Coming off the road, we spent the Christmas holiday with my sister, Mattie, her husband Ricardo and their family at their home in Concord, California. Our two sons flew in from New York for the week and we had a great time with all of our family members in California. Here's a sample of some of the great family with whom we shared good times, good food, and long walks. Mark's sister Janis and our nephew Jackson also joined the fun in San Francisco. (Place your cursor over the photo to see the caption.)
Getting down in the kitchen on Christmas Eve with my sister-in-law Ceci and sister Mattie.
Now we're off to Ajo, Arizona!
I was barreling down Highway 46 West out of Bakersfield, anxious to leave the brown, smoggy air of California’s immense Central Valley behind me as I headed to the coast. I had left Death Valley earlier that morning, driving 300 miles through the desert and over mountains to my destination, a monastery in Big Sur, that was still two hours away. That’s when I saw a sign for the Cesar Chavez National Monument and pulled off the highway.
The road to the Chavez monument twisted through the tiny settlement of Keene: a deli with no cars parked outside and a post office, with a similarly empty parking lot. I wondered if I had made a wrong turn when the monument entrance beckoned, I parked and headed to the memorial garden of the site, La Paz, which once served as the national headquarters of Chavez’s United Farm Workers.
As I walked over I felt a wave of nostaglia for Chavez remembering his work as an organizer of undocumented Mexicans who worked in the vast agricultural fields out West.
I remembered old black-and-white films of planes gassing pesticides on the fields while people worked beneath them. I remembered Joan Baez singing Deportee, Woody Guthrie's song about the death of undocumented workers in a plane crash. I even remembered boycotting grapes for years when Chavez’s United Farm Workers movement went national and used innovative tactics to push for their demands in the field.
I was not prepared, however, to see the simple cross that marks the grave of Cesar Chavez, at rest beside a fountain honoring the foot soldiers in the fight for a union recognition and better working conditions. I was alone in a garden of faded roses that surrounded Chavez’s grave. No school groups pushed by as they do at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Atlanta; in fact no other visitors were in sight. The solitude of the place enveloped me.
Two women of Mexican descent, employees of the center, were busy decorating a Christmas tree in the lobby when I entered and they pointed me to an exhibit of photos that documented the strikes for recognition of the United Farm Workers in 1966 and the boycott of table grapes.
There was little information in the exhibit beyond the names of people pictured, caught at the moment when they put their livelihoods on the line by joining in the strike: A young Cesar Chavez alone with a Huelga (strike) sign. An older man, his hand bandaged, sitting, blocking a truckload of fruit. A scene from a political theater piece no doubt scourging the corporate farm boss.
A single side room depicts the austerity of a Mexican farm laborer’s housing, a bed, a stove, and a picture of the Virgen of Guadelupe predominate. At the end of the hall, Chavez’s office is maintained as it was when he died in 1993. The award he received from then Attorney General Robert Kennedy stands in the foreground, a symbol of the success of his organizing among migrant workers.
At the end of the exhibit is a small bulletin board where school children have posted hand drawn pictures and statements honoring Chavez. His image is in the center, topped by the three words he chanted on the strike line: “Yes We Can!.” “Si Se Puede,” which is still heard on some streets today.
We have learned the hard truth of the desert in Death Valley: vast expanses littered with rock debris that you think you can walk across, only to discover that it was not one mile but five that you had traverse.
But we have also discovered a desert oasis, a micro-climate just south of Death Valley, where Amargosa River feeds a band of greenery at the feet of spectacular desert cliffs and peaks.
We spent Friday night parked at the China Ranch Date Farm near the bottom of a steep canyon. The Amargosa river twists above and under ground through the valley and feeds a narrow swath of green reeds and bushes as it makes it way south.
The ranch gets its name from a Chinese immigrant who settled here in the late 1800s, when several mines and a railroad created a local economy.
After the lead, sliver, gypsum and talc mines went out of business in the 1980s, Brian Brown and his wife laid plans to develop a date farm in the fertile oasis. They imported some exotic varieties from Iraq and other locations and have created hybrids on the farm.
Brian says that the dates they grow are delicate and especially flavorful -- after a few samples, we had to agree! The farm’s Date Shake, made from rich vanilla ice cream and dates is delicious!
When you’re visiting the farm, you can also have fun with the Old West ephemera lying about. Outside the date farm shop, you can see the remnants of the old railway and vintage automobiles from the ‘20s and ‘30s.
We hiked out along the river oasis for miles, beneath steep palisades and piles of rocks in every color imaginable. Here's a very small sample.
The mountains here are amazing - a geologist's dream, with every color and shape imaginable. What follows are some of our favorite mountain views. Click here to read the full story in the Flowers, Trees Rocks, & Skies Section.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.