Category Archives: Visiting Historical Landmarks

“Stop! Stop! Stop!”

On January 22, 2011, I needed to go to San Carlos to try on a rain jacket. It was a nice day. Thus, Gail and I decided to take the tandem along and ride Old La Honda Road. During this ride, we had a surprise.

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I don’t really want to spend much time discussing the rain jacket. Randonneurs USA offered to sell its members an RUSA-branded Shower Pass rain jacket at a good discount. There had been some differences of opinion about the sizing of these jackets. The local REI didn’t have one and the San Carlos store did. Ergo, I needed to go to San Carlos (about 50 miles from home) to try on a rain jacket. I tried on both options from RUSA and ordered one (the Elite 2.0). It should arrive any day now. I sure wish that I had had it on the Worker’s ride prior to the San Francisco Randonneurs‘ Russian River 300k. Enough of that…

Since I had to drive over to San Carlos, Gail and I decided to bring along the tandem and get in a ride. Gail is coming off of surgery to repair a torn meniscus, so she is taking things easy. Thus, we decided to do some climbing from Palo Alto, up Old La Honda Road to Skyline Blvd. and then back down. A quick 20 miles. Piece of cake.

Since the roads in the South Bay are a bit of a mystery to me, I suggested parking at Stanford Shopping Center and riding from there. This would be great: we could ride straight up to Old La Honda Road, get done with the climbing, return to the car, and then have a fine meal.

Of course, there was a bit of a problem. I had managed to forget that we need several feet of open space on the starboard side of the Forester to get the tandem off the top of the car. Why? To get the tandem off of the car, the entire quick release mechanism that holds the front fork to the Yakima Sidewinder rack pivots (along with the tandem), which allows one person to take the tandem off the roof. Brilliant design. However, since the tandem swings to the side as the quick release mechanism pivots, you need about 1.5 parking spaces to get the tandem off the roof. So, we had to circle around the lot a bit to find just the right parking spot. This took longer than expected since the place was mobbed with shoppers.

After a bruising December, which was filled with massive rain storms and cold weather, January was unseasonably warm. Today was no exception:  it was in the 70s. However, having lived in the SF Bay Area for most of my life, I knew that warm weather on the east side of the Coastal Range was no guarantee that it would be warm on Skyline Blvd.  Thus, even though almost all other riders were wearing short sleeves, we dutifully packed our jackets and arm warmers into the rack bag.

We headed toward the hills up Sand Hill Road. The ride to Old La Honda Road goes over a couple of hills and has some extended gradual climbs. We puttered along, getting used to riding the tandem again and enjoying the beautiful weather. There were a ton of other riders out that day, doing the same. Life was good.

I had ridden Old La Honda Road earlier in the year as part of the Santa Cruz Randonneurs’ Central Coast 1000k brevet. Thus, I sort of knew what we were in for. The hill isn’t killer steep but it is a good climb to Skyline Blvd. When we finally turned the corner onto Old La Honda Road, the temperature seemed to drop by about 10 degrees and the road kicked up. We thought about donning our jackets but decided to climb a bit and then decide. A good choice.

Old La Honda Road is just plain beautiful. It winds its way up the eastern slope of the Coastal Range through the redwoods. The road surface was perfect until near the top. There was very little traffic. We were in no hurry. Thus, even though neither Gail nor I had been riding much, the climb was a joy. Slow, to be sure, but still great fun.

When we finally reached Skyline Blvd., we made a right and headed down to Sky Londa for a break. I had floated the idea of eating at Alice’s Restaurant in Sky Londa. However, when we finally arrived, it was about 4 pm, sunset was in about an hour, and we didn’t have any lights, so we grabbed a bite to eat from the market and headed down Highway 84.

This was the first time I had ridden eastbound down Highway 84, so I asked an experienced-looking rider about what to expect. “As long as you can keep up with traffic, it is no problem.” In other words, we would likely be flying down the hill.

Off we went. The descent was fine. The traffic was generally well-behaved, the road surface was acceptable, the curves in general were reasonable, and I was able to keep our speed at a reasonable level, so there was no crying or begging from the stoker to slow down. We whipped a hard right onto Portola Road and continued the descent back toward Sand Hill Road.

All of the sudden, I hear Gail screaming “Stop! Stop! Stop!” It didn’t seem like she had fallen off of the bike and was being dragged down the road by her foot. Had the rack bag flown off? Expecting the worst, I jammed on the brakes and yelled “What the hell is going on?” Gail said “Look! Look! A Historic Marker!”

Sure enough, as I looked in my Take-a-Look, there it was: an official California Historical Marker. It hadn’t even crossed our minds that we might see one of these things on this ride. But, there it was: Historical Marker # 478: Site of San Mateo County’s First Sawmill. We made a totally illegal and dangerous U-turn and headed back up the hill to the Marker to check it out.

According to the Historical Marker, about 300 feet south of the monument, on the banks of the Alambique Creek, stood San Mateo County’s first sawmill, built by Charles Brown in 1847. About the same time, Dennis Martin was building a second mill, also run by waterpower, on San Francisquito Creek. These mills were similar to the famous Sutter’s Mill at Coloma, site of James Marshall’s 1848 gold discovery.

I had to hand it to Gail: she really did have a good eye for these things, since we were riding pretty fast when we passed the Historical Landmark. After some photos, we continued on our way back to Stanford Shopping Center.

Once we got home, we realized that there were a bunch of Historical Landmarks near our route. Looks like we will be heading back over there soon.

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Berkeley: City of Hidden Historical Markers!

It was July 5 and I needed to go to my mom’s house in Castro Valley. Gail was free so we decided to hop on the tandem and pedal over. Since it had been a few weeks since our last Landmark adventure, we dug out the book, IDed some of the Landmarks in Berkeley and Oakland that we had missed to date, and took off (of course, going on a ride like this is never a “decide and ride” event: the departure was fraught with clothing and food choices, bike prep, sunscreen, and myriad other tasks). (Want to just look at the pictures? Click here.)

Since the main purpose of the ride was to actually get to my mother’s house in a reasonable amount of time, we designed a route that would hit the maximum number of Landmarks with the least amount of veering off-course. Thus, we were going to ride up toward the University of California, hit a couple of Landmarks in the general vicinity, and then head toward Oakland, and San Leandro. After meeting with Mom, we could visit Castro Valley’s only officially-designated Historical Landmark before hopping on BART for the return home.

Our first stop would be an easy one: the University of California, Berkeley Campus (Historical Landmark #946).  According to our “California Historical Landmark” book: “These landmarks form the historic core of the first University of California campus, opened in 1873: Founders’ Rock, University House, Faculty Club and Glade, Hearst Greek Theater, Hearst Memorial Mining Building, Doe Library, Sather Tower and Esplanade, Sather Gate and Bridge, Hearst Gymnasium, California, Durant, Wellman, Hilgard, Giannini, Wheeler, North Gate, and South Halls.”

