US West Coast Drive with Two Cousins: to Tulare, California

July 17, 2017

Breakfast on the OD Ranch

There is nothing like breakfast on the deck at the OD Ranch. Miss Lois, ranch matron, rustled up some grub for us greenhorns and Jerry, ranch foreman, served us outside where the breeze was light, the temperature was perfect… and the smoke from the wildfire in the distance was clearly visible.

The wild fire started yesterday and was about 15 miles (24 km) away. The updraft that the flames generated created a white cloud billow that extended upward beyond the gray smoke. By the afternoon today, the fire had consumed 11,000 acres (44.5 sq km) and was not yet contained. It is another glimpse of Mother Nature’s dark side.

Pius and I left at about 9:15 am for our drive to visit with our cousin, Pat Hillman, in Tulare, California. It was a warm day even in the car as we drove into the sun for over 3 hours. Pat greeted us with lunch and then a tour of the J. D. Heiskell Feed Mill in Pixley, California.

One of the J. D. Heiskell Plants

It is an incredible operation and is one of the largest facilities of its kind. J. D. Heiskell Feeds is number 4 on the Forbes list of privately owned companies as they operate 18 plants in 11 states.

Pat and Pius

We returned to Pat’s home and she and Pius had a long conversation about Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr.  and the destroyer named after him. Admiral Zumwalt went to school with Pat’s husband Dale Hillman (now deceased) and the Hillman and the Zumwalt families have been very good and close friends through the years. Pat had previously done her research and had many questions for Pius about his Swiss upbringing, family, career, and interests. It was such a wonderful afternoon!

Later, on our drive north to our destination of Fresno, California, the outside temperature reached its “high water mark” for this trip of 110 degrees (43.3 C). Surprising to me is the fact that there is quite a difference from 100 degrees (37.8 C) and 110 degrees (43.3 C) on the body.

We have adjusted our itinerary for tomorrow to skip the portion of our trip to San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, and to Muir Woods. Pius used to work in Silicon Valley and has been across the bridge before, so we decided that we need a break from our intense driving schedule. Our destination will be back to Redding, California… about a 5 hour drive from Fresno.

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US West Coast Drive with Two Cousins: in Jamestown

July 16, 2017

It is nice to spend the day relaxing instead of driving, and it is especially nice to spend it at the home of our cousins Lois & Jerry O’Day on their OD Ranch. In the morning, before the temperatures got too hot, Lois & Jerry took us around the Jamestown area on a driving tour.

Our first stop was a visit to the extinct town of Quartz Mountain (near Jamestown, California) where the App gold mine was located.

App Street in Quartz, California with Pius App

We saw the spot where John App noticed an outcropping of quartz that contained gold. Because of this, he decided to locate the mine near this spot. The above ground portion of the mine is gone now, and a house has been built on top of the hill where the mine buildings once stood, so we drove up and took some pictures. John App was considered the foremost authority on quartz mining in Tuolumne County, California and the App Mine generated millions of dollars of gold (by today’s value of money).

We Apps are unable to visit Quartz Mountain without photographing the App Street sign… especially with us standing in front of it. Pius brought the German connection of our family to it when the photograph was made.

Near Wood’s Creek, just outside of Jamestown, is where John App built a home in 1852 for himself and his wife Leanna. It was built with lumber from the Algerine Mill. The town of Algerine (about 4 miles, or 6.5 km south) no longer exists, but was a “shoot ‘em up town” in its day. The house is vacant and has fallen into mild disrepair, but with its solid structure it is still sound and livable. Many people are hoping that it is restored as an historical monument to John App and Leanna Charity Donner App.

John and Leanna are buried in the Jamestown Cemetery, just outside of Jamestown and near the homestead. We visited it next. The cemetery is located on a hillside where a wrought iron fence encompasses their graves. Pius said that this is the kind of fence his grandfather would have created, and that if he came here alone, and didn’t know where the grave was, he would have automatically gone to this spot.

Detwiler Wildfire with a temperature inversion

In the late afternoon we noticed a plume of smoke about 15 miles (24 km) to the southwest. It was a wildfire that had started in Mariposa County and later called the Detwiler fire. Many fire units and airplanes were dispatched immediately but the temperature was 100 and the winds were blowing. It quickly grew that day to 7,000 acres (28 sq km) and eventually consumed 82,000 acres (332 sq km) before it was under control several weeks later. It was a large fire, even by California standards, and made the national news. Over 4,000 people were on the ground fighting the fire along with 550 fire engines, 20 helicopters, 90 bulldozers, and 1 DC-10 jet that dropped thousands of gallons of water at one time. 60 residences were destroyed, but the town of Mariposa was untouched.

