Make Lemonade

Interesting that I should have written this more than 10 years ago and just publishing for the first time today and adding the current year's date. California will remember the winter of 2017.

We've all heard the old adage about when life gives you lemons.

Caples Lake Sierra Nevada Credit Barbara L Steinberg 2017The same can be said about California waters. Dry winters of little rain or snow translate into lackluster springs. The early browning of grasses across mountains and valleys; a mere window of time between the chill of winter and the fire of summer. In other words, no lemonade.

But in winters of plenty: Plenty of snow, plenty of rain and plenty of cold, that's a lemonade year. Hills above Fish Slough Credit David Mazel

While Californians pine and moan about the winter weather, I say, "Go live where they actually have winter weather! Places like South Dakota or Minnesota. Our winters of plenty--such as 2017--translate into a spring exploding with wildflowers from the hottest desert valleys to the coldest mountain peak. Our winters of plenty mean landscapes of wildflower eye candy.

Thank you Mother Nature for a winter abundant with lemons and a spring overflowing with lemonade.



If my Subaru can't get me there, 
that's a good reason not to go!

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Secret Gardens of the California Gold Country

Go Explore! Oakwilde Ranch & Sculpture by Barbara L. Steinberg

You'll need all your best navigational devices to find this most secret art garden. Take Highway 99 south and enjoy some comfort food – breakfast or lunch – at the very local Woodlon Diner, Jahant Road exit in Acampo and then head towards Highway 26. If you know the back roads, you'll exit at Liberty Road and breath deep as you cruise into the foothills.  Clements Ridge produce stand at highways 88 and 12 is a must! The very best homemade pies, local fruits and veggies, and more, more, more! Check online for seasonal hours.
Melanie Pickrell – Antioch, CA Oakwilde Ranch & Sculpture Nov 2011 Credit
Hunger sated, continue east towards Valley Springs. Ready yourself for scenic vistas. Two-lane country roads framed by orchards, vineyards, and small towns are visually soothing.  On 52 acres in Calaveras County, owners/artists Denise Mayfield and Kresimir Luckars are cultivating art and relationships along groomed trails and undulating hillsides. The winding road delivers sculptures, hospitality, wine tasting, spring wildflowers, and beautiful views. Ranch hikes are an adventure in search of art installations and views of Gold Country foothills from the “Top of the World.” Call ahead for an appointment and detailed directions.

If you have time on your return, Lodi wineries are plentiful and freeway-close.

Oakwilde Ranch & Sculpture
7111 South Burson Road
Valley Springs, CA  95252



If my Subaru can't get me there, 
that's a good reason not to go!

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How do I spell loyalty? Subaru!

Did You Know That Subaru Spelled Backwords is U-R-A-Bus? by Barbara L. Steinberg

But that's another story.

I am fiercely loyal! That's L-O-Y-A-L! Not just in the usual sense. Of course, loyal to family, friends, and community. Loyal to my acupuncturist, barber, lawn service, manicurist, masseuse, physician and more. Loyal to my pets. My neighbors. My neighborhood.

Also incredibly loyal to inanimate objects that have served me well. An old BMW Bavaria (circa 1972) that was a rock on the road. My first ten-speed bike -- a gift at 16 and mine for more than 30 years until I donated  it to a local fundraiser. My Hamilton Beach mixer (circa 1938) which belonged to my neighbor and was gifted to me after she died at the fabulous age of 94. My Maytag washer/dryter, a gift from my father in 1991. Similarly, my father's old bohemoth Sony a gift from his children on his 70th birthday. Twenty-three years later, it still worked. Nothing sleek and cool; a real dinosaur. I was sad when it had to be e-wasted.

Subaru at Owens Gorge in Good Company  Credit Barbara SteinbergNothing harder than the day I sold my 1994 Subaru Legacy -- yes, U-R-A-Bus and still wondering what that means. I bought her used in 1998 with a scant 74,000+ miles. Her original owners cared for her on those miles back and forth from California to Sun Valley, Idaho. She was barely broken in when they traded her in for something shinier and new. Thankfully, she came home to me!

U-R-A-Bus and I shared more than 170,000 glorious miles of open roads -- urban, rural, back, mountain, ocean view, creekside, and more. She was a  good friend and served me well. Loyal to a fault! She never let me down. The few times she broke down we were never more than a few miles from home and once, actually, in the driveway. A road queen in my world.

SubarusLittle mechanical issues were happening more and more. She needed to be in better hands in her senior years and I made the painful decision to sell. I felt incredibly disloyal and, yes, I was sad when that say came.

