California History Resources for Road Trips

Here are some excellent resources I’ve discovered in preparation for my 2023 road trip to an Aikido retreat at Lake Tahoe. Each delves into California history and culture from a different perspective. Whether you are following my adventures or planning a California road trip of your own I think you will enjoy these excellent books, tours, videos, maps, and more.

Any links that go to other sites will open in new tabs so you don’t lose you place here. These are not paid promotions, they are my personal recommendations.

Books and Audiobooks on California History

California Geography
Up and Down California in 1860-1864: The Journal of William H. Brewer
Read his letters (the complete book) online or download the whole book as a PDF.
The audiobook of Up and Down California is excellent. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

“… [Brewer] traveled more than 14,000 miles in the four years he spent in California and spent much of his leisure time writing lively, detailed letters to his brother back East.
These warmly affectionate letters, presented here in their entirety, describe the new state in all its spectacular beauty and paint a vivid picture of California in the mid-19th century.”

Up and Down California — Reliving the Whitney Survey…150 years later
This unique website deserves a mention. It presents Brewer’s letters as a blog. Starting in November 2010, “William H. Brewer” posted each of his letters home, following the timeline of his original trip. It’s an amazing work. I’m not sure it was completed, but it’s worth bookmarking for all the links to related information. Be sure to check out their Google Map of the locations mentioned in Brewer’s letters.

California Geology
Assembling California
by John McPhee

John McPhee is one of my favorite writers. In Assembling California he takes the reader on a tour of California’s extraordinary geology in a vivid, personal way that enables you to visualize the forces at work, and the resulting wonders we often drive by without giving them a second glance.

“… a cross-section in human and geologic time, from Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada through the golden foothills of the Mother Lode and across the Great Central Valley to the wine country of the Coast Ranges, the rock of San Francisco, and the San Andreas family of faults.”

California Water Management
The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California
by Mark Arax

“Mark Arax is from a family of Central Valley farmers, a writer with deep ties to the land who has watched the battles over water intensify even as California lurches from drought to flood and back again. In The Dreamt Land, he travels the state to explore the one-of-a-kind distribution system, built in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, that is straining to keep up with California’s relentless growth.”

California Agriculture, Lumber Industry, Landscape and Culture
Trees in Paradise – A California History
by: Jared Farmer

A history of trees that make California what it is: Sequoias, citrus, eucalyptus, and palms. This seemed like an unusual topic. Trees? I listened to it half out of curiosity. What could this be? Turns out is an exceptional look at California history and culture.

If you live in California it will give you a new understanding of the landscape — all those eucalypts lining the roads and fields, the orange groves you’ve watched disappear as developers build more homes, the palms that define a place as luxurious and exotic, and the giant redwoods, a few of which were saved for us to visit and appreciate. I’ve lived in California all my 60 years, and traveled the state quite a lot. Trees in Paradise gave me a whole new view of trees I’ve been seeing all my life.

California Agriculture
The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire
by Mark Arax

“J. G. Boswell was the biggest farmer in America. He built a secret empire while thumbing his nose at nature, politicians, labor unions, and every journalist who ever tried to lift the veil on the ultimate “factory in the fields”. The King of California is the previously untold account of how a Georgia slave-owning family migrated to California in the early 1920s, drained one of America ‘s biggest lakes in an act of incredible hubris and carved out the richest cotton empire in the world.”

Indigenous Peoples 
We Are the Land – A History of Native California
by: Damon B. Akins, William J. Bauer Jr.

“We Are the Land is the first and most comprehensive text of its kind, centering the long history of California around the lives and legacies of the Indigenous people who shaped it. … The book deftly contextualizes the first encounters with Europeans, Spanish missions, Mexican secularization, the devastation of the Gold Rush and statehood, genocide, efforts to reclaim land, and the organization and activism for sovereignty that built today’s casino economy.”

Audio Tours of California

Audio Tours
VoiceMap Audio Tours of California’s Gold Country / Hwy 49
by Lynn Momboisse

VoiceMap is an app that offers GPS-enabled guided tours, giving directions and telling you about the sights you’re seeing. It’s like have a knowledgeable local friend in the car, showing you around. You purchase and download each tour like you would an audiobook. I’ve listened to three beforehand, and may follow them occasionally, en route.

