Off the Grid in Kern County

I ventured out into the world this last weekend. It wasn't pretty. I call it the land of the billboards but I will get into that later. March 22nd, would have been my mom's 90th birthday. My baby sister, Jill, thought it would be nice to get all the kids together for a little memorial service. I was having some trouble with the idea of a return trip to Kern County after just being down there last month. Jill came up with an intriguing idea. Her daughter and my niece, Amanda, and her boyfriend would be coming down from Fortuna for the service and they could pick me up in Willits. I said I could be in Willits at 8:30AM and Amanda said that was doable so arrangements were made. So last Thurday I was on the road again. Caught the early pickup bus in Mendocino which dropped me off at the Boatyard in Fort Bragg for the trip to Willits using the CC Rider. I had never gotten off in Willits before so that was a first. The bus was 15 minutes late. Not a good first impression. Amanda was waiting at Babcock Park when I got there and we were off. Roughly 9 hours later I arrived at my sister's (used to be my parents) home in Wofford Heights. I had not seen Amanda in many years and had never met Erin, her boyfriend, so we spent the first part of the trip catching up. Obviously there was an age difference when Erin asked what kind of music I liked but we all connected when I found out they were beer connoisseurs. Beer was something I could talk about.

The trip from Willits to just outside of Sacramento was generally a good visual experience. Currently the hills and the farmland are green and you can actually see them. Once you get to the Central Valley things start going downhill. We took Highway 99 down the center of California. Interstate 5 would have been the same. It is billboard land. Miles and miles of billboards. All shapes and sizes.

They were trying to get you to stop and kill yourselves slowly.

They offer you a place to spend the night.

They offer a place to gas-up.

They tell you where you are.

Need an attorney?

They even offer to save your soul.

Of course I could go on for awhile but in keeping with my last post, Is California Doomed?, I will add these homemade billboards that you now see driving along Highway 99. Of course Democrats are to blame for the drought.

Beside billboards you have the wall-to-wall trucks. Getting around them is a constant problem.

Then you have the construction that I'm told has been going on forever and the drivers that dart in and out of lanes and others that can't stay in their lanes or maintain a consistent speed. Can't say it was a pleasant ride and thank goodness I wasn't driving. I didn't see this next billboard but you know what I'm thinking.

As you might have guessed I took none of these pictures and most were not credited.

This is the view from my sister's home. Lake Isabella use to fill a good portion of this picture. Today the lake is caught in a dilemma. It should be storing water for those further downstream but it has been declared a danger because of it's construction method and it's on an earthquake fault. Because of that they have to let water run down the canyon. There are plans to upgrade it but that's a future project.

The area my parents decided to retire to is in the southern most part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It's dry and hot in the summer. It's supposed to be wet and cold in the winter but that is changing.

Note the dead trees in the second picture. Much of my visit was spent sorting through old pictures, newspaper articles, and family history material. That of course lead to the constant questions of what was our old dog's names, who is that with Aunt Verne or Uncle Doug or where was that taken? Lot's of memories coming back from dead brain cells and who knew what a cute kid I was.

While family matters took center stage we each spent some time doing what we do best. For me that was doing some birding around the house. The first day was getting acclimated to the bird sounds. Was that a Hairy or Nuttall's Woodpecker calling? I had to remember that I was in a dry oak habitat. The dawn chorus was loud and started early. The first morning a Great Horned Owl was calling. I heard a strange call that I didn't know. Heard it again the second day and investigated what it could be. It turned out to be a Common Poorwill, a life bird. A great yardbird was a California Thrasher.

I found 30 bird species in the area. Two were invasive birds, House Sparrow and Eurasian Collared-Dove, that I hadn't seen there before. I had thought that the House Sparrow was a city bird but I guess not. The story of another non-native bird is rather strange. Apparently where my sister works they have Peacocks. A chick from a recent brood hatched late and fell behind the rest of the birds. My sister's son, Kenny, wanted to raise it. So they brought it home where it is getting bigger and bigger. Don't know how this story is going to turn out.

While pumping gas for my niece's car I spotted a Great-tailed Grackle on a power pole. Not a bird we see much in Mendocino.

The butterflies were also moving through. They were mostly flying too fast. I saw a swallowtail but didn't see which one. This Mormon Metalmark(?) was a new butterfly for me.

The reason for the title was that my sister didn't have wifi at the house and there are not many public places to get internet service. I felt a little isolated. Couldn't blog, search the internet or check my emails. Mixed feelings about that. Finally I was dropped off at the local McDonalds in the town of Lake Isabella where I got caught up with my other life.

Sunday the clan gathered for the memorial service. They were all on time for once. The plan was to have a lilac bush planted using mom's ashes, have lunch and birthday cake and ice cream. Then we would go down to the local cemetery and put the rest of her ashes on father's grave. And then we would go back to the house and play Gin Rummy which my mother always enjoyed doing. That's the way it happened.


That evening I notice a very bright crescent moon and Venus together in the sky. We got Kenny's telescope out and had a excellent view.

We left the next morning. The return was the reverse of the trip down. To while away the time I decided to write down the repeat billboards that I saw on the way back. Don't know why I did that but you now get to read the results:-) Eating places were McDonalds, Carl's Jr., Subway, Burger King, IHOP, Wendy's, Denny's, Jack in the Box, In-and-Out Burgers, Applebee's and KFC. Gas stations were Shell, Valero, Arco AM/PM, 76, Chevron, and Circle K. Hotels and motel were Motel 6, Budget Inn, Marriott, Best Western, La Quinta, Day's Inn, Holiday Inn & Express. OK I'll stop but you can see how boring the scenery was. I didn't even include the massive new car lots, shopping malls, tractor sales and RV parks. The one exciting part of the trip back was stopping at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Elk Grove for lunch. I had never been to one before. It was an exciting lunch that was cheap and good. They bill it as, “Food With Integrity“.

Based on my experience of being in a car for a roughly 900 mile round trip I ask myself why people don't use the bus and train more often. Why fight the traffic? Why not sit back, read a book, talk to people, eat lunch, drink a beer, check your emails, search the web, watch a movie, snooze, or walk around if you have to? The scenery is better on a train. It does take a little longer but it's much more relaxing and environmentally better for the planet.

Amanda and Erin dropped me off in Willits about an hour early. Thought I could kill some time at the Starbucks in Safeway but they didn't have seating so I spend the time at a local Jack In the Box with a milk shake. I guess there is a use for a fast food joint after all. The CC Rider coming back from Santa Rosa was only 8 minutes late to take me back to the coast.



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