Still loyal to my Subaru roots, I have a newer and shinier "Bus" in the form of a 2003 Subaru Outback. Just over 94,000 miles when she pulled into my driveway; we've already enjoyed nearly 10,000 road miles.  Wow, a car built In the current century and endless adventures ahead.

The good news! My Subaru Legacy is still in the family -- so visitation and the occasional road trip are still an option. The loyalty continues as she heads towards the next milestone of 250,000. I know she'll get there!

If my Subaru can't get me there, 
that's a good reason not to go! Subaru logo


The East Side of California Dreaming

Mono County and Mammoth Lakes Nourish the Soul by Barbara L. Steinberg

Mono County View from Conway Summit to Mono Lake Credit Barbara L SteinbergThe vista defies imagination as you round Conway Summit and gaze down the length of the Long Valley.  The caldera is framed on the west by the Glass Mountain Range and the Sierra Nevada to the east.  Ancient Mono Lake – sapphire gem – glitters up and reflects billowy clouds that often adorn an azure sky.  Her alien tufas – sentinels to the past.  Any sane person should be rocked at their very core. 

The spine of California, this view is like no other. No pretense here. Carved and uplifted, the granite mountains shoot from the ground.  None of those pesky forests to block your viewshed.  Impressive heights include some rabidly sought after “fourteeners,” but plentiful 10,000- to 13,000-foot peaks take your breath away and challenge seasoned climbers.  From sunrise to sunset and season to season, the colors and shadows are an ever-changing portrait where Ansel Adams’ “range of light” is clearly defined.

At the bottom of the summit, Highway 395 stretches before you with promises of sanctuary from traffic and crowds.  There are few manmade roadside distractions.  Just miles and miles of fluctuating topography from pine forests to wetland pastures! Defining features include the Mono Craters and views of the Minarets – the backside of Yosemite.  After the final descent of Deadman Summit’s 8,047 feet, a few milesP1230336 to the south, Obsidian Dome a mile-long, 300-foot-high mound of glass pays homage to the region’s volcanic spirit. Above it all, Mammoth Mountain emerges.

Exit the open spaces for the wilds of Mammoth Lakes. Huge. Immense. Epic. Vast. California’s biggest mountain for winter sports – all of the adjectives apply.  Mammoth also has colossal year-round recreation delights from mountain biking and hiking to canoeing and kayaking and world-renown fly-fishing. Not enough? Rock jocks around the world drool over the climbing and bouldering opportunities. 

The Westin 119 steps to the top of the hill from The Village Credit Barbara L SteinbergThe Westin Monache Resort, perched on a hill above the town, is an ideal location to enjoy all of Mammoth’s pastimes. Ski-in or ski-out. Shop. Dine. Relax poolside. Shuttles whisk guests and their bikes up to the Mammoth Gondola and the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Cowabunga dude – this is some downhill run. For those seeking less treacherous amusements, scenic gondola rides to the top of Mammoth Mountain will still leave you breathless. Did we mention the premier golf options, horseback riding, and day trips to Yosemite National Park? Too much fun and not enough time. You will visit again and again. Each time a new discovery.

Back on the open road, a pinch to make sure this wasn’t a dream.  The Eastern Sierra. The Long Valley. Mammoth Lakes. Keep dreaming.

More photos!
More East Side:

Great Lattes, Scones...
Eastern Sierra Lower Owens River

If my Subaru can't get me there,
it's probably a good reason I shouldn't go.

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Off the road, off the grid

Mercey Hot Springs Credit Barbara L SteinbergMercey Hot Springs Story & Photos by Barbara L. Steinberg

Sometimes I hate to share all of my best California secrets, but here I go again!

No need to beg for mercy at Mercey Hot Springs, there's plenty to see, do, and enjoy! Out of the way and way off-road -- 13 miles from Interstate 5 and many more miles from scenic Hwy. 25 -- this historic hot springs resort (don't be thinking 5-stars) is worth the drive. This is especially true if you enjoy solitude, open spaces, and a clothing optional hot springs soak!

The full-size swimming pool -- hot springs water -- is available during the better weather. The pool and decking have been refurbished and a series of new soaking tubs added. Also added were two full baths. All that you want and more. This area of the resort is clothed and provides more options for visitors. The upgrades are fantastic.

