Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Fort Ord Dunes State Park, Marina, California

 Waxing Crescent Moon

Fort Ord Dunes State Park is less than a mile from the Major General William H. Gourley VA-DoD Outpatient Clinic in Marina, California. The park is pretty new, part of the remediation efforts to change the old Fort Ord from a military training base to areas open to the public for education and recreation. The remarkably beautiful dunes tower over a four-mile stretch of the Monterey Bay coastline to the west and the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail to the east. 

Memorial Day is a sad holiday. I have experienced enough somber graveyard visits, so I don't do that exercise any more. Instead, yesterday I took a long walk on the beach and honored those who have died in war with a couple hours of peace. In my lifetime alone, The United States has lost service men and women to war in so many places - Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq twice, Syria, and Afghanistan, not counting the undercover War on Drugs countries and the Cold War countries and other War on Terrorism countries. I'm probably leaving places out because my brain is fatigued by the whole thing. I am lucky and I am thankful to be able to pick a scenic place to walk in silence and to appreciate all these brave sacrifices.

The General Plan for this park includes the construction of a campground near the location of some old barracks, which are at present an eyesore. This will no doubt add to the numbers of visitors to the park and lead to other developments nearby. I like the way they are doing this in stages, slowly removing all the decaying buildings and carefully cleaning up munitions and chemicals leftover from the once active training sites. This park is a symbol of hope. A cell phone tour of the area is available by clicking here and following the instructions.

Peace, Love, and Thoughtful Rejuvenation,


#2,022 in 2022

Hiking mileage to date: 820 miles

Friday, May 27, 2022

Harmoonic Cowvergence

 Waning Crescent Moon

Along the blissful two-lane road north from Cayucos, CA to Ragged Point, CA the landscape on the inland side is steeply rolling grassland. On the ocean side, is, well, the ocean with spectacularly rocky beaches. I have long held the belief that if cows lead good lives and they are not consumed by humans or other omnivores, upon death they are reincarnated as dairy cows and they get to live on these spectacular hillsides overlooking the Pacific. It's a bovine paradise with a billion dollar view. Every time I pass by, I think to myself, "damn, those cows got it good!"

Offset from the road a little bit on the inland side is a tiny art colony named Harmony, CA (population 18). That is not a typo. It is as tiny as tiny gets in a state bursting at the seams with hurried residents and flustered tourists. I have been stopping by to check on Harmony since the early 1970's. In 1986, I first pulled in as a cautious bicycle tourist. Back then it did not appear very welcoming to outsiders. Aside from the Post Office, which may or may not have been operational, it was a collection of old wooden buildings with bizarre pieces of sculptures in progress alongside other eclectic farm art. I, of course, loved it. But I was well aware that loving a place like this must be done carefully and from a distance. Harmony is a vibration, a chord, a mix of strings with just the right frequencies and densities and thicknesses. If you really love it, you're not going to jump in there and start twanging away. You're going to go home and fine-tune yourself.

So I have done that, studiously, with mixed results, ever since. When the mood strikes me, I stop by Harmony to see what's happening and to measure my progress. The day before yesterday, I eased off Highway One into "town" for the first time since the pandemic started. Mine was the only car. In the thirty minutes I stayed, I saw only four other souls. The eighteen artists who call Harmony home had been busy. It felt good, it felt groovy, it was different, but it was really kind of nice. 

I was happy to see that Harmony was more open, more confidently sharing than in my previous visits. There seemed to be more of a presence that reflected the women of the community, at least that was my sense of things. It felt more like stepping into a circle than peering over a fence. They even shared some of the area's history as a dairy farm and creamery back in the day. You might need to click on the photo to enlarge it if you want to read the poster.

I think there is something about the coastal air and fog and sunlight that combines to make plants grow and shine. The people who tend the plants probably have an influence, too, but the end product is really pleasant. The Golden State, although tarnished and dusty in many places, can still be a state of light and lightness. 

Creativity and playfulness are also a good combination. I am happy to report that both are displayed in the art and artistic businesses of today's Harmony.

If you like farm puns, enlarge the photo and enjoy.

I came away from my most recent experimental moment in Harmony feeling like I was more connected, like my long and winding path has a little more in common with this tiny humming  orchestra where the good cows go to pray and play for eternity. 

Peace, Love, and Churn On,


#2,022 in 2022

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Cayucos, California - Passing Through

Waning Crescent Moon

Ancestral lands of the Chumash and the Esselen people

My wanderlust has been overwhelming me lately, so I tried to do something about it by taking a two and a half day driving trip south to some of my favorite spots on the coast. I am not going to complain about the cost of gasoline. I repeat. I, Palomino, am not going to complain about the cost of gasoline. After all, what good would it do for me to complain about the cost of gasoline anyway - the sky high, ridiculously high cost of gasoline? It would do no good whatsoever, of course. Therefore, I am not going to complain about the absurd, buzz-killing, six-dollar-per-gallon cost of gasoline. I promise.

