It was New Year’s Eve in 2012 and we were nearing Genoa, Nevada.  I had chosen to visit my California family for the latter part of the holiday season and today my son Kim,  his wife, Wendy and I were about to honour a promise that we had made in August of that same year.  We were strangely quiet now, each one of us comfortable with our memories of a special time and the circumstances that were bringing us back to Genoa.   

Photos in this post used with permission of Wendy Baker Photography

It had been a wonderful summer holiday.  Kim and Wendy had generously offered to have their mothers join them and their family to experience the wonders of Utah’s National Parks.  Sadly, Wendy’s lovely mom, Janon passed away in her sleep just weeks before we were to leave.  We all missed her dearly but memories of her infectious personality and fun loving nature were with us each day.  Perhaps she smiled down on us as we packed the camping equipment into the car leaving little room for the three of us.  Our trip home to Sacramento was interrupted only with dinner at a casino along the way and then some miles down the road it happened!  Kim received a telephone call from my cell phone.  This was impossible!  Frantically I searched for my purse but it was missing together with my passport, my identification, contact information and everything needed to return to Canada.  A young gentleman named Willy Webb had found my purse!   Willy was the proprietor of the Genoa Bar, the oldest saloon in Nevada.   While driving on the freeway he saw a ladies purse and stopped to retrieve it.  Although the purse had been run over several times my cell phone was intact and with it the contact info he needed to reach us.  It is difficult to explain my relief and gratitude and without a word Kim changed the plan and began the drive back to Nevada to search for the Genoa Bar and Saloon.

Nevada oldest saloon Genoa Bar

Genoa Bar

It had been an emotional meeting!  The tears came as Willy  gave me a gentle ’bear hug’ and handed me my purse with all the contents. Not one thing was missing.  Willy will always be my hero and an example of honesty and integrity.  His only request was that we return to visit his Saloon on New Year’s Eve and we were about to do just that.  There were no twinkling outdoor lights to welcome us this visit!  It had become a custom to entertain without electricity on this special night and this quaint establishment with the walls covered in artifacts and memorabilia and the flickering candle lights certainly represented an era of long ago.  It was a wonderful reunion with great memories of another time.   

Shirley Willy New Years Eve Genoa Bar

Shirley and Willy at the Genoa Bar

The festive atmosphere at a nearby inn provided a warm welcome for an overnight stay.  We woke to a warm and sunny New Year’s Day, perfect for a road trip.  We left Genoa early in the day driving south and west taking us toward San Simeon and the west coast of California.  The drive took us through much open range ranch land and on occasion we would see a zebra or two grazing lazily on the lush grassland.  Suddenly high on a hilltop, much higher than any terrain in the area stood a totally unique attraction!

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is a National and Historical Landmark located on the central coast of California.  This amazing structure was a joint concept and project of William Randolph Hearst and his architect Julia Morgan and was built during the years 1919 to 1947.   This mansion with the many rooms, history, architecture, collections, grounds, pools and gardens is a photographers dream and provides wonderful material for another story.  Our very own photographer Wendy has captured much of the beauty and charm.  It has been interesting to learn that Hearst Castle was named one of the top 100 destinations in the world by Time magazine for 2019.  This certainly is a must see if you have the opportunity!

Hearst Castle Pool

Hearst Castle Pool

I admit I was intrigued by a baby zebra we had seen nearby and those roaming in the hills!.   William Hearst did indeed own a very large zoo at one time.  The zoo included polar bears, lions, antelope and an elephant, along with the zebras, goats and birds.  However in 1937 because of financial trouble the zoo was disbanded.  Some of the animals were sold; some of them donated to a public zoo and others simply left to roam the grounds, the zebra among them.

Zebras Hearst Castle

Zebras grazing near Hearst Castle

Driving north now and perhaps five miles from Hearst Castle we discovered the Piedras Blancas Rookery, the only elephant seal rookery in the world that is easily accessible, free and open to the public all year long.  Each year the elephant seals gather on California’s central coast to give birth and to mate. At peak times of the year you may see perhaps thousands of seals.  We were fortunate.  January is one of the peak times and it was amazing to see miles of what appeared to be grey rocks of various sizes but in fact they were female seals with their young.  They were gathered in what appeared to be harems. Always there was a male elephant in each area.   It was not unusual to see and hear these huge, rather ugly male elephant seals rise up to fight another male to maintain his supremacy. Always another amazing experience for this prairie girl!

Piedras Blancas Rookery Elephant Seals

Elephant seals at Piedras Blancas Rookery

It has been the perfect California road trip!  Thank you Kim and Wendy!

Shirley travel writer Travel Tales of Life

Shirley has been sharing her enthusiastic story telling ability all of her life. Proud to call Saskatchewan, Canada home for more than 80 years, her love of new experiences, challenges and adventures reaches far beyond her prairie roots. Once retired from farming and working as an administrative assistant, Shirley studied and received her high school diploma at the age of 70. At 77 she published her first book and now in her 80’s has agreed to be a regular contributor at Travel Tales of Life.

You can find Shirley’s previous post here. Or if you would like to start at the beginning her first post is here.