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CALIFORNIA'S BEST TRIPS, published by LONELY PLANET, and authored by Benson, Cavalieri, and Kohn, is a 383 page guidebook printed on good quality non-glossy paper. At least every other page has a full-page color photo, quarter page color photo, or color map. The book has 35 chapters within the following three sections. The three sections are color-coded in green tabs and graphics (northern California), red (central California), and blue (southern California). Each of the chapters has one or two pages on motels and restaurants. But the emphasis in this attractive book is on the natural landscape. Accordingly, this book is almost like a biography of my life, since I have visited most of the places described, e.g., 50 trips to Point Reyes; ten trips to Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley; 8 trips to Yosemite; 18 trips to Joshua Tree National Park; six trips to Death Valley; one trip to Mono Lake; two trips to Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta; about ten trips to the town of Jenner and up to Fort Ross, and so on.
PHOTOGRAPHS. The most striking photos include the following:
Yosemite Falls or Half-Dome (pages 6, 15, 204);
Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley vineyards (pages 8-9, 78, 90);
Redwood trees or sequoia trees (pages 12-13, 41, 119, 124, 211);
Golden Gate Bridge (pages 14-15);
The legendary Route 1, with scenes of nearby cliffs (pages 16-17, 106, 114, 152);
Joshua Tree National Park with scenes of boulders (pages 20, 340);
Alabama Hills with Mt. Whitney (page 23);
Victorian houses in San Francisco or in Eureka (pages 26-27, 45);
Point Reyes (pages 30-31, 73);
Chinatown in San Francisco (page 48);
McArthur-Burney Falls (pages 144-145);
Missions (pages 294; 299);
Death Valley sand dunes (page 330).
OMITTED PHOTOGRAPHS. The selection of photos is remarkable for its accurate choice of nearly all of the best of California's landscapes. In other words, there are none of the "wasted" photographs that are found in other guidebooks, such as generic photos of children in a park, or generic photos of ordinary flowers. Notable for their presence in this book are the following color photographs:
(1) The undulating light-yellow cliffs at DRAKE'S BAY at POINT REYES;
(2) CATHEDRAL PEAK, located in upper Yosemite, and possibly the most beautiful mountain in the United States, and within a reasonable hiking distance from the road;
(3) POINT LOBOS. The small bays in the northern half of this park contain hiking trails that cover a lightly forested slope, where in the water, you can see and hear otters floating on their back. The otters place a mollusk on their tummy, and they hold a stone in their paw, and they go "tap, tap, tap" on the mollusk in order to break it open. The southern half of this park is astonishingly beautiful, and the small bays are so beautiful that they seem artificial;
(4) JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK. What was omitted from this guidebook, and from all published photo books, are the Valentine's hearts. There are six Valentine's hearts. These are naturally-occurring hearts made of light brown granite. Each heart is about 15 feet tall. One is located in the center of White Tank Campground. Another is located a 15 minute stroll from the northeast tip of White Tank, and towards the radar tower (this one of the best of the batch). A third heart is located 530 paces north of Oyster Bar. The fourth heart is located between White Tank and Belle Campground. A fifth heart is located about 50 feet east of the DOUBLE PYRAMID at LIVE OAK CAMPGROUND. Another heart is located at campsite 83 at Jumbo Rocks. These are all shaped like a typical Valentine's heart.
TEXT. I like most of the writing, and below I quote a few excerpts of the skillfully honed writing. The writing is both accurate and on the verge of being poetic.
On page 102, we read that RETURN OF THE JEDI was filed at ARMSTRONG WOODS STATE PARK, and we read about nearby JOHNSON'S BEACH on the Russian River, where hundreds of folks rent canoes and peddleboats. On page 110 we read about the hike through fern canyon to a pygmy forest at VAN DAMME STATE PARK. The book also discloses the "real" FERN CANYON, located further to the north and up the coast, which is one of the most beautiful and dramatic bits of scenery in California. On page 118, we read about the astonishingly beautiful FOUNDER'S GROVE at Humboldt State Park. On page 164, we read about ARCANGELI GROCERY in Pescadero, which specializes in artichokes (this part of Route 1 is bordered by artichoke farms and strawberry farms). Point Lobos got only two sentences (page 173), too bad. Regarding JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK, we read, "whimsical-looking Joshua trees define this park . . . this is one of California's top places to climb, even kids can scramble around the boulders (page 20). About BADWATER in Death Valley, we read that the salt pan ("playa") is "almost alien in its beauty" (page 333). I agree with this, but the book fails to emphasize the HEXAGONS OF SALT located at Badwater, and the accompanying photograph (page 337) of the salt pan is not good, and the reader will not be able to discern the hexagon patters. On page 222, we read about DEVIL'S POSTPILE, with "60 feet curtains of near vertical, six-sided basalt columns" formed when lava cooled. We read that the "honeycomb design is best appreciated from atop the columns reached by a short trail."
SACRAMENTO DELTA. I was glad that this book covered the Delta, and the enjoyable ROUTE 160 and the quaint, broken-down villages (pages 253-259). We read about the OLD SUGAR MILL, which is one of the few instances of commercial success along ROUTE 160. OLD SUGAR MILL is a wine-tasting facility that is meant for tourists. We read about LOCKE, a tattered old Chinatown. We read about ISLETON, perhaps the largest of the villages along ROUTE 160. The section mentions "levy roads along a maze of endless channels" (page 254). It would have been nice to have a photo of the levy road, which travels along the top of a 30-foot high dike, and where the view is decorated by a dozen charming bridges. In my opinion, I hope that an economic revival takes place some day, since Isleton and a couple of the other villages are almost ghost towns.
BERKELEY. The text about Berkeley is not to my taste. It falls into the usual irrelevant trap, common for guidebooks, of characterizing Berkeley as having "one of the most vocal activist populations in the country, this infamous college town has an interesting mix of graying progressives and idealistic undergrads" (page 64). In my opinion, this writing is an insult to the University of California, it is an insult to the faculty and staff, and it is an insult to the students, because of its minimal relevance and questionable accuracy. What should have been written, in my opinion, is that tourists can ride to the top of the bell tower (Sather Tower) at the center of campus, listen at close range to bell concerts (real bells; not phony electronic bells) while enjoying a view of the Golden Gate Bridge far in the distance. There are 61 bells, small ones that are 19 pounds, and large bells, the biggest being 10,500 pounds. What the book could also have mentioned, is that the bell tower was designed by John Galen Howard, and that it was based on a bell tower located at University of Concepcion in Chile, and that a similar towers are at Univ. of Birmingham in England, and Torre del Mangia in Siena. The book could also have mentioned the beautiful HEARST MINING BUILDING, also on the Berkeley campus and designed by John Galen Howard.
ERRORS ABOUT JOSHUA TREE. Page 341 reads, "Southern California's deserts can be brutally hot . . . escape to . . . Joshua Tree National Park, where shady fan-palm oases and date gardens meet." This is not correct. While this park does have a couple of palm oases, nobody goes to them. Mara Oasis is not even in the park proper, and it is ten miles from the nearest granite boulder. The other oasis is near Cottonwood Spring, which is located in the southern half of the park (where hardly anybody goes), and which requires a 7-mile hike. Even if Joshua Tree National Park did contain many palm trees (it does not), they would not protect you from the intense heat, which kills a couple of tourists every year. The map on page 342 highlights two parts of the park: KEYS VIEW and OASIS OF MARA. As I said above, nobody goes to Oasis of Mara. Most of the tourists go to HIDDEN VALLEY and to JUMBO ROCKS. At these two places, and on both sides of the road, one can find many astonishingly shaped boulders, some resembling Valentine's hearts, a sloth, an elephant, a sausage the size of a schoolbus, and so on. SPLIT ROCK TRAIL has excellent stone formations, including a few granite monoliths.