Saturday, January 27, 2018

Heinrich Kreiser's Summer Home

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Heinrich Alfred Kreiser is better known in this part of California as Henry Miller the Cattle King. His main stomping grounds were the sprawling acres of his Bloomfield Ranch just south of Gilroy, CA, just up the road from San Juan Bautista. Kreiser assumed the name Henry Miller when he bought a non-transferable train ticket from that gentleman in 1850 and headed west for the California Gold Rush. Later, he legally changed his name to Miller.

An immigrant butcher by trade originally from Wurtemburg, Germany, Miller started a meat shop in San Francisco, purchasing cattle and land with his profits. With his partner Charles Lux, he eventually worked hard enough and smart enough to own more than a million acres and over one million head of cattle. Hence the nickname "Cattle King."

Miller built a summer home up in the redwoods west of Gilroy. After his death in 1916, the estate was abandoned. The remains of that home and the surrounding grounds became part of Mt. Madonna County Park in 1953. Today you can walk through what is left of the site surrounded by a beautiful forest of redwoods, oaks, and madrones. That, among other things, is what I did yesterday.

I love stone work, so I spent about an hour checking out the site.

A short distance from the site is a fenced enclosure that houses a small population of White Fallow Deer. They are simultaneously beautiful and creepy if you ask me, like paranormal deer that regularly see the ghost of Henry Miller maybe. They live in this huge, well-protected pen because of the park's location smack dab in the middle of mountain lion territory. That buck? He lives alone most of the time. Otherwise there would be a lot more of these weird albino ghost-deer critters.

I liked visiting the ruins and the deer, but as usual, what I liked the most was the ever-enchanting woodsy woods woodsy. My guess is that's what Henry liked, too.

Peace, Love, and Redwoods,

Friday, January 26, 2018

Casa de Fruta

Waxing Gibbous Moon

On the way east over the Diablo Range on Pacheco Pass Highway, about fifteen miles from my camp on the edge of San Juan Bautista, is a former fruit and nut orchard that dates back to 1908. Operated by the Zanger family, Italian immigrants with a strong work ethic and boundless imaginations, the orchard grew from a humble cherry stand in the 1940s to a mixture of fruit-candy-nut market, gas station, roadside attraction, amusement center, restaurant, wine tasting venue, and outdoor farm implement museum. Today, it is a must-go fun stop for both travelers and local recreation buffs.

On a January weekday, I found it uncrowded, peaceful, and fascinating to explore on foot. Oh by the way, I highly recommend the cherry pie in the bake shop. Perhaps the most interesting part of my walk was the juxtaposition of the Tesla charging stations with the collection of rusted farm junk vehicles from the early 20th century.

I am always captivated by old trucks, tractors, plows, disks, balers, etc. Here they line the back part of the property in rows. They are all on their way back to the Earth slowly but surely, having toiled and sputtered and been retired. Hmm, who else do I know like that?

There is much to do for kids, including a playground with a duck pond, a narrow gauge railroad, a Gold Rush era cascade sluice, and a handcrafted-in-Italy double-decker Venetian carousel.

About two million tourists visit Casa de Fruta annually, many heading home with a sampler of the fruits and nuts still grown by the Zanger family in the region. Everyone who ventures out on foot sooner or later encounters one or more of the regal peacocks that roam freely around the grounds.

One of my earliest childhood memories is driving to Knott's Berry Farm near our home in Anaheim to ride the ponies and walk among the fruit trees (it was MUCH smaller then!). I actually got to meet Hopalong Cassidy on one visit. He gave me a spent cartridge from his six-gun which I still have to this day. I didn't see anyone as cool as Hoppy on my trip to Casa de Fruta, but it was still memorable, relaxing, and fun. 

Peace, Love, and Peacocks,

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On the Grounds at St. Francis Retreat

Waning Gibbous Moon

A few miles south from my camp, up in the foothills of the Gabilan Range, is the St. Francis Retreat, a Franciscan Brothers refuge from the nutso world of 21st century America. Located on 73 acres of prime oak and buckeye forest overlooking San Juan Valley, the facility was once part of Rancho San Justo, a Spanish land grant dating back to the old mission days. The Franciscans purchased these acres for $100,000 in 1947 and converted the existing ranch house into a conference center and housing for the bros. The original house burned down in 2006. Three years later, a new facility was built. I have a love/hate relationship with the place, as I do with most things churchy, but I love the grounds.

Interestingly, the St. Francis Retreat web site describes history in the region as beginning in 1795. The Amah Mutsun branch of the Ohlone people, who lived and loved here for thousands of years prior to the friar, are not even worth a brief mention. Insert frowny face here.

Anyway, that atrocity aside, the retreat grounds are open to the public for hiking and contemplation as long as you check in with the nice office folks and state your peaceable intentions in advance. Rain was forecast starting at noon today, so I went up there this a.m. to explore a little bit before the front came in. This is the love part.

I started my walk at the koi pond near the office parking lot and made my way toward Flint Lake, a small but pretty sag pond along the San Andreas Fault. The fish in the pond are colorful and active, protected from marauding birds and raccoons by tough synthetic nets. The lake is bigger than I remembered it plus it features a very cool bridge leading to a little shrine to Our Lady of Fatima - all good stuff.

The netting keeps the birds out.

Time to reflect.

I have seen the bridge.

Our Lady of Fatima and friend.

A short walk from the shrine is a first-rate gazebo overlooking the valley (see, distinguishing this place from all the other run of the mill, gazebo-less Roman Catholic land holdings in California.

For a better view, check out The Gazeebook!

In front of the gazebo is another fine place to take in a long view.

Having bagged yet another gazebo, I continued walking on the Brothers' Trail toward Ofelia Road, where I was treated (and re-treated) with animal sightings: a rafter of wild turkeys and a small herd of whitetail deer. The turkeys were cautious but not skittish. The deer were both skittish and cautious.

As long as I stood still, the turkeys just slowly made their way toward the trees.

These guys bolted in a matter of seconds.

Up on Ofelia Road, I found a cabin named after Leo of Assisi, the "favorite disciple, secretary, and  confessor" of St. Francis. Brother Leo died in Assisi, Italy in 1270 A.D.

Ofelia Road.

Brother Leo's Cabin.

The rest of the hike was on The Loop, winding through the oak and buckeye forest around the edge of the property back to the parking lot. Some nice gentle climbs made my heart beat a little faster and stole my breath away as the rain started to arrive. I made it back to the truck with just the beginnings of a wet jacket. This was an hour and fifteen minutes well spent on the first Wednesday of the year.

The Loop Trail in winter.

Some kind of mushroom.

Nearing the end of The Loop.

Peace, Love, and Well Being,