Checking in from central California

By Chuck Woodbury

Gail and I are at my aunt’s small orange grove ranch in the small town of Lindsay, California. It’s about an hour drive south of Fresno, east of Visalia. Sequoia National Park, with its magnificent, giant redwoods, is a little more than an hour away in the Sierra Nevada.

Lindsay is famous for Lindsay Olives, but olives are not a big crop these days.

I grew up south of here, near Los Angeles, when it was a far different place than today, with a fraction of the current population. My family’s tract home, the first in then-rural West Covina, was surrounded by orange groves, where my pals and I played hide-and-seek. By the time my family left there in 1964, the population had grown from 4,000 to about 70,000, and every orange grove was long gone.

View of the ranch including the horse stall.

So visiting with my aunt amid a sea of orange trees brings back many fond memories. And, the freshly squeezed orange juice every morning is delightful.

On our way here from the Oregon Coast, we spent three days in Sacramento to visit friends. I lived there for more than 20 years. If you need a place to stay, the RV park at Cal Expo, right along the American River, works great. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s safe, clean, quiet and centrally located. A full-hookup site is $45 a night, which isn’t bad for an RV park in a metropolitan area. Unfortunately, Gail picked up a nasty cold there, which she graciously passed along to me just in time for Christmas. How nice!

Cal Expo RV Park

But now, on Friday, I am on the mend — two large Kleenex boxes exhausted.

The trip from state Route 99 from Sacramento was, as usual, mostly boring. But it’s more than just boring anymore. It’s downright depressing. While there are some pretty farm fields, much of the trip reveals a hodgepodge of strip malls, gas stations and franchised food joints. And there are junky yards of residents. Homeless camps are visible, sometimes dozens of tents in an open field. The surface of the four-lane highway is okay much of the drive, but there are stretches where it’s terrible. The pavement through Merced is so rough and pothole-ridden I worried parts would shake off my motorhome.

THE RV PARKS ALONG THE ROUTE are packed. I suspect, judging by the number of old RVs, that most live there permanently or long-term. I wonder how much space will be available this summer for RVers just passing through. And, oh my goodness, the number of new RVs for sale in the dozen or so RV dealerships right along the highway is staggering — thousands upon thousands of them. You wonder how they will ever sell!

Big Orange stand, Tracy, California. Photo courtesy of the Tracy Historical Museum.

I have traveled Highway 99 ever since I was a child on family vacations. I recall Big Orange stands and even Burma Shave signs. Alas, most of the roadside relics are gone, including the many independent cafes and restaurants. It’s all franchised stuff now, not very interesting.

After we leave my aunt’s, Gail and I will head south, and then I hope over to Death Valley for a week or so. We’ll hole up at the Furnace Creek oasis — a true oasis studded with palm trees, with spring water bubbling up from the ground — an anomaly in the vast desert in the lowest lands in the Western Hemisphere.

That’s about it for now. I’ll just finish by thanking you again for helping support us with your voluntary subscription. We rely on this funding to do more than simply post canned articles and advertiser hype like everyone else. If you donated $5 a few years ago, please consider doing so again. It’s not required, of course, but we do appreciate it very much.

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