Mercey Hot Springs Cabins  Credit Barbara L SteinbergThe rustic cabins have all been restored. The cabins are tiny and only outdoor BBQs for cooking, so come prepared for a little roughing it on the soft side. You can bring your own Coleman stove or utilize one of the fire pits. For a little more money, the #5 cabin has a kitchenette. So ask about availability. There's no TV, but through the marvels of science WiFi has been added. Don't know if that's a good thing or not! No escaping technology even in this remote corner of Californa.

  The outhouses are the nicest I have ever seen! There are a couple of private soaking tubs in one of the ramshackle buildings, which also includes the most marvelous reptile Img_7104_4 mosaic. The restoration of the historic buildings has been done with their history in mind. Though modern conveniences have been added, the buildings maintain a weathered look and feel. Come spring, the hillsides and valleys bring forth a profusion of wildflowers after a wet winter. Even in the fall, the drive into Mercey delivers undulating golden hills of the Central Valley and Little Panoche Valley. A stunning view; so take it slow.

In the meantime, a colony of long- eared owls has taken up residence at Mercey. They arrive in late summer/early autumn and stay until Spring, nesting and birthing their babies. It's a sight to behold! Owl  Day visitors can pay a fee to stop and see these wise birds.

The most amazing part is that the owners have created a completely green environment and everything is off the grid. There's solar, bio-diesel, and wind! Quite an accomplishment.

There are many hidden hot springs throughout Caliornia and I hope to visit each and every one. In this northwest corner Subaru Legacy 1994 Credit Barbara L Steinberg of Fresno County, you are truly away from it all. I recenlty spent another quiet weekend at this delightful retreat. My Subaru taking me happily off-road and on. There are many wonderful back roads in the area and other historic sights to see. Enjoy the ride.

And a slide show of photos!



If my Subaru can't get me there, 
that's a good reason not to go!

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Mapping your way to a great drive

Road trips to Drakesbad and Lake Almanor in Plumas County are motoring meditation 
by Barbara L. Steinberg
Hwy 32 Thomas Bros Subaru

Traveling by car is by far and away my favorite way to relax. I know, given the current cost of fuel – rising by the minute – it’s not always the most cost efficient.  But I love “motoring meditation” – an expression I coined some years ago. Most recently a friend asked, “What is your favorite way to relax?” I didn’t hesitate when responding, “Driving.”

Driving! I am free to wander down whatever road my heart desires. I have crisscrossed more than 100,000 California miles. Some of the miles are just living life day-to-day, but many more in pursuit of that next great road trip. When each trip begins, the process is always the same:  Get out the road atlas!

What a concept! No GPS. No MapQuest. No tripadvisor or Google maps. Just good old-fashioned lines on paper in the form of a California road atlas. Thomas Bros. California Road Atlas & Driving Guide, to be exact.

This Thomas Bros. Map is a dear friend – tried, true, and trustworthy and a long-standing traveling companion. I have two just in case! Both are old and worn. The pages are Hwy 32 Thomas Bros TOCtattered and some have separated from their spiral binding. My fingerprints and DNA are embedded on every page from years of tracing and retracing routes taken and taken again. So far, not one page has been lost.

Every road traveled is highlighted – yellow, orange, green, blue – sometimes in pen when Hwy 32 Road Trip highlighters can’t be found. Some roads highlighted multiple times. Notes jotted in margins and on front and back covers.  Each trip, out comes the atlas. Eyes and hands trace the route or routes – looking for roads not taken and sights not seen. Many new roads have been built since 1993 when Thomas Bros and I became good friends, but I am loyal. This atlas is a journal of so many wonderful adventures it can never be replaced. In fact, preserving it has become essential.

My latest road trip began as every trip does, with Thomas Bros. I was heading for Plumas County and Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Lassen Volcanic National Park. I had been near this region and the gateway to Drakesbad at Chester/Lake Almanor, but never actually at the gates of LVNP or traveling the winding road to Drakesbad. So the atlas was a must. I don’t know about GPS and frankly, don’t care to. And I know MapQuest can’t be trusted. I asked for advice from friends living in Plumas or very familiar with the county. Responses were not forthcoming….what’s up with that?

The folks at Drakesbad recommended the straight-shot up I-5 to Red Bluff and then across on Hwy. 36. This seemed a bit out-of-the-way but I understand the rationale that you can drive like a bat out of Hell up the interstate with average speeds well above the posted 70mph. So good ol’ Thomas came to the rescue. After hemming and hawing over different routes, I decided for I-5/Red Bluff going and Hwy 32/Chico on the return. I had traveled parts of both routes, but there would be new roads and vistas coming and going. It was the right choice!

