Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Wright’s Beach, Sonoma Coast   2 comments

This past weekend, Justin and I visited one of our favorite beaches: Wright’s Beach.  For those not totally familiar with the Sonoma Coast, this beach (which in many map searches only comes up as part of the Sonoma Coast SP), is located about midway between Bodega Bay and Jenner.  It is just slightly north of the tiny town of Carmet.

It is, in many ways, a jewel.  That’s saying a bit, given the beauty of the Sonoma Coast, in general.  it has a few things in its favor: camping, rock-hounding, and it is dog-friendly.  A few years ago (2008, when California was on fire), my vacation plans to visit Big Sur went… well, up in smoke.  As I searched for new places, which, time after time, also caught fire, I was left with the Sonoma Coast being one of the few places that were still accessible.   I inquired at several Yahoo! Groups what the rock-hounding possibilities, I was guided toward Wright’s Beach.  Back then, we did not camp there, as there were no sites available, but we did do a couple of day-trips and fell in love with the jewel sands, the lack of crowds, and the aforementioned dog-friendliness.

Three years later, my son and I finally managed a weekend trip.  As I said, it’s not easy to get a place there, as it seems to have a cult following.  I was lucky enough to get in, but we had two different sites for two nights.  Yes, it is that popular, especially among those in the know that October is the “real summer” on the California Coast — much better chances of avoiding wind-and-fog chill.

The split reservation gave me a chance to evaluate the two loops.  Tthere are only 25 campsites.  Numbers 1-18 are the lower loop, the rest on the upper.   All the sites are most suited for RVers (most have paved pads), but tents work as well (Justin and I are tent-campers).  The bathrooms are clean, the hosts are friendly enough, but warning: there are no showers (though you can use the showers at the Bodega Dunes campground, 4.5 miles south).  This was okay for Justin and me for a weekend, but my ex-wife would not have enjoyed this.

Both loops are close enough to the ocean to hear booming surf, and remote enough to see wildlife (we saw a raccoon, a deer and a variety of birds; we heard a barn owl circling and screeching both nights).  The upper loop seems somewhat quiter, where the lower loop is the “party loop.”  That said, the partiers were pretty respectful, and wound things down by about 10:30 Saturday night.

Now for the beach…

The sand varies from coarse sand to small gravel, and is composed mainly of polished pebbles of jasper and chert.  Agates and jade can also be found.  It is a rock-hound’s and a psammophile’s dream.  We saw both hobbyists.  When you see an adult on his or her belly in a gravel bar, face pressed close, and gently moving individual pebbles about with a finger, you know what you’ve found (in most cases, anyway).  We ran into one nice lady from near our neck of the woods who is a member of the Roseville Rock Rollers and we sat and had a wonderful rock conversation.

For ourselves, we found several fine examples of colorful jasper and a few agates.  This time I did not find any jade.  That is okay.  I have learned that rock-hounding is not the same as rock-finding, and a bad day of rock-finding can be a fine day of rock-hounding (especially when it is done at the beach).  I also found a nice assortment of crab carapaces.  Evidently the little critters are molting, which means the gulls are enjoying soft-shell crab.

Dogs are very welcome here, and we saw plenty, mostly friendly.  If your pooch loves to dig or run, (s)he will love it.

Of course, this being a State Beach, the scenery is also an attraction.  Like most of the NorCal coastline, it is rugged and rough (more on that later).  Sea-stacks stud the water offshore, here and also at several adjacent beaches.  In the event that it is clear, like it was for us, they can provide a stunning back-drop for beautiful sunsets.  They also provide roosts for an assortment of gull, cormorants, pelicans and other sea-birds.

Some of the nearer sea-stacks sport an interesting and relatively rare for of kelp: the sea-palm Sea palms (Postelsia palmaeformis). This kelp actually spends most of its life above the surf-line, and takes a serious beating from the surf, and yet manages to stay upright.  That is a testament to the toughness of agar.  They are edible, but are protected completely in BC, Washington and Oregon.  In California only commercial harvesting is allowed — recreational harvesting is prohibited (who says we are business unfriendly?).  Native Americans are allowed to take them now, I believe, but it was a ridiculous legal battle for that to become a reality.

