Wednesday, July 27, 2011

South Yuba River State Park: Trip 4 of 70

So charmed was I by this park and bridge that I had hoped to visit it again before blogging about it, but for now, time does not allow. South Yuba River State Park encompasses a large area. Patty, Roxy and I visited it on the same day as Malakoff Diggins. Believing the park closures to be slated for September 1, my original plan was to visit two parks in one day whenever possible. Now that I know we have a bit longer, I will only visit one park per day that involves lots of hiking and outdoors, because we missed a lot at South Yuba River by only spending 3-4 hours there. There are a dozen or so easy hiking trails, the most famous being Independence Trail (which unfortunately we didn't have time for.) Independence Trail is a 2.2 mile wheelchair accessible trail that follows old mining flumes and bridges. I hope to return to walk this before park closure. For photos of some of the trails we did not get to, here's a link to the South Yuba River Park Association.

The main entrance and Visitor's Center is at Bridgeport, where what is believed to be the world's longest single span covered bridge stands. This is a gorgeous park and I am in love with this bridge! It was built by Virginian David I. Wood who settled his family in the area during the gold rush and established a sawmill. He and his associates formed the Virginia Turnpike Co. to facilitate travel and commerce. The west coast floods of 1861 and 1862 wiped out five of the bridges on the river.

In 1862 David Wood oversaw the construction of this 229 foot long, covered bridge. It was built with Douglas fir trusses, wrought iron rods, and covered in sugar pine shakes.

We arrived at Bridgeport around 5:30pm, having spent the earlier part of the day just up the road at Malakoff Diggins If you are a sturdy hiker, the two parks border each other via a 20 mile hike. Activities at South Yuba River are seasonal. Spring offers wildflowers - although a few still dotted the landscape on this July afternoon.

Swimming and fishing are favored after the spring run-off when water flows and levels are safe. Hiking, birdwatching and gold panning are available year round. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trails. Lizards confidently teased Roxy, darting out in front of her knowing they couldn't be chased!

After a couple of laps around the bridge, we spent a few minutes at Family Beach, then set out on the Cemetery Loop Trail. Although only a 1/2 mile, there were times we were uncertain we were headed in the right direction. The path and rock walls became increasingly overgrown with weeds and prickly stickly things. At times in the dusky light, it seemed that nature's minions were guarding the trail to the deceased with increasingly ominous characters.
A gentle doe watched us with great interest and suspicion.

A sharp turn of the path brought us face to face with twisted wooden warriors.

And finally, a one-eyed buccaneer of a tree warned us that "dead man tells no tales." (We know how to amuse ourselves!) We haughtily proceeded until at last we could see the cemetery in the distance - but alas - the prickly stickly things were too abundant to complete our journey.

So... we turned around - passing the mocking one eyed tree, the wooden warriors and the doe - got in the car, and drove a quarter mile down the road to the cemetery. Hah!

The small Kneebone Family Cemetery continues to be maintained by the Kneebone family to this day. In 1849, Captain William Thompson arrived with his ship in San Francisco, where his crew promptly abandoned him for the gold fields. Thus, he settled in the Bridgeport area. His daughter married Andrew Kneebone, a reknowned teamster, and their descendants have farmed and ranched the area since then. The Cemetery contains graves from the gold rush days to the present, with one stone still awaiting a spouse.

Darkness was almost upon us now and it was time to head home. Roxy curled up in the back seat and crashed, having hiked and swam her way through the day. A quick note about the dog, Roxy. She will no doubt appear in some of my future posts, but she is not actually my dog. I am fostering her through Guardian Angels for Soldiers Pets, a nonprofit org that finds temporary homes for the pets of deployed military personnel. Her "mom" returns from Qatar in March. In the meantime, she's a real treat to have along on some of these excursions.

South Yuba River and other parks that encompass large geographic areas cannot be literally "closed" in the sense of keeping people out. Perhaps we can get a glimpse of what may happen from Minnesota's recent park closures. In just two weeks there was vandalism of the buildings, theft of historic items, trash, broken glass and human waste everywhere. In the long run, structures decay, trails become overgrown, fires are started. Safety becomes an issue.

