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.


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.

Bon Doran / Flickr

This a perfect time for heading up the road, what with fewer fellow travelers, fall colors, and cool weather that’s not yet wet.

For autumn road trips, California classics include Hwy. 1 along the coast, just about any stretch from Santa Barbara north, and U.S. 395 along the eastern Sierra Nevada, from Mammoth to Lone Pine to Lake Tahoe, with so many stunning stops in between. 

Bruce Fingerhood / Flickr Creative Commons


We head Up the Road this week into the heart of the State of Jefferson and its once—and possibly future—capital, Yreka, and then continue on toward Oregon. It’s a good trip, one to work up a plan for, given that far northern California and southern Oregon also comprise the State of Jefferson, which almost came to be in the 1940s.

There’s something profoundly different about a place proud to be in a constant state of rebellion. That place would be California, which has generated more than 200 different independence proposals since statehood in 1850. The first serious attempts to break away came from thoroughly dissed Los Angeles, still a dusty cow town when the streets of San Francisco were almost literally paved with gold, after the gold rush.

Darron Birgenheier / Flickr

“Lonely as God and white as a winter moon.” That’s how 19th-century writer Joaquin Miller described Mount Shasta, California’s most majestic mountain. So it still is.

Shasta is California’s fifth-highest peak but more impressive than any other—perpetually snow-covered, glowing orange, pink, and purple at sunset, casting shadows on the lava lands below. Sometimes clearly visible from as far away as 150 miles, close up Shasta is more obscure, mysterious.

Tosh Chiang / Flickr



We head up the road this week in search of cool once again. To the mountains this time—lonely Lassen Volcanic National Park, fully accessible only in summer and early fall.

But do cultivate a better sense of direction than the park’s namesake, Danish immigrant Peter Lassen. According to a journal entry by his friend, Gen. John Bidwell, Lassen “was a singular man, very industrious, very ingenious, and very fond of pioneering—in fact, of the latter, very stubbornly so. He had great confidence in his own power as a woodsman, but, strangely enough, he always got lost.” This almost led to his lynching on at least one occasion, when he confused Lassen and Shasta peaks while guiding a party of immigrants westward, taking them more than 200 miles out of their way. Oops.

Bob Wick / U.S. Bureau of Land Management

We head up the road this week in search of natural air conditioning, along the California coast again. The Lost Coast, this time, that unruly stretch between Fort Bragg and Eureka that made even road builders give up—which is why Highway 1 and 101 angle inland in these parts. 

Locals, of course, snort at the very idea that this splendid area was ever lost. It’s always been here, albeit shrouded in fog most of the summer and inundated with rain otherwise. California’s isolated “Lost Coast,” virtually uninhabited and more remote than any other stretch of coastline in the Lower 48, has since been found by folks looking to get away from all those other folks.