Now, as you can plainly see, the waves here are a bit rough.  An acquaintance calls this beach “Death Beach.”  I don’t know if this is because the cliff at the southern end is called Death Rock, or because of the drownings.  Or perhaps, the two are related.  In any case, a tremendous number of people have drowned here.  I’ve heard anything from 57 to 126.  I haven’t been able to substantiate the number (due to State Budget cutbacks, this beach shares rangers with the larger Bodega Dunes, and I saw one on one occasion, and did not think to ask).  One camper mentioned that 6 people drowned last year.  Again, this is unconfirmed, but the beach is clearly dangerous if not treated with respect and caution.  The beach face is steep, the undertow is vicious and the waves have a short, hard break.  Many are sneaker waves.  Assuming that the high number is the correct one, Justin and I very nearly saw victims 127-129.  Several out-of-shape teenage girls were body surfing and two were suddenly pulled back and tumbled.  Even had they been strong swimmers, they would not have been fight it, but at least they would not have panicked.  The third one to nearly die was the one who went after them.  They were all supremely lucky that they were tumbled back onto the beach.

This provided me two teachable moments for Justin.  First, the “No Swimming…” signs are there for a reason.  Second, don’t become a dead hero.  Lifesaving is treacherous business in calm water, even if you are trained (people panic and pull you under).  With currents you can’t fight, you sometimes (unfortunately) need to let people suffer the consequences of their actions.  I sincerely hope I am never put into that position when the outcome is fatal, particularly with someone I care about, but I have learned the hard way that some people cannot be saved from their own stupidity.

So…, if you are prepared to respect and appreciate the higher power of nature, this is a wonderful beach, and has lots to offer the outdoor enthusiast, the beach aficionado, the rock-hound, the hound-dog.  If your aim is to swim, body surf or play wave-tag, there are better beaches, but to me this is a quintessential NorCal beach. And it is not on the list of State Parks to be closed (which I shan’t rant about today).

For a complete picture set, see:

 A sampling of jasper and agate



(Portuguese Beach, just a mile or so to the south)


Cake: Sarcasm, heart-break, a trumpet & a fruit tree   3 comments

Tonight I saw Cake play live at Freeborn Hall on the U.C. Davis campus.   I haven’t seen any acts there in quite some time, but used to do so regularly.  The fact that I saw both the Dead Kennedys and Andreas Vollenweider there my freshman year (on very separate occasions) should give you some idea of my eclectic music tastes, which is a good thing with Cake, as they certainly explore a wide musical landscape.

I’ve liked Cake for years, reveling in lyrics that run the gamut of goofy, iconoclastic, deeply bitter and sometimes tender.  The fact that they are from this area (Sacramento) is also a plus.  Not too many bands from the Sac-town greater metropolitan area make it.  Jackie Green is another notable exception.  I also like Cake’s stance on many issues, such as recently aligning themselves with a grassroots movement to restore the Delta (this is not just about fish vs. farmers, but also local family farmers vs. mega-agribusiness farms, but I digress).

Now first, a confession.  I have not yet bought Cake’s most recent CD, the self-released Showroom of Compassion.  As such, I must surrender my card to IUSLG (the International Union of Set List Geeks), and present a review that is not a play-by-play.  Did I just hear sighs of relief?

Tonight’s show showcased the band’s sense of humor (which is probably not a news-flash to anyone who has seen them live) even before they hit the stage.  Five minutes of canned music teased us with crescendos and regal-sounding bugles before the band finally ambled onto stage.  The music throughout was a mix of influences including rock-n-roll, country, hip-hop, funk and others.  John McCrea’s patented deadpan wittiness,  sarcasm and stingingly bitter heartbreak lyrics all sung to difficult rhythms make him a most unusual frontman.  He seems to dearly love his vibraslap.  Guitarist Xan McCurdy looks too young to have been with the band for nearly 13 years, but definite shows his chops as one of the more underrated guitarists in rock-n-roll.  Trumpeter/keyboardist Vince DiFiore is also largely responsible for Cake’s unique sound.  Elements as disparate as these, and the difficult, oddly syncopated, sometimes halting, song structures that the band loves to play require a strong rhythm section, and the have it in Paulo Baldi (drums) and Gabe Nelson (bass).

Now, while Cake is tight, they are not a slick, ultra-polished band, which is precisely why I like them live.  They are not afraid to make a mistake; McCrea’s voice is not perfect, and they have fun with it.  He cracked that he was embracing his fear by taking five minutes to tune his guitar.  Responding easily to a heckler, he refused to embrace that person’s fears.  A good lesson.

