Written by callen60 on 01 Oct, 2006
Sitting at dinner the first night of my meeting, the person on my left is describing how he and a colleague made their way to Walnut Creek from SFO. At the mention of ‘redwoods’, my ears perk up—after walking among giant Douglas Firs and ancient…Read More
Sitting at dinner the first night of my meeting, the person on my left is describing how he and a colleague made their way to Walnut Creek from SFO. At the mention of ‘redwoods’, my ears perk up—after walking among giant Douglas Firs and ancient Bristlecone Pines the last few summers, I’ve become a devotee of trees.I know about the redwoods at Muir Woods, west of Sausalito, but my dining companion—who grew up in Oakland—mentions Redwood Regional Park, "right outside of Oakland." By Saturday morning, I’ve largely forgotten this. I leave Walnut Creek, winding my way through these towns, thinking that some kind of map is a necessity for this approach, and hoping I can keep the Google map alive on my laptop. Eventually, I land on Canyon Road, heading southwest, and as I clear the small rise and reach the road’s end, they pop in to view: a grove of redwoods, suddenly changing my surroundings from open skies over brown hills to finding the sky shut out by these magnificent trees overhead.This must be the park. There’s a slight fence running along the roadside, indicating that this is a protected watershed that can only be entered with a permit. I head northwest up Pinehurst Road, despite the sign that says it’s closed to traffic in a few miles. My Google map (still alive!) shows that I’m circling Redwood Regional Park, a five-mile long finger set here along the ridges and valleys that parallel the bay. There are a few stands of redwoods along the roadside, and after stopping near them to make some notes, I eventually turn around and retrace my steps. The road circles around the south end of the park, steeply climbing the ridge on Redwood Road. Bicyclists are everywhere, testing themselves on the climbs, and exuberant in gravity’s pull on the down slope. Trail workers are out in force cleaning the paths and the roadway. In a few miles, I come to an entrance to the park, and decide to pull in and hike here for a bit. The entrance is $5, and the park guide shows that this is a center for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling. It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of people here, but as soon as I park the car, it’s clear that I’m not alone.A few equestrians are about to head into the woods, and I can hear people walking on the Stream Trail, although I can’t see them or the stream. I decide to hike the Canyon Trail, thinking that will bring me into contact with redwoods faster than anything. It proves to be an uninterrupted one-third mile ascent up a canyon to the ridge running through and along the boundary of the park. The ridge trail is popular with cyclists, who pass me in pairs every few minutes. The first two I encounter are resting at the junction of the Canyon and Ridge Trails, having just completed their two-wheeled ascent. It gives me new appreciation for what you can do on a bike (and how low a gear ratio can go).I hike northeast along the ridge trail, gradually realizing that the redwoods I’d spotted earlier are at the bottom of the slope to my right, behind the chain-link fence I can make out through the woods. After another third of a mile, I come to a gate with signage similar to what I saw along Pinehurst Road, allowing only those with permits into the area.It’s been a pleasant enough hike, although the dirt and gravel trail appears designed for bikes, and is awfully dusty. Having noted the warning signs announcing the presence of mountain lions in the area, I note a similar looking set of paw prints running along the trail. They haven’t been wiped out by all the recent biking, either... With the frequent activity up here, it doesn’t seem like much of a threat, but I’m reminded of one of the risks of hiking alone.I head back down the Ridge Trail, ready for something new, and resolved to make it to Muir Woods, since I’ve missed the ancient trees here. I start jogging down the Canyon Trail, realizing after 100 yards that this is not a decision easily reversed. There are no ‘runaway hiker’ sand ramps along the trailside, so continuing carefully at higher speed somehow seems less risky than trying to stop. The descent takes about one-fifth the time of my climb, and soon I’m back in my car, continuing northwest along Redwood Road.Before long, I emerge on to Skyline Drive, which runs along the last ridge before the bay. This one, however, is in the middle of town: the hillside to the left is covered with homes, each with a spectacular view out over Oakland and the bay across to San Francisco. It’s hard to find an open spot that’s not in someone’s yard from which to admire the view. I head down the hillside, which is an odd combination of subdivisions and switchbacks. I end up on Broadway in Oakland, having moved from forest to the heart of one of the nation’s largest cities in about 8 miles. As a reminder of that, I soon find myself in the midst of a thousand cars at the toll booth to the Bay Bridge, heading for San Francisco. Close
Written by callen60 on 30 Sep, 2006
When I agreed to this trip in late spring, I thought the weekend would give me a little time to reach and explore one of California’s National Parks. Perhaps I’d fit in a brief introduction to Yosemite or Sequoia: no, too much driving: three hours…Read More