Every October, the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe conduct their annual Calling Back the Salmon ceremony. This event celebrates the return of salmon to the river and the bounty they once provided the tribe, as far back as 2500 years. Today, Englebright Dam blocks salmon from reaching their historic spawning habitat in the South Yuba and Middle Yuba. The ceremony involves tribal members spearing a salmon below Englebright, and a group of “spirit runners” carrying the salmon 10 miles upriver to the ceremony site. Someday, salmon will be able to access this spot and the rest of their home waters without the help of spirit runners. As one observer of the spirit runners said, "Where there is hope there is spirit. Where there is spirit, anything is possible."

I have hope!

See you at the Parks.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park: Trip 3 of 70

The amount of money the State of California hopes to save by closing 70 State Parks is... $22 million dollars.

The Leland Stanford Mansion reopened in 2005 after a fourteen year renovation costing... $22 million dollars.

Well, you never know when or where you might find life's minor epiphanies and I certainly wouldn't have expected I'd have one while touring a billionaire's mansion.
My friends Jim, Geneva and I walked to the Stanford Mansion after a morning of touring The California Governor's Mansion, and lunch at Luna's Cafe. Still almost a block away, we could see the the elegance and affluence of this building was going to far outweigh that of the humble Victorian Governor's site. Both the grounds and the exterior dripped with wealth and "taste." The stairway and entrance to the home was particularly exquisite. We could feel the more formal atmosphere of this abode.

We purchased tickets for the 1:00pm tour, where unfortunately "formal" became "stuffy" at the front desk. I asked for information about the possible closure of the site. My query was met with brusqueness - borderline rudeness actually - and the reply that all I needed to know was in the Sacramento Bee Newspaper. But whatever the Bee had to say was not going to be forthcoming from this employee today. He went on to admonish anyone who would "speculate" about what was to happen, and that it was a waste of time to "speculate" and that he was not interested in "speculating."

I decided not mention my blog! I speculated that it would not be well received.

We were told that a ten minute film would be shown prior to the tour. We strolled the beautiful grounds, and a few minutes before 1:00, we returned to the office for the film. Apparently we had all misunderstood. The film had to be shown ten minutes prior to the top of the hour. We were too late. A crisp apology was offered. We were then informed that our tour would be starting a few minutes late.

Oh! Can we see the film then? We were perfectly willing to abandon the film when the tour was ready to begin. The response was "no." Instead they showed a 2 minute film on railroads... still no tour guide... we again asked if they could just start the film so that we could view as much as possible before the tour. Sorry, no. Our attention was directed elsewhere whenever we asked to see the film. In spite of our persistence we were told that we could see it after the tour. The tour started fifteen minutes late. By this time our backs were up just a little.

We received a friendly greeting from our tour guide, Phil. His attire included a navy blue blazer, white shirt and red tie, again a contrast to the polo shirt & walking shoes of the Governor's Mansion. Interior photos were forbidden. Sigh.

As we began the tour, my lifelong discomfort with material excess kicked in. The emphasis on Stanford's wealth and importance added to my building cynicism about this site. Right or wrong, I tend to look an extravagance and speculate how many charitable organizations could be helped for the same amount of money. On the other hand though, I do appreciate fine art and craftmanship so...

Leland Stanford made his millions (billions by today's standards) building the western portion of the trans-continental railroad. He was governor of California from 1862 - 1863 (back when a term of office was only two years.) He used his position to put forward legislation that would benefit his business interests, something which of course is no longer legal today.

Stanford's love of early photography has left the mansion with large black and white photos of both the family and their home. During the recent renovation, the photographs were used to help replicate rugs and other decor. Much of the original furnishings have survived. The design of some of the custom furniture was inspired by trains, such as the hutch in the formal dining room, shaped like the front of a locomotive.

