Category Archives: Out & About

Where do I cancel?

Out & About

On Saturday, March 14, I drove to Visalia, California, a distance of 327 miles. It was a 10-hour round-trip. My purpose was to speak to the Visalia Succulent Club on Nature’s Geometry in Succulents.

Cover of "Nature's Geometry: Succulents" by Russel Ray

I got to go over The Grapevine, a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 5 over the Tehachapi Mountains from California’s San Joaquin Valley to Grapevine.

The Grapevine

It’s a monster of a road because there’s a lot of semi traffic doing 5-10 mph in the slow lane, and semi traffic doing 10-30 mph in the second lane. Traffic in the other lanes is cruising by at 55-65 mph, with some doing up to 90 mph in the fast lane. The weather can be atrocious because of the height of the mountains, raining at the top (4,000 feet) but clear on both sides, and even snow at some times of the year. Couple the weather with the wide range of speeds, and there always are various accidents.

The meeting was at 6:00 p.m., and since I got there at 10:15 a.m., I had a lot of time to explore. Visalia and its sister city of Exeter were quite beautiful with all the trees that were blooming.

Strawberry Tree (Arbutus sp.)

Flowering Maple (Albutilon sp.)

Redbud trees

Flowering trees

Exeter, with a population of 10,000, had a very cool little downtown area. There were murals on the exterior of 32 buildings. I didn’t find them all, but the following one, #15 and titled “Tracks of Time,” was my favorite.

Tracks of Time

In Exeter, I found a bookstore with lots of local history books, so I bought one, a hard-cover edition of a book that itself is difficult to find.

Visalia Electric Railroad

The bookstore also had a cat. I’m one of those who have to take time out of my busy schedule to pet a cat, so this little one got 15 minutes of love and attention from me. Look at the expression on his face as I told him that I had to go but would make him a Facebook star.

Exeter bookstore kitty

With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, when I got home at 4:00 Sunday morning, I decided to self-isolate, not because I think I might have caught something in the Central California Valley but rather because at my age (65 years and 8 days) and with my high blood pressure; skin cancer and seborrheic keratoses; BPH; and constant coughing, sneezing, and trouble breathing due to a deviated septum from a broken nose sometime in my early childhood (according to the otolaryngologist), I’m in the high-risk category. My constant coughing and sneezing also might cause concern to anyone within hearing distance. I have pills to help control the coughing and sneezing, but I never know how long before they take effect and when they might expire.

I’m keeping a journal of my days at home in self-isolation., trying to keep things in perspective.

Day 1—I have decided to self-isolate. Since I am retired, between watching television (although no sports), gardening (lots of weeds to pull and flora to plant), and taking care of Little Queen Olivia (who doesn’t seem to be real excited about me being home all day), self-isolation shouldn’t be too hard.

Day 2—After a day of drinking margaritas and watching the Hannibal series on Prime TV, I can definitely state that drinking margaritas all day does not make you poop. Thusly, I am out of margaritas, but I have 1,618 rolls of toilet paper.

Day 3—Little Queen Olivia is completely oblivious to the fact that I am home and willing to give belly rubs.
Little Queen Olivia

Day 4—Self-isolation isn’t so bad, but I do find it interesting that there are 8,471 grains of rice in one box and 8,552 grains in the other box.

Day 5—It’s been raining all this week, with 3½ inches these past two days, and it’s raining hard right now. Pulling weeds and planting flora is going very slowly. Ah well, that means I definitely still have things to do during the next nine days of my self isolation.

My self-isolation will end on March 28, and three days later my 90-day free trial of the year 2020 ends. Where do I cancel?

Hope everyone is doing well in these weird times we’re living in.

Out & About in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

Out & About

I went camping for three days last weekend in Anza-Borrego Desert in Southern California, perhaps the best ever camping trip I have been on.

Out of several hundred Ferocactus cylindraceus plants I saw in the desert, I found these two that clearly show spiraling flowers, rather unusual in cacti.

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

Go, Fibonacci, go!

When I moved out here in the East San Diego County boondocks at 682′ elevation in July 2017, I started landscaping with my favorite plants. Keep in mind that, at that time, I had 62 years of experience growing my favorite plants.

