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Let’s face it. The next time The Today Show runs a week of Where in the World is Matt Lauer, Watsonville won’t be one of his stops. Actually, we were shooting for a spot that would put us in striking distance of both Santa Cruz and Monterey, and Watsonville fit the bill. The city park includes a small RV park within its facilities. There were also two sports pavilions and a large lake with launching ramp and plenty of parking. The sites were very roomy and all grass. The rate was low, but Pat, the manager, charged $2 per day per dog, and she insisted that we take the dogs wherever we go. Dot’s charm worked, however; after a “test day,” Pat cut the fee back to one dog, allowed us to leave them behind, gave us a free day for staying a week, and then gave us another free day for reviewing the campground online.
I had a cell in the back of my brain that knew that town’s name. It eventually dawned on me that it was the headquarters of West Marine Stores, to which I tithed during a long earlier segment of my life. I discovered, however, that it was all business and didn’t cater to tourists or former customers – no tours, no thanks, no nothin’.
Santa Cruz was closer, so we headed up there first. I’d been there before , but we drove the length of downtown so Dot could absorb its charm. Then it was on to the pier. Santa Cruz is always full of attractions, but at this time it rocketed to national prominence just days before our arrival when two humpback whales breached within a few feet of a paddling surfer and two guys in a kayak – and someone got it on video. The local newspaper reported that a pod was close inshore because of a plethora of available plankton and other food. They were still offshore when we arrived, and I tried to photograph them long distance (last picture below). In fact, I sent out an email to friends showing my puny results. I certainly made up for it in spades with the sea lions both under the dock and beyond it.
We then went over to Lighthouse Point, where half a dozen surfers were trying to make the most of a gentle swell. There was a plaque there memorializing the origin of surfing in the U.S. In 1885, three nephews of Queen Kapi’olani were attending St. Matthew’s Hall Military School in San Diego. During vacations, the Princes stayed with a family in Santa Cruz. To the amazement of the locals, they ordered redwood planks from a local mill cut to the shape of their indigenous surfboards and brought Hawai’i’s National Sport to the West Coast for the first time.
Dot had a special reason to want to visit the neighboring Town of Gilroy. Known as the Garlic Capital of the World, it was the subject of Customs’ related trade administration while she was still on that beat. So we headed over there, following a road that made Lombard Street an also-ran – would have been a third the distance if we had chartered a crow. We made our way to the Gilroy Museum, located in the town’s Carnegie Library. This may have been one of Andrew’s more modest donations; the building lacked some of the usual architectural details. Like most others, it was outgrown and replaced by a larger building and then became the town archives. In the twenties, Gilroy also claimed the title of the Prune Capital of the World.
Naturally, we were curious about the town’s origins. In 1814, nineteen year old Scotsman John Gilroy shipped out aboard the armed merchantman Isaac Todd. He debarked in Monterey, either jumping ship or being put ashore to recover from scurvy. Traveling to San Ysidro, he fulfilled the requirement to stay there by becoming a Spanish citizen and embracing Catholicism. Thus, he became the first non-Spaniard in Alta, California to be legally recognized by the Spanish Crown. He married Maria Clara Ortega, the daughter of his employer Ygnacio Ortega, when she was 14; they had 17 children with 9 surviving infancy. He prospered well but was penniless upon his death in 1869. The following year, when the area then called Pleasant Valley became an incorporated town, it was named Gilroy. Their son Catarino married Soledad Ortega, the adopted daughter of Clara’s brother. Soledad was a full blooded Ohlone Indian. The Ohlones were a Native American nation with fifty tribes originating 12,000 years ago near San Francisco Bay and spreading out below Monterey Bay about 5,000 years ago.
Therein lies an additional tale. It was believed that the “Western (California) Indians” had passed into history early in the 2oth century. In 1929, however, the Smithsonian learned of Ascención Solorasano de Cervantes, a full-blooded Ohlone born and raised in Gilroy. Ascención was a renowned herbalist, and the town fathers overlooked her practice of medicine. In the last days of her life, she was anxious to pass on her legacy. The Institution dispatched their leading ethnologist, John Harrington, to her bedside. For three months, he wrote as she chanted, whispered and sang her stories. She gave out on January 29, 1930 and was interred in the Mission San Juan Batista cemetery, a privilege granted to very few.
Our drive to Gilroy and other drives throughout the area gave us an entirely new concept of agriculture. The land there has to be among the richest in the world; it’s planted as far as you can see in every direction with an infinite variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and, of course, wine grapes.
On to Monterey. We explored the town, passing through Cannery Row, the subject of one of my favorite books and movies. Heading on down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we missed the parking entrance and faced a rear entrance as we turned around. The sign on it said, among other things, “Handicapped Parking – ring intercom.” The gate opened, a close private parking space was issued to us by an attendant; then a personal escort took us to the admissions desk where we were treated probably better than a member and offered a reduced admission fee — on top of the senior discount! We ended our day in Monterey with a late lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf.
The exhibits were spectacular. The Aquarium was initially financed by David Packard, founder of HP. It was built on the site of the old Hovden Cannery and dedicated to Edward Ricketts, the marine biologist who inspired Steinbeck to write his novel. Ricketts’ old lab is adjacent, and the exhibits chronicle his work with communities or organisms. A part of Hovden’s Cannery is also on exhibit.
In 1905, Knut Hovden, a Norwegian schooled and experienced in commercial fishing, joined the staff of the first cannery on the Row, Booth Cannery, opened just ten years earlier. The innovations he brought to the industry escalated its growth, and in 1916, he opened his own factory. The last to close, in 1973, it was also the largest. Among his revolutions: a high speed can sealing machine and pipes thas sucked sardines from giant offshore bins. Since the Steinbeck Centennial in 2002, the old steam whistle from Hovden’s factory is sounded daily at noon.
We had one more area to visit in this fertile valley, and we were ready for it.