Since California no longer has an official Governor's residence, the elegant and very large formal dining room is currently used for official state dinners when entertaining visiting and foreign dignitaries. Another room in the mansion is used for formal meetings of the same nature. My mind speculates about the closing of this mansion, and moving the state dinners to a banquet room at the Holiday Inn. The State Capitol was not yet built in 1862, so a small Governor's office was added to the 19,000 square foot mansion. This office is still used by the governor when at the mansion for formal events.

Before too much time had passed, the volunteer docent, Phil, was winning me over. His warmth, love of history, and of the mansion itself shone through. As we continued our tour, the Stanford family history became front and center, overshadowing the house itself. In 1884, Leland and Jane Stanford's only child - 15 year old Leland Stanford Jr., - died of typhoid fever while on a trip to Europe, in spite of the excellent care received by The Sisters of Mercy in Florence Italy. As anyone knows, the death of child is especially devastating. It's just the wrong order of things.

Since they could no longer educate their son, they built Leland Stanford Jr. University in Palo Alto, California, in his honor, a co-ed school free of tuition to those who attended. They supported children's charities generously, adopting "California's Children" as their own.

In 1900, Jane Stanford - now a widow of seven years - donated the entire mansion and it's furnishings to the Catholic Bishop of Sacramento to be used as an orphanage. The Sisters of Mercy and later the Sisters of Social Service adapted the building to their needs while keeping the essential features of the mansion in tact. It remained an orphanage until 1987 when the Stanford Home for Children moved to a new facility.

The chip on my shoulder had fallen off somewhere along the way - maybe in the large dining room. It was nice to be able to "get over myself" as Geneva said. Things aren't always what they seem.

Rooms from all eras of the mansion use have been preserved for our viewing pleasure, including the orphanage era. There's lots to see and for only $5.00 most definately worth a stroll through. But hurry, before they have to move all the official dinners to the Holiday Inn. (Just kidding!)

But seriously, if this closes, what about the $22 million used for the renovation? Does that just go down the tubes? Anyone care to speculate?

See you at the Parks.


Monday, July 18, 2011

California Governor's Mansion State Historic Park: Trip 2 of 70

I lived in San Jose for the first 27 years of my life and finally visited the Winchester Mystery House last summer. I suppose that set the precedent for living in the greater Sacramento area for 30 years and only now seeing the Governor's Mansion for the first time. And isn't that how it so often goes? We ignore what's in our own backyards until we're on the verge of losing it. On Friday my friends Jim, Geneva and I took the Light Rail out of Folsom to downtown Sacramento to see both the California Governor's Mansion and the Leland Stanford Mansion, two historic state parks on the closure list. It was a perfect summer day. The weather topped out around 80 degrees rather than the not uncommon central valley triple digit July heat. A light breeze made the walks between the train and the mansions very comfortable. Nine short blocks got us from the train to the California Governor's Mansion on the corner of 16th & H Streets. The mansion sits in an ordinary neighborhood at this very busy intersection. No doubt I've driven or walked by it many times over the years in search of a free parking spot for an event at the Community Center.Tours are offered hourly.
We arrived at 10am sharp, but were advised that we'd probably be happier waiting until 11am as there were already 50 people (who were late) booked for the 10 o'clock tour. Indeed, moments later we saw the bus arrive with the "tourists," and agreed that waiting was a good idea.

Strolling around the outside of the building, and the gardens, I was surprised at the small size of the backyard. Where does the Dog get to play? The only fencing was the wrought iron around the side and front of the house, a barrier insufficient to keep out a panhandler who wanted my spare change, never my keeping in a pooch. I was reminded that when it was originally built in 1877 that neither traffic from the road nor close neighbors or businesses were an issue.

While perusing the museum and shop - located in the old carriage house - the docent informed us that they are hopeful the Governor's Mansion will escape closure. The possibility of a sponsorship and a potential partnership with a nonprofit organization are in the works. Raley's/Bel Air has a program where they will donate a nickel for every reusable shopping bag - paper, plastic or cloth - to the State Parks, beginning with the Governor's Mansion. So optimistic are they, that they are moving forward with plans to restore - and eventually offer for public use - the swimming pool that was built for Gov. Pat Brown.