When I agreed to this trip in late spring, I thought the weekend would give me a little time to reach and explore one of California’s National Parks. Perhaps I’d fit in a brief introduction to Yosemite or Sequoia: no, too much driving: three hours just to get there, and then an even longer trip back to San Jose. Well, then, maybe north to Point Reyes, spending the day hiking, beach walking, and watching the Sunset, racing to the airport after sunrise the next morning. Scratch that, lodging was difficult to find by the time I made plans. Perhaps south to Pinnacles National Monument: no, again too far. I grudgingly settled for a day in the bay area, aiming to wind my way to Muir Woods for a lengthy hike among the redwoods. In the end, I didn’t make it there, either, but the day I did have was what I’d originally had in mind.Golden Gate NRA didn’t grab my attention as I read about it at the NPS site. It sounded like a bureaucrat’s idea of a park, cobbled together from leftover federal land and oversold as an ‘urban national park’. The NPS map showed it distributed over 60 miles and three counties, with little patchwork pieces here and there: the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods above the Golden Gate Bridge, former military bases dotting both the northern and southern peninsulas, and small areas tucked in among the city, along the shore, and on the ridges south of the city. Given the fame of the bridge connecting the two peninsulas, it's easy to forget that "Golden Gate" originally referred to the passage between these two points of land. The National Recreation Area of the same name is the equivalent of a ‘rails to trails’ conversion, except it’s more ‘forts to trails’. But the quilt of former military property cum national park has produced some very special places, places that give you the experience of solitude and nature within minutes of one of the nation’s largest cities.My first stop in the Recreation Area is at Crissy Field, one of the newest additions, opened in 2001. It’s 100 wonderfully located acres near the northwest corner of the peninsula, a small strip that includes beach, a tidal marsh, the historic Field itself (home to both the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition and San Francisco’s first airfield) and the Crissy Field Center, dedicated to community and environmental activities. To the east is the marina; I head west past picnic areas and out Marine Drive to Fort Point, a Civil War era facility that’s now directly under the Golden Gate Bridge. The brick structure itself is surprisingly attractive, although you can only access the ground floor. I notice that somewhere between Jefferson Street and Fort Point the Sun has become a lot scarcer, making the Point even cooler than it might have been.I’m finally ready to head across the bridge. By now, I’m thinking that Muir Woods will have to wait for another visit. I’ve been there before, two decades ago, and I decide to turn left once I’m across the Golden Gate, exploring and heading for the lighthouse at Point Bonita and perhaps Muir Beach.Before doing that, I join the hundreds of people at Vista Point on the north side, looking back south straight down the Bridge’s roadway, and across the water east to Alcatraz and southeast into the city. The Sun is making its final appearance: the skies over the Bridge and the city are clear, but to the west it’s a different story. Looking away from the crowds, I see the ridges of the Marin Headlands fighting to keep back the fog, then giving way to the end of the blue skies as the gray matter spills over like water cascading over a dam.For two hours, I wander and circle around the roads, hills, and forts of this area, stopping to marvel at how completely fog has obscured the rest of the world, or to walk through a massive WW II gun emplacement, or walk along the beach before heading to my hotel for the night. During the entire time, it’s hard to believe I’m within miles of millions of people—I encounter a car or two at most at the places I stop. I leave with an unexpected collection of memories:
Emerging from the hills of the East Bay, I make my way down Broadway through central Oakland, finally negotiating the maze of roads near the bay and heading across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. Here, while waiting in the long lines at the tollbooth,…Read More
Emerging from the hills of the East Bay, I make my way down Broadway through central Oakland, finally negotiating the maze of roads near the bay and heading across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. Here, while waiting in the long lines at the tollbooth, an inadvertent touch of the keyboard and my Google Map is gone for good. Thankfully, the one decent part of my rental company map is a complete picture of San Francisco.Traffic’s moving again, and I’m on the bridge, passing over Treasure Island, seeing the skyline emerge against the clear, blue sky as I leave the Island’s western shore. It’s now after 2pm, and I’m more than hungry. Sourdough bread and clam chowder sounds like a good and hearty meal for hiking later. Guessing that Fremont Street could be a good exit for Fisherman’s Wharf, I get my bearings at the first traffic light. As I reach the Embarcadero along the northern edge of the peninsula, the Bay pops in and out of view between the large Pier buildings. Pretty quickly, the street is packed with traffic—not