I was correct about the I-5 approach. It is longer. And the speeds are aggressive. But leaving the Interstate at Red Bluff it isn’t long before the left turn onto Hwy. 36. Wow! The views, the solitude, the meditation – it’s all worth it. And I might have missed this if I’d opted to divert at Orland.

Coming home I chose Hwy. 32 out of Chester. Everyone mentioned that this road is narrow and a bit squirrely…did I want to reconsider? Heck no! That’s just my kind of road. Especially in my faithful Subaru Legacy circa 1994. In this California Travel Insider’s opinion, I hit the Mother Lode driving Hwy. 32. It may very well be my favorite California road. Winding through Deer Creek Canyon, the sun glinted through the lush tree canopy. Late September, the fall colors were just starting to peak through. Talk about meditation!!! There were few other cars going my way and I was left alone in true motoring bliss.

The one regret is not stopping at Deer Creek Falls, but that gives me one more reason to return. It’s always nice to leave some stone unturned. And one more place for Thomas B. and me to visit. 

Drive on with the help of:

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It Never Rains in California

Bad_weather_904_3 Years of plentiful rain are sometimes few and far between. Water Conservation is a must! Originally posted January 29, 2008, California is in the midst of a water famine the likes of which we have never seen. Water conservation is imperative and not just in famine years. Water is the source of all life. Conserve at every opportunity and understand that it's a precious resource.  

I want to meet the person, or persons, who coined that phrase -- in song or otherwise. Californians have come to understand that our weather -- if you can call it that -- is either feast or famine.  The warm months -- of which there are many -- are almost entirely the feasting months. Long, lovely springs and even longer summers -- how much sunshine can you stand?  But where the famine comes in is generated by our unstable winters when we (supposedly) get all of our rain and snow.

Weather forecasters drone on and one about the "normal" precipitation. Comparing this year's totals to last year's totals, and historically to totals dating back to the dawn of total-taking time. I don't know what defines a normal year in California. Every year is different. Hence, the feast or famine of our winters. With rain and cold comes the snow. Some years it rains, but if temps are warm...well, you get the picture...and we've had famous years of Pineapple Express when warm weather melted tons of seasonal snow and flooded everything in valleys below. Last year was a famine year. Little rain. Little snow. The fear, of course, is that it was a trend and the start of a series of drought years. I moved to California in the '70s in the middle of a serious drought. There hasn't been anything like it since, but it's only a matter of time. It's just nature.

When this year's rainy season began, it wasn't looking good. And ski resorts who pray for early snows to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday and the official start of the ski season...well, this year they were sorely disappointed. Though it was cold enough to make snow, the powers-that-be weren't bringing forth the real stuff from the skies. And there was no rain to speak of in the remainder of the state. Things weren't looking good -- another famine year.

Well, that was then and this is now. We went from way below normal to off-the-charts above normal in the rain category. And the snow...well it just keeps on coming. And it's cold that the snow levels have dropped well-below normal. And that, my friends, was the reason for this rambling. The snow was so low (how low was it?) that we decided to hop in the Subaru to see. No big deal getting away from the city. Heading up the road into the rolling Gold Country foothills past turn-offs for historic towns like Jackson, Amador City, and Sutter Creek. We skirted through the tiny town of Plymouth and found one of those quiet back roads that we love -- Shake Ridge Road -- even sounds nice. And eventually we started to see what we had come to find...white, shimmering snow. And unbelievably below the 2,Img_8941_3000-foot level.

And we weren't alone in our quest. We found families building snowmen and playing with their saucers. Cars having returned from higher elevations were pulled Snow_road_2off the road removing their snow chains.  but mostly we found quiet. Cold, white, quiet. We easily reach Hwy. 88 just below the chain-up area. Other then the cars along the roadside, we hadn't passed another car. Shake Ridge ends at Hwy. 88 where we find skiers returning from the mountains -- Kirkwood, Heavenly, Hope Valley, but we weren't about to join them. We easily turned the Subaru around and headed back down Shake Ridge Road. It was like seeing it all for the first time.

 If my Subaru can't get me there, 
that's a good reason not to go!

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Another Beautiful Foggy Day

Subaru bOh, joy! It's another beautifully foggy day! And even more exciting, I get to get in my Subaru and drive during the height of the morning commute. I am positively giddy.

