California Highway 167, a short route in the Eastern Sierra region that runs from US 395 near Mono Lake to the Nevada border in an almost perfectly straight line. The straightness, wide-open space, and desert landscape are something I am missing very much at the moment.
There was something “perfect” about this stretch of road in Death Valley National Park. There is both a joy and a melancholy in looking back at it now.
A beautiful view of the still-industrial Islais Creek in San Francisco, with the double-decker I-280 in the background. Although so much in San Francisco has changed and industrial zones are disappearing, I am heartened to see the area still has some of the character the drew me to it several years ago.
I was nominally in the area that day to see artists and their work at Islais Creek Open Studios.
The new Tappan Zee Bridge in front the remaining sections of the old bridge, partially demolished, in late November, 2018.
The ride back from NAMM is usually an uneventful straight shot up I-5 from Los Angeles towards San Francisco. But I found myself making good time, and in a mood for a bit of exploration – not to mention an opportunity to rack up more routes on my Highway☆ app – so I decided to try something different. I decided to follow California Highway 99 as it splits off from I-5.
CA 99 takes a more easterly route than I-5 and connects to the major towns and cities of the Central Valley. A stretch in the northern part of the Central Valley was featured in our recent CatSynth TV Episode 99, but the southern part largely remained unexplored outside the immediate vicinity of Bakersfield (where it intersects CA 58). So much of the highway was new.
That southernmost section was, to put it bluntly, rather sad. The road is narrow, bumpy, and crowded. The landscape was dotted with a mixture of fields, run-down housing developments, and strip malls. And the sky was smoggy with an unhealthy yellow hue. But the afterglow of our most successful NAMM show to date along with the spirit of exploration gave a level of joy to the experience. At Visalia, I decided to turn off and head west onto California Highway 198.
If 99 was a bit of a cluttered and bumpy mess, 198 was the opposite: a pair of smooth straight lines cutting through farmland with sparse development. It began as an expressway but soon turned into a full-on freeway in Kings County as we headed toward Hanford and then on to Lemoore, where we intersected with Highway 41 in a major interchange. A few years ago, I had seen it from the perspective of Highway 41 and mentioned it a post at that time.
There is something strangely fascinating about the island of small towns sitting at the northern edge of dry endorheic Lake Tulare. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is strong enough to inspire a story line and possible writing project that I work through in my mind when I have trouble sleeping at night. We will see if anything comes of it.
Past Lemoore Naval Air Station, 198 narrows to a small two-lane route, and becomes significantly less interesting. My mind shifts to the story on the radio about people whose altruism goes to extreme lengths, including a man in India who founded and nurtured a growing community for people with leprosy while putting himself and his family (including two young children) at risk; and a couple who kept adopting more and more children while having less time and attention for their older biological and adopted children. These drives can be seen as incredibly caring and generous, but I also wondered if they were a bit pathological – indeed, the seeming lack of concern for others affected as they pursued their extreme altruism seemed to be mark of a sociopath.
Heading west on the narrow section of CA 198, we approach Interstate 5 again. This is, however, a spot infamous to north-south travelers for its offending aroma. It turns out the infamous small at the Coalinga junction of I-5 and CA 198 comes from the gigantic Harris ranch and feedlot. It only got worse after turning north onto I-5, but soon enough it was behind me and a not-too-long road to San Francisco remained ahead.
See more of California and many other fascinating places in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Abstract photo from Terminal Island near the Port of Long Beach, California. Taken using the iPhone Hipstamatic app.
It’s the 99th Episode of CatSynth TV, and we have a special treat for all our readers and videos. It combines many of our interests: synthesizers, cats, experimental music and film, and highways.
Video shot along Highway 99 in California from Manteca through Stockton and heading towards Sacramento. Additional video and photography at CatSynth HQ in San Francisco.
Guest appearances by Sam Sam and Big Merp.
Original experimental synthesizer music by Amanda Chaudhary, based on melodies from “99 is not 100” by Moe! Staiano.
- Arturia MiniBrute 2S
- Big Fish Audio John Cage Prepared Piano Sample Library (Kontakt)
- Nord Stage EX
- Mutable Instruments Plaits
- Metasonix R-54 and R-53 2hp Cat module
- 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator
- Make Noise Echophon
There was a brief period of respite at the beginning of August between the end of the Outsound New Music Summit and the start of a new job. Time was tight, so there wasn’t time for an extended odyssey in the deserts of southeastern California. But the north coast, specifically Humbolt County and the area around Eureka, were well within range for a two-day trip. I have never been that far north on the coast. I got an Airbnb in Eureka. I researched a mixture of industrial and natural spaces for photography and exploration. I even got a new lens for the big camera. And early on Saturday morning (or at least early by CatSynth standards), I was ready to go.
Eureka is a direct shot up US 101 from San Francisco, about a four-hour trip in good conditions. It’s a major freeway up to the border between Sonoma and Mendocino counties, and then a mixture of an expressway and a two-lane road through the redwoods, with spots of freeway near major towns.
I never made it to Eureka.
