• From the Loneliest Highway to the Most Populous State

    Great Basin National Park sits on the eastern side of Nevada. To get to Califonia from there requires driving route 50, which is called the “Loneliest Highway.” I assumed that loneliest also meant desolate, but I was wrong. 

    If I could paint, this is what the highway would look like.

    The drive was quite beautiful and traversed many green mountains and wide valleys with the occasional small town. But it was long—over 400 miles to get to Lake Tahoe. 

    A sunbow through the sun roof.

    After almost three weeks on the road, it was wonderful to pull up to the Resort at Squaw Creek and check into place with a comfortable king-sized bed and a fabulous view of the mountains.

    Looking from the lobby across to the ski area.

    The resort is just a 10-minute walk through the woods to Olympic Valley, the site of the 1960 winter Olympics. I was surprised at the small size of Olympic Valley. The Olympics are such a huge commercial operation these days that Olympic Valley would not be able to handle the crowds. I found out that is is the smallest resort area to have hosted a winter Olympics.  

    Hydroponics at the resort.

    We didn’t do much here except to chill-ax, eat, and enjoy the view. It was the perfect place to decompress from an active road trip. On our first night there was a spectacular sunset.

  • Mammoth, Mines, and a Mountain Lake

    As beautiful as Yosemite is, at this time of year I prefer drving through the park, over Mono pass, and heading for the Mammoth Lakes area. Tamarack Lodge is several miles outside the developed Mammoth area and situation on a Twin Lakes. Although there were lots of people camping and staying in the area, it was serene and uncrowded compared to Yosmite. 

    View of Twin Lakes from Tamarack Lodge.

    With only one full day to stay in the area, we hiked the Duck Pass trail to Emerald Lake and then upwards to a view point at about 9.800 feet elevation. The lake was small but beautiful and quite peaceful until the teenagers on a day camp adventure bolted onto the scene. There were about three different groups of kids hiking that day, all having a great time. 

    Later that day, we took the short hike to the ruins of the Consolidated Mining Company. I learned that not all natural things are good for you!

    There were  a few bunkhouses that were standing, several company buildings that were partially or completely fallen, and lots of mining equipment.

    The mine had a lower entrance (called an adit) and an upper one. Each was closed with a barred door to keep humans out and preserve the bat habitat.  The upper Adit had an amazing view of the mountains, although I suspect the men working there were too busy to enjoy it as much as I did.

    Upper mine entrance on the left.

    Detail of old building.

    Detail of bunkhouse.

  • Death Valley at 117º F

    Looking at this image it’s impossible to tell that it’s 117º F outside. Yet if you had been in the hotel room when I placed my bare foot on the threshold of the door to the balcony, you would have seen me jump and yell because of the hot metal. Shoes are a must outdoors in this heat.

    Driving here in a modern car allowed me to enjoy the scenery without noticing that the temperature had been steadily rising from 80º F in Lone Pine to what it is now at the aptly named Furnace Creek. I feel lucky because the weather prediction a few days ago had been for 126º F. A few clouds rolled in to keep down the heat. 

    You might think that the only reason to come to Death Valley in July is to prepare for global climate change. That might be a great reason, but for me Death Valley is a stop on the way from Mammoth Lakes to Bryce Canyon. I could have motored through, but I was curious to experience what it feels like to be in a burning hot place. I found that standing in the naturally heated, spring fed pool is key to survival. And so is having an air conditioned room.

  • Contemporary Art in a Spectacular Setting

    In a quiet corner of Sonoma, on a private ranch, you’ll find some amazing works of art. It is not that easy to see these works because Oliver Ranch is a privately owned estate. Over the years the owner, Steve Oliver, commissioned  site-specific art installations, working with each artist to ensure the pieces fit well with the land. He allows nonprofit organizations access to the land for several weeks during the year. I was lucky enough to secure a spot on a fundraising tour for the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.

    The two-and-a-half hour tour covers 18 artworks, from a very disturbing sound installation to a concrete tower/performance space whose interior consists of a double-helix staircase. 

    When I arrived, I was drawn in by the peacefulness of the small lake and the abundance of yellow flowers, but I was also disturbed on a visceral level. I sensed that Mother Earth was angry, as I heard intermittent grumbling from the ground, similar to the violent fumaroles in Yellowstone National Park. That sound turned out to be one of the art installations. Although a clever idea, I wished that the sound were more tonal and musical—something that soothed rather than disturbed.

    The other art pieces were unique and wonderful to experience. Each has a story of how the artist was commissioned by Steve Oliver and how the piece was constructed. Fortunately Mr. Oliver is in the construction business, so making white concrete or super dense steel or building a concrete tower were challenges that he was able to solve for the artists. This gave each artist tremendous freedom to create. (Photo: The reflection in the pool at the bottom of The Tower.)

    Because each piece is so unique, it’s difficult for me to rate one over he other. Rather, each allows you to explore the background of the artist and the artist’s perception of the ranch. It is difficult, though, not to be drawn in by the Tower, a piece you can experience inside and out. I hope to return one day for a performance in this space. 

    The ranch also as an award-winning guest house. The clever design gives maximum privacy to guests while still enabling them to experience the serenity of the outdoor landscape. (Photo: Looking inside the guest house, with reflection of the tour group.)

