May 6 - June 6, 2003
"California, Here I come" always has a nice ring to us. Gerry grew up in California and Jan first set foot on USA soil in California (we don't count two hours at the Honolulu airport on our way). We don't actually get "here" that much, though, as we have usually given higher priority to more exotic locales. But about a year ago we started thinking about another visit. We knew that we would be coming back to the USA, after nearly a three and a half year absence, for a wedding in New York. Why not extend the trip to California for Gerry to attend the 40th reunion of his graduating class at Caltech; to see relatives in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; to see friends; and — after all, California is beautiful and a major tourist destination — some more of California? The "why not" was answered in the affirmative (or is it in the negative?). We decided to come to California.
If you have already looked at the map of our recent travels you know that we didn't beam ourselves directly from New York to California. No, we took a few detours that amounted to about 7,000 miles of driving. But we did eventually make it. We crossed the border from Yuma, Arizona into California and soon thereafter stopped for a hike up the Buttercup Dunes (part of the southern Algodones dunes). They aren't as high nor as impressive as the Kelso dunes 160 miles northwest and we only made a short hike in them. We wanted to keep our eye on our car, as it was filled to the brim (where is the brim on a car?) with our belongings.
Before 1993 Gerry had never managed to attend a Caltech reunion, but that year things came together (i.e., we were in the USA and jobs didn't interfere) so we attended the 1993 reunion and seminar week. Then, in 1998 the planets apparently were in conjunction again and we made it to the reunion again and really enjoyed it and all associated things. So, since Caltech emphasizes fifth-year reunions, and we'd made the 1993 and 1998 ones, we had a real incentive to attend the 2003. If we do it two more times, that will be the 50th year! Maybe by 2013 our little odyssey will finally be over.
We started the 1993 trip by flying into Las Vegas, buying some camping gear, and driving directly off to Death Valley for our first visit. Our strongest memories are of the fantastic views and of being nearly (no exaggeration) blown off of our feet while hiking up very windy Telescope Peak (11,000 feet). From there we went on to Los Angeles for visits, the Caltech reunion, and more camping. We returned to Las Vegas via Joshua Tree National Park and the Kelso Sand Dunes. It was a magnificent little hike we had that day, pretending we were lost in the Sahara. In Las Vegas we discovered the Frontier Hotel and its wonderful pool, very blue, nearly Olympic size, surrounded by palm trees, and nearly empty. We used it and sat around it for three days.
So now we get to the point: it was "right back to California" for us. We looked forward for months to being there, seeing friends and family again, going to the 40th reunion, camping some more, and, in Las Vegas, having that "Frontier" experience.
After leaving the Buttercup dunes behind we drove through the Anza-Borrego State Desert enjoying wonderful desert views before climbing up to the northern Laguna Mountains and Julian, a mountain resort that we visited and hiked from in 1998.
Our first stop in California was San Diego where we stayed with Gerry's nephew Mark and his then fiancee, now wife, Donna. [Happy marriage you two!] We spent a very pleasant two days in their pretty new house in the northern suburbs of the city, chosen for its easy access to the beach where both Mark and Donna like to go surfing.
From San Diego it was a simple drive up to the Los Angeles megalopolis where we set ourselves down for two weeks in a small Indian-owned motel a couple of miles from downtown. Here we visited with Gerry's one remaining aunt on his father's side, Aunt Zelda, who is 89 and having lost her driver's license took extra tests until it was returned to her. That means she is once again, for a time at least, independent. And, of course, we did attend Gerry's 40th Caltech reunion. The weather was beautiful and the reunion dinner great fun.
After two weeks of great eating in the LA area we drove to San Francisco where we stayed five days with Gerry's cousin Bob (semi-retired medical doctor; 77 years old) and saw his mother, Gerry's last remaining maternal aunt, Aunt Frances, three times. She, by our lights, is doing wonderfully at 97. She, by her lights, has an old used body that she wishes were young and healthy. We guess that is what we all have before us.
We loved staying in Bob's hilltop house with its lovely Japanese-style garden and Bob and his girlfriend Linda were super hosts, but eventually it was time for us to leave the mists of San Francisco behind and make our way across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County and visits to Reyes Point and Muir Woods from our base in Petaluma.
When we left Petaluma for Yosemite two days later, we wondered how far we would get. One idea was to stop in Modesto and sit in at the court hearing the Laci Peterson case (husband is accused of murdering her and her unborn child). That, we decided, wasn't worth the effort, since the trial proper hasn't yet started and hearings aren't held every day. Instead we devoted our stop in Modesto to a visit to the Target store we saw from Freeway 99; we bought a tent, sleeping bags, an air mattress, and a simple mess kit along with some provisions for breakfast and trail food. That night we tested our tent by setting it up in our motel room. At 9ft x 9ft it nearly filled the space available.
On Thursday morning we set out very early from Merced for Yosemite where we spent six days communing with nature in our new dome tent and hiking to the top of both Nevada Fall and Yosemite`Falls. From Yosemite we took US 395 down to Bishop and Lone Pine getting great views of the back sides of the Sierras which were still snow-capped, of course. In Lone Pine we got reacquainted with Elmer and Leonore, aunt and uncle of Cris Rozenblit, all of whom we met in NYC at Moshe and Cris's wedding.
From Lone Pine we made a long hot drive through Death Valley (120 degrees in the shade!) to Las Vegas, for a well-earned few days of R&R. Every place changes over time, but this place seems to have exploded. What was before just one short street of casinos seems now to be miles and miles of casinos with unbelievable crowds of people — there are two or three "strips" now. We arrived on a Friday night so perhaps that explains some of the crowds. We found the cheapest motel in town for the weekend and then moved into one of the big casinos for the rest of the week when prices fall by half. We don't gamble so the main attraction for us is a comfortable room and large swimming pool for budget prices. Here we stocked up on animal protein, caught up on diary and reading, and saw another Kazer/Kazen cousin.