In my misspent youth, I had attended college at UC, we had lived in Berkeley for a number of years, and I also had a great innate sense of direction. I even knew where a number of the buildings mentioned in the description quoted above were found on campus. However, we assumed that there was only ONE official Marker, not a bunch of them scattered all over the campus. Thus, we searched high and low around “University Avenue, Berkeley” looking for the thing. We even asked a couple of UC police officers where we might find the Marker (they didn’t even know such a thing existed…so much for the observation abilities of UCB’s finest). Gail seemed to recall a marker of some variety in a redwood grove but that was not the OFFICIAL Marker. We even tried the UC information building, with no joy (since the place was shut down for the July 4th holiday). We are going to have to go back to the campus with the list of official buildings and see if the State actually sprung for more than one Marker. However, that was for another day. Mom was waiting, so off we went, without finding the Marker. Once again, we were starting off one of these trips without anything to show for our first visit.

Fortunately, we were in the dumps for only a few minutes, since our next destination, the Berkeley City Club, was only a few blocks away and I was certain that it had a Marker. The Berkeley City Club was organized by women in 1927, to contribute to social, civic, and cultural progress. The building, constructed in 1929, is one of the outstanding works of noted California architect Julia Morgan, whose interpretation of Moorish and Gothic elements created a landmark of California design.

This place is just lovely from the outside. It stands on the north side of Durant Avenue, the sun was shining on it, and the building was looking great. Upon closer examination, we could see that it was getting a little worn in places. I had attended meetings in this building and the interior was a little faded but still grand. No matter: this building truly looks like a Historical Landmark. Also, the Marker was right on the façade, so no need for any hunting to find the thing. Definitely visit this place and then follow up your visit with a trip to Yogurt Park, which is just up Durant Ave. from the City Club!

Our next stop, Piedmont Way (Historical Landmark #986), was a surprise to us. Piedmont Way was conceived in 1865 by Fredrick Law Olmsted, America’s foremost landscape architect. As the centerpiece of a gracious residential community close beside the College of California, Olmsted envisioned a roadway that would follow the natural contours of the land and be sheltered from sun and wind by “an overarching bowery of foliage.” This curvilinear, tree-lined parkway was Olmsted’s first residential street design. it has served as the model for similar parkways across the nation.

Anyone that has lived in or around Berkeley for any length of time knows this road. It runs across the top of the campus, past fraternity and sorority houses, the International House, Hearst Greek Theater, Memorial Stadium, and other landmarks. The architecture along the road varies from Julia Morgan wood-singled structures to ghastly apartment buildings, which presumably replaced the old grand houses that originally graced the road. There is a circle at Channing Way, where frat boys play frisbee on warm spring days. The smell of beer is evident, especially on a weekend day. Trees provide plenty of shade on the days where the sun pokes through our omnipresent marine layer. Plants and flowers are everywhere. The only thing that this street seems to be missing is the OFFICIAL HISTORICAL MARKER! We rode up and down the street a few times, with Gail looking for the Marker and me trying to avoid getting run down by motorists gawking at the sights. We even drove down the non-curvilinear part of Piedmont Ave., looking for the thing. No luck.

However, don’t let the lack of a Marker deter you from visiting this beautiful street. Walking is probably the best way to get to see the great houses, the use of native plants, the way that the curves tend to calm traffic, and the overall coolness of having a street follow the contour of the land. Not to be missed.

Batting a cool .333, we headed out of Berkeley, toward Oakland, San Leandro, and our rendezvous with Mom.

“I think that Google Maps for bicycles isn’t quite ready for prime time”

On June 20, it was time to hit the road again and see some Historical Landmarks. Since our last adventure, I had ridden the San Francisco Randonneurs’ Davis Night Ride (a 200 km brevet from Hercules to Davis and back that starts at 8 pm and ended for me at about 7:45 am the next morning). I was so excited about riding to Davis (and after we had so much fun in Solano County visiting Benicia and Fairfield), Gail and I wanted to visit the two Historical Landmarks that were in Solano County but most remote from our house. Also, Gail wanted to ride Pleasants Valley Road. Finally, I wanted to get her on the Capitol Corridor trains. To meet all of those constraints, we decided to drive to Fairfield, ride to Vacaville and Winters (to see Landmarks), continue on to Davis, and then take the train back to Fairfield.

At first, we thought we should take the train from Richmond to Fairfield. However, that was going to take some extra time and we were having trouble getting going, so we decided to make the quick drive from Richmond to the Amtrak station in Fairfield, which is where we would start our ride. Easy, right? I swear, we must have driven around Fairfield for 45 minutes, trying to find the Amtrak station. Our first mistake was to think that the Amtrak station was somewhat near Fairfield’s downtown. After getting off I-80 at the sign pointing toward downtown Fairfield, we were treated to a long drive down W. Texas Street, through and past downtown, before we stopped at a gas station to look at the map. Way too far. No problem…just turn around and head back, since we must have missed the signs pointing toward the Amtrak station. After making a U-turn, we headed back into downtown Fairfield. No signs to Amtrak.

I could see the tracks. I KNEW that the station had to be around here somewhere. We took the bicycle directions I had printed for the ride and tried to reverse-engineer the directions to Amtrak. It looked like we had it until we hit the road that forced us to get onto CA Highway 12, which was NOT where we wanted to go. We went down one exit, turned around, and headed back toward Fairfield. We finally saw it: a sign indicating that we were heading toward the Amtrak station! After some bobbing and weaving around the ramps of Highway 12, we finally pulled into the Amtrak parking lot. Now THAT was 1.5 hours well-spent!

After unloading the tandem, we headed out of the parking lot, trying to follow the directions that I had printed from Google Maps. Before I start on the rant, let me say that I LOVE Google Maps. It is the mapping program that I ALWAYS turn to. Google added a feature to Google Maps that seemed great: it would find a route for bicycles! Since Gail and I were going to be on a bicycle, we thought that we should give this feature a try.

The directions out of the train station to get to W. Texas St. (which was where we had been driving about 30 minutes previously) were incomprehensible. There were no street names in some cases (even though the directions indicated that we should turn). I guess if I had a military-quality GPS system, we might have been able to determine when we had traveled 255 feet. However, since my Ciclosport HAC-4 only measured in tenths of miles (and I was trying to avoid getting hit by Sunday morning drivers or running into curbs), I must have missed one or more of the turn. I finally said that we HAD to go over this pedestrian bridge to get across the railroad tracks and get to W. Texas St. Thus, for the next 30 minutes or so, we were riding based on my excellent innate sense of direction, the sun, and dumb luck.

After winding around in a few subdivisions of Fairfield, we finally came across one of the roads on the directions from Google Maps. I thought that this was a good sign. However, after following the directions for about a mile, we were told to turn right and then make a left turn in 39 feet (again, with no road named). We went into Capricorn Circle, looped around it once, and popped back out where we had started. No bike path. No way to get out of the circle (unless we were to get off the tandem, walk up to one of the houses, open a gate, and walk through their yard, and then hopped over their back fence). Since there was no mention of such antics, I wasn’t quite ready to face a trespassing  rap in Solano County, so we headed back out of the circle, with a single question on our minds: where in the hell do we go?

