Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cruising the Time Machine - Part One: Fort Ross

Cruising the Time Machine – Part One: Fort Ross

Our keyboards don't have those letters - is it really Russian?
 Overlooking the cold dark blue waters of the Pacific Ocean from a grassy cliff, stands the refurbished but authentically accurate Fort Ross where the Russians first invaded the United States. Actually, there was no invasion since in the early 1800’s the United States was not the country it is now with expansion not even past the Mississippi River. California was not much of a thought and the gold rush which would change that concept forever was still at least 37 years away.

View of the Pacific Ocean from Fort Ross

Fort Ross is an easy drive along the narrow and dangerously breathtaking Highway 1, approximately 8o miles north of San Francisco. The passengers will have a great time staring down at some of the most majestic and beautiful coastline in the world while the driver will get blurry eyed gauging the roadway and wondering if the whiteness in his or her knuckles will ever go away.

Nice setting for a Russian Fort on American soil

The Russian-American Company (RAC) whose main function it was to collect seal and otter furs, built the fort in 1812 and carried on business there until 1841 when the decline for such furry clothing made it non-profitable. Bad for the RAC but good for the little creatures of the Northern California coastline. A secondary priority was growing food for the employees of RAC who were stationed in Alaska – this too turned out not to be good as the growing season was rather short and the amount of gophers in the farmland proved too much bother to deal with.

Looking north from Fort Ross - nice view
J and L took a short four day cruise up the northern coast of California in their RV though it should be noted here that it is not recommended to drive such large vehicles on the winding stretches of asphalt. But since the drive and scenery is a must, just tow a smaller vehicle if a RV is the mode of travel. Our rendition of the ‘Herbie the love bug’ is our go-to transportation for daily excursions away from the RV. Light-weight, funky looking, and fun to drive.

John pointing - always looks good in photos
Now that's a Russian design

The rather large wooden fort was built on an ancient Kashaya Village site and is considered one of the truly first International communities in North America (some of the Russians married the local natives which were then referred to as Creoles). Located on the Spanish Frontier and occupied by Russians, Native Alaskans, Kashaya, Miwok and Pomo Indians living together as one large ‘family.’ Almost equal number of males and females made up the population which was documented by Father Ioann Veniaminov who conducted a census of the community in 1836: 260 residents made up of 154 male to 106 female (120 Russians, 50 Kodiak Aleuts and 39 various other local natives as mentioned above). Besides the regular inhabitants, the fort was also the destination for dignitaries and businessmen from around the world – United States, Europe and Mexico.  At this time the Russian Empire and the Chinese Empire did not get along too well so the Americans were used as go-betweens to sell the fur to China which was the highest market for the little furry creatures. Because of the location of Fort Ross deals were made with the Hawaiian King Kamehameha during that time period making this a true community of diverse cultures.  In fact, the people got along so well that the Pomo baskets which are some of the sturdiest and decorative native handicrafts from the area were so admired by the Russians that the largest collection in the world is in Russia today.

Replica of California's first windmill - Russian made

Wow, if only that were the case today – maybe not the baskets but the getting along part.

Then again, the baskets are pretty nice.

The fort is also known the place to be where the first windmill to grind grain was built in California – this is a locale where firsts just keep coming.

Explorers on the explore

After the fort was abandoned and everything sold off by the RAC, the area became farm land, grazing land and even a stage stop for those folks traveling the coast of California.

In 1906 the grounds were designated a state park and is one of the oldest in the entire state of California. As any park – this one is visited by thousands of people from around the world who want to take a step back in time with a keen eye to research and exploration – that is something J and L want all travelers to do.

Sort of like a time machine just without all the handles, gizmos and electricity buzzing around. Highway 1 is enough of a thrill.

Laureen walking the beach with a jacket in July
On a side note J and L bumped into a young man by the name of Brian who is doing something pretty awesome this summer of 2015. Astride his Harley Davidson, Brian plans on hitting 48 states within a couple to three months. We chatted him up a few minutes and he even showed us his route already planned out with pit stops here and pit stops there. He plans to take paths not always taken by travelers and we nodded in agreement as in all of our travels the famous poem by Robert Frost which talks about road less-traveled should, in truth, be the one taken to influence our destinations.

Brian - on his quest of 48 states in 2 months

We wish our new friend the best in his road circuit.

Brian's trusty steed

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