Well, two of my favorite plants, Agave attenuata and aeoniums, don’t like it out here. Agave attenuata simply doesn’t like it when it gets below 40°F, of which we have had several weeks, and aeoniums don’t like it when it gets too hot, of which we have had several weeks of 100°F+.Grow dammit!

After trying to will them to live and look nice, I gave up in October 2019, and I’ve been replacing all of them with cacti, mostly Ferocactus.

One of my purposes in going desert camping was to get a good look at Ferocactus cylindraceus since it’s native to Southern California just 80 miles from me. I am officially in love (but don’t tell my husband).

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

I found the tallest ferocactus I had ever seen, standing six feet and six inches tall, four inches taller than me.

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

I’m the one in red.
Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

Additionally, I found the clumpiest clump (with seven heads!) and the tallest clump.

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

Ferocactus cylindraceus in Anza-Borrego Desert, Southern California

And, to top things off, I found the desert rains and a desert rainbow!

Rainbow in Anza-Borrego Desert

The historic Southern Pacific Railroad depot in Bakersfield

Halls of History

Never fails! When I’m out and about doing one thing, trains seem to crop up here and there.

When I was in Bakersfield on February 11 speaking to the Bakersfield Cactus & Succulent Society, I had to go downtown and check out the historic Southern Pacific depot.

Looks like this:

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

When construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad line had reached the southern San Joaquin Valley in 1874, Bakersfield was the preferred stop. However, a land dispute between Bakersfield and Southern Pacific resulted in Southern Pacific building its tracks two miles east of the Bakersfield, in Sumner, a town laid out by the railroad, as many towns were back in those days. A small depot also was built.

When the Bakersfield depot opened on June 27, 1889, it was located in Sumner, California. Sometime between 1888 and 1892, Sumner incorporated under the name Kern City. In 1910, Kern City voted to become part of Bakersfield.

The depot originally was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, comprising both a train station and a hotel. One of the station’s most defining features was the long arcade stretching along the north side and connecting the station and the hotel.

In the late 1930s, Southern Pacific wanted to demolish the depot and build a completely new one. Instead, the depot was remodeled, providing a more streamlined appearance by removing many of the ornamental Romanesque features and transforming the depot into a Spanish Colonial Revival style. The steep roofs, part of the original style, were kept. Additional expansions included a section in the Moderne style.

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

The depot served Southern Pacific passenger trains that ran on the San Joaquin Valley Route: San Joaquin Daylight, Sacramento Daylight, Owl, and West Coast.

Eventually the hotel closed and was converted to office space; I could not find the date of its closing. Closing the hotel also resulted in half of the portico (on the hotel side) being enclosed.

It currently is used as an office building and crew change center by Union Pacific, and on very rare occasions (about once every ten years), it serves as a stop for Amtrak’s Coast Starlight when Union Pacific’s Coast Line is closed. When that happens, the Coast Starlight goes through the Tehachapi Loop. Getting a video of Amtrak on the Tehachapi Loop is #1 on my Bucket List. Here’s a video of a long BNSF freight on the Tehachapi Loop in February 2017 showing the front of the train passing under the rear of the train:

BNSF freight on the Tehachapi Loop

The depot itself closed in 1971 with the founding of Amtrak and the termination of individual railroad passenger trains, thus ending Southern Pacific passenger trains through the station. The office portion would continue to be used by Southern Pacific, and later by Union Pacific.

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

Historic Southern Pacific depot in Bakersfield, California

There is a nice Amtrak station not too far away, and there are plans for two new rail systems, both having a stop in East Bakersfield near the historic Southern Pacific depot. Kern County also has been toying with the idea of a regional commuter rail system which would use existing Union Pacific tracks. Not to be left out, Bakersfield also has been mulling a future light rail system. Both systems are not on the drawing board before 2025.

Out & About—California Living Museum in Bakersfield, California

Out & About

When I was in Bakersfield, California, on February 11-12, 2020, high on my list of places to visit was the California Living Museum, or CALM for short. It specializes in California native fauna and flora.

California Living Museum logo

California Living Museum logo

Although the California Living Museum is only 14 acres with 250 animals representing 80 species, I can highly recommend it.