It wasn’t hard to know the general direction of travel that we should to take. We should be heading toward Peña Adobe, which is on the other side of the hills from Fairfield. We could see the hills. Google Maps said that there was a route that would go over the hills (rather than taking the route that I was familiar with, which went on frontage roads west of I-80). However, every time we tried to cut through a subdivision, we would hit a dead-end (at the edge of the subdivision…there wouldn’t be a road out the “back way”, which meant we had to go back out of the subdivision and try again). Finally, we found the road that was supposed to take us to the mystery shortcut over the hill to (aptly named Paradise Valley Road). We were home free!

Not so fast, cowboy! Paradise Valley dead-ended at a construction site. No way through. So, make a U-turn, go back down the hill, and head east on Manual Compos Parkway, where, to our surprise, we found yet another Paradise Valley Road! Feeling like there couldn’t be more than two of these, we turned and headed toward the hills, Lagoon Valley, and our first Historical Landmark.

We wound around a bit until we were on the road that was supposed to go over the hill, which happened to be named, you guessed it, PARADISE VALLEY ROAD!!! We went up what appeared to be a driveway until we arrived at a very serious-looking locked gate with “NO TRESPASSING” plastered all over it. The gate wasn’t all that tall and I think that we might have been able to get the tandem and our bodies over it. However, Gail was not going to have any of that nonsense. So, back down the hill. However, now where? We knew that we had to get over those hills. We saw a woman sitting in her car and I rolled up next to her and asked how we could get to Lagoon Valley. She guffawed a couple of times and said that she too had tried the Paradise Valley Road route (based on Google Maps) and had the same result as we had just had. She told us how to get back to W. Texas St., which would turn into N. Texas St., which would take us across I-80 and to the ONLY ROUTE FROM FAIRFIELD TO VACAVILLE. As we rolled off, I said to Gail “I think that Google Maps for bicycles isn’t quite ready for prime time.”

After 2.5 hours and about 10 miles, we were still in Fairfield. We finally found N. Texas St. and were heading toward I-80 when we realized that we were starving. After a Pollo Loco stop, we finally got across I-80 to Lyon Road. Finally, I had some idea where we were.

From there, it was a quick ride to Peña Adobe, which is the site of the Vaca-Peña Adobe (Historical Landmark #534). This is the site of the 10-square-league Rancho Los Putos that Governor Pio Pico granted to Juan Felipe Peña and Manuel Cabeza Vaca in 1845. The Peña Adobe, erected here in 1843, is still owned by the descendants of their families (as of 1955). The nearby town of Vacaville was established in 1851 on land that Vaca sold to William McDaniel.

The adobe was closed to visitors (which, unfortunately, seems to be a common trait among the Historical Landmarks). It took some hunting around but we finally found the Marker. There were a bunch of other monuments, plaques, and other items commemorating the place as a spot of historic significance. Aside from the plaques, there was some fairly neat antique farm implements. Also, the adobe had a pretty big selection of religious statuary and other stuff. Families were having picnics under the trees. Lagoon Valley was a stone’s throw away. This is also the starting point for the Knoxville Double Century, which is put on by the Quack Cyclists, who are widely acknowledged as the best organizers of double century rides in California. All told, it is a pretty nice spot, as long as you don’t rely on the Google Maps directions for bicycles to get there.

According to our book, the next Historical Landmark was somewhere outside of Winters. This meant that we could ride up Pleasants Valley Road to get there. This would be a treat. Pleasants Valley Road is an amazing combination of farmland, rolling hills, and ranches with a public road running through the middle. There is usually very little traffic, the rolling hills aren’t too tall, and it is just downright pretty. Gail had never ridden through here, although she did pick me up along this road one afternoon when I did a loop from Fairfield to Napa, Lake Berryessa, and Pleasants Valley. That day, the sun was out and the fields were an emerald green. Because of the late rains this spring, I suspected that the fields might be just as great today, which they were.

After riding most of Pleasants Valley Road, we turned onto Putah Creek Road, which goes to Winters and then continues onward in the general direction of Davis. When you start at Pleasants Valley Road, Putah Creek Road is just a blast, as it gently rolls down toward the Central Valley next to Putah Creek. We were zipping along at a pretty good clip, enjoying the views of Lake Solano and various orchards when Gail yelled “STOP! STOP!”

I jammed on the brakes, thinking that she had fallen off the back of the tandem. Nothing that dire had happened. Instead, she had called on just as she saw the unannounced Historical Marker on the side of the road! What the hell was this? Why, it was the University of California Experimental Farm, Wolfskill Grant (Historical Landmark #804). In 1842, John R. Wolfskill arrived here, laden with fruit seeds and cuttings. A true horticulturist, he became the father of the fruit industry in this region. In 1937 his daughter, Mrs. Frances Wolfskill Taylor Wilson, bequeathed 107.28 acres to the University of California for an experimental farm. The university’s research at this portion of Rancho Rio de los Putos has enriched the state’s horticultural industry.

We weren’t able to see very much here. There is a pretty high chain link fence that keeps unwanted visitors out of the Experimental Farm. Perhaps that is why the state decided to not put any sort of sign announcing the Historical Landmark on this road. Had my sharp-eyed bride not seen this, we would have been in Winters, scratching our heads and wondering how we had missed this piece of California history. Although I am a big fan of agriculture, I don’t think I would drive all the way out here just to visit this site. However, when you toss in Pleasants Valley Road, warm sunshine, a good tailwind, and the prospect of food in Winters and a train ride, that tipped the scales and made the ride worthwhile.

After the Experimental Farm, we rode into Winters and had some food at Steady Eddy’s. This place is a staple for Grizzly Peak Cyclist rides from Berkeley to Davis. It is obviously a standard stopping point for other riders too, since it has a couple of well-used bicycle racks in front, so that riders can get their food and keep an eye on their bicycles. Winters itself is a very cute town, with a small central square and a nice main street. After eating, we rode up and down a bit, checking the place out. It looked like there were some good eateries there. Those would have to wait for another day.

As we headed south out of Winters and back toward Putah Creek Road, we rode over the J. Robert Chapman Memorial Bridge, which used to be a railroad bridge back in the day but has since been converted into a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Putah Creek. The City of Winters took this hulking, dilapidated bridge and renovated it, which makes crossing Putah Creek much nicer. Don’t miss this if you visit Winters.

Turning left onto Putah Creek Road again, we continued our gradual downhill ride toward Davis. Along the way we saw a large steel bicycle statue on the side of the road in honor of the Davis Bike Club and the Davis Race Team, which hold their annual Putah Creek Time Trial along this road. As we continued along, we somehow managed to sneak up on a couple engaged in a little illicit sexual activity on the side of the road by an orchard. Man, did they jump when we rode past! There was also a big lavender farm that was made you want to stop and just breath deeply because of the scent of the lavender.

After a few more miles and a couple of turns, we finally got onto Russell Blvd., which is the main bike route into Davis from the west. Even though there was a very official-looking bicycle path next to the road, I wanted to ride in the road. We went along for a bit and then Gail expressed her displeasure with my choice, saying that the bike path was there to be used and that she thought the locals would be unhappy if we were in the road, even though there was a fine shoulder and almost no traffic. After a little back and forth, I turned onto the bike path. The path, while separate from traffic, didn’t insulate you from cars, since riders still had to deal with cross streets. Also, for some reason, the bike path changed sides of the road a couple of times, which would have required crossing Russell. At that point, I said “No mas!” and we rode on the road the rest of the way into Davis.

