Road Trip

J. Cook Fisher / Flickr

We tend to romanticize California’s gold rush, picturing, in our mind’s eye, grizzled old guys in wide-brimmed hats wading into scenic mountain streams, alone, to pan for gold.

Most miners were quite young, though, and well-educated, if a bit wild—rarely alone—seeking adventure as much as wealth, at least in the early days of the gold rush.

And California’s pretty scenery was destroyed by mining. It didn’t stand a chance once the world rushed in, hell-bent for wealth.

Don Graham / Flickr

We continue our appreciation of California’s unique state parks, this week stopping at a spot you’ve probably passed many times on the way to and from Tahoe.

Donner Memorial State Park has its attractions. Donner Lake, for starters, fringed with private cabins—fun for summer recreation, with public lake access, beach, picnic areas, miles of hiking trails.

Even in winter you can enjoy this place—snowshoe hiking, cross-country skiing. Almost an irony, given that right here in Truckee, in heavy winter snow, a truly shocking immigrant story played out in the days before California statehood. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Up The Road: Why Local Travel Matters

Jul 24, 2019
Bob Wick / U.S. Bureau of Land Management

We’ve considered why we should travel, and then how to travel responsibly. Very short answer: We should travel because it makes us better people. And then, as better people, we naturally care about the consequences—the environmental, economic, and cultural effects—of our travel choices.

Up The Road: How To Travel

Jul 17, 2019

Last week we asked: Why should we travel at all in this world, given that, researchers say, global tourism—pleasure travel alone—is responsible for 8 to 10 percent of the greenhouse gases now driving climate change?

Conceding that we need to make big changes in how we travel, Up the Road contends that the benefits of travel still outweigh the costs—or, could outweigh the costs, once we make those changes. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Which, these days, makes getting out and about downright patriotic.

Up The Road: Why Travel?

Jul 10, 2019
Guiseppe Milo / Flickr

We head up the road this week on a philosophical trip, to answer the question: Why travel? We travel because we’re a migratory species, on the most basic level, and we’ve gotten good at it over the eons. At first, we traveled strictly to survive, as many still do. Now the middle-class travels for fun, as only the upper class once did.

But there is a cost to so much travel. According to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change earlier this year, tourism—meaning, pleasure travel—accounts for 8 percent of all global greenhouse gases. Some sources put the total closer to 10 percent.