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.


Click this image to see all photos (with descriptions) from the day: West Coast Trip - July 13, 2017

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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.

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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On the Road Again in the Great American West

I’m on the road again in the Great American West following the Oregon-California Trail in the 1850 footsteps of John App. This time it is a quick trip to test how best to film the landscape in the west as compared to how it is filmed in eastern states. I’ve learned a lot, and hope to apply this knowledge when creating a family video documentary of John App’s journey from Pekin, Illinois to California’s gold fields.

The first place I tested filming was along the Platte River in Nebraska, which according to Wikipedia “is about 310 miles (500 km) long, is a tributary of the Missouri River, which itself is a tributary of the Mississippi River which flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The Platte over most of its length is a muddy, broad, shallow, meandering stream with a swampy bottom and many islands—a braided stream. These characteristics made it too difficult for canoe travel, and it was never used as a major navigation route by European-American trappers or explorers.” It was a crucial element in forming the path taken by the emigrants on the Oregon-California Trail, and in the next post I will have some video demonstrating the “look” of this river.

The next stop was sort of serendipitous and not intended for filming, but it was a very important stop for the travelers along the trail. Ash Hollow was an oasis where many travelers rested before beginning the more arduous journey to the west along the last of the relatively flat trail. It was a place where animals could be watered and fed, and where wagons and equipment could be repaired.

Ash Hollow

Ash Hollow

Ash Hollow

Ash Hollow

The Nebraska Historical Society describes it this way: “Ash Hollow is four miles in total length, from about 1,000 feet wide between its gateway cliffs near the North Platte up to 2,000 feet rim to rim, and with an average depth of some 250 feet. Most emigrants who passed through Ash Hollow stopped for rest and refitting. According to Merrill Mattes’s Great Platte River Road, “In a country otherwise devoid of noteworthy features, Ash Hollow, with its high white cliffs, flower beds, oasis-like patches of trees and shrubbery, and beneficent clear springs, is an outright marvel.”



The second place to test filming was Courthouse and Jail Rocks in Nebraska. Resembling from a distance a jail next to a courthouse, it certainly was a recognizable landmark for the travelers. The National Parks Service describes the landmark this way: “Courthouse Rock was first noted by Robert Stuart in 1812 and quickly became one of the guiding landmarks for fur traders and emigrants. It is a massive monolith of Brule clay and Gering sandstone south of the trail, which was variously likened to a courthouse or a castle. A smaller feature just to the east was called the Jail House or Jail Rock. Courthouse Rock was the first of several impressive natural landmarks along the trail in western Nebraska.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

In November of 1841, Rufus B. Sage recorded, “A singular natural formation, known as the Court House, or McFarlan’s Castle . . . rises in an abrupt quadrilangular form, to a height of three or four hundred feet, and covers an area of two hundred yards in length by one hundred and fifty broad. Occupying a perfectly level site in an open prairie, it stands as the proud palace of Solitude, amid here boundless domains. Its position commands a view of the country for forty miles around and meets the eye of the traveler for several successive days, in journeying up the Platte.”

Stop number three was at Chimney Rock, arguably the most notable landmark along the entire Oregon-California Trail. Visible from sometimes 40 miles away it stood as an ancient beacon to the travelers as a place to rest and find water and grass for their animals.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

It also served as an indicator for gauging the rate of their progress west along the trail. It is probably considered to be “the symbol” of the great western migration. It is a natural geologic formation (from erosion) that towers 480 feet (146 meters) above the North Platte River Valley. It is visible proof that things out west are certainly larger and further away than a human eye can judge.

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The Story of Pvt Andrew Longley (American Civil War)

Andrew LongleyAndrew Longley was a nineteen year old farm boy who on February 25, 1864 mustered into Company C, 9th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers as private in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The family farm was located a few miles south of Elkhart, Indiana on 80 acres of land where the house still exists today.

His story is not too different from thousands upon thousands of other stories during the war, but after more than 150 years we have his story to recall and to ponder. Most profound stories in life come from average people who have become forgotten once they have taken the more eternal path.

Andrew Longley had been in the service less than three months when he was wounded near Dalton, Georgia while fighting along with William Tecumseh Sherman on his march to Atlanta. He was shot with a Minié Ball (conical bullet) that pierced his left lung and lodged in his left shoulder. Two thirds of the wounded during the Civil War succumbed to disease rather than directly from their wounds. Forty two days after he was shot at the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge, Andrew Longley died of pneumonia with the bullet still lodged in his shoulder.

During this time Andrew was able to write three touching letters home to his parents. We have copies of his letters along with other military, medical, and death records, but only this one photograph exists and shows him in uniform. He was my great-great uncle on my mother’s side of the family (Moore/Longley). Andrew’s mother, Julia Longley, was my great-great grandmother, his sister, Frances Anna, was my great grandmother, and Bernard Moore (Anna’s son) was my grandfather. In the video below, Andrew is alive again for six minutes.

Andrew Longley was originally buried in a cemetery just south of Elkhart, but in 1910 he was re-buried in the Prairie Street Cemetery where his mother had purchased some family plots. Bernard Moore, Andrew’s nephew, owned a well drilling company in Elkhart and carried the casket on his horse drawn wagon about two miles to the new resting place.

He was referred to as “Uncle Andy” by my uncle, Wayne Longley Moore. Although my uncle never knew Andrew he had heard stories from his grandmother, Frances Anna, and his middle name of Longley was given in honor of his great uncle.

Andrew Longley is buried next to his nearly unreadable sand-stone monument in the old section of the Prairie Street Cemetery in Elkhart, Indiana. At monuments such as this one the owners have left us their names… but some have left us their stories.

The Pvt Andrew Longley Story
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