Quicksilver Trails

Californian-PoppiesA new day, a new California State Park: This time, the Almaden Quicksilver County Park. Owing to sore thighs from the previous day of kayaking, I chose a small round trip of approximately 6km, but it had all I could ask for, and more:

First, the approach: drive south through San Jose on Almaden Expressway, then turn off into Almaden Road, following signs to New Almaden. It’s Silicon Valley at first with 4 lanes each direction, then a small town, and all of the sudden it’s rural California. Just like so. It’s astounding.

At the Hacienda Entrance, I found ample and free car parking space, a couple of shaded benches, and the usual information board with maps and warnings of poison oak, mountain lions and bobcats. My 6km hike through the park took me through the most beautiful landscape, and across the occasional reminder of the mining past: the area used to be one of the richest quicksilver mines of the world, owing to the high concentration of mercury in the bright red local cinnabar. Until the 1920s, this mercury was mostly used to extract gold from ore, and enabled the Californian gold rush.

The trail also featured some of the steepest inclines I have ever walked; in comparison, the way out of the Poverty Flats in the Henry Coe State Park is almost a walk in the park. Thankfully, those in the Almaden Quicksilver Park were pretty short, as I begun to feel my sore thighs at that point.

I was glad that I chose this short loop, but was even happier that I did get out there in the first place. I didn’t see any landbound animals, but birds of prey, and flowers everywhere. The bright orange Californian Poppy and some tall yellow flowers similar to Rapeseed brightened my hike and my day.

On my way out, I stopped at the Quicksilver Mining Museum, where a friendly and most enthusiastic park ranger talked me through the collection and answered most of my question. Free of charge, friendly, with a smile and an if there is anything else… Wonderful. US park rangers are always super.

The only question the ranger left unanswered was about the etymology of the word quicksilver itself. I find the similarity with the German Quecksilber startling, and wondered if quicksilver is an anglicised version of the German word. One Internet source claims the roots go back much further, reporting a common root in the Middle English quyksilver, from Old English cwicseolfor.


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Your Numbers, Front And Back

DSCF8635Here’s a real-life surprise observation from the land of the superlatives:

When I stepped out of my car two nights ago, I noticed I have no front number plate! The rear number plate, which also contains the tax disc (or some other official sticker) is still there, but I was worried that I’d get a ticket over night, as the police sometimes drives around in the hotel car park.

No ticket in the morning, so I make my way to work, planning to phone the car rental company and seek advise. On my short way in (it’s only a few minutes in clear traffic), I counted no less than seven cars without front number plates, driving into the opposite direction! And these were only those that I saw, and only within those 10 minutes, on a short stretch of Hamilton Avenue.

Hmmm, methinks, this doesn’t seem to be a very severe offense.

I’ve given up counting now, but have seen many more cars with backside numbers only.

When I checked with a colleague before phoning the car rental company, he confirmed that many people couldn’t be bothered, and that he knows of nobody who ever got a ticket because of it. I just left it at that then.

I find this very surprising though. Most people around here appear to be observing signs and directions slavishly, but red traffic lights or front number plates seem to be an exception and do not seem to apply to everyone.


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Note of Absence

DamenAlles10Euro W7 is on the other side of the big pond again, watching Barak Obama‘s inauguration on the day and right there. I expect a different America right away, and shall watch out for it. Oh, and I will be doing some paid work from my office in San Jose, California, too, so as per usualr rule, this blog will not get updated while I am out there.

Enjoy the lovely pictures, take care of yourself and be back at the end of the month, when regular blogging will recommence.

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Atlantis-lowres This new painting's story is a little long and windy. Allow me to explain:

Only 6 miles or so off the cost of Monterey, California, a great deal of whales travels past more or less all year. Grey Whales and Humpback Whales travel to Baja Mexico for mating. Orcas travel along for hunting, while some Orcas even became resident in Monterey bay, feeding on seals and the occasional whale calf.

Oh, and there are Blue Whales, too. A great number of them. They weren't known to be traveling through that stretch or water until not long ago, or they changed their routes in the early eighties, but they now come along every mid summer. I haven't had luck with spotting a Blue Whale myself yet, but I have been out watching for whales a couple of times. The Whale Watching company of choice has marine biologists on board, and they tell me how elusive those big animals are:

Scientists have tried tagging Blue Whales will all kinds of high-tech and low-tech gizmos and contraptions, yet have still to find out where the whales go, and where they mate.

I can't help feeling smug about this. I don't understand why we cannot accept not to understand something. Some things should just be left in peace and on their own devices.

Take, for example, the finding of an ancient tomb. Scientists will be hugely disappointed and frustrated to find that it has been opened and raided two centuries ago, and will be delighted if not – only then to proceed raiding the previously untouched tomb. All in the name of science of course.

So anyway, those biologists tell me that one could try to renegotiate international shipping routes, for example, if those were found crossing the Blue Whales' routes or mating grounds. I don't know. Since hunting stopped, the animals are recovering. I am sure they'd be most happy to be left in peace.

