Road Geek – A Beginning Adventure

What do you think of when you hear the word travel? Jetting off to a foreign country or some exotic tropical location? Most people would answer that way. But not me. When I think of travel I immediately picture myself driving down the road with the windows open, the breeze flowing through my hair, the radio blasting.

It can be a back road in the country, a long stretch on the interstate, a dirt road through a wildlife refuge, or a winding highway through the mountains or on the edge of the continent; it doesn’t matter. I am out there, propelled forward by 2000 horses under my hood, looking at what America has to show me. That’s the spell I am under. The inexorable pull like the tides of the moon plays on my psyche. I yearn for it when I cannot give in to its siren call. I exult in it when I do give in, pack a bag, grab a camera, and fire up the engine and head off once again.

I’m a road geek.

So this is series of stories of road trips long and short. It will take you miles while you sit in your easy chair and read. Maybe it will kindle a fire in you and you too will set off on a journey just for the sake of going. Either way, join me each time as I take you traveling wherever the open road takes us.

COUNTRY ROADS CLOSE TO HOME

 Turri Road

It’s a short road between the estuary at Morro Bay, California and the Los Osos farming valley, but as far as country roads go it might be one of the best. Turri Road connects South Bay Boulevard and Los Osos Valley Road, and other than the grasslands, the back end of Hollister Peak, the meandering of Los Osos Creek, the fields of snow peas and flowers, and cows, there is no real reason to travel on Turri Road. Still it is one of roads most chosen by cyclers and for its three mile stretch a welcome respite from the traffic racing on the two roads it connects. Turri Road twists and turns, climbs and falls, and affords the traveler a chance to see how this area of the Central Coast of California looked before population increases changed the landscape.

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There are not too many places where one can pull over but a few are worth trying. The side of the road beckons as soon as I turn off of South Bay Boulevard so I stop and take out my binoculars, get out of the car, and set to scanning this side end of the Morro Bay estuary where Los Osos Creek flows into it. If a high tide has flushed in there are often isolated shore birds or great egrets or herons feeding in the leftover ponds. In spring swallows flit back and forth, dipping down to gather mud particles to bring back up to the under parts of the bridge on South Bay Boulevard. Every year they build their nests there and raise their young. At high water a kayaker can paddle under the bridge from the channels on the other side of the estuary and spook the birds into a paroxysm of flight. This is a quiet spot to spend some time.

Cattle in a wetland

Back in the car I head down the winding road until I reach a straight section with a cattle corral on my left. I can pull over here too and at times when the rain gods have been kind the depression in field next to the corral fills with water creating a fresh water pond. Mallards, pintails, snowy egrets and other waterfowl arrive on this sporadic wetland while cows wade into it to reach tasty morsels of wet grass. The trees surrounding the pond and the cattails that sprout up attract red-winged blackbirds that chatter and scree at me. It’s hard to believe that I am in a populated area as here it feels like I am the only one on the planet – me and the birds and the cows.

Cows and rangeland

Off I go again down and around, and up and down, enjoying the cows in the fields, the old barn up on the hillside, and the fields of snow peas all strung up on wires and poles. A farm house is visible a way over at the base of a hill. Toward the other side I see the back end of Hollister Peak, one of the seven sisters volcanic plugs that grace the area.

Field and Hollister Peak

Turri is an historic name here probably dating back to the late 1800s, when Italian Swiss people kept dairy cows on a ranch at the end of the road where it joins with Los Osos Valley Road. Now this ranch is owned by others that grow flowers for seed. I see the bright yellow and orange marigolds there. A small stucco house sits alone by the side of the road. Empty now, I wonder if that is where the family lived. There are still Turris living in the area over on San Luisita Creek Road. I’ve met Leo but he is gone now and his daughter lives out there. But that is another road story.

Field of marigolds

My trip ends driving over the culvert where more swallows are busy nest building. Now I am at the stop sign for the turn onto Los Osos Valley Road where traffic is streaming by at 65 miles an hour. My Turri Road journey is over for the time being, but I’ll be back.

Los Osos Valley Road

I take this main road from Los Osos to San Luis Obispo for a variety of reasons but not the least for just being able to see the luscious produce fields along the way. Speed is the name of the game here as cars zoom by at 65 miles an hour or more. It is not my idea of a leisurely country road. However, there are places along the way that I like to visit such as the Los Osos Oaks State Reserve. For a change of pace I turn off into the small parking lot and get out of the car to walk into the Reserve.

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It’s amazing how fast the noise of the highway disappears as I am engulfed by the huge old oak trees. Some of these trees have been here for more than 100 years and their large twisted trunks show that. These are Coast Live Oaks and they grow here among the sand dunes that are also natural to the Los Osos area. Usually these trees are stunted by wind and weather however several of these large specimens thrive alongside a section of Los Osos Creek and have obviously drawn a benefit from the available moisture allowing them to reach heights of more than 25 feet.

