Monday, April 30, 2012

A Carnegie Library

The red mission tiles are reflected in the windows, a fitting metaphor to a building constructed in 1903 to absorb knowledge and history.  This stately Romanesque building in San Luis Obispo, California, is one of 1,684 libraries built in the United States between 1883 and 1929, with money donated by businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

These old buildings are worth seeking out when you travel.  They are all architectural beauties with many fine examples of Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, Spanish Colonial, Baroque and Classical Revival.  Often these libraries were the most impressive buildings in the small communities that benefited from Carnegie's patronage.

Sadly, some of them have been razed to make room for larger, more modern multi-media centers where books are secondary to computer screens.  In San Luis Obispo, however, the Historical Center now occupies the building.  Its exhibits reflect the history of the county and a research center is located on the lower level.  There's a wonderful gift shop with arts and crafts by local artists and (appropriately) many books are for sale on California history.

Nostalgia for musty old books swept over me as a wandered through the museum.  In my hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas, we had a magnificent red brick Carnegie Library only blocks from my house.  I spent every summer as a girl among its stacks.  Kindles and Nooks are convenient, but they will never replace that delicious anticipation of opening up a cloth-bound book with beautiful illustrations.  What new world will I discover?  What story will unfold?  It truly is a "never ending" adventure.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

San Luis Obispo Mission

Along the Mission Trail

My travels along California's Mission Trail continued with a visit to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa last week.  It is the 5th of the 21 missions and was founded in 1772 by Father Junipero Serra.  The area around San Luis Obispo was known as The Valley of the Bears and Father Serra sent a hunting expedition here to provide food for starving missionaries and neophytes north of here.  The expedition was successful.  The hunters brought back thousands of pounds of salted and jerked bear meat.  Consequently, Father Serra realized this was a good spot to build a mission so  he made the journey north from San Diego and erected a cross here.  The construction of the mission was left to Father Jose Cavalier.

Plagued by fires, it was here in 1790 that the missionaries decided to use tile roofs instead of thatched ones.  They made the tiles from clay worked by animal hooves and molded the clay around curved wooden forms.  All the missions adopted this method for future construction.

Father Serra transferred two bronze bells from the Jesuit Missions in Baja to the missions in Alta California  and began the lovely tradition of bell ringing.  Unfortunately, these bells were lost over the years, but the San Luis Obispo Mission kept alive the tradition.  In 1820, four mission bells were made in Lima, Peru and shipped here.  They were cast by the noted bell-maker, Manuel Vargas.  The largest bell, Gloria, was placed in the center with Joy and Sorrow on either side.  The job of bell ringer was a very prestigious one and took two years of training to properly learn the complicated patterns.  Each time during the day when the bells were rung, whether to wake people in the morning, call them to Mass or bid the day farewell, the bells sounded different.  It reminds me of the muezzin's calls to prayer in the Middle East.

Today, there are five fourth generation bells that were installed in 2005, and given the names of the patron saints of the first five Alta California Missions:  Carlos, Diego, Antonio, Gabriel and Luis.  Each has a different pitch ranging from D to F#.

Today, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is an active parish church within the city.  I did not spend a lot of time in the church because there were many people praying and reciting the rosary.  I always feel I am invading their privacy when I roam around with camera in hand.   However, there is a good museum with many fine exhibits of Chumash arts and crafts.  As always, I was most interested in the religious art and vestments.  There were five beautiful old vestments on display and I learned a little more about them.  The style was called Iberian Fiddleback because of the shape of the cape.  The original doors were also on display in the museum.   I realized what a labor-intensive job went into the reconstruction of this church in the 1930's.  The doors to the entrance of the present church are historically accurate.

During its heyday, the mission supported itself by growing wheat and corn, raising beef and cattle and cultivating grapes.  In 1845, when Governor Pio Pico sold the mission for $510, it continued to be used as base of operation for John Fremont during the war with Mexico.  Because of its location within a growing city, it was later used as a courthouse and jail.

Although its history is a fascinating one, the location of this mission is what makes it so fun to visit.  After touring the beautiful garden in the back, we walked across the street to a restaurant on the San Luis Creek, which meanders through the city.  A most pleasant day!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mission Park Rose Garden

The weather is once again topsy- turvy.   A blizzard in the east trails 80 degree temps.  In California, the wet months have been dry and April is wet.  Our May Gray is premature and it seems like winter today.  With the gloomy skies, I needed a strong dose of COLOR so I headed for the Rose Garden yesterday and got a fix times ten. 

