Simanaitis Says

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INNES’S CALIFORNIA   PART 1

INNES IRELAND, WINNER of the U.S. Grand Prix, Watkins Glen, 1961, and regular contributor to R&T, was a man of many talents and multiple sides.

Robert McGregor Innes Ireland, 1930–1993. Image from mid-1980s, by Dorothy Clendenin.

Wife Dottie and I knew Innes as a pal and a preferred companion in any bar brawl. We also knew him quietly sitting at our dining room table, reading T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to us as he sipped on his single-malt whisky. (No “e” in Scotch whisky, note.) 

Here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow are tidbits of Innes’s writing, not from any of his R&T race reports (Innes shared these with Rob Walker), but from “California Gold Rush Country,” R&T, February 1987.

This was a road trip Innes took with Wife Dottie in response to two of Innes’s ambitions: One, Innes said, “was to see the California redwoods.” Another, “was to see some of the old U.S. townships from the 19th-century days of the Wild West known to me only in cowboy films.”

This and other images from R&T. February 1987. Photos by Dorothy Clendenin.

“As background,” Innes said, “I read, among others, Oscar Lewis’s book Sea Routes to the Gold Fields, which describes the hardships endured by those making the 18,000-mile migration from the East via the Cape before they ever set foot in California.”

Innes and Dottie got a head start by beginning their tour with an Audi 5000 Quattro in San Francisco.

Their route headed north from San Francisco to Leggett, a round trip through Avenue of the Giants, then a generally eastward drive to Donner Summit, culminating in a southern amble through California Gold Country.

The Redwoods. “There was still light enough,” Innes wrote, “for us to drive through the Avenue of the Giants, a special, narrow winding road through the big trees. Here, in the quiet of the evening, I stood among the redwoods for the first time. I was completely awed by their majesty, to say nothing of their height and girth, for no photograph I’d ever seen conveyed the sheer size and bulk of these magnificent trees.”

This and the following image from mirandagardens.com.

The Redwood Palace. “That evening,” Innes said, “we stayed at the Miranda Garden Resorts in charming log cabins set in a redwood grove. We crossed the road to the Redwood Palace Restaurant & Trading Co for dinner, and imagine our surprise to find pictures of Grand Prix cars adorning the walls. It seemed a strange and isolated place to find an owner who was so keen a follower of Formula 1 racing.”

With a different charm today, the Redwood Palace Restaurant & Trading Co has become a bit more tony than when Innes’s Formula 1 fan ran it. 

Redwood Musings. “Standing so close together, the trees shut out much of the light…,” Innes wrote, “I wondered how the earth could support so many trees, how it could supply the vast amount of water each one required to keep it alive. One tree was more than 5000 years old, the young ones 500. I wondered, too, how the shallow roots could hold such a weight in the howling gale, why they didn’t all blow down. It was a very moving experience to be in the presence of such trees, to move about in the silence they created, a mere human being with a life expectancy of just three score years and ten.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, Innes encounters California Gold Country tales well worth the retelling. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021  

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