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Once during an early Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival a chamber music group came to the reserve and played while visitors strolled around searching for birds up in the canopy. For me the place reminds me of a scene from Robin Hood and his Merry Men because the site looks just like where I imagine Robin’s little band of thieves would hide out.

Large oaks aren’t the only thing in the grove. As I advance back into the interior of the reserve I come across a heavy sand dune area with stunted oaks draped in lichen and moss and buzzing all around one of them is an enormous hive of bees. I watch them from a safe distance not wanting to disturb them or to be stung. I assume the bees get pollen from the other plant material located here. There is sage and other kinds of coastal scrub, some of it blooming.

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As I walk around I suddenly see movement from under one of the bushes making me realize that there are other creatures here not just bees and birds. A small brush rabbit scampers away from me and then I notice quail up ahead pecking away at the ground. I wish I had a lawn chair with me so I could sit quietly for a spell and let the wildlife become used to my presence, but the road is calling to me and I reverse my steps back out to the entrance.

Today I am going to Clark Valley Road, a true back road if ever there was one.  A number of ranches and farms are located here. The road turns into dirt as it starts to rise over the hills and ostensibly one could follow it all the way to the rear of Montana de Oro State Park, but I have never tried this and am not sure I would recommend it. I am here to see the Los Osos Valley Organic Farm which just happens to be right next to the Central Coast Polo Grounds. I plan to take a good look at both places.

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Jim Terrick is owner and operator of the farm, just a scant seven acres, where he grows several varieties of lettuce, such as Boston Green, Romaine, and Green Leaf, and other vegetables like bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, carrots, and broccoli, to name a few. He also grows a couple of varieties of strawberries.

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Terrick decided to grow organically after watching a number of family members associated with regular farming contract a variety of auto-immune disorders and was convinced that constant exposure to chemicals was probably the cause.

“I got to thinking about those chemicals and decided I did not want to go that route,” he said. “I’m growing organically because of my family’s reaction to chemicals in farming, and I believe growing organically is a more responsible way to grow produce and fruit. People depend on me for good and healthful products.”

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Growing organically means that the only things that can be added to the soil are things that are living or have once lived, are directly mined from the earth, and minimally processed. Terrick uses naturally processed fish meal, not done with enzymes or anything synthetic.

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Terrick’s Jack Russell-Blue-Tit Coon dog Crosby comes eagerly up to me for a petting session. The dog is part of the crew here since he is the eradicator of the ground squirrels that plague the farm. Terrick says he gets at least one squirrel a week.

The nice thing about this small farming operation is that it operates as a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture farm and many area locals are signed up with Terrick for their weekly supply of produce.

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Before leaving I walk over to say hello to some of the horses at the polo grounds. The Central Coast Polo Club holds games starting in May and continuing through September on their 80 acre facility. They also teach polo, the Game of Kings, to anyone wishing to learn, whether adult or child age 10 and up.  Cal Poly University plays at this arena throughout the school year. The grounds are also a place for people to board their horses and there are rentals available. Chukars occur in the William “Bill” Cater, Jr. Memorial Arena, a regulation 300 foot by 150 foot, polo arena with five foot walls, from Tuesday through Sunday.

After assuaging my equestrian needs, I am back in the car and heading east to stop in at Brookshire Farms.  Shawn Callaway and his wife, Gretchen Brookshire farm on land leased from La Familia Family Farm. They grow all kinds of produce here but concentrate heavily on corn as this is the crop that shines for a few weeks in the fall as it becomes a seven acre corn maze.

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“It takes about a mile of walking and 30 to 40 minutes to get through our corn maze,” Calloway explained, “and each year we have a special theme.”

Gretchen is in charge of designing the maze each year and then hands off the layout to a professional corn maze company who send personnel to the farm to mark off the grid. Then Callaway hoes off around 10% of the tall field corn to set up the trail.

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Obviously the maze is the most fun for people at Halloween but the farm also offers agricultural education to area school kids and busloads arrive at the farm every weekday during fall.  An educational talk is given on the different types of corn grown on the farm and the kids learn about the corn process, how it is pollinated, how it grows and is crushed and made into cattle feed. Then the kids learn how the cows eat the feed, it turns into milk in them, and then the cow is milked. A variety of wooden animal figures are used to illustrate this talk and the kids get to do a simulated milking. The object is for them to see that milk doesn’t just come from the supermarket.

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Visitors to Brookshire Farms can purchase pumpkins in season and onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, bell peppers, squash, beans, and potatoes, including popcorn on the cob. Calloway uses no pesticides and is organic in every way except for certification.

It’s been full day of farm visits and time to head back to Turri Road and drift over the hills to the estuary and home to Morro Bay.

Join me again for another Road Geek adventure!