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.

Todd Lappin


This week we’re heading out to the 24 Hours of LeMons endurance car race at Thunderhill Raceway just west of Willows, a free-wheeling parody of France’s 24 Hours of LeMans. LeMons is best described as “the Burning Man of car races.” Just plain wrench-monkey fun, folks, with lots of NASA and sundry other engineers here, not to mention creative Silicon Valley computer jockeys. (Thunderhill is owned by San Francisco’s branch of the Sports Car Club of America, so how can you keep the city folks away?) On a good day, expect to see such things as flying pigs, backhoes, upside-down sports cars, and even the Starship Enterprise out there lapping the track.



Joe Behr

Tell someone you’re going hiking, they usually assume you’re heading to the mountains, maybe the coast. But California’s deserts offer sublime hikes. Just not in the summer. So we’re wrapping up our extended stay in the California desert this week with ideas for memorable family hikes.

The national parks and monuments offer world-class hiking opportunities, so yes, do plan to hoof it through Death Valley—November into March is best—and try out trails in Joshua Tree. Also prime is immense Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, well south, between San Diego and the Salton Sea.

Tom Hilton

Another great place to taste Southern California’s amazing desert is 1.6-million- acre Mojave National Preserve, bordered by I-40 in the south and I-15 in the north, stretching east from Baker to Highway 95 and Nevada near Nipton.

(To seriously digress: Nipton is an 80-acre mining town bought last year for $5 million, by American Green, to make into a marijuana mecca. You know, “buds ’n’ breakfast,” an adults-only destination. But cash was short, so in February 2018 Delta International Oil & Gas bought the joint. Pot-themed resort plans won’t go up in smoke, folks say, but some worry about drilling in and around Nipton’s deep- water aquifer. Get the latest when you go.)

Anyway: This sublime slice of desert delimited by freeways is affectionately known as “The Lonesome Triangle”—just look at a map—though it was lonesome out here long before there were freeways.

Jim Dollar

We visit Death Valley this week, the lowest point in North America. Death Valley’s depths are all the more impressive when you consider that the highest point in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney, is just 100 miles away, in the southern Sierra Nevada near Lone Pine.

To stargazers, Death Valley is the closest thing to heaven in light-blinded Southern California. To rockhounds, it’s a timeless monument to very grounded geologic grandeur. To botanists and bird-watchers, it’s a study in successful adaptation. Its vast spaces sprinkled with petroglyphs, ghost towns, mine ruins, and other enduring marks of human aspiration, to hikers and history buffs it’s one endless discovery trail.

Christopher Michel

We head up the road this week to Joshua Tree, about an hour north of Coachella Valley and party-central Palm Springs. But if you’re going you’ll need to put pedal to the metal—or bike shoes to the pedal metal—quite soon, because by June it gets hot, an average high of 100-plus through the summer. Speaking of the plus side: In summer, you can grab a prime camp spot even on weekends without a reservation.

Bob Wick, US Bureau of Land Management

We head up the road this week to discover the California desert. Spring is an ideal time to go, especially in a year of drenching rainfall—which in these parts measures in the single digits—because well-timed rain brings the shocking exuberance of wildflowers.

Up The Road: Mary Austin

Mar 21, 2018
Library of Congress

Whenever I head up the road I try to bring along music and also books—fiction, poetry, sometimes non-fiction—that speak to the spirit of the place I’ll be visiting, especially if I’ll be staying awhile. The writer whose company I often keep in the California desert is Mary Hunter Austin, author of The Land of Little Rain, a collection of essays that take you there. Here is Mary Austin—in this ode to the once-beautiful Owens Valley, before Los Angeles absconded with its water—describing her beloved “Country of Lost Borders” and the power of its night sky:

“For all the toll the desert takes of a man it gives compensations,” she wrote, “deep breaths, deep sleep, and the communion of the stars. . . . It is hard to escape the sense of mastery as the stars move in the wide clear heavens to risings and settings unobscured. They look large and near and palpitant; as if they moved on some stately service not needful to declare. Wheeling to their stations in the sky, they make the poor world-fret of no account. Of no account you who lie out there watching, nor the lean coyote that stands off in the scrub from you and howls and howls.”

Benjamin Claverie


We head Up the Road this week to Mariposa at the southern end of California’s famous Mother Lode, where John C. and Jesse Fremont once called home some 70 square miles of Sierra Nevada foothills

outside Yosemite—the former Las Mariposas Spanish land grant of Juan Bautista Alvarado. Las Mariposas happened to include a thick five-mile vein of gold-laced quartz that produced hundreds of pounds of placer gold every month. The Fremonts were loaded.

Yet controversy and drama dogged John C. Fremont throughout his life—his incursions on behalf of Manifest Destiny, the belief that Americans had a divine right to possess the entire continent; his attacks on Indians; his instigation of the Bear Flag Revolt and Mexican-American War; his strange court martial. (And that was before most of his military career.) More drama at Las Mariposas, soon overrun by squatters, mostly miners with contested mining claims. The US Supreme Court eventually backed Fremont.

The smartest thing John C. Fremont ever did was marry Jesse Benton. She was politically savvy where he was impetuous—and came by it naturally, as the daughter of expansionist Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Her very engaging writings launched Fremont as a popular public figure. She greatly expanded and improved his otherwise thin expedition reports, which were then published in the tabloids of the day, encouraging western settlement. And her work supported him at the end, when the wealth was gone.

Thomas Kriese

We continue visiting gold-rush-era California this week, primarily because that historic earthquake shaped or reshaped almost every aspect of California as we know it today.

There were very few women among the new arrivals so busy shaking up the Golden State, but, many of them were literate and articulate, and engaged observers. Including Eliza Farnham, a popular lecturer, writer, abolitionist, prison reformer, phrenologist, and spiritualist who fully engaged the public imagination. She frequently lectured on the natural superiority of women, though, because she believed women superior, she did not push for equal rights.

Not all of Farnham’s ventures succeeded. Her tenure as prison matron at New York’s Sing Sing was controversial, given her belief that she could determine a woman’s character by studying skull shape and size. (A quick aside: The pseudoscience of phrenology led to some notably racist conclusions. On the plus side, it helped establish present-day neuropsychology, at least the understanding that the brain is an organ that influences emotion, thought, and behavior.)

Wayne Hsieh

This week we add another woman’s perspective to the story of life in California’s gold camps. An everyday perspective. Of the very few women who made up gold-rush communities, most were not notorious—definitely not internationally notorious, like “Spanish dancer” Lola Montez—but just plain folks, doing their best to get food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.