We had some time before the train was departing, so we tooled around Davis a bit. The students were gone, making the town look like all college towns during the summer: sleepy and catching their breath. We had a frozen yogurt and then headed over to the Amtrak station to get tickets and wait for the Capitol Corridor. The warm weather and the sweets in the yogurt caught up with me and I was soon snoring on a park bench while Gail got the tickets.

When the train arrived, we dragged the bicycle onboard, put it in the bike rack, and found seats in the upstairs passenger compartment. We tore along through the Central Valley and in no time at all were in Fairfield.

After getting off the train, we noticed that there was an It’s It outlet next to the train station. $1 for an It’s It? I was there! That alone might be reason enough to start a bicycle ride in Fairfield.

Lessons learned:

  1. When Google Maps says to turn but there isn’t a street name, it seems that they are recommending that you turn onto a sidewalk. Perhaps a little note somewhere explaining this convention might be helpful.
  2. Google Maps doesn’t appear to distinguish between public and private roads, at least with regards to their bicycle maps.
  3. Although an adventure is a good thing now and again, always keep track of where you are so that you can find your way out.
  4. I can’t think of a nicer road to ride than Pleasants Valley Road, especially during the daylight hours.
  5. Having a sharp-eyed stoker can save a lot of backtracking when trying to find something.

If you want to see the rest of our photos from this adventure, click here.

Livermore and the Haden Sisters

On June 6, Gail and I decided to visit the Historical Landmarks in Livermore. To liven up the event, we asked Read Phillips and Catharine Ratto to join us. For those that don’t know, Read and Catharine are twin sisters and have more energy, chutzpah, and joie de vivre than any two people I can think of. Spending time with them is always a treat.

We started the ride at Casa Real, which is one of Read’s event centers in Pleasanton (the other is the Palm Event Center, just down Vineyard Road). As Gail and I pulled into the parking lot with our tandem on the roof of the Subaru Forester, we got a couple of curious looks from the folks preparing Casa Real for the activities of the day (a blow-out wedding). However, since we were going to meet up with the Big Boss in a few minutes, we just kept driving and didn’t return the stares.

Read and Catharine arrived together. After greetings (we hadn’t seen Catharine in quite a while) and a little chatting, I said that it was time to get going. We could yak on the road. With full water bottles (it was supposed to be a scorcher in Livermore that day), we rolled out onto Vineyard and headed toward Livermore.

I had mapped out a route for the day, riding in a clockwise direction and hitting the northern-most Landmark first and then working our way back to the south. There were two historic wineries on the agenda and I had it in my mind that we might stop and do a little sampling. Not more than 2 minutes after we started, Read suggested an alternate plan: it the wineries to the south first and then she and Catharine would split off while Gail and I visited the last of the Landmarks. Read had the local knowledge, so we changed plans on the fly.

In preparation for our Trek Travel trip to Vermont with Read and her husband, George, we had done a ride from Pleasanton to Livermore. Our route today would cover some of those same roads. As we headed southeast toward the hills of Livermore, we jumped onto a nice bike path through the Sycamore Grove Park. The bike path dumped us off almost directly in front of our first destination of the day: The Cresta Blanca Winery (Historical Landmark # 586). At this site, Charles A. Wetmore planted his vineyard in 1882. The Cresta Blanca wine he made from its fruit won for California the first International Award, the highest honor at the 189 Paris Exposition, first bringing assurance to California wine growers that they could grow wines comparable to the finest in the world.

Interestingly, the Historical Landmark is located in the midst of the Wente Event Center, which is a competitor of Read’s businesses. As we rode into the entrance, the fellas directing traffic were not totally sure that they should let us in. However, after we explained the situation, they let us pass and told us in general terms where to find the Marker. It took some looking but after some scouting around and asking, we were pointed toward the Historical Marker. Unfortunately, there was a wedding going on at the same time that we were there and the lovely bride and her new hubby were standing next to the Marker while cooling their heels, waiting to make their grand entrance into the wedding reception. I was going to stomp over and ask them to take a photo of me next to the Marker but cooler heads prevailed. After they made their entrance, we all went over and took some photos. Of course, we also had to do a little mugging for the camera, creating a scene of great hilarity for all. The grounds are very pretty, nicely shaded, and out of the wind. We didn’t sample any wine and we didn’t get any appetizers from the wedding, so I can’t comment on the food or wine, although I am certain that it doesn’t stand up to Read’s places.

The wind was coming up as we rolled off toward the next stop. Fortunately, Read knew all of the roads in the area, so she directed us to some great shortcuts that I had never even thought to try. Along the way, we passed Ravenswood Historical Site, which is where Marie and Doug held their wedding reception.

It is a good thing we had Read with us, since my map with directions was now useless because we were riding in exactly the opposite direction from what I had planned. As we rode down some narrow country lanes, Read pointed out some of the great, small wineries in the area. She seems to know everyone in the Tri-Valley (which is where Livermore is located). The grape vines were just starting to get leaves, making the fields lovely.

As we rode, Gail commented that the area was really lovely but there didn’t seem to be any place to stay (e.g., no bed-and-breakfasts in the vineyards). She even speculated that she and I could open up such a place. Being a small business person, I wasn’t quite as optimistic about such a plan and told Gail that running a B&B would be tough. At that, Gail dropped the bomb of the day: She said that running a B&B wasn’t rocket science! When she said this, I just about steered the bicycle into a ditch! Having an expert on the hospitality industry on our riding team (i.e., Read), I had to ask her opinion about Gail’s cavalier attitude about running a hotel/restaurant. As expected, Read wasn’t too thrilled that Gail had basically said that anyone could do what Read does for a living. She wasn’t ready to drop her gloves and go at Gail but she seemed a little shocked. I had to stifle a laugh as Gail tried to smooth things over.

Fortunately for us, we arrived at the next stop: the Concannon Vineyard (Historical Landmark #641). At this vineyard, in 1883, James Concannon founded the Concannon Vineyard. The quality it achieved in sacramental and commercial wines helped establish Livermore Valley as one of America’s select wine-growing districts. Grape cuttings from this vineyard were introduced to Mexico betweeh 1889 and 1904 for the improvement of its commercial viticulture.

Unlike the Cresta Blanca winery, this place was out in the middle of the Livermore Valley on Tesla Road, which has pretty fast traffic. After a couple of false starts, we managed to get into the driveway and rolled around to the back, where we expected to find the Historical Marker. It wasn’t obvious where it was, so we leaned our bicycles against the wall and went into the tasting room. Now we were talking! However, rather than sampling the wine, we just asked about the location of the Marker. As we started to leave, there was some sort of altercation between the hostess and one or more members of our group, where the hostess made some sort of crack about “…if we weren’t going to taste some wine, then what were we doing there?” I didn’t hear this myself but Catharine, Read, and Gail were floored (it wasn’t a cat fight but it sure seemed like some words were going to be exchanged). Evidently, Concannon is no longer a family-owned winery, having been purchased by a large conglomerate.  Perhaps that was what caused the hostess to diss us. Regardless, it didn’t make us want to come back and try their wines in the future.