The fog is thick. I mean really thick! We live in the city and when the fog is at street level you know it's bad out in the open spaces. But I'm not concerned. I am one of the few sane drivers. I actually slow down in this pea soup weather. AND, keep a real distance between my Subaru and other auto projectiles.

As expected, out on the freeway, people are whizzing...jetting...zooming...driving at rates that simply can't be defined by simply saying they are speeding or driving too fast. In this stuff, whatever it is they are doing is simply insane! I stay in the right-hand  lane. I let anyone who wants to, pass me. I won't exceed the speed limit and, imagine, I'm actually driving a little under the legal limit.

The fog is heavy until just past Davis and then, as if some unseen force had wiped the haze from your eyes, it's suddenly clear blue and sunshine. I'm still enjoying my blissful cruise along the interstate; heading for one of my favorite destinations...Sonoma! The anticipation is almost heart-stopping.

And speaking of stopping, suddenly traffic comes to a near stop...a we approach the exit to Sonoma. I have no idea what's happening since I've never been at this junction, I-80 and Hwy. 12,  so early (8:00am) before. Are all these cars heading up valley (that would be Napa) or is this some shortcut I don't know about? We creep along but I don't mind. It gives me time to almost enjoy the scenery, because now the fog has returned. Newly greened hillsides and rural landscapes are visible through the ghostly mist. And soon the terraced vineyards appear -- stripped bare for winter their vines twist above the velvety rows of cover crops.

Suddenly, a vision -- just out of the corner of my eye -- flapping, descending -- the fancily form of a great blue heron comes floating out of the fog to a graceful, one-legged perch a-top a grape-stake. I am awe-struck and wonder if any of my other road-mates had observed this marvel. Just then I see, an overturned big rig has spilled a load of sand onto Hwy. 12. OMG - this is the reason for the
 rush-hour crawl. It appears no one is hurt and cars are easing by and (of course) quickly back to the lead foot. Personally, I am thankful for this momentary lag in my morning drive. 

I leave all the traffic behind me as I head towards beautiful Sonoma and the yet to be discovered, Relais du Soleil -- a rustic country ranch B&B tucked away in the hidden wilds of Sonoma County. I have no idea the wonders that await me.  The visions of a landscape that seem almost forgotten by time and a rutted and narrow road -- just the sort of thing that my Subaru and I live for.

If my Subaru can't get me there, 
that's a good reason not to go!
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On a cold Sacramento day we headed out for Oakland -- my trusty Subaru was happy to be on the road and in the open air. I knew the holiday traffic would be a bear and suggested we take the "river road" to the East Bay. Though narrow and curvy -- and skirting the Sacramento River -- I thought it would be an easier route then the always-congested I-80. It was the right decision.

Instead of heading west on I-80, we jetted south on I-5. Honestly, I must confess I am directionally challenged when it comes to north, south, east, and west.  I don't know at what point our path turns, but really need to see it on the map to know how we manage to go in different directions and still wind-up in the same place. Oh, well, I digress.

So! The traffic on I-5 was pleasant enough and far less frantic then 80, but our time on the interstate will be limited and I am looking forward to diverting to the river and the wilds of the California Delta. Not far from the city limits we exit at Twin Cities Road (is this west) and begin the peaceful trek past Delta farmlands and across sloughs to River Road. Twin Cities dead-ends, literally, at the Sacramento River. So it's either left or right...or you're in the drink.  We turn left (I think we are heading south again) towards Oakland.

I wish I had been able to photograph this journey but we were on a schedule. The photos will have to wait for another time. But the images of the Delta, the winding roads, sparkling waters of the Sacramento, small towns, vineyards and orchards are all burned solidly in my memory. Driving this road is not for the timid. You need to stay focused, which is hard to do with so much beauty and so many interesting things to see. On this particular journey, we don't have time to stop and dawdle. We whiz past all the wonderful places: Courtland, Locke, Walnut Grove. No time for the historic Ryde Hotel or wonderfully funny Ernie's in Isleton Joe's (that's another story). Catching only glimpses of some of the many birds -- egret, great blue heron, hawks, geese -- because I am at the wheel.

What I was lucky enough to witness was the most glorious sight of four horses running...galloping...across an open field. Manes flying. Though clearly fenced in, you could almost imagine them as wild and free.  Probably, what we could not hear or see, their owner had rung a dinner bell and they were off to feed.

Thank goodness I opted for road taken on that cold December day.

P.S. Despite the season, we arrived in record time with only a blip of a traffic jam. And the visit to Oakland (one of my favorite cities) was a delight. Another story...another day.


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