To be sure, I had a great time on my little cruise on the coast. Over the two and a half days, I had breakfast with a dear friend in Santa Barbara, I walked and sat for a while near East Beach, I puttered around downtown San Luis Obispo a little bit, and then I headed for Highway One, the Pacific Coast Highway, to set my soul free in the holy land - the Big Sur, as it is currently known. My first stop was Cayucos, a small village just up the coast from Morro Bay. I'll talk about the rest of the trip in another post.

I have ridden my bicycle four times (north to south) along Highway One over the years, each time stopping in Cayucos to eat and rest and soak up its gentle sea town vibe, each time amazed by how untouched it has been by the rest of the world's insanity. It's apparent that the big money has begun to move in and that things could quickly change, but for now, it's still a very cool place to practice being. I got out to stretch my legs and I wandered around for an hour or so on a typically foggy coastal morning. The first thing I like to do when I get there is to walk out to the end of the wharf and look back at the town and its simple, pleasing beach. 

After that, I walked a short block from the wharf into town. There was a lot of construction and road work going on along Ocean Avenue, but I dodged most of it, tuned out the noise, and looked around at some of the familiar shops and eateries (by the way, I really like the folks who operate the Sea Shanty Restaurant). After a while, I looped around back to the beach to study the previous night's deposits of sea weed and pebbles. This is not a prolific shell beach to speak of, but it usually has a wonderful variety of polished stones and pebbles left behind by the high tide.

Not even remotely representative of coastal tribal bands!

The woman in the background has been in approximately 1 million photos of this mermaid.

I selfishly do not want Cayucos (population 2,228) to change very much in the near future. If you are a thoughtful, responsible dude or dudette and you have not been there, I hope you get to see this wondrous little village in its relaxed state soon. If, on the other hand, you are one of those philistine vultures with bottomless bags of money who are intent on paving the entire continent and tricking everyone into forking out exorbitant sums to see it, could you please hold off on that idea for a little while? Better yet, could you please board one of your money-buddies' cool spaceships and get the heck out of here? That would be nice of you.

Peace, Love, and Beach Walks,


#2,022 in 2022

Friday, May 20, 2022

Soquel, California, Land of Medicine Buddha

 Waning Gibbous Moon

 Ancestral lands of the Ohlone Awaswas people.

Tucked away in the gorgeous redwood forest near Soquel, California, adjacent to the Forest of Nisene Marks, is the Land of Medicine Buddha. The Land of Medicine Buddha is a meditation and retreat facility, not a state park or recreation area, but during the months of May through October, the gates are open for hikers and responsible dog owners to explore a six-mile loop trail and view the facility. I have heard about the place for years, but yesterday was the first time for me to visit.

I parked alongside a few other cars just before the bridge that leads to the main gate and wandered in, looking for a trailhead, a little cautious so as not to disturb the quiet. The signs on narrow Prescott Road (speed limit 15 mph) try to prepare you for a different experience. This is not a public park where you bring your boombox and all the neighborhood kids to twist and shout. The amusing road signs gently tell you so. You are entering a magical forest with faeries and elves and gnomes, they say. Go slow, leave your hurriedness back in town. Stay calm and yield to the banana slugs. You either get it or you don't, but if you don't get it, please start getting it right now. Okay, the signs don't have that many words, but I can't remember exactly what they said, so I'm paraphrasing.

Anyway, I pretty much get what Medicine Buddha is saying, and what I don't get, I still respect, so I began to walk. I noticed right off the bat the two large signs that read No Mountain Bikes and Dogs on Leashes Only. My dogless intention was to walk on my feet through the trees for 4 miles and turn around, carefully yielding to banana slugs. I think the colorful buildings and prayer flags and shrines are beautiful, but I didn't want to disturb anyone who might be doing what people do around those things. I just wanted to enjoy a nice, silent hike in the woods. So I did not enter the part of the loop that included tippy-toeing around earnest meditators and prayerful yogis. I met three really nice, smiling, healthy, solo women hikers along the trail. We exchanged muted hellos and a few pleasant niceties, and continued on our merry ways. That successfully checked the social interaction box for the day for me. Perfect!

The trail gradually climbed and descended through ferns and redwoods above a surprisingly still-running, drought-resistant creek until it dropped down to cross the water where it rippled just above the soles of my shoes. Then the path started to climb up the side of a fairly steep mountain, gaining 1,200 feet in a half a mile. In that segment, the forest changed from redwoods to firs to oaks, and narrowed a bit, making it important to dodge runners of poison oak encroaching upon my legs. I worked up a pretty good sweat there and as far as I know, I didn't get poisoned. At the top of the climb, I hit the 4 mile mark and turned around.