Keep in mind that I have been a member of zoos, arboretums, aquariums, and animal sanctuaries since I was 13 when my wise old grandmother got me a membership to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. After that it was the San Antonio Zoo and the Houston Zoo. Also keep in mind that I have been a member of the San Diego Zoo since May 1993.

When I was searching for things to do in Bakersfield and found the California Living Museum, I immediately compared it to the San Diego Zoo at 99 acres, 3,700 animals, and 650 species, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park at 1,800 acres, 3,500+ animals, and 400+ species.

I had convinced myself that I would be disappointed, but I just cannot bear to miss a zoo, arboretum, or sanctuary, so off I went, thinking that since it specialized in California native flora and fauna, maybe I would see something that I had never seen before. At $10, the price was right, too!

I spent four hours at CALM, which breaks down to $2.50 per hour. That’s entertainment that doesn’t break the bank!

Following are some of my best pictures of CALM.

Seeing a saguaro (Carnegia gigantea) in the parking lot gave me great hope
and it only got better.California Living Museum

California Living Museum

California Living Museum

Barrel cactus
Barrel cactus

Northern Mojave Rattlesnake
Northern Mojave Rattlesnake

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake
Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake

Sidewinder
Sidewinder

Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake

Chuckwalla
Chuckwalla

Desert Iguana
Desert Iguana

Desert Tortoise
Desert Tortoise

Desert Bighorn SheepDesert Bighorn Sheep

CoyoteCoyote

Mountain Lion
Mountain lion

Mountain lion

Nelson’s Antelope Squirrel
Nelson's Antelope Squirrel

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

Turkey
Turkey

Western Scrub Jay
Western Scrub Jay

Barn Owl
Barn Owl

Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

California Living Museum

Did you notice that I got a picture of both a coyote and a roadrunner?

Coyote and roadrunner

Out & About—Puma concolor

Out & About

I spoke to the Bakersfield Cactus & Succulent Society on February 11, 2020, about nature’s geometry in succulents, and spoke on the same subject at the San Gabriel Valley Cactus & Succulent Society on February 13.

Bakersfield is a 4-hour drive from me, and the Los Angeles County Arboretum where San Gabriel Valley Cactus & Succulent Society meets, is a 3-hour drive, so it’s not like I was going to come home after Bakersfield and then drive back to Los Angeles through all that horrendous traffic.

Thus, I spent Wednesday out and about Bakersfield, exploring trains, zoos, arboretums and gardens, and the campus of California State University-Bakersfield.

Bakersfield has a zoo and arboretum by the name of California Living Museum, or CALM for short. It specializes in California native fauna and flora.

I have been a member of zoos, arboretums, aquariums, and animal sanctuaries since I was 13 when my wise old grandmother got me a membership to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. After that it was the San Antonio Zoo and Houston Zoo.

I came to San Diego, California, in April 1993, and as soon as I decided to stay (took three days!), I immediately joined the San Diego Zoo, and I have been a member ever since.

The California Living Museum is only 14 acres with 250 animals representing 80 species. I could not find any information on the number of plant species.

Compare that to the San Diego Zoo at 99 acres, 3,700 animals, and 650 species. Compare both to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park at 1,800 acres, 3,500+ animals, and 400+ species. Consequently, I didn’t know quite what to expect. I really thought that it would take no more than 90 minutes or so to check out everything.

I was wrong!

It took four hours!

Seeing native California animals was great, especially those that I had not seen before, such as coyotes, various rattlesnakes, coatamundi (still don’t know what that is!), and the beautiful mountain lion (Puma concolor).

Although the San Diego Zoo has a mountain lion, it’s a lazy ass cat and always is sleeping in its cave whenever I go by. The one at CALM was perched on a rock watching the people who were watching it. I got my best picture ever of this beautiful big kitty:

Mountain lion

Would you look at that tail!

I will have more pictures of this beautiful and impressive little zoo in future posts.

As an aside, I know I have readers who despise zoos and aquariums. All of the fauna at CALM are in three categories:

    1. Animals that are injured and unable to hunt or defend themselves, so they cannot be released back into the wild.
    2. Animals that have been rescued from the illegal pet trade. When animals are taken from their territory, returning them to a different territory usually means their death, either from not knowing where to hunt in their territory or being killed by other animals defending that territory. Since it is unknown where their territory was, they can’t be released back into the wild.
    3. Animals that have been imprinted. This sometimes happens when injured animals are rescued and treated for their injuries. One always hopes for their complete recovery and return to the wild, but sometimes the animal becomes too accustomed to humans providing for its food, health, and safety, a condition known as imprinting.

