So, I said we would be back in about a week… 4 days will do, I hope.
We found a flyer for a bakery in Tehachapi and, you know me – bread queen, we had to go into town to discover Kohnen’s Bakery. This is a fine, real fine, German Bakery. We got Volksbröt, Brötchen and some genuine water Bagels and ate Danish and a Bear Claw. I know… not super healthy. I ended up with the same stomach ache I get when I succumb to some kind of masochistic external pressure (from my memories) and eat a donut (dognut, guys in my group will get this…). Ugh. Barb just shook her head – she knew I’d have problems with that sweet treat. The stomach-ache pretty much was a precursor to driving down into the Central Valley of California.
For some reason, the pollution index was off the charts – 2 miles visibility, maybe. Trash knee deep along the road and we were on Hwy 99 heading for Chowchilla. Hwy 99 has to (have become) the most epically bad road on the planet. Potholes as deep as swimming pools and ruts, tears and buckles that sent our RV into seizures. It is a horrible road!
Luckily, Barb is the consummate researcher concerning sites to see along the way. She found us a place off 99 – going in the right direction – with a lovely sheet of asphalt for us to cruise, CA 43 (north of Bakersfield) to get us to Allensworth State Historic Site and a good ways beyond.
We stopped to check out Allensworth because it was another puzzle piece in our learning. After we parked and paid the day fee, I took the shot above of the gorgeous purple plants growing everywhere we looked. We unloaded the bikes and set out to read and peer into windows of the restored buildings. Being as it was a Sunday, we didn’t expect to see the docents in costume of the time, or anyone really.
Allensworth is the remains of an almost utopian vision that Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth created. The Colonel was born in 1842 into slavery, he escaped and joined the Union Navy. After getting out of the military he got his education and became a chaplain and joined the Army to be chaplain to African American soldiers. In fact, he was the highest ranking African American officer in the U.S. Army when the retired.
In 1908 Allensworth, Professor William Payne, Dr. W.H. Peck, Harry Mitchell and J. W. Palmer brought together the energy and money to buy acreage to create a town: Allensworth.
The town was to be for African Americans to live, own land, own businesses and worship in freedom and out from under segregation. It was a rousing success – in the first 10 years; now you need the REST OF THE STORY! They had bought the land from a white man who founded the nearby town of… You know what? Why don’t you read about it here. There are good photos and it’s a really deep, complicated and wide story. Please click and read about Allensworth!
We enjoyed being in this restored town adjacent to the living community of Allensworth. We watched the parks movie and heard from children of original families, looked in the buildings and talked to an incredibly generous ranger (who appeared after a park groundskeeper let us in to the Visitors Center and turned on the film for us). For a hotter than heck Sunday these folks made this stop come alive and we’re grateful.
We hopped back on CA 43 to go north quite a ways until we were forced to get on Hwy 99. Jeezelaweeze… luckily I still have fillings in my teeth, that road about rattled them out!
Since there is no RV park in Atwater or Merced (that wasn’t a year round live there sorta place) we stayed down in Chowchilla at The Lakes RV and Golf Resort. Its at exit 170 off 99. The park is clean and the pool is the cutest thing you ever saw and a surprise in drought stricken California (it’s a kidney bean about the size of a 24’ RV). We did laundry in the clean and incredibly affordable laundry room and walked the park every evening after dark. Sure, the sites are a bit sardine-ish, but there are bushes between them, trees planted and pruned so awnings can open and a most amazing sight (well, to me anyway); old, old oleanders trained into tree shapes, like lollipops, with trunks 4” around (old).
Business went well and we met my step-sister Nancy for lunch at my dad’s old haunt The Branding Iron. We raised a glass to him there (he frequently closed the bar with his parties of friends and family). It was amazing to compare memories and catch up on the folks we knew. Nancy is a pretty good historian for the family, wish she’d write things down.
They once had the most amazing food. My dad, Jack Wharton and step-mother Sylvia put their brand on the wall. Nancy remembers it as a circle around SJ. I found a brand without the circle and we just assume that’s how it was done at the Branding Iron. I include an unknown brand of a sun. My family company was Sunshine Hatchery. I have a sign from one of the ranches (we had many of them, raising turkeys and cattle) that has a half-sun with alternating yellow and white beams. There are three yellow beams that signified the three brothers, Jack, Jeril and Don (Duggan). I don’t know that they ever had a brand, but this little guy reminded me of the sign posted in my office at home.
Things change and so has my part-time-home-town. Merced is pretty tattered until you get to the north east of town. Old Merced with her elegant craftsman homes and big Victorians seems to have been left behind somehow.
Most of the time we’ve been in the Valley the pollution has been blinding. Today, for some reason, the Sierra’s were visible as dark grey hulks outlined by clouds. It was good to see the mountains. When I was a kid, we would come over Tejon Pass or out of Yosemite and look out over the valley; it was bordered by towering snow topped mountains on one side and foothills on the other. The orchards and fields shone bright greens and water like mirrors wound it’s way through canals. The San Joaquin Valley was a beautiful place.
Tomorrow we climb over the western foothills aiming for Anthony Chabot Regional Park above Oakland. Looking forward to seeing our beloved friends and the place we called our first home.