburg and other beat poets gathered outside City Lights just after he beat charges of obscenity for Howl (see Enclaves).

A few portraits from the early 1970s depict proud gay men, a comment on the cultural climate of the time.

Lastly, Browned Bear by Mel Ramos (WARNING: May be offensive) shows a nude model on the back of a grizzly bear, another comment on the state’s reputation as a seductive paradise.

Yet another room covered abstract art.

At first, the state followed trends from New York like abstract expressionism.

California artists then branched out, much like the California Impressionists, to fill canvases with bright colors derived from the
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An 1850s gold pan with gold nuggets

Richard Diebenkorn was famously inspired by pastel covered houses he saw, and covered his canvases with geometric areas of bright color to replicate that experience.

Nathan Oliveira created paintings that initially look abstract but ultimately become figures in an indeterminate landscape.

No exhibit on California art would be complete without the psychedelic art of the 1960s.

Most of the examples on display were posters for concerts.

They feature the wild colors and intricate graphics so identified with hippie art.

One of the posters was for the Grateful Dead.

A final room is filled with amazing examples of folk art.

One wall is covered in intricate human figures caved from single logs.

Unbelievably, the collector who ultimately donated them found the first ones in a dumpster; they then tracked down the artist and bought the rest.

Another area held collages made from found objects.

One painting was made entirely from glued beads.

Finally, the section held intricate towers covered in beads, dolls and carved figures, religious art based on Mexican tradition.

California History

After art, I dived into history.

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Artifacts from the 1849 California gold rush
is now called California was originally occupied by a large number of Native American tribes, mostly in the central valley and the coast.

They had lives remarkably similar to those in the Southeast (see The Majesty of Trees), farming corn and hunting to survive.

The museum has baskets, pottery, and wooden bowls.

Their lives irrevocably changed when Spanish explorers arrived.

They first discovered the peninsula now known as Baja California in Mexico, so they thought the entire area was a huge island.

The museum has a Spanish map showing the coast that way.

In 1542 explorer Juan Cabrillo named the “island” California after one in a popular Spanish novel.

Society really changed with the arrival of Father Juniper Serra in 1769.

He viewed settlement of California as a religious crusade.

He and his followers set up a series of missions from San Diego to San Francisco, many of which still survive.

Settlers brought cattle and trade goods.

Very significantly, the settlers also brought European diseases which devastated the native population.

Those that survived were forced to convert to Catholicism.

Many were treated as virtual slaves.

During this
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Artifacts from Chinese immigration to San Francisco during the gold rush
era, California was run as a near theocracy.

Things changed again after Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821.

In 1834, the Mexican government dissolved the missions.

Although native tribes were supposed to receive much of the land, Mexican settlers actually got most of it.

During this era, Americans settlers trickled into the state, working as farmers and ranchers.

When settlers in Texas declared their independence in 1836, a group of Americans in California, led by Mexican Juan Bautista Alvarado, decided they should be independent as well.

They stormed Monterrey, the capitol at the time, and raised a flag with a grizzly bear and the words ‘California Republic’.

They agreed to reaccept Mexican rule a few days later, but a precedent had been set.

Their flag is the basis of the current California state flag, and the reason residents use the grizzly bear as a symbol of the state (even though the last one in the state was shot in the mid 1920s).

In 1845, the United States annexed Texas, and Mexico declared war.

This gave the United States military the pretext needed to
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Recreation of the house of a prosperous settler in the Sierras, circa 1850
seize virtually all Mexican territory with significant number of American settlers, including California.

A Navy force led by Captain John Fremont took Monterrey with virtually no resistance.

Mexico formally ceded the territory as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1849.

The date was fortuitous, because a mere nine days earlier one John Marshall had discovered gold flecks while building a saw mill.

The resulting gold rush is one of the largest migrations of people in United States history, and one of the most mythologized episodes of the entire west.

Gold mining was the ultimate lottery.

