Picks and Pans – From Pinnacles National Monument to Fresno, CA

High Peaks and Balconies Cave Loop in Pinnacles National Monument

Pinnacles has been on the road trip itinerary ever since Sean’s mom showed us a picture of Sean, at the ripe old age of 18 months, peering into the mouth of one of the caves in the park. We returned to those caves, and  this time Sean actually remembers it. We ended up going on an 8 mile hike through the incredible granite formations for which the park is named and then down into the valley below to explore the caves formed when some of the granite collapsed over an ancient stream bed. The only disappointment was that we didn’t see any of the California Condors that make their nests high up in the craggy pinnacles.

Taqueria Don Pepe in Firebaugh, CA

If you’re jonesing for some chain restaurant grub, then the Fresno area will not disappoint you. There are chain restaurants aplenty. If, however, you’d like something a bit less predictably average, head over to Don Pepe’s, a locally run taqueria that serves up quality Mexicali food. And be sure to do yourself the favor of ordering a bottle of beer, as it comes garnished with lime, hot sauce, salt and a shrimp all more or less stuffed in the mouth of the bottle.

Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno, CA

Fresno is not a place where you would expect to find something like the Forestiere Underground Gardens. It is a city that appeals to people wanting convenience: a convenient freeway on which to drive, a convenient mall at which to spend time and money, and conveniently identical homes, so that everyone knows in which box they belong. The Forestiere Gardens, on the other hand, are a result of a passionate desire to create in spite of great inconvenience. Salvatore Forestiere immigrated from Sicily to Boston in the early 1900s. In Boston, he got a job digging subway tunnels and saved up as much money as he could so that he could make his way to California and fulfill his dream of becoming a citrus farmer. Salvatore did eventually make it to California, but high property values in Orange County (apparently it’s been pricey down there for quite some time now), forced him to buy land in the Fresno area instead. But, as it turns out, large areas around Fresno has a cemented sediment for soil called “hard pan” that makes farming a challenge and, to be quite honest, the place is just too fracking hot to live. Salvatore, however, was not the giving up type. He remembered that in the subway tunnels of Boston, it was cool even in the middle of summer, so why not build himself a home underground, away from the unforgiving heat of the Fresno sun. Over the course of several decades, Salvatore built a home for himself and a garden to raise grapevines and citrus trees (including a tree that grows 3 types of oranges and another that grows 7 different varieties of citrus)  — all underground and ingeniously well lit by sky lights and well drained by a series of sand sumps. In fact, it turned out so well that Salvatore expanded on his initial idea and started work on an underground resort. At the time of his death, the resort was not yet completed, but already consisted of 50 guest rooms, a ball room with a stage for live music and several gardens. He excavated it all by hand and all by himself and we got to see it.
Sean says: Gardens were cool. See them if you find yourself in Fresno by some misstep, but don’t bother to make a special trip.

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