Videos of California Water Management

Videos Showing and Discussing California Water Management
The Blancolirio channel on YouTube — @blancolirio
by Juan Brown

Brown is a pilot who started creating intelligent, well-informed, hype-free, and clearly-presented videos with in-depth explanations of California’s water management issues when the Oroville Dam spillway was failing in 2017. He often takes viewers along on a flight in his little yellow 1997 Aviat Husky A-1, to see the situation first-hand. Throughout the spring of 2023 he has been posting about the snow pack in the Sierras, flooding in the San Joaquin Valley, including Tulare Lake, and levels at various reservoirs throughout California, including this video about Oroville Lake from March 2023.

He also has lots of similarly interesting videos about aviation issues, if you’re into that.

Drone Videos (no audio) of 2023 San Joaquin Flooding and Rivers
@Corcoranb20 on YouTube

A large and growing collection of beautifully done drone footage (all silent – no audio) showing the water situation in California’s San Joaquin Valley, including flooding, levee construction, Tulare Lake, and rivers feeding into the area. Corcoranb20 (I don’t know their name) is apparently very familiar with the area, and gives the location of each video, including roads, business names, and other details. If you want to see for yourself, close up and personal, what is happening in the Central Valley, without any of the breathless drama and cliché camera angles the news keeps showing, these video are an excellent resource.

Here are a few to start with: 05-20-23 Levee Being built to protect hwy 43 from flood water. Ave 128 and Rd 32, Jackson and North Fork Of Kings River. 05-20-23, and Nevada Ave and 14 1/2 ave current most North Eastern border of tulare lake. May 07th. As with wildfires and other disasters, it’s possible to show the destruction and impact of the disaster respectfully, in a visually stunning way, and Corcoranb20 does just that.

California Mining Towns and Ghost Towns

About the California Gold Rush

Interactive Map
Map of Mining Towns and Ghost Towns

To use the map, click on any icon, and then click the town’s name in the little pop-up that appears, identifying the icon. Information on each town includes basic statistics about the town, current and historic photographs, and a brief history.

A few examples: Murphys, California, Mormon Bar (as in sand bar, not a saloon), and Fiddletown.

Mining Information
What is Placer Mining?
From An Underground Miner

This site (“If it’s not grown, it’s mined.”) is normally about present-day underground mining, but takes a detour here to discuss placer mining – including gold panning, hydraulic mining, sluice boxes, cradles or rockers, and more – which was the way gold was initially mined during the 1849 California Gold Rush.

My Aiki Road Trip 2023

This post is part of a series: My Aiki Road Trip 2023. For about two weeks I’m sharing my adventures and photos on my way to the Aikido at Granlibakken retreat at Lake Tahoe, insights and fun during a week of great Aikido training with dear friends, and the trip back. I’m driving through the Mojave Desert, San Joaquin Valley, California’s Gold Country, and High Sierra, exploring the historic water situation — rivers, reservoirs, dams, flooding, and Tulare Lake, plus gold rush history, and amazing nature and scenery.

At the bottom of each post I include resources for further exploration about each day’s adventures – books, videos, maps, links, images, etc.. For the trip in general, here are more California History Resources for Road Trips.

I mostly posted these from my phone, with limited Internet access. There may be typos and glitches. I’ll come back to fix them later. You can email me at [email protected].

About the Author — Linda Eskin

Linda Eskin began practicing Aikido in 2009, at age 46. From the beginning she was inspired to explore how Aikido is taught and learned. In addition to mentoring adults, and now teaching a weekly Focus on Fundamentals class for students of all ranks, she assisted in the children’s programs for over eight years.

Linda loves Aikido both from the technical perspective, and as a practice of awareness and embodiment. She is completing her forthcoming book, Aikido to Zanshin – 26 Essays on the Martial Art of Peace.

Linda’s passion is encouraging people to begin, and supporting new learners of all ages.

Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the third black belt rank, sandan.

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