We're recovering from whatever bug struck us in Lompoc. We coughed and snuffled and slept a lot, stayed germily far away from the folks we had come to visit, and were generally grumpy. Even the results of our physical exams -- we're in pretty good shape for the shape we're in -- failed to cheer us. back lit by the morning sun, nine newly shorn sheep look at the passing truck Curious sheep

For the first couple of days, our hotel was filled with soccer-playing children, then they went back to school and the Canadians arrived. This hotel may have a hundred or so rooms, and most of them were apparently occupied by middle-aged to elderly golfers from British Columbia and Alberta, who breakfasted heartily while preparing their day's plans and sampled the veggies and free beer in the evening while comparing golf scores, jolly bits of conversation flying from table to table. We learned that this group has been coming to this hotel for at least five years, enjoying the mild temperatures and plentiful golf courses of the central California coast.

Alas for travelers, Lompoc is no longer the best kept secret of California. Even at 6 a.m., as we hit the road for our doctor's appointments, we joined big-city-type traffic heading for Santa Barbara. We understand that the region northwest of Santa Barbara is now being called The Gaviota Coast by panting developers.

There are, however, some secret corners of California still to be enjoyed, and heading north from Lompoc we traveled through some of the loveliest hills and ranges of the state. In high summer these hillsides burn golden as the grass dries, but in winter the hillsides are green, many of the trees are On a brown dirt embankment in front of a green field appear 8 separate Black-Crowned Night Herons Black Crowned Night Herons still leafy, and winter crops, including lots of beans and cabbage and other dramatically colored vegetables, were being worked. Here and there by the side of the road, streams cut through the soil, making little mini-canyons. Hardly anybody seems to live in this area, which is left to herds of cattle and a variety of farms, including, of course, vineyards.

We were surprised, therefore, when not one but several sports cars appeared suddenly behind, then ahead of us -- a dozen or so road rally enthusiastiasts testing the twists and turns of Route 41. They collected in clumps at various check points along our track.

We had just crossed over a low crest when we passed a flock of what we first thought were goats. It turned out that newlly-shorn sheep were just as eager to see us as we were to see them. They certainly make a significant racket: baaaaaa-aaaa. A bit later on, along the edge of the California aqueduct snaking through the central valley, the cottonwood trees were stuffed with large birds. We had disturbed the daytime sleep of the Black Crowned Night Heron, who stalks about with neck shoved into shoulders, looking just as grumpy as a Pendleton with a head cold.

With sheep on our minds, it was only natural to seek out a Basque meal in Fresno. This town has a history of shepherds and farmers; California has In a two story tan brick building is the Shepherd's Inn, featuring Basque and American Dining, ATM, Budweiser, and New Owners and New Chef, Est. 2002. Shepherd's Inn, Fresno been home to nomadic Basque shepherds for a hundred years, and we saw flocks of sheep moved down from the snowy mountains to graze on the newly-harvested alfalfa fields close to the city. The Shepherd's Inn, across the street from the Amtrak station, offers Basque lunch and dinner. In our case, we sampled vegetable-and-chicken soup, potato salad, green beans, bread and butter, the Sunday special of paella, and a couple of succulent slices of lamb. The restaurant itself is classic California Basque -- long rows of tables covered with red and white checked oilcloth, colorful posters and folkloric paintings.

Fresno is the home to many cultures, including the Armenian family which produced William Saroyan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Human Comedy and My Name is Aram. After lunch we visited the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, hoping to learn more about Saroyan's life. Our AAA tour book said his bicycle and typewriter were part of the display. But the guard at the desk advised us to go home and not waste our money. "Did you know we're between exhibits? There's really nothing to see," he told us. Once again we've learned not to trust tour books when it comes to museum hours and exhibits. Better call first, which we neglected to do.

We'll have to return someday, if only to make sure the cooking at the Shepherd's Inn is still just as good!