One of our favorite places to visit when we lived in the Bay Area was Carmel. Now that we live in the great Central Valley, it is somewhat closer to drive over to the Pismo/Morro Bay/San Luis Obispo areas. But the charm, shopping, dining, and ocean views of Carmel entice us back, again and again.
When traveling around the world, many people mention both the Napa Valley and the Carmel-Monterey area as places they would love to visit. And fortunately, we get to do both, whenever we want!
You know the story, we spent part of our honeymoon here back in 1995. And shortly after, I started working a few hours a month at Pebble Beach. They were quite generous, giving us an apartment for overnight stays, and meals at the company cafeteria. And the drive to and from work was on Seventeen Mile Drive. But the real kicker was FREE golf at Pebble and Spyglass!!!
But we just love the Monterey Peninsula area, Seventeen Mile Drive, a few old friends, shopping, dining out at a few local favorites, and just relaxing. I plan to bring my bicycle for a few coastal rides, as Lexi will be at Elaine’s Pet Resort. The best trail runs from the Monterey Wharf out to Lover’s Point. From there, just follow the coast until reaching Seventeen Mile Drive, which will take you all the way to the Lodge at Pebble Beach.
I can tell you many stories about this area, but you undoubtedly heard them before. Suffice it to say that the ghost of Steinbeck still haunts most areas, and locals like Dirty Harry still garner too much attention. Back in the day, I had many famous patients, like Alan Shepherd, John Henry Deutchendorf, Jack Lemmon, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus.
Sidebar: Speaking of John Steinbeck, did you know he was born just 30 miles from Monterey’s Cannery Row in the Salinas area? He won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for Grapes of Wrath, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Seventeen of his works were made into Hollywood movies. He actually attended Stanford, which might explain some of his eccentricity. He and his first wife actually lived in Pacific Grove next to Cannery Row, where he gathered much of his inspiration and information. He died in 1968 in New York City, but his ashes are in a Salinas cemetery.
We have a few places that we like to visit. For breakfast, Toasties (seafood Benedict) in PG. For dinner, Peppers (corn chowder), or Taste Bistro (lamb chops) also in PG. Some good French pastries (almond croissants) at Paris Bakery in Monterey. We also enjoy Abalonetti’s on the Monterey Wharf for their crab Louie or their crab and angel hair pasta. We have been to the fancy places, and just don’t enjoy them as much as these “hole in the wall” places. And good golf clothing at a discount at the Pebble Beach Factory Store down on Cannery Row in Monterey. It is always fun to make a run up and down Ocean Avenue in downtown Carmel, even if we don’t buy anything.
Driving over from the Valley, rather than the Bay Area, the scenery will be much different. We can see how much water is stored in the San Luis Reservoir (back to normal). And maybe stop for hot cinnamon rolls at Eddie’s (NOT) in Los Banos.
As if the U.S. Senate did not have enough to do with the impending “fiscal cliff” challenge (as of Dec. 31, 2012), they did manage something good. They approved legislation to turn Pinnacles National Monument into a national park. Of course, you naysayers will cry that we do not need more tourists to the Monterey Peninsula area. But national parks make us rather unique in the world. President Obama must still sign the bill to make this happen. I imagine he is rather busy today, with the impending Dec. 31 deadline on the cliff issue.
Back in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt established Pinnacles as a national monument. The area encompasses 26,000 acres, and provides an interesting combination of volcanic rocks, and endangered wildlife. The area is popular with rock climbers and hikers, mostly from the Bay Area.
So, where exactly is Pinnacles? Most people have never heard of it. Driving south on Highway 101, passing Gilroy and Hollister, Pinnacles can best be reached via the small town of Soledad. It is only 40 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and about 80 miles south of the Bay Area proper. The area itself is called the southern portion of the Gabilan Range. The Monument is best described as having two divisions, east and west, connected by foot trails, but without a through road. The east side is shaded and has water. The west side is drier and filled with high walls of volcanic formations. It is popular with more advanced rock climbers due to the difficulty and challenge of the climbs.
