Monday, August 20, 2007

Travelogue IV: Oregon by Way of Wine Country

Monday, August 13, 2007

Petaluma, California. The morning is cool and the air is damp at sunrise as we get ice into the coolers. Today's objective is to drive up to Medford, Oregon to see Bruce's brother, R.
We are going to cut over to Napa and drive up highway 29, the road through wine country and then, at the north end of it, cut back east to hit I-5 for the run up to Oregon.

It feels really strange to be just the two of us again, after the intense weekend with N. But he is at camp. I wondered how he was doing and checked my cell phone just to be sure that they hadn't tried to call and I missed it somehow. I'm such a Jewish mother!

In Napa, we tried to have breakfast at Bruce's mom's favorite place, but it was not serving breakfast, so we settled (rather comfortably, though) for Marie Callendars. Then it was on up to Yountville, where we drove to the California Veteran's Home Cemetery, where Bruce's parents are buried. Bruce's dad resided at the veterans home during the last years of his life because he had Parkinson's Disease. His mom sold their home in Oakland and lived her last years nearby, in Yountville. When Bruce's dad died in 1992, he was originally interred at the National Cemetery at the Presidio in San Francisco. Bruce's mom remained in Yountville, where she made herself indispensible as a volunteer at the Veteran's Home. So when she died unexpectedly in 2000, the administrators agreed to allow her to be buried there in the cemetery. So Bruce had his father moved to Yountville and buried with his wife, Bruce's mother. The marker has Bruce's father's name and dates on the front and his mother's are on the back. When I took the picture above, Bruce stepped in behind the marker just as I snapped the shutter. But you can see that we had already placed the stones on the marker, as Jews do, when they visit the graves of loved ones. It was the first visit Bruce had made since the unveiling of the gravestone in 2001. So he cried a little and then we admired the beauty of the place--for the cemetery is surrounded by fields of grape vines and that has a symbolism all its own.

Having taken care of his filial duties, Bruce and I drove on down to the road to Cakebread Cellars. Jack Cakebread, proprieter of Oakland's famous Cakebread Garage, had been involved in Little League when Bruce was a volunteer umpire, and he had fixed Bruce's cars over the years.
He was also a photographer, and while on assignment in the Wine Country, he fell in love with the beauty of the place and told a family friend with land there that he would buy if they ever wanted to sell. They did want to sell. Right when Jack had children in college, but he and his wife took the gamble, and then had to learn to make wine! They never expected to be as successful as they became at it, and they marvel at their good fortune. Now semi-retired, Jack works with college students, teaching them how to follow their dreams, and he's still out and about at the winery. He remembered Bruce, and when we told him where N. was, he recommended Outward Bound for him when he gets a little older. He had sent his son, he said, when he was in high school. He said he sent them "a sixteen year old boy and I got back a sixteen year old man." Although we did not have an appointment, we were escorted into a tasting and learned a lot about the Napa Valley. Of course we came home with some really good wine as well.

After the tasting, we drove on up through the wine country, enjoying the sights of all the wineries and the fields. They have all manner of technology to assist in the growing of the grapes, in case "mother nature throws us a curveball," as our guide for the tasting put it. The picture is of a heater for the vines should the temperature become too cold.

The Napa valley can produce all sorts of varieties of grapes because the soil differs so much across it. This is because the coast range to the west is composed of various metamorphics that are part of the Coast Range Amphibolites, and the range to the east is volcanic. The Napa river flows through the middle of it all, and has made lenses of different soils. The climate is mediterranian and quite mild, usually, which is good for the grapes as well. Jack says that you need a good grower and a good wine maker and good grapes and then mother nature can throw all the curves she wants (note the baseball analogy!), but you will have good wine.

We left wine country and continued north through the lake district until we reached the Andersen Valley. There, we made our way east through the open oak groves on the coast range, until we came out into the great and fertile Central Valley. The Central Valley bedrock is the same as rocks in the Coast Ranges, but in the ranges the rocks are a melange--all messed up--whereas in the valley they are almost layer-cake in their simplicity. The Central Valley is a great sliver of oceanic crust that got stuck in the Sierran Subduction Zone, and did not subduct when the subduction then began occuring further east, at the Franciscan Subduction Zone. On that bedrock, alluvium from the Sierras and river sediments have formed an amazing flat, fertile valley that stretches several hundred miles from the Tehachipi mountains in the south, to the rise of the Klamath north of Redding, California. It is incredible in it's flatness, it's immensity and fertility. Although there is not much to see geologically speaking, just alluvial fans here and there, and some stray volcanoes near Colusa, it is still impressive in a way that words cannot describe. I remembered the Central Valley as hot, with a hard brightness that hurts the eyes. And it was. But we zipped as quickly up I-5, getting more than twice the distance that we got while winding through the volcanics north of the Wine Country.

North of Redding, we began to climb into the Klamath Mountains. The Klamath are a block of the Sierra that broke away and moved 60 miles north and east. The terranes are analogous to the suspect terranes of the Sierra, and are every bit as faulted and overturned and sometimes unidentifiable. By the time we stopped at a rest stop for Lake Shasta, I-5 was riding in between the melanges and terranes of the Klamath to the west and the High Cascade Volcanics to the east.

There was no good view of the lake at the rest stop, but I got this wonderful picture of a blue jay working for pine nuts. The jays were plentiful and not too shy--they seemed used to tourists and the sounds of their cameras. As for the lake, the crossing on the bridge was spectacular, but you will just have to imagine the very blue and white waters surrounded by mountains!

Mount Shasta,, the highest mountain in California, was constantly in sight from just north of Redding until our descent into Oregon.
It is a Rhyolite volcano. These volcanoes are very gassy and viscous, producing explosive eruptions, with clouds of glowing welded tuff that can blanket the countryside. Shasta, like all of the volcanoes of the Cascade range, was made by ongoing subduction of Pacific plate crust under the westward moving North American plate. Although the Franciscan Subduction zone was replaced by the San Andreas fault, subduction and volcanism are still occuring farther north. This means that the volcanoes of the Cascades are still active, as anyone who remember the eruption of Mount St. Helens can attest.

As we left Mount Shasta on the horizon behind us, we climbed the pass and then made the steep descent into the Orgegon valley. The descent was so steep, even on the interstate highway, that we were in 4th gear most of the way. When we came to Medford, we had the unique experience of being guided through the streets by a legally blind, non-driver. We had to go slow as the landmarks a walker orients by are different, but after a few miscommunications we made it to Crater Lake Avenue, and R.'s 1920's "diamond in the rough." The day ended with Chinese food and being greated by a big black bear of a dog, Xena, the Princess Warrior. She looks fierce but she is very quiet and friendly. She doesn't wag her tail to greet you. Oh, no! She wags her whole body with excitement!


denise said...

How beautiful. I miss mountains. Mmmm.

J Williams, PhD said...

Great blog - just a minor correction. Mt Shasta is not the highest peak in California. That distinction belongs to Mt. Whitney, which by the way, is also the highest point in the contiguous 48 states. Visually, Mt Shasta is far more impressive.