Steinbeck's Salinas - As in California
It's called the "Salad Bowl of the World", the "Artichoke Capital of the World", and the birthplace of John Steinbeck. The Salinas Valley of Central California is all that and more. The fertile valley bordered by the Santa Lucia and the Gabilan Mountain Ranges help make the climate ideal for the first two claims. And John Steinbeck spent the early days of his life in the city of Salinas.
Besides the proliferation of fields of colorful fruits and vegetables in the valley, and the mountains' as-far-as-the-eye-can-see grape vineyards (and that means many, many wineries), there are plenty of natural resources to enjoy, like whale watching, cruising the coastal waterways in search of other marine life, and hiking in the nearby mountains. Plus, the museums and restaurants round out the attractions to see and the adventures to be had in the Salinas Valley.
The many farmlands in the valley raise a majority of this country's fruits and vegetables. Because of the long growing season and the resourceful use of the land, farmers can plant another crop in a field as soon as the previous one is harvested. With the valley's ideal climate, coupled with innovative irrigation methods, that makes for a plentiful harvest and happy farmers. The restaurants of the valley and all over benefit also.
John Steinbeck wrote a lot about farming, farmers, migrant workers, and the Salinas Valley. Many characters of his books are based on real people he encountered during his life and his travels. One of his most famous works is The Grapes of Wrath, which in 2014 marks seventy-five years since its writing, is based on a family's migration from Oklahoma to California is search of a better life and work. Cannery Row is set in Monterey, just south of Salinas, and concerns the booming sardine canning business, which he participated in during his illustrious career.
His popularity, or notoriety, at the time he was living in Salinas, is varied. Yet, the National Steinbeck Center celebrates the life and times of the writer with interpretive displays arranged by seven different themed showcases among others, East of Eden, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath. Two blocks west of the Center is the Steinbeck House, the boyhood home of the author. It is Victorian in design and was built in Salinas in 1897. The Steinbeck family moved into the house in 1900. John was born in 1902 and spent his early years here. The Steinbeck House is now a restaurant but also holds tours of the home.
Much of Steinbeck's stories took place around Monterey Bay where the canneries were located. The city of Monterey sits on the bay and has become very commercialized. Cannery Row is a tourist destination with restaurants, gift shops, hotels, and the excellent Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium opened in 1984 and is a showcase for the habitats and sea life of one of the world's richest marine regions. There are more than 35,000 sea creatures representing over 500 species. The aquarium sits directly on the bay, an ideal and appropriate location.
Also on Monterey Bay at Moss Landing, there are opportunities to board vessels of varying kinds and get on the water. Visitors can explore the nearby Elkhorn Slough for sea otters, harbor seals, and a multitude of birdlife, both waterfowl and shore birds. A slough is a wetland that is fed by a larger body of water, whether a bay or river. A cruise on the Elkhorn Slough is an excellent way to observe the wildlife. Two cruise companies offering tours on the slough are Whisper Charters and Elkhorn Slough Safari. Other adventurers can board ship with Sanctuary Cruises and get up close and personal with dolphins, humpback and blue whales, and orcas. Their cruises are with marine biologists and typically last 3-4 hours.
Besides cruising for wildlife in the Bay, visitors can travel to the highlands and visit one of the newest national parks, Pinnacles. Named for the landscape formed by an ancient volcano, the park has two entrances: one on the eastern side and the other on the western. The two parts of the park are connected by trails. No road passes completely through the park. The eastern entrance leads to the park campground and visitor center. The western portion has only a ranger station and a parking area for trail users or rock climbers.
Wildlife is abundant in Pinnacles. The park is one of a few places in the country that is a release site for the endangered California condor. Of course, their range is greater than just within the park, but chances are greater to see a condor from the protected boundaries of the national park. There are a couple recommended spots where the chances are better. One is in the High Peaks area, which requires a substantial hike, but definitely worth the attempt. The other suggested spot to see condors is along the ridge just south of the campground.
Needless to say that hiking or rock climbing is the thing to do at Pinnacles. The hikes range from moderate to strenuous and vary in length. Some pass through talus caves, which are formed by falling rocks that get wedged creating passage ways. Bats find them good enough to call them home.
The Salinas Valley would not be complete without a museum illustrating the farming heritage of the area. The Monterey County Agriculture and Rural Life Museum, located in the town of King City south of Salinas, was established in 1980 and tells the agricultural story of the Salinas Valley. There are several preserved structures on the grounds and a reconstruction of a dairy barn that houses many artifacts and equipment of an earlier day. There is also a train depot and the Museum of Irrigation present also. An RV campground with 99 sites at the park can accommodate big rigs.
With all there is to see and experience in the Salinas Valley, it will be easy to appreciate all the superlatives of the region. From the Salad Bowl and Artichoke Capital of the World to the latest national park to the birthplace of John Steinbeck, there is an activity for any visitor.
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