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Location: Northern California

Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Let them drink Evian

We made it! We had a fine time down in the O.C., but now we're glad to be home. As a good little post-vacationer, I've got the laundry in the washing machine, I just exercised, and I have totally sworn of all binge drinking and late night snacking.

I'm hungry and shaking; vacation detox just isn't pretty.

To get my mind off my hunger and prove that I'm not always a Wendy Whiney McWhiners, here are five things about the I-5, the highway that runs north/south through the center of California (and also runs through Oregon and Washington) and provides the quickest--and Wendy Whiney McWhiners would say the most boring--route from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.

Shut up, Wendy Whiney McWhiners! Here are five great-slash-interesting things to notice when you're driving that lonely, long stretch of I-5 between Los Angeles and the Bay Area:

Pyramid Lake
As you leave the Los Angeles basin, you drive through a mountainous area known as the Grapevine. At roughly the crest of the area, there's a rest stop and Visitor's Center at Pyramid Lake. It's really pretty.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to stop there today because it was closed.

But a little further north, we found another rest stop area on the water that allowed fishing and boating. Because it was the middle of the week and not terribly hot, we had no problem finding an empty picnic table to enjoy our sandwiches and fruit. Much better than eating at a stinky McDonald's yet again.

One drawback: It cost $7.00 to park there, which is a tad expensive for a 20 minute lunch.

Pea Soup Andersen's
This is where all pea soup originates. Just kidding. I think. Along I-5 in Santa Nella is the location of one of the finest purveyors of the finest of split pea soups: Pea Soup Andersen's. Perhaps you've seen cans of it in your local grocery store.

If you stop at the restaurant you will notice that they have a gargantuan gift shop filled with something for everybody, including your grandma (crystal tchotchkes), your foodie friend (spices, specialty food items), and your travel-weary kid (books and craft kits). They also have a large, clean women's room filled with vases of real flowers. And for $7.95 you can get the traveler's special: all the split pea soup you can eat, unlimited soft rolls with butter, and your choice of coffee, tea, iced tea, milk, soda, or a milkshake.

Two drawbacks: No changing table in the men's room (grrrrr) and it's debatable whether or not split pea soup is an appropriate thing to eat when you're on a road trip with other people. If you know what I mean.

Harris Ranch Beef Company has more cattle than the eye can see right off I-5 around Coalinga. If you drive through the area at night with the windows down, you'll be able to smell where you are even though you won't be able to see the animals.

Rather than let the sight of thousands of animals en route to one day being slaughtered get me down, I put on my jolly face and cry out, "Look, kids, it's cows! Can you see them? Cows! What does the cow say?!"

I'm figuring we'll save the conversation about slaughterhouses and how we ate Bessie for dinner last night for when they're 8 or 9.

California Aqueduct
Do you ever wonder how a large, thriving community like the one in Southern California manages to survive given the fact they have very little of California's most precious commodity? I'm not talking about Bikram Yoga studios; I'm talking about water.

California has a large aqueduct system in place that carries water from areas where it's plentiful (by Western standards) to areas where it's not. So when you look out the window and see these large concrete troughs filled with water, you're actually looking at a river of gold. Without the means to get water to the Central Valley, California couldn't produce the crops that it does. And without water in Los Angeles, people couldn't live there. It's a simple enough concept to overlook, but it's definitely an important one to know about.

Seeing the California Aqueduct, reminded me that I need to read Cadillac Desert, which is a great book about the science and politics behind water development in the West.

The Wind Farm at Altamont Pass
Actually, this is on I-580 between Livermore and Tracy, but since we veer off I-5 and take I-580 to get back to the South Bay, I'm going to include this in my list.

The Wind Farm at Altamont Pass is probably the trippiest thing I've ever seen "in nature." The first time you see it, you will trip out. That's my scientific opinion. Thomas and Emily saw it for the first time today and they were definitely tripped out.

The Wind Farm at Altamont Pass is one of the three largest wind farms in the world. It's basically row upon row of wind turbines, aka: wind mills, that are used to generate electricity. When you are in the area filling your gas tank and cleaning the bugs off your windshield, you will notice that it's very windy. I guess some science-minded people noticed that, too, and decided it was the perfect location for a wind farm.

I wanted SO BAD to take a picture for your viewing pleasure, but I was driving. :( I know that hasn't stopped me before, but I resisted this time. For more info, see Wikipedia. For pictures, check out Xah Lee's page.

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