A few struck it rich.

A larger number of people made money selling supplies and food to the miners.

Many went home penniless (see Pioneer Trails).

So many people flooded into the state that San Francisco became a major city overnight.

Immigrants poured in from around the world.

The first Chinese appeared in California during this period.

Although the gold ran out relatively quickly, people discovered other things about the area they liked.

Parts of it, like the Central Valley, were incredibly fertile.

People took out homesteads and set up farms.

In the
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Recreated artifacts of farmers who protested the Central Pacific Railroad. Note the bars placed across the tracks.
process, they eliminated what was left of the Mexican cattle ranches and dispossessed most Native Americans, often with force.

California Statehood

The huge wave of new residents caused big problems for the area’s political leaders.

California at the time was officially unorganized territory, with little government apparatus beyond a military government and the settlements inherited from the Mexicans.

Area politicians hit on a typically audacious solution.

United States law at the time stated that a new state could be admitted after reaching a certain population and writing a constitution approved by US Congress.

Traditionally, a state had to be a formal territory first, but Congress was free to ignore this.

California’s leaders knew the bloody experience of the last US territories, Nebraska and Kansas (see Interesting Things in a Dull Landscape), and decided to apply directly for statehood.

To get it, the state needed a constitution, so a Constitution Convention formed in Monterrey in 1849.

The final document was based on existing state constitutions, with some important changes.

For starters, California’s constitution left the issue of slavery up to each county and town.

In the decades before the Civil War, the drafters knew this
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Recreated house of a prosperous merchant in late 1800s San Francisco
was the only way to get it approved.

The other major difference is that California’s constitution declared the state’s boundaries. (WARNING: pdf)

The Mexican territory of California covered virtually all land west of the Rio Grande River, and leaders figured that the US Congress would not approve a state that big.

The museum has a wall of maps illustrating various proposals.

The Convention finally agreed on dividing the original territory a certain distance from the coast.

The chosen distance, about 200 miles, contained every square inch of usable farm land, the known gold mines, and access to the Colorado River.

The constitution worked, and California joined the union in 1850.

California is one of only two states to join without having some form of formal government beforehand (Vermont is the other).

The next important event in California history is the building of railroads.

Four men, Collin P Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins, who had made significant money as merchants during the gold rush, dominated early state government.

They convinced the US government in 1862 to authorize and fund a transcontinental railroad to California, which would be built
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Items from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and fire
from both ends.

The four not only arranged to get the western franchise for the Central Pacific Railroad, which they had founded two years earlier; they arranged to get the highest payments possible.

The bill authorized different amounts based on the difficulty of the terrain, and Leland Stanford convinced the Federal Authorities that all of California was as difficult as the Sierra Nevada!

These actions foretold how railroads would work in California in general.

The actual Central Pacific was mostly built by Chinese laborers.

They had a scandalously high injury rate.

Some farmers tried to block the tracks from crossing their lands, and were brought up on charges of sabotage.

The railroad finally met the Union Pacific in Utah in 1869, another of the West’s iconic moments.

With the money they made from the Central Pacific, the “big four” then created an even bigger scheme.

They financed a second railroad, the Southern Pacific, which ran the length of the state.

This railroad eventually crossed the country to New Orleans.

The Southern Pacific held a monopoly on California commerce for over a decade, until the Santa Fe Railroad finally arrived
Battle over Hech HechyBattle over Hech HechyBattle over Hech Hechy

The debate over damming Hech Hechy. The painting in the background shows the valley, a smaller version of Yosemite
in the 1890s.

A famous political cartoon from the era, on display in the museum, depicts the railroad as a huge octopus, slowly strangulating California to death to feed its four heads.

On the positive side, the railroad built many modern ports, such as Oakland, and greatly expanded the market for California produce.

Battle Over Hetch Hechy

The next item discusses one of the state’s biggest tragedies and subsequent controversies.

By the early 1900s, San Francisco had grown into a major city.