We left the tasting room and found the Marker, took some snaps, and hit the road. The place wasn’t even that pretty.

Next stop was almost directly across Tesla Road, which meant that we had to cross the speeding traffic again. Accomplishing that, we rolled into the Wente Bros. Winery (Historical Landmark #957). At this location, the first Wente vineyard of 47 acres was established by C. H. Wente in 1883. In 1935, his sons, Ernest and Herman, introduced California’s first varietal wine label, Sauvignon Blanc. The efforts of the Wente family have helped establish the Livermore Valley as one of the premier wine-growing areas of California. In their centennial year, Wente Bros.is the oldest continuously operating, family-owned winery in California.

Unlike the event center at Cresta Blanca (which was also a Wente enterprise), this location was more industrial. It has a tasting room but the focus of this place appeared to be production and distribution of wine. Read explained how Livermore could well have been as famous as the Napa Valley except that there was no one driving force to push it in that direction. As a result, there are some good wineries but it is not the destination that Napa has become (although Gail has plans to change all that!)

We stood around for a while, chatting and catching up with Catharine about her sons (who went to elementary and middle school with Avery and Risa). Her sons are spread all over the west: Anthony is working for a farm labor contractor in Arizona and California, Andrew just moved to Oregon, and Robbie is living la vida loca in the mountains of Colorado, working at a golf course in the summer and at a ski resort in the winter. They all are healthy and happy, as are Catharine and Ron.

The Hayden Sisters had to hit the road to get to an event, so they headed back to Casa Real and Gail and I took off for the last stop of the day. Since we had lost our guide, we were on our own in trying to find this place. Trying to read directions in reverse is tough but we ultimately found the Livermore Memorial Monument (Historical Landmark # 241). Robert Livermore, first settler of Livermore Valley, was born in England in 1799. He arrived in Monterey in 1822 and married Josefa Higuera y Fuentes in 1830. On his Rancho las Positas, where he settled in 1835, “Next to the mission fathers, he was the first man to engage himself in the culture of grapes, fruit, and grain.” He died in 1858. The Livermore hacienda was a short distance north of the location of the Historical Marker.

There really isn’t much to see here. The Marker is on the edge of Portola Park, which is surrounded on two sides by fast roads and on the third side by an auto repair shop…it is an urban park. It didn’t look like many people actually used the park but at least it was clean and the grass was green.

After checking out this spot, it was time for lunch. Gail and I headed to First Street, where we had some yogurt and a most excellent burrito. After lunch, we rode into a stiff head wind back to Casa Real and loaded the tandem onto the car, getting ready to head home.

While we were driving out of Livermore, we decided that we had some unfinished business in Benicia, so we headed north on I-680 to see some more landmarks. More on that later

The Erstwhile Seat of Power

Gail has a very nice blown glass perfume bottle from Nourot Glass Studio in Benicia. The only problem with this thing is that the stopper broke off in the top of the bottle, making it a little tough to put perfume in or get perfume out. We had been thinking about getting it fixed. On a shakedown ride last year before our credit card tour from San Francisco to Laguna Beach, we stopped at Nourot and the friendly staff said “Oh sure…we fix those things all the time. Just bring it in.” Now was the time…and we would visit a bunch of Historical Markers along the way, too.

We didn’t have a huge amount of time on Sunday, May 16, so we tossed the tandem on the roof of the car and drove to Benicia, rather than riding up there via the newly-opened bike path on the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. Our general plan was to park at Nourot, ride to Fairfield to visit a landmark, ride back to Benicia and visit some other landmarks, and then drop the perfume bottle off at Nourot. A good plan on most days. This was not one of those days.

The ride from Benicia to Fairfield is pretty nice. We passed through the Conoco/Phillips refinery in Benicia (which I thought was most excellent but Gail found horrifying) and the rode between the hills to the south and Suisun Bay to the north along a frontage road next to the famous “Luther E. Gibson Freeway” (i.e., Interstate 680). For those that haven’t had the unique opportunity to drive a VW Bus or other types of boxes on wheels, the Luther Gibson Freeway was a source of fear and loathing when driving from the Bay Area to Tahoe, given the howling cross-winds along that stretch of road.

Along the way you get to see the so-called “Mothball Fleet,” which is a bunch of ships from WWII and the Korean War that are anchored in the Carquinez Straits, supposedly at the ready in case the USSR, Bulgaria, France, or some other enemy came steaming into San Francisco Bay looking for trouble. Thankfully, over the next few years, the most decrepit of these rusting hulks, which are environmental nightmares, are being removed and dismantled. However, from our tandem, the ships look surreal, a ghost of a long-past time of big navy and big military in the SF Bay.

From this road you can also see the wetlands of Suisun Bay. During periods of bird migration, this place is just lousy with birds taking a breather before continuing on to their final destinations. We could see some birds in the distance but not as many as one might see at different times of the year.

When we reached Fairfield, we finally decided to consult the directions to the Rockville Stone Chapel (Landmark #779). We found that this joint was all the way across Fairfield, so it took us a while to wind through the suburban street grid and pop out the other side of town into the farmland to the west. However, this was all worth it, because the chapel is just beautiful. The cornerstone of the chapel, erected by pioneers of Methodist Episcopal Church South with volunteer labor and donated funds, was laid October 3, 1856 on a site supplied by Landy and Sarah Alford, and the chapel was dedicated February 1857. By 1929, the chapel had deteriorated and the church deeded it to Rockville Public Cemetery District as a pioneer monument. It was restored in 1940.

What a beautiful place! The stonework is great, the setting (away from the road, surrounded by large trees) is lovely, and there was a Historical Landmark marker, too! It also made me proud to be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, since the chapel was reconstructed by the Federal Works Agency of the Work Projects Administration (part of Roosevelt’s New Deal). If you happen to be in Fairfield (perhaps visiting the Budweiser brewery), you should stop over. It is worth the effort.

We now had to retrace our route back to Benicia, since that was the real star of the day, landmark-wise (there are no less than 9 Historical Landmarks in Benicia, which gives it about one landmark for each 3,000 residents, which is much higher on a per-capita basis than any other city in California). After a fine lunch at Subway in Fairfield, we got back on Lopes Road and headed toward Benicia. There was a great tailwind as we left Fairfield, which made me think that we would be in Benicia in no time. WRONG! Once we got about halfway to Benicia, that friendly tailwind turned into a screaming headwind. Even with our powerful stoker, it was slow going all the way to the Benicia city limits. Once we got down in the wind shadow of the refinery, the riding got easier.

After we climbed the last hill, Gail and I had a collective brain freeze. Which way to we go? Over toward the bridge on the bicycle path or down the hill? Sitting here typing, it is obvious that we should have continued down the hill, since that was where we came from about 2 hours before. Sitting on the “captain’s seat” of the tandem, the decision wasn’t so clear. So, we headed down the bicycle path, which appeared to be going in the proper direction (i.e., down the hill) until it made a sharp left turn and went UNDER the freeway (i.e., away from Benicia). The bicycle path was pretty narrow, so turning the tandem around took some doing. When we did it, we noticed that we were between the roadways for the old and new bridges. This presented a great contrast in engineering between the old steel bridge, which looked like it was built from an Erector Set, and the new, sleek, modern span to the north.

