Up The Road

Wednesdays at 4:44 and 6:44 p.m. and Thursdays at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m.

A production of NSPR

Produced by Matt Fidler 

About Up the Road

If you travel mostly to escape the daily drudge, Up The Road host Kim Weir suggests you think again. Travel matters, every bit as much as other choices you make every day. Which is why Up the Road encourages everyone to travel responsibly. Here in California as elsewhere around the world, responsible travel means appreciating nature, valuing natural resources, respecting and preserving culture and history, and supporting local economies in healthy ways.

Up the Road is dedicated to responsible California travel—to sustaining the California story by deepening your connection to this unusual and surprising place. Each week Up the Road shares stories about the land, its natural history, and its people, the lives they have lived, the stories they have told over the centuries, and the stories they are creating right now. The stories that keep us all here, that create California’s unique ecology of home.

Host Kim Weir is editor and founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project dedicated to sustaining the California story. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, and author of all of the original California “handbooks” put out by Moon Publications, now Avalon Travel. Weir lives in Paradise, California.

Up the Road is a joint production of Up the Road and North State Public Radio, initially produced by Sarah Bohannon. The show is now produced by Matt Fidler and distributed by PRX. Up the Road’s theme song was written and produced by Kirk Williams.


Kai Schreiber / Flickr

You’ve probably already heard my Santa request. Maybe you even asked for the same thing. But: All want for Christmas is sanity in the public arena. Doesn’t look like Santa’s going to deliver, at least not right away. The next best thing is embracing a spokesperson for sanity—which is why, this week, we visit the state historic park that honors political humorist Will Rogers, member of the Cherokee Nation, born in Oklahoma—still Indian Territory when he was born there in 1879.

Tom Hilton / Flickr

We continue visiting unique state parks this week, this time Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, north of Mexico, east of San Diego, and south of Palm Springs. Yep, that’s serious geography, some 600,000 acres. Just the place for a family timeout, to look up and take in the totality of that dark night sky.

Stargazing is a major reason to come. The community of Borrego Springs, a big donut hole of private land entirely surrounded by the park, is the first International Dark Sky Community in the U.S.—there are a few others now—official recognition of the town’s commitment to eliminate light pollution. Plan for stargazing and dark-sky events offered by the park and the natural history association.

Franco Folini / Flickr

We continue exploring unique state parks—this week, Fort Ross. How many states can boast of Russian settlement? Just California, Alaska, of course, and Hawaii, though none were U.S. states at the time.

Before the California Gold Rush, there was a California Fur Rush—actually, a worldwide fur rush. Sea otter pelts were particularly prized, with more than a million hairs per square inch—the densest hair of any mammal, the softest, warmest fur.

Justin Ennis / Flickr

Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument on the Central California coast is one of those places you just have to see, no matter what you think of the man or the pleasure palace he built for himself, his mistress, and their constant Hollywood visitors.

Hearst Castle was designed by Berkeley architect Julia Morgan. Her collaboration with William Randolph Hearst spanned three decades, though the work was never really finished. Even so, Hearst’s life is somehow fully expressed here, in the country’s most ostentatious and theatrical temple to obscene wealth. After touring Hearst’s pleasure palace, you understand why many people—including Hearst—believed Orson Welles’s satirical masterpiece Citizen Kane was a thinly disguised biopic.

Zengame / Flickr

The Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument on the coast just south of Big Sur ranks right up there with Disneyland as one of California’s premier tourist attractions. Somehow that fact alone puts the place into proper perspective. Media magnate William Randolph Hearst’s castle is a rich man’s playground filled to overflowing with artistic diversions and other expensive toys, a monument to one man’s monumental ego and equally impressive poor taste.

William Randolph Hearst was quite a wealthy and powerful man, the man many people still believe was the subject of the greatest American movie ever made, Orson Welles’s 1941 Citizen Kane. These days even Welles’s biographers say the movie was about the filmmaker himself. Still, there’s something to be said for popular opinion.

Jenny Marek / U.S. Department of Interior

We continue exploring Southern California’s Channel Islands this week, this time the five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park.

The discovery in 1994 of a complete fossilized skeleton of a pygmy or “dwarf” Channel Island mammoth meant big excitement. Scientists think this miniature species, just four to six feet tall, descended from woolly mammoths who swam over from the nearby coast during the Pleistocene.

Fuangg Photos / Flickr

We continue visiting Southern California’s Channel Islands this week. Privately owned Santa Catalina Island, once owned by William Wrigley, of chewing gum and Chicago Cubs fame, is the only truly populated island among Southern California’s eight Channel Islands.

Populated by humans, that is. Many of the rest are inhabited by, or surrounded by, such rare, endangered, and endemic species of animals and plants—endemic meaning, those found only here. So rare is Channel Islands biology that scientists describe the Channel Islands, collectively, as North America’s Galápagos, a reference to those islands in time, in Ecuador, where Charles Darwin demonstrated the evolutionary process of natural selection.

Dave Mathhews / Flickr

This week we head up the road to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, unofficially known as The Rock, where countless bad guys did their time in the former federal prison there.

Visiting Alcatraz is like touring the dark side of the American dream, like peering into democracy’s private demon hold. At Alcatraz, freedom is a fantasy. If crime is a universal option—and everyone behind bars at Alcatraz exercised that option—then all who once inhabited this desolate island penitentiary were certainly equal.

John Loo / Flickr

We continue touring California’s islands with a visit to Angel Island, a state park that’s also part of the Bay Area’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Now is a perfect time to visit Angel Island, given the political dramas being staged along the southern U.S. border and their wrenching human consequences. This is hardly the first time in U.S. history that nativist sentiments have reached fevered political pitch. Something quite similar once happened here, at a facility still sometimes known as the “Ellis Island of the West.”

Eric Davis / U.S. Fish And Wildfire Service

To kick off our California island tour, this week we head up the road to visit the Farallon Islands some 30 miles west of San Francisco’s Golden Gate. These wild granite islands and sea stacks, distance geological relations of the Sierra Nevada, are also known by mariners as the Devil’s Teeth Islands, out of respect for their deadly shoals. Many ships have run aground in these unfriendly, roiling waters. Native Americans from around the Bay knew them as the Islands of the Dead, where the spirits of the dead could abide.

But life—abundant, wild, sea-going life—is the defining feature of the Farallon Islands, which Bay Area natives also knew.