It was the center of California finance and commerce, and a major port.

Like most cities at the time, it was built of wooden buildings.

In 1906, San Francisco suffered the largest earthquake in California history to that point.

While the quake was bad, the bigger tragedy was the subsequent fire that burned the city to the ground.

City and state leaders realized the city water supply was wholly inadequate for their needs, and looked for a source of more.

They ultimately decided on damming the Tuolumne River at the Hetch Hechy valley, a miniature version of Yosemite Valley.

The only problem was, it was part of Yosemite National Park.
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Pomotion of California Agriculture in the 1920s

State leaders proposed a bill to specifically remove the valley from the park and authorize the reservoir.

The resulting battle presaged issues that would rock California for the next sixty years.

One side, led by naturalist John Muir, saw the valley and places like it as priceless scenic and spiritual assets, whose value could not be measured.

Muir viewed adding Hetch Hechy to Yosemite as one of his signature accomplishments.

The other side countered with their own priceless asset, a great city that now lay in ruins due to a lack of water.

In their view, San Francisco was home to thousands of people, while only a few hundred had ever been to Hetch Hechy.

The dam builders ultimately won in 1913.

Over the subsequent decades, dozens of dams would be built in California.

The display on the controversy has a rare artifact, one of the few paintings of Hetch Hechy in existence, showing what was lost.

This decade also saw the rise of xenophobia.

Tens of thousands of Chinese and Japanese had immigrated to California.

They created a deep and vibrant
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Advertisements from the 1920s promoting California as the ultimate place to visit and live
community in San Francisco and other cities.

Many older Californians viewed them as a menace, who would convert the state’s European based culture into an Asian one.

They pushed hard at the national level for immigration restrictions, which were enacted in the late 1800s.

Ironically, they had less effect in California than some other western towns, which many Chinese deserted entirely.

Roaring 1920s and the Great Depression

The next section of the museum covers the 1920s.

California became a boom state during this period.

Widespread use of irrigation fueled a rise of agriculture.

Much of California has the perfect climate for growing plants, some of which (almonds, raisins, olives) are hard to produce in the rest of the United States.

California farmers made higher profits than anywhere else.

During this period, the state began a vigorous advertising campaign promoting its food products worldwide.

California to this day has the most productive farms in the country.

The film industry, which had started in New York, moved wholesale to Los Angeles during this period.

They came for four reasons: a wide variety of locations close at hand, weather that allowed shooting
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Exhibit on the start of car culture in California in the 1920s.
nearly year round, cheap land, and to escape the Edison Company’s steep patent license fees.

Fans followed, starting a celebrity madness which has never abated.

This section also discusses something that usually only film historians know about, the scandals over racy content that erupted in the 1920s.

These caused the studios to create a code of moral standards, called the Hays Code after its chief enforcer.

It lasted until the 1960s.

The display has a copy.

During this period, local promoters advertised the state as the perfect place to be; the ultimate home of sun, fun, and the good life.

The museum has a wall of advertisements from this era.

Their efforts worked, and tens of thousands of people came to visit.

Many of them discovered they liked the place and wanted to stay.

Local developers were more than willing to help them do so.

Cities like Los Angeles grew wildly during this period, outward rather than up.

Partly this was due to earthquake danger, but also became many people had a car.

Los Angeles leaders promoted auto ownership as the ultimate symbol of personal
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Exhibit on the early days of motion picture making in California

The display does NOT mention that one of the reasons Los Angeles became so car dependent is that a group of auto companies bought up the city’s street car service in 1945, shut it down, and sold the equipment for scrap.

In the 1930s, the state was hit hard by the Depression.

Ironically, the still thriving agriculture sector made things worse.

Poor farmers from around the United States moved to California looking for work.

Unlike the version in the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, many moved of their own accord without prodding.

Most new arrivals ended up living in shacks and shantytowns.

One group near Oakland lived in abandoned concrete pipes, one of the state’s most infamous Depression images.