We got turned around and finally made it back into town, where we found the Benicia Arsenal (Historical Landmark #176). Captain Charles P. Stone, with 21 enlisted men, established Benicia Arsenal as an ordnance depot in 1851. The first building, a small wooden powder magazine, was erected in September 1851. Between 1853 and 1863, Congress authorized $550,000 to be spent on the establishment, and some 15 stone and frame buildings were constructed. The arsenal was first called “California Ordnance Depot,” then “Benicia Arsenal Depot,” and finally, in the spring of 1852, “Benicia Arsenal.” It played an important role in crises such as the Indian wars. Some of its original buildings are in use today. Descendants of the men who established Benicia Arsenal are still living in Benicia and other parts of California.

The marker sits in the middle of a lawn area in front the main building of the Benicia Arsenal. We were unable to go inside of the structures (they are used today as commercial buildings). However, the exterior was quite attractive, having Spanish tile roofs, whitewashed walls, and very nice architectural details over the main entryway. It took us a bit to find this place (even though we had ridden past it earlier in the day) since the address is somewhat misleading. We are glad that we finally did stop and look it over.

Our next stop was the Site of Former Benicia Barracks (Historical Landmark #177). Benicia Barracks, established on April 30, 1849 and organized by Brevet Lt. Col. Silas Casey, 2nd U.S. Infantry, was the U.S. Army headquarters for the Department of the Pacific from 1851-1857. Also known as the “Post near Benicia,” it remained a garrison installation until 1898. The post hospital, built in 1856, is the only remaining structure associated with the original Barracks. The Barracks became part of the Benicia Arsenal, which closed in 1964.

From the map of our route, it looked like this place was up the hill from downtown Benicia. Google Maps now has an interesting feature that gives the best bicycle route to a destination. Although I don’t know the decision criteria used to determine the “best” route, it appears that the route selected by Google Maps involved either the longest route or the route with the lowest average grade for climbing. We wound around the streets overlooking Benicia and the Carquinez Straits, making lefts and rights, until we reached the top of the hill. When we found the location for the Barracks, it hit us: we had just ridden past this place on our route back from Fairfield! We would have had to climb a fence and avoid some armed National Guardsmen to get to this location, but it would have saved some climbing. I plan to notify Google about this option.

We looked all over Francesca Terrace Park, which is the location of the Barracks. No luck on finding a marker. Then, we saw what might have been a mounting for a marker at one time. Upon closer inspection, we saw that the marker had been ripped out of the mounting. Gail speculated that this was done in order to sell the scrap metal. I thought that the more likely scenario was a history buff trying to complement his collection of California state memorabilia. In either case, there wasn’t anything to see except for a bunch of families having picnics in a relatively beat looking park. Not the finest Historical Landmark we ever saw…

We flew down the hill to downtown Benicia. Here we faced a tough choice: do we explore the Historical Landmarks in the downtown area (of which there are many) or do we ride toward Vallejo and see the most remote of them and work our way back? When faced with a choice of more or less riding, I know where I fall, so Gail gave in and off we went to the Turner/Robertson Shipyard 1883-1918 (Historical Landmark #973).

We pedaled northwest along the shore of the Carquinez Straights and finally arrived at the Landmark. What is the big deal about this place?  In 1852, Matthew Turner of San Francisco relocated his shipyard to Benicia. Turner, the most prodigious shipbuilder in North America, constructed 228 vessels, 169 of which were launched here. In 1913, the shipyard was purchased by James Robertson, who operated it until 1918. The yard sways, and the Whaler Stamboul, used as a shipyard work platform, are visible at low tide. There isn’t much left of the place, other than some pilings in the shallows. However, one can just imagine the activity that took place here, launching ships into the somewhat protected waters in a natural bay. There were a bunch of guys fishing when we rolled in. They seemed none too concerned about us and our bicycle, as it was late in the day. The views from the Landmark are great: you can see the Carquinez Bridge (aka the Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge), which links Crockett and Vallejo. You can also see Port Costa across the Straight. If you are in Benicia, it is worth the short trip to the outskirts of town to see this place. If you hurry, you can also see an insane-looking home remodeling project that is just a few blocks from the Landmark.

Next on the list was the Historical Landmark that I had known about before we started this adventure. Benicia had been one of the cities that had been California’s capital in the early days of the state. Why exactly Benicia got picked for this honor is not clear. However, as a friend of mine says, “The facts are the facts,” and those are the facts. We rode back into downtown to find the Benicia Capitol (Historical Landmark #153). Erected in 1852, ostensibly as Benicia’s City Hall, this historic building was one of the four locations of the “Capitol on Wheels” from February 4, 1851 to February 25, 1854. It was deeded to the State in 1951. We got to the Capitol sort of late and, as a result, the park ranger was not available to give a tour. Since we had several other places to visit (as well as heading back to Nourot), we decided to take a pass on the admissions (a reasonable $3 per person), with the goal of coming back later. The Capitol has been refurbished and, from the entry hall, it appears to be very interesting.

As noted above, you can’t swing your purse in Benicia without hitting some sort of landmark. Right next door to the Benicia Capitol is the Fischer-Hanlon House (Historical Landmark #880). In 1849, Joseph Fischer, a Swiss immigrant, came to Benicia. After joining a butcher partnership, Fischer purchased this lot on July 1, 1858 and move the house, reputed to be an old hotel, onto it. The building, an outstanding example of East Coast Federalist styling, illustrates architectural diffusion during the Gold Rush.

This house looks so out-of-place in Benicia. It looks like someone picked up a house from Boston and plopped it onto the lot. However, that isn’t the only thing that sets this place off. It also has an extensive garden of cacti and succulents. Why they decided to have such a garden, I have no idea, but it is very cool to see these plants essentially on the shore of the Carquinez Straights. The building itself was closed, so we didn’t get to go inside. However, from the look of it, one could spend some time poking around in it.

At that point, we still had a long list of Landmarks to visit, it was getting late, and we needed food. So, we called it a day and headed back to Nourot to get the car, give them the perfume bottle, and find some food. We would have to wait for another time to visit the rest of the Landmarks.

History in our own backyard…

We live in Richmond, the so-called “City of Pride and Purpose,” which is located in southwestern Contra Costa County, or CoCoCo to us locals. Having toured most of the Historical Landmarks of our neighbor to the south (i.e., northwestern Alameda County), we decided it was time to see what our fine county had to offer. As we are quickly finding with this landmark business, it was a mixed bag.

