Travels to the Heartland, Page 8. June, 2008
by Earl Cook
Photography by Earl & Gail Cook

For the adventurers that came across the country by wagon train and horse in the 19th century, views of the Pacific Ocean similar to this greeted them.

Some also came to San Francisco by ship and had to round the tip of South America to get here or, like the Spanish, came up from Mexico or the Chinese who sailed directly across the Pacific to San Francisco.

When in the forests, bays and mountains of California, you are in John Muir and Ansel Adams territory. Thanks to these two adventurers and trail blazers, many special spots in California have been preserved to a large degree.

As we rounded the corner heading out of Placerville, high up in the Sierra foothills on the way to the southern tip of Lake Tahoe, we saw this wagon train pulled off to the side of the road for lunch. This was the 59th annual running of the wagon train from the Lake Tahoe area down the mountains to Placerville, the town once known as Dry Diggins and later Hangtown.

Placerville, the destination for the wagon train is located close to Sutters Mill and the locations of the great Gold Rushes of the late 1840's that brought people from all around the world to the San Franciso - Sacramento - Placerville - Lake Tahoe area.

This reenactment is performed by members of the Hwy 50 Association Wagon Train and located in Placerville, California.

Some of the ladies taking a break during lunch. Dianna Newborn, on the left, is the Wagon Master.

Lake Tahoe, the Lake in the Sky. Tahoe is 6228 feet above sea level, has an average depth of 1645 feet, and is the second highest lake of its size, second only to Lake Titicaca located in the South American Andes.

Beautifully blue and with snow capped mountains in the background, it is truly a special place. The lake's south shore, shown at left, was a summer gathering place for three tribes of Native Americans. They considered the place a sacred spot and conducted spiritual ceremonies along its shores.

Since the lake was on the quickest route across the country on the California Trail to San Francisco, many of those migrating across the country stopped along the lake's shores.

Emerald Bay. One of the most beautiful and photographed areas of Lake Tahoe.

Virginia City was located on the northern tip of the lake. Many remember that the Ponderosa with the Cartwrights was located just north of the lake on the TV program, Bonanza. I remember watching the show as a kid and always thinking how beautiful the country was that they lived in. Now seeing these lands brings back many good childhood memories.

A Memorial Day snowfall has covered the mountains around Lake Tahoe. For a bit of perspective, notice the waterfall near the bottom and center of the photo to get an idea of the size of these mountains. To my eye, this looks like it could be an avanlanche area in winter.

A loo with a view on the right, and the fire lookout tower that it supports. If I were to have to visit this perch on a windy night, I would want to be tied to the mountain! Trying to get there might make you not have to go afterall!

Fire is a constant danger in California. These fire lookout towers perched high atop mountain peaks serve as early warning in the fire detection system. It is a lonely job with spectacular views. I can't imagine being here during winter storms with the wind and snow howling.

It takes a special kind of person to fill this important, but lonely job.

Lake Davis viewed from the fire tower. This lake freezes in winter and is home to a popular local fishing tournament. It is a man-made lake and the source of future drinking water.

It is also the site of a controversial practice of placing poison into the lake to kill northern pike, a predatory fish who, if they move downstream, can threaten native species such as salmon.

This is an endangered species of cactus known as (still searching for the identity). These were growing in the woods along Lake Davis.

The purpose of our visit to California was for our annual Touch for Health / Energy Kinesiology Association energy-kinesiology conference. This year we heard some very interesting speakers highlighted by Dawson Church, PhD, author of the new book, The Genie in your Genes. He is a leader in the field of Epigenetics and the power of intention. Today, studies in biology are proving the positive effects of positive thought.

The conference was held at the Radisson in Sacramento, California.

Gail had a chance to walk the grounds during the conference and took many great photos of the flowers and grounds.

After the conference, it was time for a little relaxation and time for one visit to a vineyard before they closed. We chose the Mumm's Champagne complex and tasted some of their aged as well as varietal flavors.

One of reasons we chose Mumm's was to see their Ansel Adams collection in the Gallery. We love Ansel Adams and have several posters of his photos hanging on our walls.

In our search for pioneers, Ansel Adams would be near the top. His images of Yosemite evoke awe in me everytime I see one.

When we entered the Gallery, one of the most powerful images was one of the first, Eagles Peak. Gail and I took a three-day backpacking trip to the top of El Capitan and Eagle's Peak in 1976. It was one of the most spectacular views I have ever witnessed. We looked back toward Half Dome and then could see the tops of the High Sierras in the distance.

While sitting on the narrow precipice of Eagle's Peak, the Swifts performed aerobatics and would whiz by our heads in the process. They were so close that you could hear their feathers rustle. Another small bird came flying up and tugged and tugged and eventually pulled one strand of Gail's blonde hair from her head and then flew off taking it to its nest.