In the evening Lois hosted a family get together on the OD Ranch with about 15 family members. This connected our German App roots with our American App family members who helped settle the west. John App would surely have never expected our Swiss cousin (Pius App) to visit and make that connection possible. Not many families have such a rich history and connection as ours.

Tomorrow our Destination will be Tulare, California to visit our cousin, Patricia Hillman.


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West Coast Trip - July 16, 2017

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US West Coast Drive with Two Cousins: to Jamestown, California

July 15, 2017

We left Redding, California in the morning and drove down some scenic highways to Grass, California and the Empire Mine… actually, it was a collection of mines in the olden days. It was here in this area where John App arrived from his westward journey in 1850. This is where he learned, and helped develop, quartz mining techniques. Quartz is a mineral that can have gold embedded in it. The ore is crushed in a stamp mill, the rock is washed away, and the gold remains. We visited some of the mine buildings and the mine shaft itself to get a general view of how quartz mines were set up to do business.

App Mine Crew – c. 1900

From here we drove (despite my awkward navigation) to Donner Lake, Donner Pass, and the Donner Camp near Truckee, California.

Donner Camp looking south

This beautiful view toward the southeast from Donner Camp in the Sierras is a favorite of mine, but it had a much different context 170 years ago. Across the far mountains is Lake Tahoe. Donner Camp is where George Donner and his family and his brother, Jacob Donner and his family, camped during that terrible winter of 1846-47. George was the leader of the Donner Party and was behind the main group of people because he needed to repair a broken wagon axle. That night it snowed 3 feet (.9 M) leaving them stranded. The others of the party were already near the east end of Donner Lake, about 6 miles (9.7 km) further, where they were forced to camp during the winter.

John App’s future wife, Leanna Donner, was the second oldest daughter of George Donner and survived the ordeal at age 12. I often wonder how the sound of the wind through the pines affected her in later years. To us it may be a calming and restful sound, but to her it may have conjured up unthinkable memories.

From here we drove to Auburn, California (where the temperature began at 100 degrees) and drove the scenic, and historic, Highway 49, all the way to Jamestown, California. It has a beauty all its own with twists and turns and hills with sometimes large elevation changes. It follows on top of the Mother Lode and many of the original mining camps still exist today but with, of course, a different “look”. Cool, Angels Camp, Volcano, and Rough and Ready are some of the unique names of historically important, and interesting, sites where miners sought their gold fortune in rivers and digs around the 1850’s. Along the way we had “breakfast” at 3:00 pm… eating establishments were difficult to find along our route today. In the west stopping places are sometimes very far between.

Sunset at the OD Ranch

In the evening, when we arrived in Jamestown at the OD Ranch, Lois and Jerry O’Day (our cousins) put on quite a spread for us. That is cowboy talk for a big supper. It is always one of my favorite things to talk out on their west deck in the evening and watch the sun go down. Pius took some great photographs of the sunset and some of my favorites are his panoramic photos.


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West Coast Trip - July 15, 2017

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US West Coast Drive with Two Cousins: to Redding, California

July 14, 2017

Pius and I left the Inn at Otter Crest – just north of Newport, Oregon – this morning with the temperature at 57 degrees (14 C)… warm by their standards at this time of year the guy at the desk said. At the end of today’s drive we arrived at the Thunderbird Lodge in Redding, California with the temperature at a toasty 105 (40.5 C). We will wait until it cools off to 100 (37.8 C) before we go to dinner.

Thunderbird Lodge – Redding, California

It was a beautiful drive along Highway 101 going through forests and along the coast and then back through the forests. There was an enormous amount of trees with lumber mills all around. Huge piles of sawdust with the raw logs going into one end of the plant and pallets of finished wood of different shapes coming out the other end. There were acres of logs floating in “ponds” with some looking fresh and some looking aged… which may be part of the process for certain products.

We try to avoid “touristy” places, and eat only at local restaurants. This morning we stopped for breakfast in Coos Bay, Oregon at the “Blue Moon Café”.