Not through scientific instruments, but by sheer contemplation, however, I have now successfully determined the location of the Blue Whale's mating grounds: They go to that other place that we have so far failed to find.


Oil on canvas, 20×30", November 2008.

I hope you like it. You can click here, or the thumbnail, for a larger version.

My Second Life

Ususus Some years ago, I started telling my wife about my secret second life in California. I told her about my (there) wife Colleen and our two beautiful children. Somehow, she would never want to believe me.

I have now confessed to my co-worker Colleen (in my Californian office). She wouldn't believe it either, and just laughed.

Looks like I need a new story to wind them up. Both of them.

Henry Coe’s Legacy Subject to Lethargy

Frog Lake Turns out that my favourite State park in California’s South Bay area, the Henry Coe State Park (the largest Californian State Park), is under thread of closure due to budget cuts.

I went there as soon as I heard about this, and inquired. I also did a very nice walk to Frog Lake (if you ever do this hike, walk half way around the lake and sit on the fallen tree. It’s one of the most peaceful spots in the world), then back via Middle Ridge.

Anyway… The rangers were very pleased that someone showed an interest, but no, they don’t have a petition to sign or any other form of activity going, not even information on site on this subject.

Seems like they will be waiting until decisions are firm, also know as it being too late. Is this stupid or what?

I wrote a letter to the San Jose Mercury News; maybe it gets published. Not about their lethargy but about the closure plans of course.

Ethno Wunderland

SanJose Just returned from my “home away from home” in Geek County (otherwise known as Silicon Valley, California), and as always, it’s good to be back home (even though I write this post at shortly after 5am in the morning. My body clock must have gotten stuck in customs once again. It certainly isn’t here yet).

The San Francisco Bay Area has a lot to offer for techno geeks, nature lovers and culture lovers alike. One aspect at least in which the Bay Area beats even our beloved multi-culti London is the lunch time menu. Within under ten minutes driving range from my office, we had lunches with almost no ethnic repeats:

  • Californian-esque Salad Bar
  • Mexican Burritos
  • Thai lunch box
  • Korean BBQ
  • Sushi
  • French Steak Tartare
  • Indian Curry

Admittedly, ten minutes driving in West London get you nowhere. Over there, you can made significant mileage in ten minutes. Still prefer London to the Bay Area, but it is difficult some times to explain why.

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Last Orders!

DonGiovanniDrinks Funny how the UK is about to lift some restrictions on the pub hours, while others introduce them: In San Jose, California, the town decided to introduce a “soft closing experiment” (to be reviewed after 90 days).

The essence is that pubs, bars and clubs are allowed to stay open one more hour, but not allowed to serve alcoholic beverages during that time.

So, it’s Last Orders for night dwellers in San Jose, although their bell rings at 1.30AM.

According to this article by the San Jose Mercury News, however, it’s not drinking-up time for the people of San Jose: It’s sobering-up time: Officials hope the extended hours will allow people to sober up before getting in their cars.

Amazing what an hour can do if you are a politician.

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Knowing Your Whereabouts

alcoholPolicy You know you are in California when you find the local town hosting a (free) Jazz concert in the local centre town plaza on Wednesday nights.

What, I hear you ask, makes that indicative of California?

Simple. The event finishes by 8:30pm, and no alcoholic beverages were on sale.

Blogging Break

Selfportrait_61 Worn out from birthday celebrations and other things, it turns out that I am in need of a blogging break this week. This will be followed by a two week absence while I work from California and, as usual, suspend blogging while being there.

So, you should hear back from me mid August, full of enthusiasm and irrelevant comments.

P.S. Talking of birthday celebrations, you realize the blog had its second birthday a week ago?

Wildlife Statement of Account

We had a good view on wildlife during our recent trip through the some of central California, but focussed on watching with our own eyes rather than the photo lens – which is nice while watching the animals, but actually regrettable when back home.

From memory, here’s the breakdown:

Wild turkeys, turkey vultures, newts, lizards and deer in Henry Coe and Castle Rock State Parks.

Seals, sea lions, sea otters, pelicans and humpback whales in Monterey and the Monterey Bay.

An assortment of fresh and salt water fish as well as land and sea birds everywhere, and of course the works in the Monterey Aquarium. Not bad for a few days, ey?

Excuses, Excuses, I know…

Good morning my lovelies… Must tell you that W7 is once again in California and, for this week only, exceptionally busy all day and well into the evenings.

All is well, but I regret there will be no posts this week. I simply don’t have the time to post and look after the site. Regular posting shall commence next Monday.

Meanwhile, enjoy life, browse the archives, treat yourselves to something delicious or something beautiful, see what Pille or Anne cook this week, what UL is up to, how Marianne Magdala copes with late adolescence, or wonder where Diamond Geezer finds the time for his elaborate blog.

So, that should keep you busy for a few days. See you next week!