The Pinnacles were formed from the Neenach Volcano, which erupted 23 million years ago, near what is Lancaster, CA. The movement of the Pacific Plate along the famous San Andreas Fault split this section off from the main body of the volcano, moving it 195 miles northwest. The deep gorges and fractures were transformed into caves by large chunks of falling rock, then wedging into cracks, leaving an open area below. Interestingly, the Pinnacles have shifted 4 miles to the east from its original location due to the Fault.
Among the wildlife here are the celebrated California condor, part of a re-establishment program that began in 2003. Other animals found here are: prairie falcons, bobcats, cougars ( four-legged only), coyotes, quail, wild turkey (not the bourbon), and wild pigs. The wild pigs, subject to an eradication program, are the result of cross-breeding of imported wild boar with feral domestic pigs. In total, there are 149 bird species, 49 mammals, 22 reptiles, 6 amphibians, 68 butterflies, nearly 400 bees, and countless invertebrates.
The trails are considered strenuous for day hikers. Many of the hikes and trails require some bouldering as well. The best known hiking option is the “pig fence climb”, a portion of the southern wilderness trail. The hiking is so strenuous since it requires using the fence to climb the steeply pitched trail! Other less strenuous trails provide excellent views of wildflowers, flat stream beds, beautiful caves, and spectacular vistas.
I traveled the country on business for almost twenty years, and flew most every airline that existed back then. I was never involuntarily bumped. Most of the bumping I experienced was on vacation in Hawaii, taking the little puddle jumpers between islands. I often bought a ten pass ticket, which allowed us, as a family, to fly standby for a very cheap price, as I recall, something in the neighborhood of $20 per flight! I can’t remember the name of that airline, perhaps Mid-Pacific?
The only angst that is caused was trying to get back to Honolulu for our flight back to the mainland. We never missed one, but cut it close several times. And travelling with two youngsters does not make it easy!
Back in the days of World Airlines, we flew on the “family” pass, basically a $50 fare but standby and a really low status for bumping. One trip required two bumps going, and three coming back!!! We ended up flying to LA, and buying a ticket on PSA to get back to the Bay Area?
But I have a good story to tell you about a recent voluntary bump from United. We were scheduled for the “red eye” flight to Washington DC from SFO. They asked for volunteers, and nobody responded. When they upped the ante, we jumped. We got meal vouchers, an overnight hotel at SFO, and guaranteed business class flights for the first flight out the next morning!! And two round trip domestic tickets anywhere United flies.
The thought of Delta offering up to $10,000 certainly may create a new job description for a retiree. I could see someone booking refundable tickets (the highest priced tickets) on Delta, and just wait to get an offer to be bumped. Do this once a week, and the net is close to $40,000!!!!
I am taking the train back to Anchorage on Sunday. Alaska Railroad (the Aurora Winter Train) has year around service throughout the state. It was originally named Alaska Central Railway in 1903, starting in Seward and extending north about 50 miles. Then in 1910, they reorganized into Alaska Northern Railway and added another 21 miles to Kern Creek.
Our government lent a hand in 1914 (wasn’t that in the middle of WW1?), with $35 million to extend the railway to Anchorage. Merely a tent town as of 1915, Anchorage gets going and the railway moves its headquarters here. In 1923, President Warren Harding drives in a gold spike at Nenana, completing the railroad between Seward and Anchorage. But Harding suffers food poisoning on his way home in San Francisco, and dies.
With only 5400 people living among Fairbanks, Anchorage and Seward, the railroad continues to lose money. But finally, in 1938, Col. Otto Ohlson makes its first operational profit. Along came WW2, and the railroad made large profits from moving military and civilian materials and supplies. Then in 1943, they built two tunnels through the Chugash Mountains for rail access to Whittier, a military port and fuel depot for the war effort. Then in 1944, Whittier becomes a second military port, and diesel locomotives begin to replace steam engines (completed in 1966).