The Blue Moon Café – Coos Bay, Oregon

In the evening we ate dinner outside at a restaurant in Redding, California (it had cooled down a little by that time).

Once we turned inland from the coast one of the most significant sights for us was of Mount Shasta sitting in the distance, but still showing its size compared to other mountains nearby. Mount Shasta is located on the southern end of the Cascade range and is an “active” volcano with its last significant activity in the 1700s. It is about 14,300 feet (4,359 M) tall. Today he was wearing a hat of snow. Such a beautiful sight!

Mount Shasta – California

Tomorrow we will leave at 7:00 am for Grass Valley and the Empire Mine. This is where John App undoubtedly learned (and helped develop) quartz bearing gold mining techniques when he first arrived in California in 1850. Then we’ll travel east to Donner Pass, Donner camp, and Donner Lake to see… well… what happened there during the winter of 1846-47. Auburn, California is where we will pick up Highway 49 and take that famously scenic drive into Jamestown, California to stay a day with Lois & Jerry O’Day, our cousins, on their OD Ranch. It is a picturesque and historic route which follows the Mother Lode and still hosts towns that at one time were gold mining camps.


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West Coast Trip - July 14, 2017

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US West Coast Drive with Two Cousins: to Newport, Oregon

July 13, 2017

In the morning we took our luggage from the hotel to the car, which I had temporarily parked in front of some valet parked cars since there was no other space. I don’t know how they did it, but those valets managed to get the other cars out that I was blocking… no one said anything to me about it so I guessed I wasn’t in trouble.

We drove down the coast to Aberdeen, Washington (the “World Capital of Lumber”, the sign says) to get some breakfast at a local (non-touristy) café. The GPS led me down a one way street… the wrong way. Once I got that straightened out, we walking into “Anne Marie’s Café”, ate breakfast, and met Anne Marie herself.

Anne Marie’s Cafe, Aberdeen, Washington

We continued on Highway 101 south through Washington and half of Oregon. We saw trees, trees, more trees, and some of the coastline (the road follows the coast but inland a bit). Our destination was a few miles north of Newport, Oregon at the Inn at Otter Crest with each of our rooms having an ocean view. They told us at the reservation desk that their restaurant was very good and that they cooked very healthy food. We were hungry from the day’s drive and walked to the restaurant. The sign on the door said that they were “closed” and were only accepting reservations for private parties. We thought that we constituted a party of two and that should justify dinner, but the door remained locked. We drove a few miles to Newport and ate at an enjoyable Italian restaurant called “Sorella”.

Sorella Restaurant, Newport, Oregon

The weather has been clear, windy, in the 60’s and 70’s (16 – 24 C), and very nice. We stopped and took a few photos of Haystack Rock (below) in Cannon Beach which is probably one of the most well-known stops along the Oregon coast. Tomorrow we leave at 7 am to continue our drive and get some breakfast before arriving at our destination of Redding, California… our first introduction to the 100+ degree heat of summer.

 

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US West Coast Drive with Two Cousins: We Meet in Seattle

July 12, 2017

There will be some blog posts coming soon that will explain my “App family” German roots, and how part of our family moved from Germany to Switzerland around 1900. They will also explain how my Swiss cousin, Pius App, and I met for the first time in Chicago on November 11, 2014.

He invited my wife and I to visit him and his brothers in Switzerland, so on September 5, 2016 we traveled to Zurich, Switzerland to meet Pius for two weeks of the most wonderful vacation you could imagine. That’s another set of blog postings that will be coming soon.

Hotel Schatzalp, Davos, Switzerland

After we returned home, I received this email from Pius on March 1, 2017:

Dear Larry
Today I got an offer from Swiss/Lufthansa because I have so many miles on my account. They offered me a flight to Seattle in Business Class (nearly for free) between 1. Juli and mid August.
I always wanted to drive by car between Seattle and San Francisco. And to visit the Donner Pass, the grave of John Mathias App in Jamestown, to see the App Mine, and to visit Patricia Hillman in Tulare.
Wanna join?
Just an idea.
Regards
Pius

Of course! The two of us arranged to meet in Seattle on July 12, 2017 and to drive down the Washington and Oregon coasts. Then we would turn inland in northern California and travel south as far as Tulare, California, and finally drive back to Seattle to spend a few days. It would take us almost two weeks and 2,500 miles (4,000  km).