So, Eagle's Peak has strong memories associated with it for us and seeing Ansel Adam's photo of it was very inspiring.

Then we nearly froze to death several days later in the High Sierras camping beside Cathedral Lake and Peaks. We had backpacked in from Tuolomne Meadows and did not expect the temperature to drop as low as it did in June. But, we were at high elevation and should of expected extremes. So, the Ansel Adams images of Eagles Peak and Cathedral Lake and Peaks are special. (It is the site of the Legend of the Cosmic Soup.)

An art class along the road beside a serene bay north of San Francisco. The lady in the center is the teacher and she had some very attentive students. She was painting an old wharf and putting the blue onto the canvas. In the sometimes hurry of travel, a tranquil scene like this slows you down and increases your appreciation of your surroundings.

Our first view of the Golden Gate Bridge. As we approached San Francisco from the north, we stopped by Hawk's Hill and enjoyed the vistas. The Golden Gate is one of the most famous and photographed bridges in the world. We've always approached San Francisco from the South in our past visits. This time, we were coming in from the North for the first time and it was an entirely different perspective.

In 1976, Gail and I were on a four-month travel and camping adventure. We went through San Francisco and the Bay Area about two weeks after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had formed Apple Computer. We have worked primarily in the Macintosh world since 1986 and I was an Apple-approved consultant for awhile in their early consultant's program.

This time, we were in San Francisco on the day that Jobs had introduced the new G3 iPhone. In our travels this time, our cell phone (not an iPhone) was giving us problems. We had a chance to trade it in for new one at no cost and get a cheap replacement or hold on an shop for something we liked. I put a $200 limit on our search.

Then, the genius Steve Jobs introduces the phone I would like to own with a better service and at the price I wanted. So, we went and stood at the place where this history was being made. Truly, there were a lot of geniuses, trailblazers and adventurers presenting and attending this conference. Many of the things possible that you are seeing on this website are the result of these trailblazers.

San Francisco is known for its famous cable cars that go and up down the incredibly steep streets of the city. A little known fleet of historic streetcars are running up and down Market Street intermixed with the modern fleet.

Many of the models are of the 1935-designed President's Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars that were meant to modernize the service. 33 cities in the U.S. ran these cars in their service.

The cars are painted in the schemes and colors of these different services. This streetcar is painted in the scheme of the Brooklyn, New York service.

These cars were efficient means of public transportation once before and have returned to a useful purpose. Many American cities tore up or buried their streetcar rails as the automobile became the primary means of transportation.

Here's a salute to the pioneers of old and of the recent for running these streetcars.

If you like this photo, there are more here...

The Alamo Square Painted Ladies with San Francisco in the distance. These Victorian Homes were built in the 1878 - 1915 timeframe.

The pyramid-shaped Transamerica Building was and still is to some for its radical statement in the midst of old San Francisco.

While walking down the beach and path at Crissy Field in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, we came upon these incredibly balanced rocks. They are the work of Bill Dan of Sausalito. I immediately liked these because I have built small structures on beaches around the world. Nothing this grand and impossible looking, though. Bill and I had a good talk. I laughed because we balance people and Bill balances rocks and people.

Here are some other Bill Dan links:

Official Website:

Dan's Blog:

Video of Dan:

Dan told me that he had to put some video on the web because people could not believe that he was just stacking these rocks without anything holding them together. While we were there, the wind blew one stack over. They are so delicately balanced.

Bill Dan is an adventurer of a different kind and inspires people with simplicity. Bill always takes the rocks down before leaving so we were very fortunate to be wlking down the beach when he was there.

I've always heard the stories of the treacherous currents and the frigid shark-infested waters that surrounds Alcatraz. Well, no one told these wind surfers who were at Crissy Beach in their national competition. Besides the hazards just mentioned, there were the huge freighters that passed through the course.

When in California, the thought of earthquakes often goes through my mind. Sometimes, I think, "What would happen in an earthquake happened now?" Maybe that is not healthy thinking, but when going through a narrow slot between cliffs like this just south of Pacifica, the thought might be valid. From the looks of the construction occurring, this stretch of the road is about to be replaced with a tunnel and a bridge a little further inland.

The beauty of California is that the scenery can dramatically change in the blink of an eye. This scene is just north of Santa Cruz.

As a kid, I loved this car when it was first introduced. The long sloping fastback roof was georgous to me. These land yachts are far from being efficient transportation, but they are fun to look at! This is a lowrider from Santa Cruz.
This series of photos have been focused on our travels by automobile. When starting this series several years ago, I knew that this type of touring was on its way out. I am a big supporter of rail and mass transit systems and wish to see the streetcars return. But, getting to the less-traveled areas requires a car in many instances.

The sign at the left is the sign of the times and may end this series of travel by car, but we will continue to travel and continue our adventures and looking for explorers, trailblazers and special people.