We hopped on the tandem and headed out to the first spot, which is only about 4 miles from our house. The Alvarado Adobe (Historical Landmark #512), was built in 1842 by Jesus Maria Castro for his mother, Dona Gabriela Berryessa de Castro, widow of Francisco Maria de Castro, who had been granted Rancho (Cuchiyunes) San Pablo in 1823. When Don Gabriela died in 1851, the adobe became property of her daughter, Martina Castro de Alvarado, wife of Juan Bautista Alvarado, who was Governor of California from 1836 to 1842. The adobe has become the centerpiece of the the City of San Pablo’s civic center. San Pablo has decided to carry over the adobe theme to the rest of the civic center structure. The book claims that there is a Historical Marker at this site but neither Gail nor I were able to find it. There is, however, a very attractive sheet metal sign (like the ones you see on the highway telling you that you are approaching a Historical Landmark) slammed onto the side of the adobe. Heaven only knows where the plaque went…

Since both Gail and I are working stiffs, we typically have to do our Landmark adventuring on weekends. Thus, we hit this one on May 1. After finding that the adobe museum was closed and that no tours were being offered, we started to do a little exploring of our own. The parking lot (on the north end of the civic center) was closed off and several of San Pablo’s finest were guarding the entrance. After checking out the Blume House, which is next to the adobe, from the outside, we rolled over to the officers and asked why the parking lot was closed off and if they knew where the plaque was located. After a little friendly back and forth (“We closed it off for you.”), one officer told us it was on the ground by the adobe. The rest nodded their heads in agreement. Not wanting to be contrary (since they had closed the parking lot in our honor), Gail and I rode back to where we had just been to “look again.” Not surprisingly, the plaque STILL wasn’t there. I sure hope that when it comes to taking evidence and investigating crime scenes that these guys do a better job of observing their surroundings.

After we waved goodbye to the officers, we rolled up San Pablo Avenue toward our next destination, the Site of Giant Power Company (Point Pinole) (Historical Landmark #1002-1). Even though we had left Richmond to go to the Alvarado Adobe, we were now heading into another part of our fair city, which is a sprawling town with industrial, urban, suburban, and rural areas.

I had high hopes for this landmark, given the description from the book: “Pt. Pinole is the last site of the Giant Powder Company, the first company in America to produce dynamite. Following devastating explosions in their san (sic) Francisco and Berkeley sites, the business moved to this isolated location in 1892. Incorporating the established Croation community of Sobrente, the company town of Giant quickly grew into one of the North Bay’s industrial centers. Explosives were produced here until 1960 and were essential to mining, dam and other construction projects throughout the Western Hemisphere.”  Explosives! Devastation! Now we are talking!

(A short side note to the observant reader: do you really believe that this company used to make high explosives in SAN FRANCISCO and BERKELEY??? Just imagine trying to get a permit to do that today. It makes the head spin…)

Unfortunately, the reality wasn’t quite as thrilling as the write-up had led us (or at least me) to believe. When we arrived at the “location” of the Landmark (the corner of Giant and Atlas Rds…how great is that for an address?),  we found a very nicely landscaped industrial park. No sign of the town of Giant. No craters from high explosives experiments gone terribly wrong. And no plaque. Just a locked gate across one road (maybe where the carnage was to be found?), a road into the industrial park, and Giant Highway. We didn’t feel like hopping over the gate and the industrial park didn’t look too promising, so we took off down Giant Highway, hoping to find some evidence of the town. No such luck. Nothing to suggest that there ever was such a place or a plant. The photo tells the whole story.

We were 0-2 on the plaque count for today’s adventure (for those of you keeping score at home). Ever the optimist, I said that we should continue on to Crockett, which was the next landmark on our list. Gail was skeptical but since we had only ridden about 10 miles so far, she relented and off we went (I also tempted her with the prospect of lunch at the Nantucket restaurant). It turns out that I had actually seen the sign for the next landmark when riding through Crockett in the past so I had reason to believe that we would find something interesting. Even if the landmark (“The Old Homestead” – Historical Landmark #731) wasn’t very interesting, we would get a chance to ride past a cool oil refinery (the ConocoPhillips Rodeo Refinery, which is on both sides of San Pablo Avenue in Rodeo) and, as an added bonus, get to see the C&H Sugar Refinery in Crockett! (If it wasn’t obvious, I have a professional interest in both oil refineries and the C&H Sugar Refinery, having had both as clients in the past).

“The Old Homestead” didn’t disappoint. Standing in the shadow of the C&H Sugar Refinery, “The Old Homestead” was the first American home in Crockett, located on an earlier Indian village near the Carquinez Straights. Constructed in 1867 by Thomas Edwards, Sr., on land purchased in 1866 from Judge J. B. Crockett, its timbers, some of them brought around the Horn, have been well preserved. The grounds were very pretty, with flowers bursting out all over the place. As we rolled into the parking area, we got some quizzical looks from a number of people milling around “The Old Homestead” as we dismounted and strolled in. It turns out that there was some sort of event planned for the day and our attire wasn’t quite up to snuff (although I thought we looked pretty good, all things considered). Gail, being more proper than me, felt that it would be a stretch to ask if we could go into the building (which is apparently open for wedding, bar mitzvahs, and other events). Thus, we snapped a bunch of photos from the outside.

From Crockett, there are a couple of ways to get to Martinez by bicycle, which is where the next landmarks are located. Those that are faint of heart can head back past the oil refinery and ride surface streets to Franklin Canyon. Those with a bit of an adventurous streak (i.e., Gail and me) can take one of two roads to Martinez. Both involve riding on Carquinez Scenic Drive. On one route, you ride on this road until cars can no longer pass, then you walk your bicycles through a landslide, sneak through a fence, ride through an industrial facility, and blast down into Martinez through a park and some city streets. The other route involves less hijinx but has its share of drama: you get to ride the notorious McEwen Road, which is an integral part of the Grizzly Peak Century bicycle ride. The road isn’t L’Alpe d’Huez but the bugger is steep. I have ridden it a number of times and have seen many a couple dismount their tandems and walk them up. Gail opted for McEwen Road. We didn’t tear up it but, I am pleased to announce, we didn’t walk and we didn’t even “paperboy” at all.

Both routes take you past the town of Port Costa. Even though Port Costa wasn’t on the itinerary, we felt that a side trip was in order. Gail had never been there before and, after all, the whole point of this landmark thing was to stop at places that looked interesting. This sleepy little hamlet is nestled in a canyon that runs down to the Carquinez Straits. If you take a train to the San Francisco Bay Area, you will see Port Costa as you cruise along the water between Martinez and Richmond. You have to look quickly, however, since the town itself isn’t too big. Even though Port Costa is small, it is proud. It has a hotel, a couple of bars, lots of motorcyclists, and (allegedly) a warehouse that was the first fireproof building in Contra Costa County (which is now a bar and restaurant). There was an arts and crafts show going on when we were there. Also, the flowers were blooming like crazy down by the railroad tracks, so I had to go and take a peek. I can’t vouch for the food or drink in Port Costa, but from the looks of it, people are willing to travel a ways to get here. I am glad that we stopped.

From the top of McEwen Road, we headed down to Franklin Canyon Road and into Martinez, which is not just the county seat for CoCoCo but is also a font of history. The flowers on Franklin Canyon Road were pretty amazing…

In the shadow of the Union Pacific trestle and State Highway 4 sits two great Historical Landmarks: John Muir Home (Historical Landmark #312) and Vicente Martinez Adobe (Historical Landmark #511). Both are on the same site. However, if you want to do more than just look at the plaques (yes, there were plaques!), you have to pay a nominal entrance fee (the John Muir House is also a National Historic Site). It is well worth the price of admission.