Even the roses in my own garden are quite spectacular despite getting minimal care from someone who prefers hotel rooms over her Santa Barbara cottage.   Mimi poses in front of my favorite climbers, dressed in a coral color-blocked blouse to match.  A mood lifter-upper, this one!  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Most Beautiful Places on Earth

"I'm beginning to see a pattern here," my travel buddy comments.  "A canyon.  Pine trees.  A waterfall.  Boom!  It makes your list."

I give him my long look.  "So?"

"Just sayin'."

Well, seriously, is there anything more beautiful than a massive waterfall plunging hundreds of feet into a river roaring between a canyon wall?  Whenever I witness such a scene, my heart races with pure joy, and as I discovered while researching the geology of Yellowstone, I'm not the only one who is struck dumb by such dramatic beauty.

"I turned and looked forward from the brink of the great canyon, at a point just across from what is now called Inspiration Point.  I sat there in amazement, while my companions came up, and after that, it seemed to me that it was five minutes before anyone spoke."  Charles Cook, 1869

There are two waterfalls at the canyon's beginning and then the Yellowstone River twists and turns for 24 miles between  rocky walls that rise 800 to 1,200 feet.  It is the river, of course, that created the canyon over 10,000 years ago through constant erosion.  The river travels for another 600 miles ending in North Dakota where it empties into the mighty Missouri.

"So you don't think The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone deserves to be on my Most Beautiful Places on Earth list?"

"I didn't say that.  It absolutely does.  It's awesome."

(With that being said, stay tuned folks.  There are other places I've visited that have made my list AND they don't include waterfalls!)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Yellowstone National Park

During my travels abroad, I often run into people who want to visit the USA solely for our National Parks and rightly so.  From the swamps of the Everglades to the deep carved chasms of the Grand Canyon, they are our national treasures.  "So which ones do you recommend?" they ask.  I don't even hesitate.  "Begin with Yellowstone."

Yellowstone was the very first national park, not only in the United States, but the world.  The world!  Created in 1872, it established a model for future protection of the planet's greatest geological landmarks.  The two million acres of this vast park has it all:  geysers, hot springs, magnificent waterfalls, incredible wildlife and lakes for fishing.  There are hiking trails and campgrounds for those who want to see Yellowstone at a more intimate level, but there is also the Grand Loop for those with limited time.  Even in your car, I guarantee you will see bears, moose and deer. 

"And if I can only see one park, which one should I go to?"

"Yellowstone.  No doubt about it!"

Saturday, April 21, 2012


New Zealand Geysers

Yellowstone Geysers

I stand behind the flimsy wooden railing, restless, tired of the anticipation.  The rotten egg smell is triggering my gag reflex.  My eyes are burning from staring into the sun-drenched mud, waiting for something to happen.  If this sucker doesn't blow within the next sixty seconds, I'm outta here.  I need a tall glass of iced tea.  With lemon.  Or better yet, a bowl of vanilla ice cream.  Is there such a thing as an iced tea float?

And then I see it.  Steam.  Bubbles.  More steam.  Then out of the bowels of the Earth erupts a fountain of water.  The plume plunges, teasing me, but then rises again.  Higher and higher, creating a white water explosion as beautiful as the fireworks on the Fourth of July.  It is over within seconds, but all thoughts of air-conditioned restaurants are now gone.  I walk along the boardwalk to the next geyser and wait once again.

Geysers are one of Mother Earth's freaks of nature, which continue to delight and baffle us mere mortals.  For a geyser to erupt, there needs to be an abundant supply of superheated water below the ground and a narrow vent for the pressurized water to escape from.  There are not that many places in the world that have such reservoirs.  Even the geysers on the North Island of New Zealand are becoming a thing of the past because geothermal plants have tapped into their supplies.  Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is by far the best place to see this rare phenomenon.  There are hundreds of geysers within the park's boundaries.  Good ole Old Faithful stills blows every 90 minutes!  Iceland is another great place to see geysers and for the very intrepid there is the Valley of the Geysers in Siberia, El Tatio in Chile and Umnak Island off Alaska.
Of course, I want to see them all!

Old Faithful

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Poppies and Cashmere

I love this time of year when the hillsides are painted with wildflowers.  The Golden Poppy is California's state flower and clumps are "popping" up all over!  I took these photographs in Santa Ynez on Easter Sunday.