The museum has a recreation.

World War II brought unprecedented prosperity to most of California.

The state was the prime embarkation point for those fighting in the Pacific, turning cities like San Diego into armed camps overnight.

Many people found work in newly established armaments industries, building ships and airplanes.

Sadly, this prosperity did not extend to everyone.

The United States forced all Japanese Americans in California (and the rest of the west coast) to
Depression MigrantsDepression MigrantsDepression Migrants

Reproduction of one of thousands of poor farmers who migrated to California in the 1930s.
move to internment camps.

For many Californians, that camp was Mazanaar deep in the Owens Valley beyond the Sierra Nevada.

After the war ended, state growth only accelerated.

Returning soldiers discovered they liked the state, and moved there permanently.

Industries started during the war turned to producing armaments for the Cold War.

Those new families created a huge baby boom, giving the state the largest population growth rate in the country.

Many settled in the suburbs, further spreading out cities that had large suburbs to begin with.

The next section covers the 1960s.

This section has an interpretation completely different to the rest of the museum.

The introduction states that the decade was so divisive that no single interpretation is possible.

As many histories exist as people who lived through the era.

The exhibit then has a long set of boxes, each of which was curetted by someone with items that represent the era.

Some people focused on music and fashion, some focused on environmental awareness, some focused on minority empowerment, a few focused on the hippies, and a few more
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Repduction of Pipe City, California's most infamous Depression shanty town
focused on Vietnam.

I found the idea interesting but ultimately mush.

This decade had far reaching effects in the state, and those implications should be elaborated, whether by one point of view or many.

This exhibit does not do that.

The final exhibit is on modern immigration.

California continues to attract people from around the globe.

The exhibit has a graphic showing where.

Mexico dominates, followed by the Philippines and China.

All, along with transplants from around the country, become part of the fabric that is modern California.

John Muir's Travels

The museum had a temporary show on John Muir’s travels.

Muir is famous as the writer and naturalist who essentially created the environmental movement in the United States.

His efforts led directly to the creation of four national parks (Yosemite, Sequoia, General Grant (now part of Kings Canyon), and Mount Rainier).

He also founded the Sierra Club.

In between these efforts, he hiked literally everywhere he could in the Sierra Nevada and travelled around the world.

During these journeys, he extensively documented the scenery and plants he encountered in his journals.

Those journals
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A sample of California industry during World War II
form the centerpiece of the exhibit.

The journal entries are interspersed with photos, both historical and current.

Also included are several dioramas from the under renovation Natural History museum section.

The centerpiece is an amazing miniature of Yosemite Valley with the major geologic features labeled.

John Muir was the first to determine how the valley formed, by glaciers in the last ice age.

Finally, the exhibit has a life-sized photo of a yard wide ice crevice on the floor.

During a visit to Alaska, John Muir and his dog had to jump over a crevice just like this!


Oakland, like many California cities, has brutal afternoon traffic.

I really wanted to avoid it.

I left the museum late enough that this was in serious doubt.

I immediately got on the highway and headed south.

I figured crossing the Walpert Ridge through the southern pass to Stockton would have less traffic.

I was partially correct, because the drive was clean until I reached the road to the pass.

At that point, it turned into a parking lot.

Further west, the road passed
Japanese American InternmentJapanese American InternmentJapanese American Internment

Reproduction of one room of a Japanese Internment Camp during World War II
an important place of 1960s history.

It goes right next to an unremarkable motorsports track called Altamont Speedway.

In December 1969 this racetrack was the site of a concert that many now call “the end of the 60s”.

The promoters hired the local Hells Angels group to act as security.

Nearly everyone at the concert, including the staff, was on drugs.

In the middle of the Rolling Stone’s set, a Hells Angels member killed fan Meredith Hunter near the stage.

Love and peace had left the building.

For those interested in more, the entire thing was captured on film and released as the movie “Gimmie Shelter”.