The beginning of the trip was enjoyable and largely uneventful – and the Russian River gorge section after crossing into Mendocino County is spectacular. North of Ukiah, I felt like I was actually transitioning into exploration, as this was somewhat novel territory (technically, I had been as far north as Legget in 2013, but that was in the evening and rushed). Once CA 20 joins with 101 north of Ukiah, the combined route begins a long, steep grade into the hills. It is here where things started to go a bit wrong. The temperature gauge on the car, usually quite steady, suddenly shot up beyond the red “H”. This is definitely not good. I shut off the air conditioning and things calmed down a bit as we got into the new Willits bypass, a Super-2 limited access highway. North of the bypass, 101 becomes a steep windy road through the woods; the temperature gauge shot up again. This was definitely not good. I limped back to Willits to give the car a break and figure out next steps.
I’ve been through Willits a few times, but never really stopped there. The little downtown has some cute old brick buildings. But I had no time to play – I needed to find a repair shop. Nothing showed up in Yelp as open. I probably should have called AAA at this time, but I did find an open shop in Ukiah, so I limped back. I drove conservatively, with the windows open, the vent fully open, and one eye on the temperature gauge.
I was relieved when I finally pulled into Tony Lopez Automotive. It was out a strange little industrial side-street south of downtown. Tony was clearly not pleased to have someone wander in with car trouble just as he was getting ready to close, but he was also chivalrous and ready to help out a damsel in distress. We got the car cooled down; and after a bit of diagnosis, he identified a small but pernicious radiator leak. The diagnosis took some time, and while I was sitting I noticed a rather interesting pile of old car parts. I snapped an iPhone photo, which became a Wordless Wednesday featured a couple of weeks ago.
I regret not grabbing my better camera out of the car to get a higher-quality image, but it was not my priority at the time. And I do like the abstract quality the pixelation provides. Tony did notice the fancier equipment still in the car, though, and it sparked a conversation about my writing and photography and about this site. I wonder if he has checked it out.
Once things were ready, I left town – I would have loved to stay, but I was eager and anxious to get home. I also left Tony Lopez a glowing Yelp review. If you on 101 in the vicinity of Ukiah and need auto help, please patronize his shop and tell him that Amanda from San Francisco sent you.
The trip back to San Francisco was sad but uneventful, and in this case uneventful was good. I didn’t record the trip back on Highway☆, but here is the exact same trek that I did record on a short but happier trip in July.
The engine temperature stayed within an acceptable range, and it was fine over the next few days in San Francisco, but the radiator definitely needed to repaired ASAP. This experience also cured me of any sort of “fun with highways” wanderlust for a while and I have remained close to home since then (except for μHausen). But the bug is starting to come back, and I might have to start exploring again. I might even make it to Eureka one of these days…
See more of Northern California and many other fascinating places in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
I-80 towards the Bay Bridge from Kate St.
We at CatSynth love traveling and exploring our adopted home state. This includes day trips from the Bay Area as well as longer adventures. But one thing remains a bit of a challenge. For much of the state, the main highways are primarily north-south, with very few east-west routes. One chooses one of the long-haul north-south highways, California 1, US 101, I-5, California 99, or US 395 and is pretty much locked in with only a few options for efficiently traveling east to west. There is I-80 in the middle north, California 152 or California 46 from the coast through the Central Valley and California 58/I-40/I-15 further south.
North of Sacramento, east-west travel becomes even more difficult, with routes like California 20 and California 299 being relatively rural and windy for much of their length. The end result is that most of our trips – especially single-day trips heading north – are forward and back along one of the main north-south routes unless we have extra time or necessity to use the smaller east-west roads.
This north-south bias can be seen in an almost self-similar way when zooming in on the extended Bay Area. South of San Francisco, there is California 1, I-280, US 101, I-880, I-680 and then not much at all until one gets to I-5 in the Central Valley.
In the North Bay and wine country, a similar pattern appears with CA 1, US 101 and CA 29, with another large gap until I-505 and I-5. We have made use of east-west roads like CA 128 to get between them as in our recent wine-country trip that featured Elsie the Library Cat. But this is a long detour.
This north-south axis may be frustrating at times (especially the further north one gets), but there is nothing particularly sinister about it. It’s all a matter of Calfornia’s geology. The interface of the Pacific and North American plates that give us our reputation for earthquakes also lead to long bands of north-south mountain ranges and valleys. The Sierra Nevada may be the most dramatic, but it is only one of several that form vertical stripes, with the Central, Sacramento, Salinas, and Napa valleys in between. The San Francisco Bay can be seen as another such valley in a way, with shallows bounded by high hills running north-south.
The exception to the “north-south rule” can be found south of the San Gabrial mountains and into the desert. From Los Angeles and San Diego, one can easily travel east-west to the desert towns and to the Arizona border on I-10 and I-8, with a network of other east-west freeways in between. It is definitely a different experience traveling down there once one gets over the Grapevine or the Tehachapi Pass and into the southern realms. As for the rest of the state, there is no escaping the geographic reality, so it is best to embrace it, and even enjoy it.