surprisingly, nearly every other tourist and resident seems to be here, too. A sign indicates that there’s parking in other directions than straight ahead, so I veer off to the left. Pretty soon I’m moving down Point Street, when signs for Ghirardelli Square catch my eye. Hmm… chocolate... I pass all the Fisherman’s Wharf signs, turn north, and find an open parking space right on the street! Oh—75 cents for 20 minutes. My pocket change gives me 24.6 minutes of parking time, and I hustle into a Ghirardelli shop to pick up my gifts for the trip, along with a chocolate milk shake masquerading as my lunch. Leaving the square for my car, anxious to avoid a ticket, I look north, down the hill past the ship’s masts in the Maritime park and out to Alcatraz and Marin. It’s a terrific sight, with the breeze stirring the top of the water and blue sky above it all. I put my shake on the curb to take a picture, and step into the edge of the street. As I reframe things for a second shot, a sound quite like that of a milk shape tipping over lightly registers in my consciousness. As I tuck my camera a way, a large dog looks up, concerned that I’m about to take away this unexpected treat. At least I’d finished two-thirds of it before grudgingly turning it over to a fellow chocolate lover. But looking out at the Bay, I decide to spend a little more time in the city before heading across the world’s most famous Bridge. After moving to longer-term parking, the large, ship-shaped building along the waterfront catches my eye as I leave the garage. The museum for the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, it closed recently for a lengthy renovation, but directed me two blocks east to Hyde Pier, the heart of the park where 11 ships are moored across from the visitor center and bookstore kitty corner from each other and adjacent to the quay. With a little nautical history under my belt, I stroll along Jefferson Street, through Aquatic Park, back up Jefferson to climb the hill into Fort Mason where the Blues Festival is filling the air, then returning to shop at the sidewalk vendors. I buy two complementary pictures of the Golden Gate: one from the beaches below the bridge, capturing the golden towers on a beautiful sunny day, no city (and no fog) in sight. The other is a shot from above, the bridge poking out of fog that nearly obscures the city at one end. Despite the clear skies all around, these photos will soon be an accurate representation of today.I spend another hour or two moving back and forth along this edge of the city. Kites are flying, boats are entering and leaving the Marina, people are walking, running, biking, rollerblading and even sitting, celebrating birthdays or a successful Bridge Walk to raise funds for Zimbabwe’s children. It’s hard to believe anyone could be left in their homes.Could San Francisco be the perfect city? I don’t get near the art and cultural resources, but they’re certainly here in abundance. There’s an amazing diversity of people here, too, and the setting is unmatched by any other city in the country. The hilly terrain gives San Francisco another dimension, providing you with unexpected vistas, whether it be of the ocean in one direction, the bay in another, or the business district and its famous pyramidal centerpiece. And just outside the city, as I’m about to discover again, is country so isolated you’d never know a few million people were just miles away. Is San Francisco the perfect city? I contemplate this question as I search for a way up to the bridge’s entrance ramp, thankful for the reminder of why I’ve always considered myself a city kid at heart.Close
Government protection should be thrown around every wild grove and forest on the mountains, as it is around every private orchard, and the trees in public parks. To say nothing of their value as fountains of timber, they are worth infinitely more than all the…Read More
Government protection should be thrown around every wild grove and forest on the mountains, as it is around every private orchard, and the trees in public parks. To say nothing of their value as fountains of timber, they are worth infinitely more than all the gardens and parks of towns.—John MuirAfter starting life as the oft-disciplined son of Scottish settlers who landed in Wisconsin, it wasn’t surprising that John Muir developed a passion for wandering. His first major excursion was the 1867 trip recalled in a A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, a Reconstruction-era journey by foot from Indianapolis to Savannah and eventually across Florida to the Gulf Coast. Like a number of his writings, this botanically-inspired journey chronicling the landscape, the people and the society he encountered was reconstructed later in life from the numerous, detailed journals he kept (this book appeared posthumously in 1916).Hiking—I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains—not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre," 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them.—J.M.But after moving to California in 1869, sauntering through the Sierra Nevada for the first time, beginning a lifetime’s acquaintance with the splendors of Yosemite, making the first three of seven trips to Alaska, and walking all over God’s creation, Muir settled here in Martinez on the ranch of Dr. John Strentzel, a Polish physician, revolutionary, and adventurer turned leading horticulturalist and winemaker. The gold rush of 1849 had brought Strentzel to California, and he now was raising fruit here on a large section of land placed among the hills and below the bay’s northern-most extension. Muir fell in love with Strentzel’s daughter, Louisa, and he and "Louie" married and raised two daughters here as the wanderer turned family man and successful fruit grower.Looking eastward from the summit of Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae. And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.... Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.After several years, the success of the orchard had given Muir financial independence. He and Louie originally lived in a house on the orchard, but moved to her father’s large, luxurious home when she inherited the estate upon his death. It was here that she encouraged her husband to return to sauntering in and writing about the natural world he held so dear.These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.When he revisited Yosemite and found the area in the grip of logging and other exploitations, his Scotch passion was aroused. His writings led to the establishment of Yosemite National Park (as well as Sequoia, Mt. Rainier and Grand Canyon), contributed to the establishment of the National Forest System, and changed the world’s view of the natural world.None of Nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.There’s irony here in Martinez, and in more than one way. The most obvious is how Muir’s homestead is now surrounded by urban California, with not only an on-ramp but a freeway itself only 40 yards behind the back of his final home. But the home itself is an irony as well, an Italianate mansion where the father of the environmental movement lived in turn-of-the-century comfort as he penned the writings that helped this nation set aside some of its most beautiful locations, helping the world begin to value nature for its own sake, not just for what it yielded to man and industry.The site sits right off Highway 4 in Martinez, and contains only one-ninth of the ranch’s original 2,600 acres. Muir’s daughters sold the property the year after his death, and the Park Service acquired the home in the early 1960’s. It’s been restored to the way Muir left it at his death, including some of the architectural changes and additions prompted by damage from the 1906 quake. The furniture, with the exception of the desk in his second-story "scribble den" is not original, but representative of the era.The grounds are pleasant, but never out of earshot of the neighboring highway. A short climb leads you past apple and peach groves to the home, and descending the other side takes you past a now mature Sequoia grown from a seedling planted by Muir. Continuing past a fig tree, cherry trees, and a pear orchard takes you to the far end of the property and an 1849 adobe structure, built by the man awarded this property for service to the Mexican government.The fruit orchards cover a fraction of the 300 acres; woods cover the remainder. Brochures promise that the rangers collect fruit for the taking in bushels behind the visitor center; sadly, I found none. Inside the small visitor center is an impressive collection of editions of Muir’s writings, and a 20-minute film chronicling the first environmentalist’s life. For a worthwhile complement to your communion with Muir’s legacy, head west and across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Muir Woods National Monument, just west of Sausalito. Here you’ll find a terrific stand of redwoods, set aside in 1908 and, at the request of the donor, named after the 70-year-old-Muir.Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.ResourcesLinks at the National Park Service site have a wealth of information on Muir, the Martinez site, and his influence. Even more comprehensive is the John Muir Exhibit at the Sierra Club’s website, a comprehensive collection of his writings (all his books are available here to read here) and resources on his life, his impact, and his legacy.DirectionsThe John Muir NHS is off Highway 4 in Martinez, which is reached eastbound from I-80 or from either direction off I-680. Take the Alhambra Avenue exit and head north. The site is then immediately on your left (to the west).Close
Mt. Diablo is the highest peak in this area, rising almost 4,000 feet on the spur of land to the west of Oakland and the East Bay. It’s an old mountain, whose once-rocky slopes have long since had their surfaces ground into soil, supporting a…Read More
Mt. Diablo is the highest peak in this area, rising almost 4,000 feet on the spur of land to the west of Oakland and the East Bay. It’s an old mountain, whose once-rocky slopes have long since had their surfaces ground into soil, supporting a mixture of grasses and trees. It’s preserved in a large state park that borders Walnut Creek, reached as the edge of subdivisions gradually gives way to some remnant ranches, with a few cattle grazing here and there. I surprised a few deer as well as I headed into the park, which was where the city streets became shoulderless two-lane road, and started gently climbing up the mountains’ foothills. Once inside the park, the gentle climb immediately became a steeper ascent, with switchback after switchback taking the highway up the mountain. It’s about 10 miles to the top, which took about 40 minutes on the way up and 25 on the way down. The difference is attributable to one central reason: the rangers tell you to leave the summit exactly at sunset in order to avoid being locked in the park. So on the descent, there was no picture taking, no slow driving, and a little more cutting corners on the switchbacks.Until the very end, the summit remains hidden along the drive. The road takes you along and up any number of canyons, some grass covered and some whose sides are darker with trees. It seems clear that some crevices must collect enough water to support the larger living things, but it isn’t clear whether these hillsides were stripped of their growth as this area was settled. There’s a pair of ranches along the road to the top, and an occasional residence, in addition to the campgrounds and myriad picnic areas. In some ways the summit was disappointing, in others, it wasn’t. I noticed the next morning, looking out at Mt. Diablo from my Walnut Creek hotel room, that even at that distance I could pick out the two telephone towers at the top. They aren’t the only structures at that height: This park was established in 1921 at the urging of a State Senator from nearby Martinez, consisting of a square mile around the summit. It’s grown considerably since then, and benefited from a load of CCC work in the 1930’s. In addition to creating the trail system, they built the stone visitor center and observation deck that crowns the mountain. Even today, a group committed to enlarging the park’s nearly 30 square miles and preserving natural settings in the East Bay raises funds for property acquisition.Mt. Diablo played a significant role in the settling of California. Two major grid systems for surveying the state used its summit as their central reference point. The marker for those grids is set in stone inside the visitor center at the top (which closes at 4:30 pm). The mountain’s name is somewhat of a mistake: in the early 1800’s, a Spanish expedition in search of native people on the run from a mission surrounded a small village here on in a willow thicket. In the night, all the villagers escaped, leading the Spaniards to name the site "Monte del Diablo", or thicket of the devil. Later English-speaking speakers thought ‘Monte’ referred to the mountain, and the peak got its name. Recently, the Board of Geographic Names rebuffed an attempt to rename the mountain by those unhappy with the current moniker.On a clear day, the view must be amazing. The haze really limited the visibility—one of many signs of mankind’s wholesale settling of this beautiful land. I thought maybe the ocean would be in view to the east: it wasn’t, and neither was Oakland. The view west had those two telephone towers protruding into the skyline, and no matter how I moved around the visitor center’s deck, I couldn’t find an angle where they weren’t in play. In the opposite direction, however, the sun threw an impressive shadow of the mountain across the land below, clearly displaying the peak’s nearly triangular shape.Just as the sun neared the horizon, I decided to race across the parking area, descending past the towers, looking for a bluff to watch the sun’s last moments. As the last sliver of the distorted orb disappeared from view, I started back down the mountain. As I reached the edges of Walnut Creek (after thankfully finding the gates open), twilight ended.Close
Touching down mid-morning in San Jose, it’s hardly past 11am and I’m on the road north, not due in Walnut Creek until 6:30pm. With a day to explore while meandering to my eventual destination, I’m searching my rudimentary rental-agency map, my memory, and the passing…Read More
Touching down mid-morning in San Jose, it’s hardly past 11am and I’m on the road north, not due in Walnut Creek until 6:30pm. With a day to explore while meandering to my eventual destination, I’m searching my rudimentary rental-agency map, my memory, and the passing road signs for interesting places to stop.Ten miles of freeway is about all I can stand with the hillsides arcing up and away to my right, rising above the road. Finally opting for the local route somewhere in Milpitas, I make my way vaguely northeast, looking for what’s marked on the map as Mission Peak Regional Park. Winding through suburbia, the higher I move up the hillside, the more it looks like a photo shoot from Sunset magazine. The road to this park access dead ends in a modest parking lot bounded by a brightly painted tubular metal fence, holding a detailed map of the park and its trail structure. While I’m looking it over, and deciding whether to spend part of my time hiking here, an interesting collection of people leave the trails for their cars: a young woman finishing a run, a college student draining the last drops from his hydration pack after a vigorous work out, and an elderly Asian woman, folding her parasol as she finishes her stroll among the hills.I decide to forego the hike—it’s early in the day, and I don’t want to lose my chance for a few other stops as I head north. Working off my nearly detail-free map, I figure Mission Boulevard is a sure bet to reach the site of Mission San Jose, and sure enough, soon I’m in a town of the same name. Quickly, the mission is on the right side of the road, with a Catholic school just to the west, where I assert squatter’s rights in the parking lot. The sky is a bright, cloudless blue, and the white adobe walls of the compound stand out beautifully against the sky.I quickly learn that the mission compound isn’t a rich, historical structure. The church was destroyed by fire and earthquake some time ago, and by the early 20th century neglect had taken its toll on the adjoining adobe building. Renovation work in the 1920s (?) restored the remaining western three-quarters of the adobe, with the eastern end that abutted the church left missing. Behind that open site sits a pleasant, formal garden with a fountain at the center, and burial plaques marking the resting places of Mission San Jose’s prominent families. A statue of Father Junipero Serra, founder of the 21 California missions, overlooks the whole courtyard.A sign directs me to the small museum filling the adobe building. Entering through the gift shop, where a $3 donation to the church is suggested, I head into the other rooms, with exhibits on the culture and crafts of the Ohlone people (the native people reached by this mission) the history of San Jose and all the California missions, and the history of this East Bay region, the restoration of the mission, and the 1984 reconstruction of the church. I learn a lot of history that had escaped me until now. The California missions aren’t as old as I’d thought: Serra was a Franciscan, who started the first mission in 1769 at San Juan Capistrano, filling the vacuum created by the suppression of the Jesuits. His zeal led directly and indirectly to the chain of churches planted along California’s coast, which continued until 1823, despite his death in 1784. San Jose was the 14th, begun in 1797. Like most missions, it served as a center for conversion to the faith, military expeditions (often to suppress native peoples less than enthusiastic about their new neighbors), and protection for settlers. The priests viewed the native peoples as children to be brought to civilization and cultural adulthood, principally through conversion to Christianity. However this appears two centuries later, here and elsewhere the fathers were sometimes the only barrier between these ancient peoples and slavery. The Church theoretically held the land in trust for their charges; after secularization, speculators and politicians quickly acquired nearly all the territory, often despite the warnings, condemnation, and deep sadness of the fathers. This ushered in the age of the Ranchos, with these large estates covering California like a giant checkerboard. This brief and often romanticized era ended with the Gold Rush, which brought waves of Anglo settlers and fortune seekers from the east.The tour finishes back in the giftshop, a combination of Catholic bookstore and souvenir shop. To enter the church, you exit the gift shop, cross the empty square, and enter though the side doors of the sanctuary. The building is a very authentic reproduction of the original 1797 church, complete with rough-hewn wooden pews and rafter, white adobe walls, and a large, beautiful altar. The community and congregation obviously took great pride in this project, and rightfully so. It’s a simple, rectangular building, whose only external adornment is a simple bell tower, but it gives a true impression of what it must have been like to gather here 200 years ago. This is only the second of the missions I’ve visited, having walked around Mission San Diego two decades ago with my memory evidently untouched. Now hungry for more than knowledge, I continue north on the Boulevard, eventually spying a ‘Taqueria’ sign tucked in the rear of a mission-style strip mall. Fortified by a good helping of Chile Colorado at Papa Pancho’s Taqueria (39965 Mission Blvd., Fremont), I head back to I-680, looking for Eugene O’Neill.Close
Written by SeenThat on 26 Jul, 2006
With enough scientific articles published from here to fill an average university library, the town of Berkeley is an intriguing place to visit and find the secrets of scientific output. Early in the morning I took a BART train and a few minutes later landed…Read More
With enough scientific articles published from here to fill an average university library, the town of Berkeley is an intriguing place to visit and find the secrets of scientific output. Early in the morning I took a BART train and a few minutes later landed in Central Berkeley.Traffic lights with different warning sounds according to the direction of the cross were an early sign that something is different here. A friendly local claimed that this was a Berkeley innovation, their gift to the world. However, the next day, in neighboring Oakland, I heard an equally passionate claim about it being a wonderful contribution of Oakland to humanity. A peaceful person by nature, I kept away of the topic for the rest of my visit to the area.I began my visit approaching the top end of Bancroft Street, where the prominent International House is; it provided misty sights of the bay and a good coffee. The university campus was green and agreeable and beyond the Piedmont Avenue it grew wild, the slopes became significant and the buildings scarce. The greenery was enough to give a sense of being in a field trip; the buildings were unobtrusively placed and allowed Nature to give its message. A perfect place for a picnic.To get a sense of the town, I wandered a bit along the main streets. Bancroft delimits the southern side of the university, Telegraph runs perpendicular to it from the main entrance and seems to have the biggest concentration of restaurants, Shattuck is the main commercial artery and University Avenue connects the campus with the Berkeley Yacht Harbor. Pretty soon a pattern became evident. After spending a few years traveling