Without zoos, aquariums, and sanctuaries, these animals would probably be euthanized. Instead, they can live out their lives in comfort. There also is quite a lot of research indicating that people won’t (or can’t) spend the money and time to make a trip to the wild to see these animals, but to see them in zoos, aquariums, and sanctuaries often turns people into animal activists and conservationists. I also met one San Diego Zoo employee who told me that she visited the Zoo when she was 8 years old. She decided she wanted to work there one day. She got a degree in biology and has worked at the Zoo for 17 years.

Mountain lion

Halls of History — The Cardiff Mystery House

Halls of History

When I was in Wrightwood Village a week ago, I immediately noticed that there was not a single brick or stucco home. All were wood. That’s because Wrightwood is built directly on top of the San Andreas Fault. As has been regularly seen in earthquakes throughout the world, brick and stucco homes don’t do so well in earthquakes.

Consequently, building codes in California have changed significantly since the Loma Prieta (World Series) earthquake of 1989 and the Northridge earthquake of 1994. Thus, whenever I see a brick building in my part of the world, I’m pretty sure it was built before 1989.

Recently I found a two-story brick building in Cardiff near the Cardiff Elementary School.

Cardiff Mystery House

There was only one window in the place, although it looks like there were many more that were “boarded up” with brick.

Google Maps shows it as a gray rectangle in a public park.

Location of Cardiff Mystery House

It took a lot of research to find out about this house, known locally as the Cardiff Mystery House.

I did find lots of interesting guesses:

  1. A haunted house to keep the kids close to the school during recess.
  2. The original Cardiff schoolhouse.
  3. The old Cardiff jailhouse.
  4. The Cardiff power station from the 1970s.
  5. A secret lookout or radar facility to guard against a West Coast attack by the Japanese in World War II. Note that many spotter bunkers were established along the California coast after Pearl Harbor but they all are camouflaged bunkers rather than being 2-story structures.

None of those appear to be correct, but #1 and #5 are fun to imagine.

Apparently the “house” was built in the 1940s by Bell Telephone as a telephone relay station to connect services throughout Southern California. It held large, low-voltage batteries that amplified every phone’s handset and powered the phone’s ring.

Bell designed it as house structure to avoid a possible air attack by the Japanese, which would have knocked out communications.

In the 1990s, Bob Sinclair, the founder and owner of Pannikin Coffee and Tea, bought the Cardiff Bell Telephone house, intending to repurpose it for his growing coffee shop chain, something he was good at doing. In fact, he bought the old Encinitas railroad depot, moved it to Leucadia, renovated it, and turned it into a coffee house, shown below.

Former ATSF railroad depot in Encinitas, California

I found the Encinitas railroad depot a couple of years ago and did a blog post about it, which you can find here.

The Cardiff Mystery House was deemed non-earthquake proof, thus requiring massive retrofits to make it suitable for a a coffee house, not to mention that it probably would not have the requisite number of parking spaces.

The school district bought the property from Sinclair in 2001 and now uses it to store the school’s equipment and carnival supplies. Surrounding the building is a student garden.

There are at least two more surviving Bell Telephone houses, identical to the Cardiff house both in size and architecture. I actually have seen both of them but didn’t have time to stop and explore them. One is in the San Onofre State Beach campground, visible when driving southbound I-5, just west of the California Highway Patrol weigh station. The other is at the west end of Ortega Highway 74, in San Juan Capistrano.

I guess you know that I’m going to have to go by those two and take pictures, yes?

Cardiff Mystery House

Cardiff Mystery House

Cardiff Mystery House

Out & About—Strutting peacock video

Out & About

My speaking engagement on 2/13/20 with the San Gabriel Valley Cactus & Succulent Society occurred at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. They have a flock of peafowl there which seems to be growing. I counted 27 at one point but I could not get them all in one picture. Here’s my mostest:

Peafowl at the Los Angeles County Arboretum

If you’ve never seen a strutting peacock, including behind-the-scene action, here’s one for you from my time at the Los Angeles County Arboretum last week: