Jelly Belly, John Muir’s Home, and getting to Yosemite…

While we were staying at the KOA in Petaluma, this was a VERY big hit with our kiddos (when they weren’t studying, of course):



They spent HOURS here, making friends with the different kids that came and went during our stay, inventing games and obstacle courses, and getting really sweaty! The pool looked very inviting, but it really wasn’t quite warm enough for swimming, and the little petting zoo was fun, too- a couple of goats, a very woolly sheep, and some chickens. This was one of the larger KOAs we’ve stayed in, and we enjoyed walking up and down and around the hills here.


I had to take a picture of this, because it is the first campfire I built completely by myself—I know, about time, huh?! Well, I was never in girl scouts, or camped as a kid, so it just took me a while to give it a try!

After a week, it was time to say good-bye to the rolling, verdant, cattle-covered hills, and head further inland, to Bethel Island. On the way, we stopped in Fairfield, at the Jelly Belly factory, where they manufacture over 100,000 pounds of candy every day!


They offer free tours of this manufacturing facility, and we love factory tours, so we jumped right in!


This jelly bean mosaic hangs right inside the entrance. Yes, each little oval is a life-size jelly bean, and someone takes the time to make many of these mosaics of famous figures. We probably saw over 30 hanging in the lobby and throughout the factory. Ronald Reagan is no surprise to have in the entrance, though, since he helped make Jelly Belly world-famous! The film shown during the factory tour (no pictures allowed, and simply involves walking on an enclosed, elevated walkway above the factory and stopping periodically to watch a video about that area, but still a fun tour. They have robots—always a hit with us!) pointed out that Reagan started eating jelly beans to kick his smoking habit, then got hooked on them. He always had a jar of them available at all meetings, and even had a special container made so they could withstand the turbulence on Air Force One. The blueberry Jelly Belly was actually created just for his inauguration!

After the tour we visited the free tasting bar, where you can sample your favorite flavor:


Take note especially of the “Bean Boozled” flavors. Since I’m not a huge jelly bean fan, I thought I would just have fun with it, and tried Baby Wipes and Pencil Shavings. Jelly Belly prides themselves on having extremely realistic flavors, and these were no exception. Bleh. Still not a jelly bean fan. Ha!

We continued on our way, until we got to Bethel Island, and the Sugar Barge Resort. I never did quite figure this place out. It’s on an “island” surrounded by these waterways that look like rivers or canals, part of the California Delta. The island is actually below sea level and it’s rather in the middle of nowhere. The people there were very friendly, though, and we had a comfortable, no frills, grassy spot.


These gals were running around all over (or maybe it was the same one going every-which way, I don’t know…)


We had no phone service here and spotty internet, but we made it work. A highlight for us was a very friendly couple we met across the road, Marion and Terry. Marion, a retired teacher, offered to teach the kids how to juggle and they were excited to give it a try. Twenty minutes later, she had them juggling two balls fairly well, and beginning to try adding in a third. She was very encouraging and gave them some pointers for continuing to learn. We were gone the rest of that day (Costco, and then Awana…THE largest Awana we’ve ever seen. They have 300-400 kids every week (Cubbies, Sparks, and T&T). Wow!!) and were surprised when we got back that night to see Terry had left her juggling balls on our picnic table with a note that said “Happy Juggling”! That was a sweet gift to find


As obscure as this place is, the reason we ended up here is that I wanted to take the kids to the John Muir National Historic Site on our way to Yosemite. It was about an hour west of here, and is the home where John Muir lived the last 24 years of his life. I wanted us all to learn more about the man called the “Father of America’s National Parks”.


I’m not sure what this man who lived in Yosemite in the 1800s for four years, and walked one thousand miles from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, and from San Francisco to Yosemite would think of the Valero gas station right across the street from his house, or the interstate that runs behind it, because when he lived here, his house on the hill was about the only thing around.


(The historic sidewalks are being replaced, thus the yellow tape.)

He inherited this house and surrounding orchards from his father-in-law, and it was a lovely setting for him to raise his two daughters and write his books. The upstairs right window was his “scribble den” where he could look out over the orchards and feel inspired to recall the memories of years of travel and adventure, and put them down in writing for others to enjoy.


The trees we noticed in the orchard were peach, orange, fig, pear, pomegranate, quince, and olive. A highlight for me was these cheery poppies!



We were mostly alone during our time in the house, except for a very friendly docent who was there to answer whatever questions we had, and later, a few other visitors, then a ranger who led us on a tour. We enjoyed wandering through. Most of the furnishings are only period pieces, not original to the home, but this cook stove is original.



The scribble den was filled with books, sketches, nature artifacts, a microscope, a globe, petrified wood, and pottery from his travels, beautiful paintings and his original desk. I loved the crumpled papers and sketches lying about—as if John Muir had just been here writing and stepped out for a moment.


The entire 3rd floor was this attic of every kid’s dreams (or at least those kids who have read Grandma’s Attic, or Narnia, or just imagined a big attic full of treasures to be discovered and games to be played). It even had a very intriguing and mysterious wooden chest!



And at the very top, a bell tower! (Probably used to call in the workers from the orchards.)



Investigating a tree for the Junior Ranger program—one more badge!


We had a lovely walk through the orchards to the adobe building at the back of the property, which now houses a display about the Juan Bautista de Anza trail.



These two would probably have had lots to talk about.

We really enjoyed learning more about this adventurous man who enjoyed and spent so much time in nature. Some may claim he was too ardent of an environmentalist but were it not for his early conservation advocacy, we would likely not have Yosemite National Park, and many other of the national park sites we’ve enjoyed would probably not be protected. He was a keen observer who saw evidence of design in the creation around him. He didn’t live to see the National Park Service established (he died in 1914, and it began in 1916), but is credited with setting the idea for it into place, and his travels and writings helped show what a treasure parts of our country are. His advocacy brought forth the idea that these areas should be preserved for future generations.

Speaking of Yosemite, I think John Muir must have had an easier time walking there from San Francisco than getting there in a 36-foot rolling house pulling a car, and having to find a place to stay that has internet, let alone phone! More on that next time!

Thanks for reading!