The first run of the Aurora began in 1947 with a blue gold steamliner, between Anchorage and Fairbanks. This was followed by the first car-barge service in 1962, followed soon by train-ship service in June, 1964. This enabled rail cars from the lower 48 to be shipped to any point along the Alaska Railroad.
The most powerful earthquake in North American history 9.2 caused $30 million in damage to the railroad, on Good Friday, 1964. Yet, freight service was restored by April 6, and passenger service by April 11. And full service to Whittier resumed on April 20. The railroad played a big part in construction of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline, by receiving and storing pipe from Valdez and Seward to Fairbanks, where it was trucked to the North Slope. During 1970 to 1975, the workforce increased to more than 1000 rail workers.
The mid to late Seventies were a down period, with the Federal Railroad Administration wanting to dispose of its interest in the Alaska Rail. Infrastructure took a beating, and equipment levels declined due to lack of investment. Then in 1981, they entered into an agreement with the Anchorage and Fairbanks school district career centers. They began a tour guide program that trains students to be hosts onboard summer passenger trains.
Finally, in 1983, President Reagan authorized legislation the transfer of the Alaska Railway to the State of Alaska. The ARRC also invests in telecommunications equipment (1983)along the rail route, enhancing communication among all stations. In 1984, Alaska Railroad develops new passenger service with the cruise industry, utilizing superdome double decker luxury coaches. The Governor then established the quasi-public Alaska Railroad Corporation, and a seven member Board of Directors in 1985.
Also, in 1985, the Corporation purchase five new locomotives and 45 new railcars for $45 million. And miles of rail are replaced. But in 1986, a flood destroys two major bridges, and a few smaller bridges, with damages totaling $3 million. Yet, service is restored in just 13 days! In 1988, a station is constructed at Denali, the ultimate destination for thousands of tourists.
By 1990, freight traffic increases by 10 percent, and ridership increases by 17%, with 436,000 passengers. Then, Robert Hatfield becomes President, after Frank Turpin, the first President retires. In 1992, they move into new headquarters, with ridership reaching new highs, nearly half a million.
By 1996, the railroad makes a profit of $8 million, with a ridership of 512,000 passengers. In 1997, the former Governor, Bill Sheffield becomes CEO and President. In 1999, Whittier Tunnel becomes the first tunnel to share vehicular and train traffic, and the Whittier rail shuttle ends.
The railroad purchases 16 new fuel efficient locomotives, and the Grandview train serves passengers between Seward and Anchorage. And computers are used to track trains in 2000. By 2002, real estate revenues exceed $11 million. By 2003, railroad revenues exceed $14.5 million.
A new operations center is built in Anchorage in 2005. The railroad introduces Gold Star first class service using two new double decker luxury cars to the Denali Star. In 2007, the railroad and the park service introduce a new Whistle Stop Service to Chugash National Park.
That brings us to today. The Aurora Winter Train, from Fairbanks, back to Anchorage, is where I started this journey. This is a 12 hour journey, with actual flagstop* service along the 50 mile stretch of backcountry called Hurricane Gulch. The schedule varies depending on the number of stops. We will travel the same stretch as the summer Denali train. On a clear day, you can see Denali.
*flagstop=means anyone can stop the train along its route, either to be picked up or to send packages or goods to any stop along the route. Very interesting!
As a senior, I get 50% off the regular fare. The scheduled stops are Denali, Talkeetna, Wasilla, and Anchorage, my stop. I fly back home tomorrow. It has been a great trip!!
But I could never live up here! But it is sad to leave the area, so much personality compared to Anchorage. More Native Americans here, more of a melting pot, people looking for adventure, possibly fortune. The culture is subtle, but quite clearly woven into the fabric of this area. If you have never been here, I strongly suggest it. I am so pleased I chose Alaska over both Finland and Iceland.
Sidebar: The front engine derailed outside Wasilla. No damage to us or t rain, but we had to detach and back up to Wasilla. We boarded a bus to finish our trip to Anchorage, over 3 hours late!!!
