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Of a Garden and Two Missions
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Of a Garden and Two Missions


Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2007 - 2017

We got off only a half hour behind schedule this time, but then it got worse. A serious multi-truck accident and fire in a tunnel the night before had our route closed and it took an hour and a half to get around it. Finally two hours behind schedule, we were ten miles from home and heading north on I-5 which was almost empty because of the closure behind us. We descended into the San Joaquin Valley listening to Sons of the San Joaquin on the CD player. It had rained the night before and we hit fog at the top of the grade, but the skies cleared as we traveled north. We had planned to take Highway 46 west and stop for a winery tour, but to recover lost time, we continued north on I-5 to Highway 152. Highway 152 west took us into Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world, where we followed the directions to Gilroy Gardens just off Highway 152 heading west out of town.
Smoke from the truck fire which was still burning.

The northbound freeway north of the truck fire was almost empty.
Gilroy is famous for the annual Garlic Festival, but the wonderful Gilroy Gardens is a hidden treasure. Bonfante Gardens Family Theme Park opened in June of 2001 as a horticultural theme park. Its mission is to educate people about plants. Over the years, more attractions have been added and the name was changed to Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park earlier this year.
Paddle Boats at Gilroy Gardens.

My primary reason for visiting Gilroy Gardens was to see the famous Circus Trees. These 19 unique trees are what's left of Axel Erlandson's creativity. Axel was a farmer in Hilmar, California in the 1920's when he began experimenting with forcing trees into increasingly complex geometric shapes by grafting multiple trees together. In 1945, Axel transplanted a dozen of his creations to Scott's Valley near Santa Cruze and created the Tree Circus. After Axel died, his orphaned trees also began to die. Fortunately, in 1985, 29 of the trees were rescued and moved to Gilroy where 19 are on public display. Ten are just outside the entrance, we found five more inside, we missed the other four.
Circus Tree at Gilroy Gardens.

The park has many rides, many geared to children. My wife is a big kid and we rode several of the rides. First we walked down "Scarecrow Alley" which is a temporary collection of Halloween decorations by various local schools, churches, and civic youth organizations. We began our rides with the train which runs around most of the park usually from an elevated position. It gave a good overview of what was in the park.

We rode the Balloon Flight which are baskets that swing around - my wife likes rides that swing. She reminded me that she wants to ride a hot air balloon next time we visit Napa Valley. We walked through a straw bale maze which was designed for small children. As an average height adult, I could easily see the way out, the Rock Maze was not so easy and employees patrol in case someone really gets lost. The maze had been decorated for Halloween which made it more fun. We wandered through Camellia & Holly Gardens and then rode the Sky Trail which is a monorail ride allowing a view of some of the gardens from above. There are two roller-coasters, one for small children and Quicksilver Express for bigger kids - like us. We rode Quicksilver twice and moved on to Monarch Gardens which explains the importance of Butterflies. We rode the Mushroom Swing and squeezed into the small antique styled car of South County Backroads, little electric cars that ride a track through another garden. Rainbow Garden Boats is a nice quiet relaxing drift through another garden on floating flowers. Nine of the Circus Trees are scattered around the park and we found five of them.

We had started going around the park in a clockwise direction which put the Paddle Boats at the end. We didn't know that the lines closes an hour before the rest of the park to give the boat wranglers time to get everyone back to the dock. The ride is supposed to be seven minutes, but most everyone has slow watches and take longer, so it takes a while to get everyone back in at the end of the day. We just barely made it on one of the last Paddle Boats dispatched. We had saved the best for last and I really enjoyed paddling our swan around the approximately two acre lake, although I limped the next few days. There were two areas that were roped off because of currents, so of course it was difficult to steer away from the current. The swan drifted to starboard toward the rope and I had the tiller hard to port. Both times we eventually pulled away like a star ship trapped in a gravitational well and continued around the lake. There are three types of paddle boats, most are swans, there are one or two mallard ducks, the rest are yellow ducks like the ones my wife plays with in the tub. I had chosen a swan and eventually we navigated our swan back to port. Even though we were one of the last boats out, and had been longer than seven minutes, most of the boats were still out when we tied up. The staff were trying to tie up the boats for the night and one poor girl fell into the lake. While one staff pulled her out, another jumped on the back of the boat just as it was about to drift back out into the lake. We enjoyed this accidental stunt show as we maneuvered into port. The last ride we had hoped to do, The Garlic Twirl, had just closed so we headed out, stopping first for some post cards for my wife and another hat for me. We enjoyed our afternoon in this wonderful hidden jewel and hope to return some day. I have but one word of constructive criticism for the Gardens from someone who has been involved with theme park design, they could improve efficiency of loading and unloading on some of the rides.

