Kim Weir

Host, Up the Road

Kim Weir, a former NSPR news reporter, is editor and founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project dedicated to sustaining the Northern California story. She is also an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers. North State Public Radio’s Up the Road program is jointly produced by Up the Road.

Robert Freiberger

Europeans generally get credit for having “discovered” America, including the mythic land of California, though of course the people already here didn’t realize they were lost, or otherwise in need of finding. But there are claims that the Chinese discovered the Americas, often derided. According to one story, a storm-tossed Chinese ship—misdirected by its own compass, after a cockroach got wedged under the needle—sailed stubbornly for 100 days toward what was supposed to be mainland China. (The navigator reportedly ignored the crew, who pointed out that the sun was setting on the wrong horizon.) These unwitting adventurers finally reached land, and reported stepping out into towering forests surrounding an almost endless inlet, and meeting with red-skinned peoples amid giant red-barked trees. California, right?

Courtesy of Visit California

If you’re a Californian you’ve probably had the experience of touching down elsewhere in this vast wonderland—somewhere in the Midwest, say, where tornados regularly tear things up, or on the Eastern Seaboard, famous for hurricanes—and the first thing people want to know is, how you live with all those earthquakes. How do you stand it? How do you live with the fear? If you’re like me, you don’t know what to say. Because you’re not that afraid. You haven’t personally experienced a major earthquake.



Think July 4, 1776, Independence Day for the United States, and sights and sounds crowd the imagination—the Liberty Bell, American flag, George Washington, fifes and drums, smoking muskets, and fireworks. Red, white, and blue, rat-a-tat-tat. Clear across the continent, colonial life in California—with its missions and modest military outposts—was just beginning. It would be almost 75 years before California would join the first and subsequent United States, as the 31st state in the union. But foreign exploration had been underway since at least 1543, when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his men rode at anchor in San Diego Bay.

David Yu

As we mentioned earlier, California has had a surprising number of capital cities—starting with Monterey. Even Santa Barbara, if you want to consider Spanish California’s cultural if not legislative capital. California became a state of these United States in 1849 with a quick succession of American capitals: San Jose, then Vallejo, then Benicia, and then Sacramento, which has remained California’s capital city ever since, not counting a brief move to San Francisco during the floods of 1862. 

Jaybeatle at English Wikipedia

When people ask me where to go or what’s worth doing, I never know what to say. What makes a memorable trip depends on who you are, and what interests you. It’s hard to make that call for someone else. So, I ask questions, to get some sense of a person’s passions and preferences, and what to them makes a great trip.

And that’s how you plan an unforgettable do-it-yourself tour. Anyone can do it, once you settle on the right idea. Just DIY. Ask yourself those questions.

Edmund Garman

Just as we’re finalizing summer travel plans comes word that travel is a bad actor when it comes to climate change. According to a study published on May 7 in the journal Nature Climate Change, tourism—meaning pleasure travel—accounts for 8% of all global greenhouse gases. Four times more than previous estimates, because someone finally looked at the big picture, and included the climate costs of all aspects of tourism, not just jets and other fossil-fueled transportation.

Courtesy of Joan Didion's Facebook page

This week we appreciate New York-based writer and New Journalist Joan Didion, born and raised in Sacramento, the Big Tomato. Pioneer stock. Some of her people were part of the Donner Party, in fact—those who wisely turned north to Oregon instead of scaling the Sierra Nevada.

One of my favorite Didion books is Where I Was From, first published in 2003. Note, in the book title, that she was from here, from California, but that past tense suggests she no longer is. The physical facts of the matter haven’t changed—she was born in Sacramento, on December 5, 1938, and lived here for much of her life—but everything else has. I’m glad she took an entire book to explain. Didion’s voice in Where I Was From isn’t so different from that in her debut collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, also exploring California. But the perspective is.

Steve Herring

The English-American poet and writer W.H. Auden was a big fan of M.F.K. Fisher, an American culinary icon. He called her called America’s “greatest writer.” In 1963 he also said, provocatively, “I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.” One of the first to engage food in all its variety as a cultural metaphor, Fisher knew she was the real thing. Further, she believed that writers are born, not created. Once, when asked by a young girl why “so-and-so’s” books were best-sellers while she was barely known, Fisher reportedly replied: “Because he is an author, and I am a writer.” Being a writer, however, didn’t spare her a lifetime of scrambling after book contracts and New Yorker magazine assignments. Everyone has to sing for their supper.

Jack Liu


We head up the road this week to remember Berkeley-born Ursula K. Le Guin, award-winning novelist, poet, essayist, and science fiction writer, who died at age 88 in January of 2018. A wonderful companion on California road trips if there ever was one. Since I heard the news I feel I’ve been mourning a long-time friend. I know I will miss having her in the world—my world, this world—for a very long time.


We head up the road this week to brand-new Mojave Trails National Monument, 1.6 million acres in the south state’s vast desert that serve as a wildlife corridor connecting Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park; that preserve unique desert wildlands as well as General George Patton’s WWII-era desert training camps for troops heading to North Africa; and that protect the largest stretch of ghost towns along historic Route 66, which—with some effort—you can still follow, more or less, to its memorable end at the Santa Monica Pier. (Most of you boomers will remember the early-1960s Route 66 TV show with cool ex-GIs Todd and Buz, not to mention Todd’s Corvette, loosely inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road—though I have a hard time imagining Kerouac in a Corvette. Before that, Route 66 was the how most Okies and Arkies fleeing the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression got to California.) Get the larger story at the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville.