Monthly Archives: March 2014

Walker and Muir

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“Walker & Muir”

By Brian Brecht

As Gentleman Adventurers, we aspire to the grand adventure. But at times, while seeking that wide-ranging expedition; there materializes a simple, less complex moment, that provides as much excitement as you hope the big journey will offer. This story is one such adventure.

While finding our feet with some smaller trips, Tom and I have been investigating options for a larger scale expedition later this year. One such option was exploring the Yosemite Valley in greater detail than either had done previously. It was during our investigation, I remembered a story about a man named Joseph Walker.

WalkerCaptain Joseph Walker, born in Roane County Tennessee in December of 1798, was by all accounts, a great adventurer. Joining Benjamin Bonneville’s expedition in 1832, he led a company to explore the Great Salt Lake, and to find an overland route to California. I first read about Walker in Richard Grant’s book entitled “American Nomads”. Though the book isn’t about Walker specifically, a large section is devoted to Walker’s nomadic migration west and his interaction with the local people.  What Nomadsintrigued me the most was the generally supported assumption that Walker was likely the first white man to ever set eyes upon the Yosemite Valley. It fascinated me to think you could trace back such a subtle yet profound moment in the American west. What I found even more fascinating was that Walker had settled in the Bay area, not too far from where I lived now. Additionally his grave still existed and could be seen in the Alhambra Cemetery (also called the pioneer Cemetery), in Martinez California.

I mentioned in our Steinbeck article, for me, history comes alive when there’s something tangible to come into contact with. Visiting Walkers grave seemed like a fitting pilgrimage, if I was indeed going to explore Yosemite as a modern adventurer. It was at this point, while researching where to find the Alhambra Cemetery; I discovered that the John Muir National Historic Site was also located in Martinez, not more than a mile or so south from the Alhambra. I knew very little about Muir but you can’t read about Yosemite without learning about this great man. So it was at this point that Tom and I agreed, if Yosemite was a possible GAC destination, then we had to learn more about these two men.

It was a very rainy February day when we decided to hunt the ghosts of Walker and Muir. It was fortuitous timing, as the plane was in need of some routine maintenance, and the tides weren’t cooperating for an adventure into the Bay. So we grabbed our rain gear and cameras and headed to Martinez. An easy drive led us into downtown and we quickly found signs leading us to the Northwest part of town. A small city that has seen its share of history in terms of agriculture and industry, at one time both fighting to shape its character. Our drive led us along a winding road, passing the regional shoreline, and as we rounded an upward curve, we quickly IMG_1510came across the wrought iron gates of the Alhambra. It was a simple journey, with not too much effort, and a journey that seemed to end as easily as it would start. The gates, beautiful in their construction, stood chained and locked before us in the rain. Any possible glimpse of Walker’s grave was answered on a sign hanging by the side of the entrance. It simply read “No Trespassing”. However as we forced ourselves past our disappointment, and in truth my stupidity for not checking that it would be open beforehand, we followed the sign further where it said, “access may be obtained at police department”.

So that was it, we would head back to town, find the police department and see if we could get let in. This is where a seat-of-the-pants journey can bite you in the exact same place. It was a Sunday and there wasn’t much luck finding someone who could get us into the cemetery.

We spent a good amount of time trying to find other options. Who could we call, who else could we ask? We were directed to the local Historical Society but again, it being a Sunday, left no options for us to gain entry. This day was turning into a bust, so after a walk downtown, we got some breakfast and discussed our options. There weren’t many, so it was a quick decision to postpone our plans for Walker and concentrate on Muir. After an enjoyable meal we headed south to the Muir historical site.

IMG_2279Neither of us had any idea what this site would entail. We pulled into the lot of a small building that we assumed to be a museum of sorts. In fact it was simply the entrance to the nine-acre ranch, all that remained of the former 2600 acre orchard formerly belonging to Dr. John Strentzel, the man who would become John Muir’s father-in-law. Sitting atop a gentle rise, was a beautiful Victorian mansion that, after marrying Dr. Strentzel’s daughter, would eventually become the Muir family home.

We spent a good deal of time going through the IMG_1542house; all but a few small rooms are open to the public. By far, Muir’s library, or Scribble Den as he called it, was a keen point of interest for Tom and I. The physical house brought me closer to the man, but it also offered an interesting contrast. The image you always see of Muir is the weathered outdoorsman, the rugged wanderer.  But that image, somehow for us, contradicted the wealthy landowner and farmer he became when he married his wife Louisa Wanda Strentzel.  Clearly a man of means, it highlighted for us, just how he had John_Muir_Canebeen able to be so influential in his day. And how, with the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, helped to bring about things like the National Parks System.

But still, our thirst for the hunt had not been satiated.  There was one more puzzle piece to find, and we felt we had to find Muir’s grave before we could call this adventure a success. We had come tantalizingly close to Walker’s final resting place (if we had known which grave stone was his we would no doubt had seen it), so we needed to find Muir’s in a small attempt to pay tribute to these men.

Through a series of Internet articles, we found Muir’s grave was actually not in the Alhambra. In fact, when the ranch was at its height; the family had created a small burial plot quietly resting along side Alhambra Creek, nestled within a pear orchard.  Now 100 years later (he died in 1914), all but the nine acres of the estate that surround the house have been developed, and the burial site is enclosed on all sides by private property. But the plot itself still exists. Happily in the recent years the National Park Service has purchased the site and is trying to find a way to allow pilgrims such as us, the chance to visit and pay our respects. But as of now that was not available. At least according to various websites and the Park Ranger at the Muir residence.

Not to be deterred, we dug a little deeper, and throughMap_v2 a series of county documents, found a map to the very location. In this age of technological chaos, it was like finding a long lost treasure map. The site did indeed sit within a residential neighborhood. However there was a path clearly marked and leading from one of the local roads straight to the site. We had to see it for ourselves. It was back to the truck and a short drive following the map. It easily led to the cross street we needed when WHAM! We were stopped dead again by another gate, this one, very modern with keypad entry and all. Obviously the neighbors, tired of the likes of us, had closed off their private road to keep traffic to the site restricted, or more specifically, access to their neighborhood.

This would not do. Though we had learned some very interesting information, we knew we had to see this final piece.  Now we were on a mission. We had come all this way, not to be turned back. We sat in the truck while the rain continued to pound, studying the map. We had to be close. And with further examination realized there was a chance to approach the site from the opposite direction. Tom backed the truck out and turned us around; we would at least try.

Our map was true enough and as we reached the dead end to the street, Tom parked the truck in an empty lot boasting a weathered “For Sale” sign. From here we continued on foot and followed the road until we reached the end. The street ended at a guardrail overlooking Alhambra Creek. What the map didn’t reflect, or what I didn’t accurately read, was that we were now on the opposite side of the creek. We stared in dismay wondering if we were in the right place. Suddenly, as a barking dog rang in our ears, we spotted it. Through the thick brush we could make out the tops of a wrought iron fence that encircled the gravesite. We had found it! But our quarry was still 100 yards away and on the opposing bank.

We now come to one of my personal reasons for wanting to create the GAC. We all aspire to be something more, to be the man who we always wanted to be. For myself, the GAC isn’t my way of showing how great an adventurer I am, but rather my way to push my own boundaries to be the adventurer I have always wanted to be. To stretch myself into something more. And today epitomized it in one swift, simple action. Here we were, and in my head I thought, “well that’s that”. But this is why launching this project with Tom has been so motivational. He turned to me and said, “what are we doing after this?” I replied, “just going home I guess”.  Tom simply smiled and said, “so why don’t we just walk across?”

IMG_1573The creek quickly flowed about a dozen feet below us as the ridge sloped to the moving current. Generally speaking it didn’t appear that the creek would be too deep, it wasn’t as though this was a rushing torrent or anything. But the only way to really know would be to slide down the muddy bank, and get our feet wet, as they say.

Tom was first, blazing the trail I would soon follow. And before I knew it, Tom was knee deep in the rushing water. It was slow going, if only to ensure what current there was, didn’t knock us flat on our ass. But as Tom made it across, it was then my turn. The water quickly filled my boots and where Tom went knee BrianCreek2deep, I went in to mid-thy, dropping into a hole Tom had managed to miss due to his careful use of a probe stick. But that was it, soon I was out, climbing the rising bank, and as we walked over to the gravesite, we couldn’t help but have a rush of excitement.

There we stood, an incredibly trivial accomplishment compared to the man whose grave we now paid our respects to. But as I said at the start, what was to be a simple research trip, turned into an adventure of it’s own.

 

 

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We didn’t stay long, though looking back I wish we had. It was easy to see why the Strentzel family had picked this spot for their final resting place, and all the more reason to not linger. Though it became an adventure for Tom and I, it was still a place of respect and we wanted to make sure we treated it as such. So it was back down the bank, through the water, and with soaking wet pants and shoes, walked our way back to the truck.

 

 

For me the trip highlighted something in me I am constantly trying to overcome. photo 2The fear to jump in with both feet, to take a chance. We chuckled the whole way home, but what kept running through my mind, was how had I not been with Tom, I would have never seen the things I had seen today. And if I could impart any words of wisdom, it would be “don’t be afraid to cross the water”.

Tom and I didn’t finish this trip with our customary toasting box. We felt like before we can call this adventure complete we still need to pay our respects to Captain Walker. So this week I’ll be contacting the Martinez Historical Society and ask about access to the Alhambra. Until then, the toast will have wait, but thoughts and plans for Yosemite will continue.

Diablos Rojos

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“The Red Devil”

By Tom Dietz

I’ve been fishing for as far back as I can remember. In the past, mostly creeks, rivers and lakes, with some surf fishing thrown in on occasion.  Moving from the East to the West Coast over 20 years ago, created ready access to saltwater and along the way, I met a great group of guys that liked to fish down in Baja, Mexico.  We started an annual trek to the East Cape of Baja that, after a few years, has moved up the coast and settled in the area East of La Paz, near Bahia de La Ventana.

Now, fisherman have always had fishing stories, and they are almost always of the same variety. This doesn’t qualify as a whole lot different, except it didn’t involve a fish.

Sport fishing in the La Ventana area is spectacular even when the catching gets tough.  The stark beauty of the desert meeting the amazing azure waters of the Gulf of California is breathtaking.  I’ve never tired of seeing this unspoiled place.  Also in this area is Isla Cerralvo or what is now called Isla Jacques Cousteau.  The great American novelist, John Steinbeck traveled these very waters in 1940. He along with his wife and Marine Biologist Ed Ricketts chartered an expedition aboard The Western Flyer, all of which is brilliantly chronicled in Steinbeck’s “The Log of the Sea of Cortez”.  In another adventure described by the GAC we headed down to the Steinbeck Museum.

In Baja, my fishing targets include Rooster fish, Dorado, Snapper, Cabrilla, Wahoo, Jack Crevalle and Yellowtail, all staples of the Gulf.  I’ve fished for Sail Fish, as well as Blue, Black and Striped Marlin, but the longer boat rides off-shore and high risk of coming back empty handed, have turned my focus more toward in-shore areas the last few years, although you can occasionally get lucky and hit a Sail or Marlin in-shore.  In the end, my favorite fish in Baja for the hunt, their fight, and pure beauty is the Rooster Fish.  It’s a great overall experience, and I’m a catch and release fan, so these beautiful animals can continue to flourish.

The particular trip was in October with the weather clear and warm.  Once in our panga and launched from Bahia de Los Muertos, we headed out for bait.  The bait boats are usually near Isla Cerralvo.  As we approached an unusually large number of bait boats, you could tell that there was much more going on than the traditional exchange of cash for bait.  The bait guys were extremely busy pulling up lines and slinging knives, and fish parts were going overboard quickly.  They were on a school or shoal of Humboldt Squid (Dosidicus gigas), otherwise known as Diablos Rojos, or “The Red Devil”.  Shoals of Humboldt Squid can be as large as over 1,000 individuals but there was no way of really knowing how big this one was.

My panga captain immediately grabbed a squid jig.  images 2These jigs have the appearance of medieval weapons.  They take several forms, ours consisted of a long shaft with multiple prongs running the length of the shaft.  The squid attack the jig as if prey and their tentacles are ensnared along the metal prongs.

With the excitement coming from dozens of crowded pangas, I couldn’t wait to get the jig in the water and join the hunt.  I let out about 50 feet of line, expecting to have to drop 3-4 times that amount, when bam the line went from taught to singing off of the reel.  After some quick adjustments to the drag, I felt like I had a handle on the situation.  The pull was a lot stronger than I had anticipated, but a steady effort brought the animal to the boat.  Larger squid can use their jet propulsion to reach speeds of 15+mph.  These animals live only 1-2 years but can grow quickly up to 6+ feet and around 100 pounds.

IMG_1061The first one I pulled up was about 25 pounds.  Along side the boat, the Captain quickly gaffed the squid and brought it on board for tentacle removal and beheading.  We would later use the tentacles as bait and the cleaned bodies went home with the Captain for dinner.  None of the squid we caught ejected their ink (used as a defense mechanism) on board but we saw other boats dealing with the black mess.  I only got a picture of the last one pulled up, as I hadn’t even thought to reach for the camera during the short-lived event.  When the squid is gaffed and pulled up it quickly and angrily changed color from white to red, back and forth over the length of its body until finally settling on a deep red.  Over time the red ebbed.  The color change is accomplished by millions of specialized skin cells called chromatophores.

Humboldt squid derive their name from the Humboldt Current that runs off the west coast of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASouth America.  With warming ocean waters these cephalopods have dramatically increased their range northward, being seen as far north as Alaska.  They are fierce hunters using their sharp teeth-like tentacle suckers to grab prey and bring it toward their parrot-like chitinous beak. Diablos rojo is known to even attack divers and there have been reports of even deaths.

While motoring out to hunt for Dorado, I couldn’t help but focus on the bucket with the devil OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAheads.  The beak was fully articulating, sharp and in a muscular encasement.  Using a fillet knife, I cut out the entire mouth section including the beaks from two heads, put them in a baggy and stuffed them in my pack.

When I arrived back at the house I examined the beaks, incredibly impressed with the IMG_1146complexity of their operation and deadliness.  I set to boiling the mouths with hope of removing the beaks for display.  Needless to say it didn’t take long for the house to smell like fish stew and my fishing buddies got a good laugh at my intended goal.  With a little bit of effort though, I was successful at isolating the beaks. Though they came out in two pieces they fit nicely back together.

10As with many of our adventures, this was one I knew I would look back on fondly. So once back home I decided to mount these trophies on a raised display, intending to add them to some of my other mementos of past adventures. With one beak still whole and the other separated in its two parts this would be a fitting tribute to “The Red Devil”. And for this adventure, no big fish, or story about the one that got away, but something memorable from a great adventure.

Photo Credits:

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