It was a 15 hour flight for Pius from Frankfort, Germany and he crossed nine time zones. Along the way he was able to check on the global warming situation in Greenland (Grönland). There seems to be no such problem there.

Greenland (Grönland), July 12, 2017

In the afternoon we met in the Seattle Airport Marriott hotel reception area over a beer, and we just continued our conversations from when we were in Switzerland and from emails. Great times! We will have a light supper tonight in the hotel restaurant and tomorrow leave at 7:00 am to begin our trip… eating breakfast along the way. The weather along the coast to Newport, Oregon is supposed to be 55 – 69 degrees (13 – 20 C) and overcast until later in the day.

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Lessons for Filming with Video in the Great American West

It was a quick trip with six stops for shooting test video in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming… three places along the Platte River (east of where the North Platte and the South Platte join to form the Platte), Courthouse & Jail Rocks, Chimney Rock, and the deep trail ruts at Guernsey, Wyoming.

My first three stops were in the Platte River Valley in Nebraska. The Platte River is too shallow for even canoe travel and, I suppose, is why there is an abundance of wildlife along its course. Lesson #1: eagles and other birds live here and they don’t have much tolerance for a small drone aircraft trying to film their habitat. Mine was chased behind a tree by a large golden eagle and was approached by him if ever I left the safety of that tree. It was a beautiful bird, but the drone was expensive and I didn’t want to lose it. He can be seen chasing another bird just above the water’s surface at the :50 mark… just before he veered off toward me.

Lesson #2: since the Platte is termed a “braided stream” it has a swampy, and yet sandy, bottom and has various islands and sandbars that are determined by the amount of water flowing in the river. Many emigrants in the 19th century lost wagons to quicksand and I suspect that it was not a wise idea for me to be walking alone on the wet sandbars to fly the drone. Danger from quicksand is probably unusual, but I’ve read accounts of when it has happened.

Having said all of that, videography using the drone at altitude along the river is the only way to view this remarkable landscape and put it in context with the surrounding area.

In Nebraska, Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock together create a formation that, from a distance, resembles a jail next to a courthouse. It looks best from a distance of 3 to 5 miles away. I followed a county road to a “park” that led nearly to the base of these two formations and it was really too close to make out that resemblance. However, I was close enough to get some nice aerial video of the two rocks as rock formations. I was careful to fly over areas that I could retrieve the drone if it “came down”, leading to lesson #3: “Rattlesnakes are common in this area”. They are camouflaged in scrub brush throughout the west, and a guy in shorts and running shoes has no business trekking through that landscape even if it is to retrieve his camera mounted on a drone.

The next stop was Chimney Rock in Nebraska, and lesson #3 applied here as well (it actually applies about everywhere in the west). In fact, there were numerous signs in the area reminding me of that special rule. The National Parks Service has specified an area around this rock formation as a “no fly zone” so I needed to fly outside of this area. It wasn’t hard to do, and it led to my learning about lesson #4: many things in the west are bigger and further away than the eye comprehends. Whether I flew 200 feet side-to-side to get an aerial view or ascended to 200 feet to get a good view really didn’t hold much of an advantage over video filmed with a terrestrial video camera. This, it turned out, was a valuable lesson in good videography.

The last stop for video testing was at the deep trail ruts in Guernsey, Wyoming. There is an airport right next door, so flying a drone for video was not even a consideration. It was here that the Oregon-California Trail narrowed and the wagons were forced to go in a single file though this area. Some of the ruts in this area are, probably, 6 feet high and six feet wide carved mostly from thousands of wagon wheels and the hooves of so many animals pulling them. Even though the video camera was right there in the ruts it was difficult to capture the height, narrowness, and ruggedness of the ruts. Probably filming in the early morning or late afternoon would be best so that the shadows show some of the relief of the terrain. Also, it may be that video just cannot capture this well and a physical trip to the ruts is necessary to see for yourself what the emigrants endured as part of their hardships traveling west.

For me, travel in the Great American West is a nostalgic and romantic experience. Filled with rivers, incredibly large objects, unimaginable distances, an almost limitless horizon and skies sometimes filled with stunning cloud formations it tells a story of the beauty of our land. To the Native Americans, who were its custodians for thousands of years, it is described by author, N. Scott Momaday, as “a dream landscape filled with sacred realities… powerful things. It is a landscape that has to be seen to be believed… and may have to be believed in order to be seen.”

Click here to see a short video from this trip in August, 2016.

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