By far the best part of this hike was the redwoods-and-fern section. Come to think of it, not counting the oceans and waterfalls, the redwood-and-fern sections of the planet might be the best part of Earth. The trail frequently ducked under fallen logs and led me past interesting mushroom communities. Walking here was absolutely invigorating.

Some of the mushrooms were as big as my head, some were as small as my thumbnail, but all seemed very healthy and absolutely at home in this gorgeous forest. 

On my way back down the trail to the gate, five college-age mountain bikers, four men and one woman, came barreling along, all smiling and how-ya-doing. They knew what they were doing was wrong and they didn't care. Not even a little bit. There are miles and miles of great riding trails right next door in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. I guess that's not enough for them. How long before self-centered people like these make the Land of Medicine Buddha trails off limits to the public?

That would be a crying shame.

Peace, Love, and Things I Just Don't Get,

#2,022 in 2022

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Watsonville, California - Pinto Lake County Park

 Waning Gibbous Moon

Ancestral lands of the Ohlone Kalentaruk people

Yesterday I took a little journey to another nearby park that I had never visited before. Pinto Lake County Park is situated in the agricultural lands northeast of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County. It has the appearance of an older facility, with weathered wooden pavilions and restrooms and infrequent signs. But there are groomed soccer fields, a few miles of walking paths, and an 18-hole disc gold course, too, as well as Pinto Lake, of course. I didn't know what to expect really, but I decided to go just to see something new (to me). 

I forgot to take a picture of the park's sign. This photo is from Google.

I have been spoiled lately by Santa Clara County parks that have neat and clean kiosks with shiny detailed maps of their hiking trails and facilities. Nothing like that was to be found, so I followed my nose around the soccer field to spy what I took to be a trailhead. It was actually one of the last holes of the disc golf course, but a small, faded sign said golfers shared the trail with hikers, so off I went. The golf course looked pretty challenging to me, an admitted novice and infrequent player. I think it would be a fun course to try. The trails that I followed were clean single tracks through the woods above the various "fingers" of Pinto Lake. They covered less than three miles total, but nonetheless, it was a pleasant, if short hike. After winding through the trees, I found a connector trail that led me down to a wooden walkway next to the water. 

There were a few different kinds of wildflowers and some very shiny ivy growing along the shady trails. There was no trash. I could see what I guessed were fisherman's or fisherwoman's narrow side trails that plunged steeply toward the water. It appeared to be poison oak central and I wasn't interested in that, so I stayed on the main paths.

The walkway over the water seemed to be a popular fishing spot for non-fans of poison oak. Two guys were plopping surface lures into the water as I passed by. I can't imagine what they were trying to catch. They answered my standard fisherman question ("ketchin' inny?")  with a very resigned and simple "nope." A small boat with a silent trolling motor and two middle aged dudes were not ketchin' inny either, but they were having fun being followed by two begging ducks. The dudes stopped and fed the ducks some pork rinds. Watsonville ducks love them some pork rinds, don'tcha know.

At the end of the boardwalk the trail made a U-turn and climbed up a little ways directly to a most colorful and decorative surprise. I had stumbled into a shaded flower-and-candle laden shrine to the Virgin de Guadalupe. Little did I know that this humble outdoor chapel has been featured on CNN and visited by thousands of people from all over creation. 

As the story goes, a woman named Anita Contreras was walking along by herself next to the lake one day in 1992. She was feeling deeply sad and despondent due to a failed marriage at the time, when lo and behold, she looked up and saw the likeness of the Virgin Maria looking down on her from the bark of an oak tree. A devout Catholic, Anita took this as a sign and a blessing. She pledged to build and maintain a shrine at that spot and to share it with other people in need of solace. She did exactly that, caring for the place for more than twenty years before she passed on. Now others have taken her place and Mass is celebrated there by local priests for the faithful on most Saturdays and Sundays. 

A happy, toothless gentlemen about my age, originally from Mexico, was there yesterday, tending to the flowers and candles. I didn't catch his first name, but he said his last name was Figueroa and he claimed to be a descendant of the famous General Jose Figueroa (governor of Alta California from 1833 to 1835), for whom Figueroa Street in Los Angeles was named. Senor Figueroa worked in vineyards from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa in his lifetime, slowly learning English and helping to raise a large family. A nicer man you have never met.

I didn't know Anita's legend before yesterday, so I didn't look for the image in any of the trees close to the shrine. Is it still there? Is it visible to ornery pagans like me? I'll go back and check one of these days. One thing for sure is that Senora Anita saw something there that changed her life for the better and however it happened, that's okay by me.

On my way back on the loop trail, I saw a sculpture of sorts. There were no signs or happy, holy attendants, but I guessed that the turtle represents Turtle Island, what is called North America today, with little symbols of some of the continents animals on its back. A biggo turtle sculpture may not be as sensational as a virgin birth, etc. etc., but hey, this is pretty cool, too.

Peace, Love, and Comfort

#2,022 in 2022