The music tonight covered new (songs like “Mustache Man,” and  “Long Time”) and classics (such as “Opera Singer,” “Wheels” and “”Rock-n-Roll Lifestyle”, and all the themes.  Goofiness, laced with love-angst abounds in songs such “Love You Madly” (“I don’t want to sit across the table from you, wishing I could run” — been there), juxtaposed immediately with the bitter heartbreak of “Sick Of You,” which morphed again into silliness with a sing-along that divided the room into the escapist side (“those who, when things get tough, turn to things like vampires, marijuana or video games…”) and the angry side.  Politics, of course, got their due with “Federal Funding.”  I suppose they were feeling nice, though, since “Nugget” was not played.

One highlight of the show is the classic moment in a Cake show — the fruit tree give-away.  In a school-like moment, people were asked to politely raise their hands to guess what kind of tree it might be.  Given McCrea’s sense humor, my instinct would have served me well, had I been called on. Yup, a blood orange tree.  It turned out to be a tie between two bearded men, to be settled by arm-wrestling, no… wait… a dance-off.  Does he plan these things, or do they come off the top of his head?  Actually winning the tree turned out to be a bit of an obligation, as the lucky individual is now required to post annual pictures of himself with the tree to prove he hasn’t killed it.

After the tree, a few more songs closed out the second set.

The encores treated us to a blistering cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” — a better version than Sabbath’s, IMO (but then Ozzy was never backed by a trumpet and a vibraslap). The night finished with the also high-energy “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” to satisfy the craving for more of the classics, and a great way to end a night of fresh, real music.

The appreciative crowd did not let them go easily, and Cake seemed genuinely glad that we came, unlike the impersonal feeling one gets at hyped, glitzy arena shows.

Thanks for a wonderful night of music, a ten-minute bike-ride from home.  The fact that the venue was smoke- and alcohol-free made the show even more enjoyable.



Posted October 6, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Davis, Live Music, Review

An Excellent Jade Book   Leave a comment

Author’s note: in the post below, the term “jade” will be used in common manner — referring to nephrite and jadeite, both.

Recently, I had the pleasure of purchasing the excellent book California Jade: The Geologic Story of Nature’s Masterpiece, written and self-published by Don Dupras (retired mining geologist from the California Division of Mines and Geology).  This information-dense,  slender (44-page), soft-bound tome is chock-full of stunning photography of jade and related minerals.  It tells the story of how both nephrite and jadeite (along with serpentine and other related minerals and rocks) are formed, where they occur and why.

The story is told in such a way the very complex geological processes are explained in terms that are imminently understandable.  In my experience, most geology texts are written in such heavy jargon that they are difficult to understand, even for someone trained in science (though, admittedly, not in geology).  Whenever possible, Don avoids these brain-twisting terms very effectively, managing to explain the complex genesis of jade in mainly lay terms.  While jargon cannot be omitted entirely, the author includes an excellent glossary in the back.  After reading this book, I finally understand what the oft-quoted tremolite-actinolite series really is (hint: variable mineral content).  The websites which freely bandy these terms about rarely explain them well.  In fact, after reading this book, I now realize that the labels are often used incorrectly.

The photography alone is worth the price of the book. Don’t let the pamphlet format fool you.  It is coffee-table quality.  Stunning pictures of boulders, slabs and suiseki pieces from all over the state, which could convert anyone into a jade-nut, are among pieces shown (I am even more ready than before to trudge through the upper Eel and Trinity River to find suiseki boulders).  Explanations aplenty are offered as to how location might influence the appearance of specimens and why jade occurs throughout vast swathes of California Coastal Ranges (hint: plate tectonics).  And there is a final treat: the Ultramafic Rock Map of California, which shows 14 general locations of mostly metamorphically altered ultramafic rocks and mineral that are related to, or associated with jade.

I met Don while working the Sacramento Mineral Society’s information booth at the Gem Faire’s Sacramento show.   He generously donated a copy to our club (and it turns out one of our club members is pictured inside with a boulder of Clear Creek jadeite).

The book sells for $25, which includes the cost of shipping.  If you are a jade-bug, a rock-hound who casually appreciates jade, or an irrepressible learner, it is well worth the price.  If you are interested in purchasing a copy, please e-mail Don Dupras at, and he will mail it to you.  This is an admittedly low-tech arrangement — no website, no Google-bombs, just word of mouth, which is one reason I am volunteering to promote his book.  The other is the generous donation to our club.

Happy Hunting, indeed,


Posted September 10, 2011 by dragonbreathpress in Book, Jade, Review

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