    I had the option to take the stairs to the main road or ride the bus. I, along with most of my fellow travelers, chose to take the 300 stairs of uneven height, and without a handrail. Like all the art at Oliver, the stairs are designed to complement the land. When the slope calls for a tall step, the step is tall. When the slope is more gentle, the stair height is shorter. The varying height made me focus on each step, slowing me down to appreciate the artistic aspect of the stairs as I was delighted by the verdant landscape.

    If you love contemporary art, find a way to secure a spot on an Oliver Ranch tour. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, otherwise you might end up in the same position as this woman.

  • A Surrealistic Afternoon in Monterey

    Salvador Dali spent several years in Monterey, California during the 1940’s. Perhaps it is fitting that the largest private collection of his works in the US are available for viewing in a permanent exhibit only steps from Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. 

    Like most people, I am quite familiar with Persistence of Memory, with its melting watches. What I didn’t know was that Dali illustrated a wide variety of stories from the Bible to Alice in Wonderland to Dante’s Inferno to a few stories with sexual themes, including copulating beans. I hadn’t realized what a creative illustrator he was.

    Dali also created illustrations for Tarot cards and another series for the Apostles which look instead like the Knights of the Round Table.

    It is an amazing exhibit that is not to be missed if you go to Monterey Bay.

  • The Man Who Paints With His Nose

    Not too long ago I was walking on the Santa Monica boardwalk in California when I ran into a man who paints with his nose—Gille Legacy. No kidding. All my nose can do is run. His creates beautiful paintings. He first caught my eye because I noticed he was operating his iPhone with his nose. Intrigued, I came closer and noticed he had an assortment of paintings and cards her created and was selling on the boardwalk. He was the most creative artist I saw on the boardwalk.

    Gille was born with cerebral palsy. His doctors thought he would die in infancy. But he defied them. Although he can't use his arms or legs, he knows no bounds with his nose! Check out his website

  • Trying to Get a Cup of Coffee in San Francisco

    I had been warned that a cup of siphon coffee would set me back seven dollars or so. If the line into Blue Bottle Coffee weren't so long, I don't think having a cup of siphon would have intrigued me. It's true that most people in the line weren't getting siphon. Blue Bottle is also famous for all the other kinds of coffee they serve—lattes, espresso, cold brewed coffee, and more.

    What’s a siphon? A true siphon causes liquid to move from one location to another using gravitational force. Let’s say you have a 5,000 gallon tank of water and you want to move it to a tank that’s located downhill. You can place one end of a tube in the top tank and the other in the bottom tank. The water will first go upwards through the tube to get over the edge of the upper tank, then travel down to lower tank. All due to gravity

    Siphon coffee doesn’t work that way, so it is not really a siphon. The water for siphon coffee starts in a lower chamber of a two-chamber device. When heated, the water flows upwards through a tube to the upper chamber. It’s not gravity that’s responsible. It’s vapor pressure. When the water in the lower chamber (which is closed) is heated, the vapor pressure increases. The upper chamber is open, so it’s at normal atmospheric pressure. When the difference is big enough, the water gets sucked to the upper chamber. That’s when you add coffee grounds, wait precisely one minute and ten seconds, remove from the heat, and then watch the coffee drain to the lower chamber as the vapor pressure decreases.

    Siphon coffee operates on the same principle of the percolated coffee of the past. Percolated coffee recirculates over the grounds while siphon soaks the grounds.

    Now that you know the science, here’s the ordeal of getting a cup of siphon joe.

    Day 1. I decide I’ll walk over to Blue Bottle, grab a siphon to go, and get back to hear a talk at a conference that I’m attending. I allot a half hour. After 20 minutes of waiting I haven't quite reached the front door so I bail in time to get back to the conference.

    Day 2. I realize I need to allot more time to stand in line. I figure I'll pop in early in the morning on the way to the conference, grab a siphon to go, and get to the conference on time. I leave 45 minutes. Within 20 minutes I get to the cash register, but I notice that the menu mentions that customers are expected to drink the siphon on the premises. It’s part of the ritual. 

    I was prepared to break protocol and ask for a siphon to go. When I arrived at the counter and requested a siphon, I was told it would be at least 20 minutes before the Siphonista would be able to start making the siphon. It was too long so I ordered a latte. It was the most beautiful latte I've ever had, and tasty too. The latte was worth the 10 minute wait. The artful design on the frothed milk was so beautiful I couldn’t bring myself to use a to-go lid. The design persisted even as I drank, a testament to the thick, foamy milk  Best ever! Now I really wanted to try the siphon.

    Day 3. I allocated 90 minutes in my schedule to wait in line, wait for the Siphonista to catch up with the orders, and to enjoy the complete ritual on the Blue Bottle premises. The line was not quite as long, so I was very hopeful. I reached the counter within 15 minutes. I had my siphon flavor picked out—the special Panama with hints of chocolate and berries. My mouth was watering. I ordered. The hostess said "I'm sorry but the Siphonista is not here now.” “Could anyone else make it?” I asked. Of course not. This method of boiling water is so special that it requires a barista with a specialization in siphon, hence the occupation of Siphonista. Disappointed, I settled for a latte to accompany a breakfast of eggs and cauliflower.

    Perhaps on my next trip to San Francisco.

    If you want to try making siphon coffee at home, Blue Bottle Coffee provides complete instructions.