An amusing tale goes along with the creation of Governor Brown's pool. It seems that he loved to swim, but alas, there was no pool at the mansion. So, he made it a habit to go for swims at a nearby hotel. Then one day he was photographed by a journalist leaving said hotel in his bathrobe, allowing the public to make a variety of innuendos from the picture. At that point, First Lady Bernice Brown made it a priority to raise the $6,000 needed to build the governor his own swimming pool!

California's executive mansion was built in 1877 for Albert and Clemenza Gallatin at a cost of $75,000 (at a time when the average Sacramento home was built for around $700). Albert was a partner in the Sacramento hardware store of Huntington & Hopkins. The State of California purchased the house from Joseph and Louisa Steffens to use as a home for California's first families in 1903 for $32,500. Victorian architecture was somewhat out of style by then, but the house was suitably impressive, conveniently located, and comfortable. Governor George Pardee, his wife Helen and four daughters were the first residents of the "new" Governor's Mansion. During the next 64 years it was home to the families of 12 other governors. Among these were Nina and Earl Warren (who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Courts) with six children, Bernice and Pat Brown with four children, and briefly, Nancy and Ronald Reagan with their two children.

The Reagans only occupied the mansion for three months. Nancy believed both the house and the neighborhood to be unsafe, and they rented a home in Sacramento's "Fabulous Forties" neighborhood for most of the eight years in office. Nancy Reagan took quite a bit of flack for what was often perceived as a snub to the mansion.

But in truth, the location of the house at the busy intersection was becoming a security risk, and the fire department deemed the mansion a fire trap. Harassment from passing cars, kidnapping threats, and windows lit with pretty Victorian lamps that were literally only a stones throw away from the sidewalk, made it an unsafe place for a governor and his family to live. The Reagans built a new "mansion" in the Carmichael area of Sacramento. It was completed just before he left office. When the new Governor, Jerry Brown, refused to live there, the state sold it. Since then, California no longer provides an official residence for it's governor.

The clock struck eleven and our tour guide waved us toward the mansion along with a small group of Finnish tourists wearing yellow sneakers. Happily for me, non-flash photos are allowed inside the mansion.

Today's guests see marble fireplaces from Italy, gold framed mirrors from France, and exquisitely handcrafted hinges and doorknobs, all of which are reminders of the Gallatins and the Victorian era. Samples of dishware and gowns selected by the various First Ladies are on display, as well as many of the original chandeliers.

The first piece of furniture every acquired for the mansion was a Steinway piano. Good choice!

Here and there some "borrowed" items decorate the abode. Several pieces of statuary have graced the entry hall since 1930, courtesy of the De Young Museum. About a year ago, the De Young became aware of the "loan"... so soon our little alabaster friends will be traveling back to San Francisco!

There are both formal and informal dining rooms, and bedrooms for the children. The third floor is currently closed for renovation, but includes a ballroom and game room. And much much more...

I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of the Victorian era, so my personal enjoyment of the tour (and it truly was enjoyable) had more to do with the history than the decor. A 1950s era kitchen - complete with one of the first air conditioners ever - completed the tour.

Today's tour brought back a memory of something I had forgotten for over 40 years. Twas 1969 when I was a freshman in high school. Our history teacher had assigned everyone in the class specific topics for oral reports, and mine was to be on Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown. He had just recently finished his terms as governor. Not knowing where to get any info on him, I wrote directly to the governors office and within a couple of weeks - in plenty of time for my report - I received a personal biography signed by Governor Brown himself (and got an "A" on my report.) But that was a different time. I was 14 years old and living 50 miles south of Haight Ashbury. Not even even a personal note from the former governor could impress a youngster absorbed in The Jefferson Airplane, Donovan and the Beatles. Fun memory though...

Jim, Geneva and I walked a few block to Luna's Cafe for a delicious vegetarian lunch (except for the bacon on Jim's sandwich), and then walked another eight blocks for a tour of the Leland Stanford Mansion, which was to be a completely different experience... but that's for the next blog. I want each of the 70 parks to have it's own page (besides which, this blog is long enough!)

