Ventura HighwayTypically, when I plan a roadtrip such as this one, I research extensively, make the reservations I have to make to secure hard to book events or hotels, then work out some Plan Bs and Plan Cs. And I like to leave some of the trip open-ended to allow for Serendipity. The Serendipity portion of this trip was how far south I was planning to go. I could stop at Santa Barbara, or I could carry on to either or both Mission San Bonaventura and Mission San Fernando Rey de España. After all, with my historic aversion to LA, I’m not likely to be down again this close to it any time soon. Might as well go for broke here.

Then a minor emergency struck. My trusty mount, Flame, started showing the strain of the journey huffing and puffing up the pass to Los Olivos. Next, the “oil change needed” warning started flashing. By the time I made my way back to Santa Barbara from The Hitching Post last night, it was pretty clear Flame needed some attention.

That's how we found ourselves having breakfast at Jiffy Lube.

That hitch should have sealed the decision to head back up North. But a funny thing happened as I sat drinking bad Jiffy Lube coffee and trying to find a Padre Angle on this glitch in the trip. Actually, the padre thing was pretty easy as just the day before at Mission Santa Barbara, I’d learned that the Chumash were making a form of asphalt long before the Spanish showed up. They collected oil from seeps on the beach and mixed it with sand and clay. So an oil change kind of fit right into the historical program. It was a short step from this realization to suddenly finding myself breezing down 101 toward Mission San Bonaventura. By the way, did you know that this stretch of 101 is known as the Ventura Highway. Like the old America song. (Which I never understood, by the way. Should I be seeing “alligator lizards in the air”?)

Another strange thing happened as I drove down the Ventura Highway. So far, all the way down, things have looked pretty much the same. Except maybe a little bit warmer. I actually walked around Santa Barbara at night in short sleeves. But when you compare the terrain to Sonoma, it’s pretty much the same: lots of farms, vineyards, golden hills. As I crossed the Ventura County line, all that changed, seemingly, in a one mile stretch. BAM! I was in Southern California. For good: surf racks on cars, strangely striated rocky canyons and beaches. But a little further on, the bad: freeways, smog and miles and miles of strip malls.

First stop: Mission San Bonaventura. The town of Ventura, at least the part I saw, turned out to be a sort of down-on-its-heels beach town. The mission was quite small and shabby with a musty smell of age to it. Yet, surprisingly, it seemed to be the most used of the missions I’ve seen so far. During my visit, there was a constant stream of people walking in and praying and the parish priest was bustling around talking to parishioners. It was an amazing amount of non-tourist traffic outside of Mass hours.

gardens at Mission San Bonaventura

The explorer George Vancouver described the gardens at San Bonaventura as the most beautiful he'd seen. What's left is lovely, but very small.

Saint Isadore, patron saint of farmers

I was thrilled to see this small polychrome of St. Isadore, the patron saint of farmers.

Then in a bold move, I decided to blast on to Mission San Fernando Rey de España, in spite of my aversion to LA. But first, I indulged in a quick drive-by to the Reagan Presidential Library. I’m almost as big a fan of Presidential Libraries as I am of missions, although I’d been warned that, in preparation for the Reagan Centennial next year, over half the exhibits are closed. Not a problem, I just wanted to do a quick tour of the grounds and maybe find something fun at the gift shop.

view from reagan library, simi valley

The view alone is worth the drive up. And strolling the grounds is free.

The drive up to the library, which is on easily the highest point in Simi Valley, is particularly well done.

banners on presidential drive, reagan library

Banners line the long drive giving brief details on all the country's presidents. It puts Reagan in historical context before you've even arrived at the library.

I knew a lot of Reagan’s wealthy friends had contributed to the library and Nancy — whose taste I’m not ashamed to say I admire — had a strong hand in its development. But I was not as impressed with the architecture as I expected to be. It certainly wasn’t as well done as the Nixon Library. [A pause here: but, as a card carrying Liberal, will that card be taken away now that I’ve revealed that I can discuss the comparative architectural merits of the Reagan Library versus the Nixon Library?] And speaking of being out of place, I hopped out of my Prius in a batik skirt, Indian cotton blouse and turquoise Native American jewelry. Because when a San Franciscan goes to the Reagan Library, it’s best to keep your freak flag flying. All I needed was a sign on my back that said “Kick me, I’m a Liberal.” I definitely got the hairy eyeball from the guards, as it was clear I wasn’t their usual demographic. Still, I boldly made my way to the gift shop which was filled with great Reagan memorabilia including Reagan Stetsons and pictures of the President on horseback. But I realized if I were to buy a photo of Reagan in cowboy gear, I wanted it to be from his Death Valley Days Sponsored by 20 Mule Team Borax era.

reagan statue

Still this was almost irresistable. Only the $300 price tag stopped me.

But missions were calling, so I zoomed down to San Fernando Rey de España, which was surprisingly grand and extensive.

Mission SAn Fernando

The church and the attached workrooms are just one set of many buildings and gardens.

priests library at mission san fernando

The extensive rooms are richly appointed and the convent is unique, with two stories -- a big contrast to the more aesetic missions up north.

This mission was severely damaged in the Northridge earthquake and hasn’t always been restored sensitively. In one horrible example of what money can buy, the original cemetery, where thousands of Native neophtyes were buried in unmarked graves, is now home to this:

Bob Hope Memorial Garden at San Fernando Mission

Who even knew Bob Hope was a Catholic?

bob hope grave

Yup, he's bought himself a bandshell he and his wife are buried under. And he's got half a dozen empty plots for the rest of his family.

With a bad taste in my mouth, I went speeding back up the Ventura Highway to farm country.

farming in ventura

Although it wasn't the same farm country I've seen from Sonoma to Santa Barbara. We're talking oranges, lemons and other crops that were sheltered under these plastic hoops.

I was racing the setting sun and my own exhaustion to get as far north as I could before light and energy gave out.

I never did see those alligator lizards in the air.

Ventura Highway, in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger than moonshine
You’re gonna go I know

Cause the free wind is blowin’ through your hair
and the day surround your daylight there
Seasons cryin’ no despair
Alligator lizards in the air

Today’s pictures here.

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