World Atlas website says:
The Arctic Circle, incidentally, is an imaginary line located at 66º, 30’N latitude, and as a guide defines the southernmost part of the Arctic. The climate within the Circle is very cold and much of the area is always covered with ice.
In the mid winter months, the sun never rises and temperatures can easily reach lows of – 50º F in the higher latitudes. In the summer months (further south), 24 hours of sunlight a day melts the seas and topsoil, and is the main cause of icebergs breaking off from the frozen north and floating south, causing havoc in the shipping lanes of the north Atlantic.
The primary residents of the Arctic include the Eskimos (Inuits), Saami and Russians, with an overall population (of all peoples) exceeding 2 million. The indigenous Eskimos have lived in the area for over 9,000 years, and many have now given up much of their traditional hunting and fishing to work in the oil fields and the varied support villages.
The first explorers of the Arctic were Vikings. Norwegians visited the northern regions in the 9th century, and Erik the Red (Icelander) established a settlement in Greenland in 982. In 1909, after numerous attempts by regional explorers, Robert E. Peary reached the North Pole.
I am headed to the Arctic Circle to see the Aurora borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights. Experience says going to the Arctic Circle gives me the best opportunities to see the Aurora in the month of April. I have never been anywhere near the Arctic Circle, even on my trip through Siberia back in 2014. Perhaps I have flown over parts of it when taking the “polar route” to or from either Europe or Asia.
From “The Arctic” website:
|There are various ways of defining the Arctic. The boundary between the temperate zone and the cold zone is unclear and the term sub-Arctic is used for a wide band which shares the Arctic pattern of long, cold winters and short, often quite warm summers. The two regions together are often called the circumpolar North. The Arctic is sometimes defined as the region where permafrost* is found, which is the name for ground which remains permanently frozen and does not thaw out even in summer. It can also be defined as the region which lies north of the point beyond which the forest will not grow, or treeline.|
|By either of these definitions, the boundary of the Arctic would extend further south than what is called the Arctic Circle. This is an imaginary line which is drawn on the map at latitude 66° 33′ north. Here, for one night at midsummer the sun sinks down to the horizon but does not actually set below it. This is the famous midnight sun. As you go further north towards the north pole, the summer nights get lighter and lighter so that in the far north the sun does not set for weeks or even months and it never gets dark at all. During this period the weather is often warm. People feel vigorous and active and children can play games outside all night long.|
* I did encounter some permafrost while traveling in Siberia. Permafrost is defined as ground that is permanently frozen. The surface can thaw slightly, creating a boggy, slushy, and muddy miasma. And along with it, huge mosquitoes!
It is common to confuse the Arctic with Antarctica. The Arctic is surrounded by ocean and land masses, Antarctica is not (only stormy oceans and penguins). The Arctic has plants, animals, and some humans. And most importantly, the Arctic has a summer, albeit short and bright. At the North Pole, the sun does not set for 180 days!
Another good description for the Arctic: It marks the region, above which, for at least one day a year, the sun does not set in the summer, and has 24 hours of darkness in the winter.
The Arctic Ocean covers 5.4 million square miles, more than the area of Europe. The line of the Arctic Circle is 1650 miles south of the North Pole. Eight countries extend into the Artic along with the U.S. They are” Greenland, Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic Circle represents only 4% of the earth’s surface, or roughly 7,700,000 square miles.
Animals found in the Arctic include: whales, seals, walruses, fish, polar bears, Arctic foxes, wolves, reindeer, and various bird life, along with puffins (no penguins). And there is vegetation for these animals to eat. Barrow is the most populated and northernmost city in Alaska, with a population of 4500. Russia has much larger cities north of the circle.
That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about the Arctic Circle. Me too! But I figured it is a once in a lifetime visit. I have a dear friend who was a bush pilot up here back when the pipeline was being built. He said he flew within about 40 miles of the North Pole!!!