I hope it’s obvious that the speedway doesn’t commemorate any of this.

Burning Man Shopping

I got to Stockton later than I had intended to.

This was a really bad thing, because I have to be up early for a raft trip tomorrow and need to buy a bunch of supplies for Burning Man.

Surviving in the desert for a week requires specialized equipment.

Black Rock City is incredibly dry, incredibly hot during the day, cold at night, the dustiest city on
Baby boomBaby boomBaby boom

A tiny sampling of the children born in California in the years after World War II
earth, and often windy.

Organizers deliberately chose to hold the event in this extreme location, because it promotes self-reliance and the confidence that comes from that reliance.

Since my car has limited storage space, my best strategy was to buy it all close to the event.

This blog does not have nearly enough space to discuss everything needed for Burning Man.

It’s also not the right place.

Another Burning Man principle is building community.

Burners are a community of shared interests, a vital lifeline in a larger culture that does not always value those interests.

Many new Burners’ first introduction to the larger community is going to a Burner gathering with questions about how to handle the event itself.

They come away with contacts and friendships, valuable social ties once in Black Rock City.

I learned what I needed by reading the Burning Man website and talking to veteran Burners I met, supplemented with other web research.

Tracking down everything took hours.

I quickly realized I did not have enough time to find it all.

I concentrated on stuff I needed for building things, because
The 1960s in CaliforniaThe 1960s in CaliforniaThe 1960s in California

A small sample of the 1960s exhibit
I knew I needed it to build this weekend.

This proved to be a good thing because I underestimated the amount of material I would need, and had to get more later.

Discovering this past Reno would have been really bad.

Even so, I finished shopping after dark and my schedule is pressed to the limit.

Tonight, I got an unexpected phone call.

I give the people who did it quite a bit of credit.

Burners need some way to light themselves up at night, because Black Rock City has no lights.

Many choose EL wire, which is basically wire that lights up like a neon tube.

The wire must be assembled with control equipment to work properly.

Since I did not have proper tools on the trip, I ordered it premade from a company called Cool Neon.

Some people will consider me an ineffective Burner for doing so.

I was so rushed to get out of Oakland that I forgot to pick it up.

Getting it after rafting isn’t an option because everyone at the company is heading to Black Rock City this weekend!
Half Dome minatureHalf Dome minatureHalf Dome minature

Minature model of Half Dome, with natual features labeled

We finally worked out an effective solution.

They tracked down the Federal Express distribution center and Reno, and sent it there “hold for pickup”.

I’ll have to drop some cash, but at least I’ll have my stuff.

While in Stockton, I had something that many California natives describe as a religious experience.

They love it so much many people from the state get depressed when first moving somewhere where it isn’t available.

I had my first In and Out Burger tonight.

This is, quite simply, the best fast food on the planet, beating both Waffle House and Steak N Shake.

The burgers explode like a little flavor bomb in the mouth, juicy and perfectly cooked.

The fries and shakes are way above what McDonalds has to offer.

For food this good, the incredibly low prices are almost an afterthought.

After Stockton, I had to get to Groveland for my raft trip.

This is my first time driving in the Sierra Nevada.

I had to do the whole drive after dark, so I didn’t get to see a thing.

Near the end, I had to tangle with a notorious stretch of pavement called the Priest Grade.

The Grade is steep highway filled with tight curves up the side of a mountain.

Believe it or not, this road was actually the replacement for an even more difficult stretch of road.

After dealing with Mount Rainer earlier in the trip (see The Great Mountain) I found it intense but easily handled.

Once in Groveland, my day still wasn’t done.

I had to pack my backpack for the raft trip.

Rafting while sleep deprived is rather dangerous, so tried to do this as fast as possible.

After a frantic fifteen minutes of pulling whitewater gear and clothes out of my trunk, I’m done.

I fell asleep with less than a minute to spare; my alarm goes off in exactly eight hours.


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