Yosemite Valley 6/1/17

It’s an hour drive from Mariposa to Yosemite Valley, winding road, one lane bridge, along the Merced River. This may be the rockslide that closed the road, requiring the 1-lane crossing:

We started at the Valley Visitors’ Center, and strolled this native village display, telling the story of the Ahwahneechee people who called this area home (before the Gold Rushers displaced/killed  them):

Morning hike – Yosemite Falls, tallest in the Park (and 20th tallest in the world) drops 2,425′ from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall. You can see the falls from nearly every spot in the Valley:

There’s a lovely Falls View spot (doubleclick any photo to enlarge):

This is a good view of the upper fall to the right and lower fall on the left – the middle cascade can’t be seen from the Valley.

The trail up to the lower falls viewing spot crosses the river, and gets into the spray:

Since Yosemite Falls is mostly snow-melt, the Falls can be completely dry or just a trickle by September. Not likely this year, after the record snowfall in the Sierras. We walked back towards the open valley, and kept turning back for different views of the Falls:

Next trail was across Swinging Bridge to the other side of the valley:

Areas of the meadow valley were flooded, turning sections of the trail into dead ends. And the view of Yosemite Falls just keeps coming:

Across the valley from the Falls is Yosemite Chapel, the oldest building in the Park, from Yosemite Village 1879, although moved to this location in 1991:

We took the park shuttle to the Happy Isle stop, and walked to the Vernal Fall trail. Happy to rely on the shuttles, by the way. Not yet peak season, but the parking lots were nearly full when we arrived early morning. The shuttles get you all over most of the park, without worrying about finding a parking space. There are shuttles from the nearest towns, to get you into the park. Glad to have the shuttles cutting down on the emissions from idling cars – good place to be good to the planet. But first, a picnic lunch along the Merced:

There’s also a starting point for the hike up Half Dome – but the cables were out (like that’s the reason we didn’t do it!):

Onward to the Vernal Fall, all uphill, and a real challenge for my sea-level lungs, just to the footbridge at the base of the waterfall. Lots of stops – and views – along the climb.

The trail continues up to the top of the fall along the Mist Trail – wet, slippery, steep, and dangerous. Lots of signs in the park about the deadly dangers of slipping into the rushing waters. Didn’t tackle it.  Headed back down to the Valley. Don’t know what this “free speech” sign is about, but there were no groups there at the time.

Half Dome from the valley:

On the drive out we stopped at the El Capitan viewpoint. Some folks had set up camp chairs to sit and watch the climbers through binoculars – tiny specks of color and movement against the massive sheer wall:

I’ve never been good with heights, but I still can’t imagine someone looking at this and thinking “I should climb that.” And this guy just did it in 4 hours without ropes.

Long drive back to Mariposa, which has a nice little western town feel. Their Arts Park has this memorial to 9/11. The rusted steel is salvage from NYC’s twin towers:

 

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Bodega to Napa to Yosemite – 5/30/17

Headed into to the town of Bodega, CA, where Hitchcock filmed that scene of the schoolchildren being attacked in The Birds:

The Potter School (1873) is still there, a private residence:

 

Back on the road, with a stop for fruit at a market, right next to the Guayaki Yerba Maté factory – we’ve had that!

One of the great things about racking up miles on the rental car is that we get to search out places to check out to break up the long drives. Santa Rosa is a great stop, where we toured the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, a national historic site. Burbank (1849 -1926) was born in Lancaster, MA but settled in Santa Rosa and spent his 50 year career as a horticulturalist. He worked to expand the world’s food supply, and introduced more than 800 new varieties of plants — including over 200 varieties of fruits, many vegetables, nuts and grains, and hundreds of ornamental flowers – including the Shasta Daisy. The gardens are free, and lovely:

 

Next stop, The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus, once the largest stone winery in the world. Gorgeous building, with oranges growing in front, and a crazy corkscrew collection on display:

 

 

Back on the road through Napa Valley, surrounded by grape vines climbing hills or filling fields.

 

The town of Napa has a nice riverfront park, and lots of restaurants – but we hit the supermarket for sandwiches to go.

 

From grapevines to windfarms, until we’re climbing higher:

 

And then Yosemite as the day is waning:

We’re just driving through on a long, winding road to get to our hotel in Mariposa, and stop at an overlook. An overwhelming, my cup runneth over overlook:

The winter’s heavy snows have turned the Merced River and waterfalls (or is it just snowmelt?) high, fast, and wild:

 

Drove through a tunnel to a waterfall at Cascade Creek:

 

An info panel showed this early 20th century ad for 36-hour wagon trip to Yo Semite:

Can’t blame them for enduring a 36-hour drive to see this place – What a planet!

 

 

 

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Bodega Bay, CA – 5/29/17

Drove through rolling landscape towards Bodega Bay. Doubleclick any photo to enlarge.

Spent the windswept afternoon, exploring the cliff-bottom beaches overlooking an assortment of sea stacks – those weird  pillarlike masses of erosion-resistant “rock detached by wave action from a cliff-lined shore and surrounded by water.”

Arch Rock

Goat Rock is huge – connected to the coast by land turned into a parking lot.  This whole Sonoma Coast area has lots of beaches, but not for swimming due to the dangerous rip currents.

Goat Rock

Never saw the seals nesting – too windy to walk all the way. There’s a great Kortum Trail on the cliff-top meadow above the beaches, but the wind was wild. And the views were spectacular:

Next stop, Bodega Head, where there were reportedly pods of whales. I swear wildlife hides when they hear us coming. But more ridiculously windy views:

Drove down around to Hole in the Head, a beautiful beach area where Pacific Gas & Electric began excavations in 1958 to build a nuclear power plant – next to the San Andreas fault. Public protest and opposition to this is considered the birth of the anti-nuclear movement. In ’64, the Atomic Energy Commission gave a negative review, and the project was abandoned – leaving a nice little pond and an apt nickname for this stupid plan:

Ended the night with dinner at Lucas Wharf, where we would have had a sunset view if it weren’t so overcast:

 

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Muir Woods 5/29/17

Left San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge:

We drive through the rainbow-painted Robin Williams Tunnel:

on the way to Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods has been protecting old growth coastal redwoods since 1908. Most of the redwoods in the monument are between 500 and 800 years old. The oldest is at least 1,200 years old, and the tallest is 258′. Redwood Creek runs through the valley, nourishing the trees.

“God has cared for these trees… but he cannot save them from fools. Only Uncle Sam can do that.” John Muir, 1897

The trails are beautifully groomed, and much of it is wheelchair accessible. It’s hard to appreciate how tall these things are – picture a 24 story tower.

United Nations Conference on International Organizations, meeting in San Francisco to sign the UN charter in 1945, met in this Cathedral Grove to honor the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had died just weeks before.

We were here:

Found a little resting spot along the creek, for trail mix and some words of tribute to the redwoods:

This is a detour around a section of trail that crumbled into the creek:

The trail back crosses the creek and climbs the cliff on the other side, so you’re looking down onto the creek, and the trail we’d been on.

Next stop, Muir Beach Overlook, with its WWII era stations to watch for an invasion:

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Painted Ladies, Golden Gate Park, Cliff House + 5/29/17

Stopped to enjoy the sights on the way to Golden Gate Park. Look, a cable car! (never rode one – the wait to board was insane, and the bus prices were much better!)

Rode past Japan Town, and waited for a bus by a tree-stump chair (doubleclick any photo for full size):

Victorian homes along the way were impressive, especially the one with giant tree festooned in wind chimes:

Reached Alamo Square, a hilltop park that looks out on the famed Painted Ladies Victorians, built 1892-1896 – well known from the opening credits to Full House.

Another bus, and we reached Golden Gate Park, 20% larger than NYC’s Central Park, at over 1,000 acres – and 3 miles long! Hiked a short way through fuscias to the Conservatory of Flowers:

Inside were all kinds of tropical plants, plus a butterfly den:

Interesting sculptures in the dell outside the Conservatory. Segway tours of the Park are popular:

Golden Gate Park is home to so much:

We walked past the crowds at the Academy of Sciences, and into the DeYoung art museum, which is hosting an exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love 1967.

The deYoung, and its special exhibit, were very expensive (and time consuming), so we checked out the lobby, and took the free elevator to the tower’s observation deck. Also experienced our first “All Genders simultaneously” public restroom – no urinals, all private stalls, all genders sharing the mirrors/sinks. And the universe did not implode.

Next stop – the Park’s Japanese Tea Garden – gorgeous!

More sculpture by the deYoung, on our way to the next bus:

Headed towards the Pacific side of San Francisco, walking up the hill along the ocean.

… towards the Cliff House, an historic (1858) restaurant with ocean views.

Next to the Cliff House are the ruins of the Sutro Baths (1894-1964), a massive public bath house, and freshwater swimming facility. It included 6 saltwater swimming tanks of varying sizes, shapes, and water temperatures, tiers of bleachers seating thousands of spectators under glass and steel. This is all that’s left:

There are delightful hiking trails from this Lands End visitor center, down to the ruins or along the cliff:

Then you round a bend in the trail, and get this:

Next bus – past another interesting church:

Back downtown to Union Square :

… and the historic St. Francis Hotel, which was badly damaged in the fire following the 1906 earthquake. The staff provided meals to the people displaced by the 1906 catastrophes right in Union Square, bottom photo on right:

Classy lobby, bar, and a famous grandfather clock, admired by Shirley Temple in the photo. The plaque describes the hotel’s history of washing guests’ coins so they wouldn’t soil their elegant gloves. And they still provide that service. Really.

Finally, found Maiden Lane, which houses the only San Francisco building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It had been an art gallery, shop, many things, but is currently unoccupied. It has a curved stairway/ramp, similar to his design for NYC’s Guggenheim Museum:

I think that’s enough ground covered for one day.

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Alcatraz Evening tour 5/28/17

Alcatraz Island, a mile out from San Francisco, became a military fortress in 1858, then a Civil War prison in 1861. The island is home to the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast, first built in 1854. Alcatraz served as the notorious federal penitentiary from 1934 until 1963. While the national historic site is free, the ferry ride will cost you – and they book up early! These are from the waiting-to-board area. Doubleclick any photo for full size.

Views from the ferry:

Approaching Alcatraz:

This “Indians Welcome” graffiti is from the 18-month occupation by the Tribes of All Nations group from 1969-1971, protesting The Indian Termination Act, which forced Native Americans to move to cities and assimilate, in an attempt to end the special relationship between the U.S. government and Native nations. They also demanded reparation for the many treaties broken by the US government and for the lands which were taken from so many tribes. During the occupation, President Nixon rescinded the Indian termination policy, and established a new policy of self-determination, in part as a result of the publicity and awareness created by the occupation. Graffiti remains, and is regularly repainted by relatives/descendants of the occupiers, to preserve this piece of the island’s history.

Some buildings are in disrepair; others are being renovated.

Alcatraz has some lovely gardens on its slopes:

More Native graffiti:

The tour includes a free audio-guide, told by a narrator and by actual former inmates and guards. Chilling and fascinating. No attempt at rehabilitation, only punishment. “Break the rules and you go to prison; break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.”

The hallways between cells are named for famous streets, like Broadway and Michigan Avenue. The cells housed some famous prisoners, like Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Robert “The Birdman” Stroud, and even Whitey Bulger ’59-’62.

We learned about a lot of escape attempts. If you could dig your way out of your cell, you faced the most dangerous challenge – swimming the frigid choppy waters to San Francisco. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught alive, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five are listed as “missing and presumed drowned.” One escape used this spacer to spread the uncuttable bars apart:

Inmates did take up hobbies to pass the monotonous time – including crochet (pink!) and painting.

Here’s the guards’ uniform:

Most prisoners were assigned to work in various jobs on the island – laundry, factory, etc, and did get some recreation time outdoors:

Prisoner accounts said that when the wind was right, they could hear the sounds from the city in their cells, especially the sounds of celebrations on New Year’s Eve.

A dummy was used to hide one escape, made through that tunnel carved under the sink through the ventilation grate:

Prisoners did go to the mess hall for meals; the kitchen knives were stored on this rack with outlines, so guards could tell immediately if a knife was missing:

Prisoners who broke the rules at Alcatraz were placed in The Hole, a block of bare cells, secluded in total darkness for 23 hours/day. Birdman spent 6 years in solitary in The Hole.

“Its size was approximately that of a regular cell-9 feet by 5 feet by about 7 feet high. I could just touch the ceiling by stretching out my arm… You are stripped nude and pushed into the cell. Guards take your clothes and go over them minutely or what few grains of tobacco may have fallen into the cuffs or pockets. There is no soap. No tobacco. No toothbrush, The smell – well you can describe it only by the word ‘stink.’ It is like stepping into a sewer. It is nauseating. After they have searched your clothing, they throw it at you. For bedding, you get two blankets, around 5 in the evening. You have no shoes, no bed, no mattress-nothing but the four damp walls and two blankets. The walls are painted black. Once a day I got three slices of bread-no-that is an error. Some days I got four slices. I got one meal in five days, and nothing but bread in between. In the entire thirteen days I was there, I got two meals… I have seen but one man get a bath in solitary confinement, in all the time that I have been there. That man had a bucket of cold water thrown over him.” – Henri Young testifying his experiences in “The Hole” at Alcatraz during his 1941 trial.

In 1963, due to the costs of maintaining/repairing Alcatraz, the prison was closed:

We stayed for a presentation on Shivs & Shanks – the weapons prisoners made and how they used them – usually to intimidate other prisoners:

The final presentation was on the revolutionary design to the cell doors – guards could open/close them from a contraption at the end of the cellblock. No more standing in front of cell juggling keys and getting attacked by an inmate.

In the dark, our docent explained the doors and treated us to the intimidating sound of the cells slamming shut:

Fascinating – highly recommend the evening tour. And still shaking my head at the inhumane treatment.

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San Fran’s Beat Neighborhood and Coit Tower 5/28/17

Where it all began – visited North Beach to see City Lights Bookstore, founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1956, who published Alan Ginsburg’s Howl which led to the landmark obscenity trial (poetry = not obscene). Scenes from City Lights:

Scenes from the neighborhood:

Then off to Coit Tower, with its impressive WPA-era murals and even more impressive views. The hills, the stairs, even some streets are just named staircases!

View from the hill – Golden Gate Bridge:

Coit Tower and its murals:

And the views:

From here, you can see how squiggly Lombard Street is:

Walked down from Coit Tower through hanging gardens:

And we found ourselves in Levi Strauss Square – went in to see their little history display in the headquarters, including Albert Einstein’s leather Levi’s jacket:

Then we walked along the waterfront to Pier 39 – a crazy crowded outdoor kitchy mall, plus sea lions!!

I think the sea lions come to watch the crowds of tourists:

Dinner was clam chowder in a sour dough bread bowl. Loved the chowder, not a huge fan of sourdough. It’s sour!

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