See you at the Parks.


All posts, opinions and photos are by Lucy D'Mot and are available to all for reposting/reprinting, so as to raise awareness of the California State Parks on the closure list, and encourage others to visit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park: Trip 1 of 70

This past Friday, July 8, I began my quest to visit all 70 State Parks on the closure list, by starting with Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park. It was fabulous!

But before I rave about this park I want to relay a bit more info I learned about the closure schedule. After talking with a couple of park rangers, it seems I am able to extend my goal of visiting all 70 parks until at least the end of the year (rather than September 1.) Whew! The "hard" date for closure of all 70 parks is July 1, 2012. Some will close before that, and many are already on very limited schedules.

My goal is now January, which still has me visiting an average of two parks a week. One ranger suggested that I should try to get to the high country parks before summer is over, as many of them close after Labor Day annually, and those that do so this year may not open again...ever...

Original plans were to visit the two historic mansions in Sacramento, (now postponed to this Friday, July 15), then plans changed to go to Benicia to see the old State Capitol. At 11:00pm the night before, I learned that the Benicia Capitol is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, apparently already a casualty of cutbacks.

So, when I met Patty in Placerville on Friday morning for our trip to Benicia, we quickly altered our plans to Nevada County. Malakoff Diggins allows dogs on some of the trails so Roxy got to go too.

Malakoff Diggins is the site of California's largest "hydraulic" or "placer" gold mine. We arrived around 11:00am and checked in at the small museum at the Town Site.

We had a picnic lunch and then embarked on a two mile round trip hike through manzanita to an overlook of the mining area. On the way we passed a historic cemetery with graves from the pioneer days to the present, although even the new graves are marked with rock borders and wooden crosses rather than with elaborate gravestones.

Arriving at the overlook, we viewed huge, colorful, man-made cliffs. Mother Nature would take many millennia to create the likes of these - but here they were carved in just a few decades by streams of water shot from powerful water cannons, disgarding dirt and gravel in piles on the stream bank or washed downstream as silt.

During the 1860s flumes and ditch systems carried water to wash away the ore at a capacity as high as 100,000 tons of gravel per day.

They built a 7,847 foot drainage tunnel that was dug through the bedrock serving as a drain. This resulted in the washing away of entire mountains. Legal battles between mine owners and downstream farmers ended this method through the courts and the legislature in 1884, but not before the destruction of much farmland and the severe flooding of the town of Marysville.

Today scientists continue to study the possible long term affects of the mercury that was consequently introduced into the ecosystem and water. 125 years since the cessation of the mining, very little life has grown back on those water-blasted mountains. The gouged hillsides and choked streambeds will be visible long into the future... as hopefully will be some of the wonderful wildflowers we saw.

Patty is great at identifying wildflowers. Shown here are Orange Paintbrush,, Sierra Sunflowerflower, Harlequin Lupine and Sierra Onion.

We followed this up with a 2.5 mile roundtrip hike to a waterfall. There were more wildflowers along the way, as well as strange, orange colored murky ponds, with frightened critters plopping into the muck every time they heard us approach.

At the waterfall we cooled our feet in the stream, took more pictures, explored a cave and relaxed for awhile. We hiked back and had another short "picnic" on the trunk of the car. Patty's homemade pesto got us through the day in gourmet style.
As we were leaving just after 5:00 pm we caught up with the ranger and discussed what may happen to Malakoff Diggins when it closes. The buildings and grounds will no longer be maintained, and very possibly vandalized. The trails will become overgrown. Malakoff is off the grid. There is no electricity there and all facilities and maintenance is handled with generators. Although it was a perfect summer day - in the mid 80s and sunny - we only saw about six vehicles at the park. At $8.00 a car, well,... do the math.

The natural landscape of this park is beautiful, though it's history includes some devastation. While it will be sad to lose the beauty and history of any State Park, it's seems especially poignant to me to lose one that contains lessons in shortsightedness and greed. With the closure of Malakoff Diggins, the ecological devastation can be neatly tucked away, out of sight, out of mind.