The John Muir Home is a ranch home of John Muir, 1838-1914, explorer, naturalist, author and foremost advocate of forest protection and of national parks. The John Muir Trail through the high Sierra, Muir Woods National Monument, and Muir Glacier in Alaska are named for him. As you would expect for a National Historic Site, the house is just great: period piece furnishing, a very informative ranger staff that were more than willing to put up with pesky questions from the tour group, and a really, REALLY great attic and widow’s watch. Gail and I did a self-guided tour through the house, with us trading off being tour guide and tour. One cool feature of the house was a sliding window that slid to the floor, so that when it was raised, it became a doorway to an enclosed porch. It turns out that Muir was not just a famous naturalist and do-gooder: he was also in the farming biz and had quite the operation. His farm was successful enough to fund his more altruistic efforts later in his life. This is a must-see place that is easy to find.

In the rear of the grounds of the Muir Home is the Vicente Martinez Adobe. In 1849, Vicente J. Martinez built this adobe on rancho Pinole, which had been granted to Ignacio Martinez in 1836. In 1853, Vicente sold the adobe to Edward Franklin, who named the canyon in which the adobe is located, and the adobe was known as the Franklin Canyon Adobe. At first, it wasn’t totally obvious to us that this landmark was here. In fact, I went into the visitor’s center and, like a dope, asked the ranger for directions to the adobe. Seeing that I was a little sweat-stained and a little confused, he gently informed me that the adobe was on the same grounds as the Muir Home. Gail, being the quicker of the two of us, had found the plaque, which was located directly next to the plaque for the Muir House.

The adobe is not in great shape. There is some cracking and it looks a little worse for wear. However, there are some interesting old maps and a “peephole” into the wall of the adobe, for those that are interested in that sort of thing (I found it quite fascinating). The grounds consist of fruit trees and look like they are available for hire. However, your event would be set in the field of a farm, not in lush flowered gardens.

At this point, we were kind of tired and had a choice: do we ride a bunch of not easy miles into a headwind to go to ride to Orinda to see a landmark without a plaque or do we call it a day, ride BART home, and get frozen yogurt. Option #2 won out. Orinda will have to wait…

For more photos, see my Picasa page.

Central Coast Sampler

I was able to convince Gail to take a day off from work and come with me to the Central Coast. We would spend a night in Paso Robles, take a ride on our tandem, check out some Historical Landmarks, and then head to Buellton, where I would ride the Solvang Double Century and she would relax and enjoy a day exploring the local scene.

We had only been to Paso Robles once before (also associated with one of my double century rides), and I was in no shape to do any exploring after that ride, so I was looking forward to seeing the sights. We hopped on the tandem and took a nice 30 mile ride in the hills to the west of Paso Robles. The hills were almost a surreal shade of green, the roads were empty, and we stopped at a very nice winery for cheese and crackers. The pictures don’t really do it justice.

After returning to the hotel, getting changed, and killing the car battery, we were ready to see some Historical Markers. Since we had already done a ride, we decided to drive to see these places. Since we had killed the battery, we had to leave the car running at each stop to ensure that we wouldn’t need to call the road service fellow again. As a result, we only visited a few spots in San Miguel, Paso Robles, and Atascadero.

San Miguel is about 15 miles north of Paso Robles. The Amtrak rolls through here but the freeway (US 101) skirts town. At one time, it was a stopping point for travelers heading north or south in the Salinas Valley. The Spanish missionaries knew a good thing when they saw it and, as a result, established Mission San Miguel Arcangel in San Miguel. Near the Salinas River, Fray Fermin Francisco de Lasuen (the second president of the California missions), founded San Miguel Arcangel on July 25, 1797. The Franciscans evidently took a run at converting the local Salinan Indians and the mission was home base for those efforts.

Just down the road a bit from the Mission was the Rios-Caledonia Adobe (Historical Marker # 936). Just as the missionaries knew that San Miguel was a logical stopping point, Petronilo Rios built this just great example of California’s Mexican-era architecture, a 2-story adobe that was his house, the center of his sheep and cattle operations, and, ultimately, a hotel and stop for the stagecoach route between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Given the proximity of the train tracks (i.e., they are within 50 yards of the adobe), it seems that the train might have stopped there at one time, too.

The adobe was really excellent. The locals had been doing a fair amount of restoration on the building itself. In addition, the grounds had a nice collection of local plants (identified in a handy map).  Since the adobe is set back a good distance from the parking lot, I got to stay with the car while Gail did some exploring. The museum was closed (a not uncommon problem with a number of these landmarks…no budget to keep them open for very many hours per week). After Gail had seen the sights, I got a chance to wander around a bit, too. One can just sense how this place was a refuge for hot and dusty stagecoach passengers on a sweltering day in the Salinas Valley.

We headed south from San Miguel to find the only Historical Landmark in Paso Robles: the Estrella Adobe Church (Historical Landmark #542). We got sidetracked a bit when we came upon the Firestone winery’s tasting room. Given that we had landmarks to see and had some miles to drive to get to Buellton to get me signed in for the ride, we decided to take a pass on a tasting, even though both Gail and I have fond memories of an excellent Sauvignon Blanc from Firestone that we had in Buellton on our bicycle trip in September 2009.

This Historical Landmark is easy to miss. When coming from Paso Robles, it is on the right. The parking lot was closed, so we parked on the road and slid through the gate. The folks that built this church were Protestants and the structure show it: it is a relatively simple building. No real ornamentation on the outside. Just a place to gather and worship. It had to be a pretty lonely existence as a Protestant in 1878, given the mission up the road. The current members have done a nice job of renovating the building.

I was getting antsy and wanted to get on the road to Buellton. Because of car uncertainties, we decided to hit one more Historical Landmark on the way south and to skip the Landmarks in San Luis Obispo on this trip. We swung off Highway 101 in Atascadero and immediately got lost (see my prior post regarding maps and knowing where to go…I still wasn’t following the rules). It wasn’t just my fault: the directions in the guidebook left something to be desired.

Once we got re-oriented, we found the Administration and Veteran’s Memorial Building (Historical Landmark # 958). This relatively new structure was dedicated in 1914 and completed in 1918. It served as the headquarters for the Atascadero Colony, a model community envisions by Edward G. Lewis, who was some sort of visionary that seemed to have a bad habit of getting indited and declaring bankruptcy. The building was built of reinforced concrete and is quite handsome. Unfortunately, it appears that the reinforced concrete didn’t quite stand up to a strong earthquake on December 22, 2003 which resulted in the building being closed (note the chain link fence). Although you can’t see it in the photo, there is a very pretty village green facing the building, where we saw local youth hanging out, smoking, and playing hackysac.

We headed south from Atascadero, taking a risk on stopping the car’s engine in San Luis Obispo so that we could get some dinner (it did start again) and rolled into Buellton in time to get me signed in, in bed, and ready for the ride the next morning…

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