The park was closing for the day and we headed north to Morgan Hill where my in-laws had once lived and took us to a wonderful little deli who's name I couldn't remember. I'm not sure why, but we couldn't find it so we continued north to San Jose on Monterey Road. The next SNAFU was when we couldn't find a way to connect to Highway 101 and overshot our motel. It took us an hour and a half to find our motel 30 minutes from Gilroy. We finally check in and went to dinner at Maccaroni Grill. We were tired from this rough day and fell to sleep quickly.

Sunday began with a continental breakfast and then we checked-out and drove to Mission Santa Clara, founded in 1777, the eighth mission founded in California. We had visited before in the afternoon, but the church faces east and I never got a good photo, so we came in the morning when in was lit better. We attended Mass, wandered around a little, and then visited de Saisset
Mission Santa Clara de Asis.
Museum which has both contemporary art and Mission artifacts which I had missed on earlier visits. Santa Clara University grew out of the mission and the mission and art gallery are both on campus.

We were running late but my wife relented to let me drive north a few more miles to take a photograph of the airship hangars at Moffett Field. Hangar 1, the big white one by itself, is 211 feet high. Moffett Field Naval Air Station was commissioned on May 18, 1933 and sits on the border between Mountain View and Sunnyvale. The future of the hangars is in question because of
Hangar at Moffett Field.
base closings. I couldn't find a good access point, so I shot through the fence and turned back. Driving back south on Highway 101, we passed office buildings baring the names of many of the big computer, software, and internet companies with which most of us are familiar. We were, after all, in Silicone Valley.

We continued south to the Cochrane exit in Morgan Hill and found Erik's DeliCafe in the light of day which we had missed in the dark last night. We always try to stop at the Erik's in Morgan Hill for sentimental reasons, but we also like the sandwiches. Erik's Deli is on the southwest corner of Monterey and Edmundson. Edmundson changes it's Erik's Deli
Erik's DeliCafe.
name to Tennant as it crosses Monterey and we followed Tennant back to Highway 101 and continued south to San Juan Bautista.

There are three main points of interest in San Juan Bautista, the Mission founded in 1797, the State Historic Park, and the town itself. This mission holds the distinction of being closest to the dreaded San Andreas Fault - as least something isn't my fault. The church is built on the edge of a stead slope, this slope is the earthquake fault. The
Mission San Juan Bautista.
fields below are on the North American Plate, the Mission and town are on the pacific Plate moving north and average of an inch or two a year. Because of the fault, the Mission church is one of the strongest in the mission chain.

Across the green from the Mission is San Juan Bautista State Historic Park which has four main buildings and several smaller buildings. The Plaza Hotel at the right end was built as a soldiers barracks about 1813-1814 and remodeled into the hotel in 1858. At the far left end is Vicky Cottage and to its right, Plaza Hall or Zanetta House which was built in the 1830 as a
Zanetta House, also called Plaza Hall at left, Stable at right.
dormitory for unwed mission Indians and later had other uses. Behind is the Wash House. Next right of Plaza Hall is the livery stable which is full of wagons and behind it is a blacksmith shop full of tools and more wagons. To the left of the Hotel is Castro-Breen Adobe which was build between 1838 and 1841 as a government building. Other buildings include a jail and a cabin. Most of the buildings have exhibits inside showing what life was like during the Mission, Mexican, and early American periods. We spent about two hours wandering between the mission and the buildings of the historic park before heading home, vowing to return to see the town another day.

Because I-5 was still closed after the big crash Friday night, we took the long way home continuing south on Highway 101 through San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and a dozen other towns and cities arriving home about 9:30, about three hours later than we would have liked. It was a trip filled with problems, but we enjoyed Gilroy Gardens and Gonzales
Gonzales water tower.
San Juan Bautista. My wife had picked up an activities publication and we started planning the next five trips. Maybe we'll see you at the Pumpkin Festival next year in Half Moon Bay.

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This page last updated: Friday, 28-Apr-2017 12:54:15 EDT

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