California Sun

Happy Monday.

A reminder: the newsletter is off this week.

To tide you over, here are 15 of the most popular California Sun items of the past year, in no particular order.

ICYMI, 2021 edition


Rachel Barrett

In the 1970s, the coastal village of Bolinas was a place where people settled to share existence with each other and nature. The photographer Rachel Barrett was interested how those communal roots echoed decades later among a new generation enthralled once more by back-to-the-land ideologies. She chronicled the lives of eight young women sharing a home between 2008 and 2010. The images capture a mood as much as a place. Fraction Magazine | Behance


☝️ Here's the facade of Parker Palm Springs, one of the most striking examples of the breeze block.

Historians have noted the use of pierced walls in Asia and the Middle East going back hundreds of years. But the breeze block became indelibly linked to Southern California during the inventive midcentury modern era of the 1950s and 1960s, when the perforated stone walls were employed to filter sun without hindering ventilation. They faded in popularity in the 1970s, though there have been whispers of a comeback. Curbed has a fantastic illustrated guide to Southern California's greatest breeze blocks.


Rick Bart, a homicide detective turned sheriff, had been haunted by the killings of a young couple since 1987. A genetic genealogist found the murderer in two hours on a Saturday. CeCe Moore, of San Clemente, first had a career in musical theater. Today, she has become one of the country's most sought-after crime solvers through a forensic technique that detectives describe as akin to magic. A fascinating profile. 👉 New Yorker


At the edge of Death Valley, the stillness of the desert is shattered by birds of awesome speed and ferocity. Known as Star Wars Canyon, the area has been a training area for combat planes since World War II. On any given day, F-22 Raptors, F-18 Hornets, T-38 Talons, and other jets slice between the multicolored walls, flying at or below eye-level for aviation fans gathered at the Father Crowley vista point. Sometimes, the pilots flash thumbs-ups. The training schedules are secret. But hang around for a few hours, regulars say, and chances of a sighting are good. California Through My Lens | National Park Service

Watch a hair-raising video of 19 fly-bys. 👉 YouTube (~7:30 mins)


Adam Ianniello

Roughly 300 people still live in Bombay Beach, a dying hamlet on the edge of the Salton Sea that was once a boisterous resort town. The photographer Adam Ianniello became enthralled by the place in 2016, getting to know the locals. Many, he discovered, arrived there to escape, whether from the law or some other ghost. For a photo project, Ianniello explored the strange beauty of a place that seems to resemble the people who live there. It's Nice That |


California Sun

Half of Californians live below this red line. ☝️

That may be hard to believe, but it's more or less accurate, demographers say: Roughly 20 million people reside north of a line running through Los Angeles, and the other 20 million are squished underneath it. California Sun


One of the last remaining residents of Table Mountain Ranch.

Michael Schmelling/GQ

In the 1960s and 1970s, nearly a million young people went back to the land, a grand social experiment that found its epicenter in the sunny swath between the Bay Area and the Oregon border. Many found the poverty too bleak and returned to comfortable lives in the city. But a small number stuck it out. They are now in their 70s and 80s, holdouts of fading hippie utopias at the end of winding roads. A reporter and photographer took a fascinating tour. GQ magazine


"What?!" Dr. Tracy Ruscetti, left, responded to a vaccine skeptic.

Dr. Tracy Ruscetti, a Bay Area scientist with a doctorate in microbiology and immunology, has attracted nearly half a million followers on TikTok with pithy explainers about the coronavirus and vaccines. But her most delightful posts are those where she debunks low-information vaccine skeptics in real-time — like this gem, in three parts. 👉 Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


The New Yorker's Isaac Chotiner, famous for his politely unsparing interviews, spoke with the head of the San Francisco Board of Education, Gabriela López, about the decision to rename 44 city schools, including those named after Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. It's a painful read. López, when asked to respond to significant historical errors in the renaming panel's reasoning, said: "I think what you’re pointing to and what I keep hearing is you’re trying to undermine the work that has been done through this process. And I’m moving away from the idea that it was haphazard."


Amusement park visitors in Santa Cruz.

Dick Rowan

In 1971, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a groundbreaking photo project designed as a "visual baseline” against which to measure progress on cleaning up our air, land, and water. About 100 photographers roamed all 50 states for the Documerica series, capturing the ecological toll of rapid development but also everyday American life. I combed through the digital archive's roughly 900 California images to bring you these 26 favorites. 👉 California Sun


The expressions of vitriol, ignorance, and racism during public comment at county supervisors meetings during the pandemic have been disheartening. But for Andre Antunes, a Portuguese guitarist, a recent San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting was a source of inspiration. His metal accompaniment to a dreadlocked man's crazed rant is being called a masterpiece. 👉 YouTube


Leslie Berkes was an organizational psychologist with two doctorates. His wife, Cheryl, had a career as a high school English teacher and real estate agent. Now both in their 70s, they invited a caregiver into their Bay Area home. But over time, the Berkeses showed worsening signs of cognitive decline, prompting their adult son to one day pull up his father's online banking records. What he saw made him collapse onto the floor, weeping. S.F. Chronicle


The seven teacups spill along a tributary to the Kern River.

Deep within the Sequoia National Forest is a geological marvel like few on earth. Just off the north fork of the Kern River, a tributary spills down a vertical granite canyon via a succession of massive, naturally carved pools. It's known as the seven teacups, and it's a bucket list item for canyoneers around the world. On a summer's day, people can be found there rappelling, sliding, and leaping from one teacup to the next. Matt Skuta, a Los Angeles filmmaker, captured some awesome drone views. YouTube


Alexander Shulgin in Oakland in 2011.

JonRHanna/Wikimedia Commons

“I am afraid to turn around and face the mountains, for fear they will overpower me. But I did look, and I am astounded.”

Alexander Shulgin, a Berkeley chemist who synthesized MDMA in 1976, saw the promise of his work disregarded and demonized for decades. Only now, after Shulgin's death, is MDMA being fast-tracked for scientific study into its therapeutic value. Here's a fascinating profile of the psychedelic wizard so ahead of his time that "he's still cutting edge in 2021." 👉 MEL magazine


Olema House

Olema House, pictured above, is the best hotel in all of America. That's according to a 2020 analysis of thousands of reader reviews by Condé Nast Traveler. The hotel got high marks from guests for its accommodations and seasonal food. But it also held a unique advantage over the competition: gorgeous views from its perch at the edge of the Point Reyes national seashore.


Thanks for reading!

The California Sun is written by Mike McPhate, a former California correspondent for the New York Times.

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