around Asia, I should have been able to anticipate the answer; Thai, Lao, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants occupied every possible spot and obviously were the engine providing the energy needed to create scientific advance. It wasn't just the food; most of the people walking across town had definite and pleasant Asian features, contributing to my growing feeling that the BART train had taken me across the Pacific Ocean. Healthy Heavenly Food at the university's food plaza, next to the Bancroft's entrance has excellent Vietnamese food. Bahn Mi sandwiches cost here $2.75 and a heavenly Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) costs $4.95 or $5.95, depending on the size. Next to it are a Taqueria, a salad bar and a coffee shop.A couple of hours later, in my way to the shoreline, I reached the Mittaphab Restaurant at 1923 University Road. This is a Lao-Thai restaurant, a combination avoided in Thailand and in Laos, where a tendency to emphasize the little differences between the styles exists; however the distance from its roots made he combination acceptable. The place offers excellent dishes which resemble very much the originals; Nua Yang, a sliced beef marinated in Lao-Thai herbs costs $7.25, a superb desert of sweet sticky rice with mango, called kow nee-o ma-mooang, costs $4.50 and beers from there (Singha from Thailand and Beer Lao) cost $3.25 for a small bottle each. The service was excellent and succeeded to awake the will to travel across the ocean, back to the Country of the Smiles.A not so long walk took me to 1111 Adison Street, where the Freight & Salvage Coffee House is located since 1968. The place offers nightly shows of traditional music and the day I visited, The Bobs were giving a live performance. The entrance was difficult, because most tickets have been sold in advance, only a few were available for $20.50. The show began at 20:00 in the crowded theater and continued until 22:30. The show was part theater, part comedy and overall a quite unique performance of a cappella music, in which all the instruments are mimicked by human voices and body percussion. Appealingly, it was obvious that the laughing performers were having a good time themselves. That night they featured a guest appearance by a former Bob, Lori Bob Rivera and an opening set by the pianist and singer Robert Bob Malone and provided the perfect end for a long day exploring a cultural town.Close
Written by SeenThat on 25 Jul, 2006
June 22 was a special day; early in the morning, the radio announced that due to the weather, the day was declared a Spare the Air Day and the public transport in San Francisco and its surroundings will be free. In such a way, drivers…Read More
June 22 was a special day; early in the morning, the radio announced that due to the weather, the day was declared a Spare the Air Day and the public transport in San Francisco and its surroundings will be free. In such a way, drivers are tempted to use it and the amount of pollutants in the tired air diminishes.It was the perfect occasion to visit the city and during the short trip from Oakland through the BART train I decided to use the triangular approach to pack as many views as possible in a single day. The idea was simply to draw a straight line across the main commercial district until the Ocean Beach, to reach the Golden Gate Bridge and the Fisherman's Wharf and then to walk all the way back to the center along the Embarcadero Promenade. The quasi-triangular shape in my mental map promised a good balance between cultural, natural and engineering attractions and touristy kitsch.The first stop after the train emerged from the underwater tunnel crossing the bay was Embarcadero, and from there I began walking along Market Street. The wonder dissects Eastern San Francisco in two and surrounding it are the main business centers of the city. When I reached the junction with Kearny, I turned north and after crossing California Street, reached Chinatown. Eastern Bakery, at 720 Grant, claims to be the oldest Chinese bakery in the area, dating back to 1924. "We were here before the Great Depression, the bay bridges, World War II, etc...," a sign next to the counter says. A lotus and a melon Chinese cakes cost a dollar each and were excellent; the brewed coffee was bad. Surrounding the shop are many Chinese bazaars, musicians and Chinese-seals' artisans; many of the buildings are pagoda shaped and provide a feeling of being at the real place. Back to Market Street, I continued west until the junction with Powell St, where the massive San Francisco Shopping Centre is. With at least eight floors of shops, it's a window to the local needs and practices; semicircular mechanical stairs carry shoppers through the several floors in the way to their individual nirvana. The most interesting spot for me was the underground; there, an improvised coffee shop serves excellent Segafredo Italian coffee with a bit too expensive snacks.Further down the street is the Civic Center, where the main administrative buildings of the town are. Among them is the UN Plaza, resembling more a walking street with columns at the sides; the columns carvings mark the joining date of every country to the organization. The nearby War Memorial building was where the original charter of that organization was signed on June 26, 1945. The Plaza hosts an interesting Antique and Artisan Market; however, the vendors didn't think there was a political message in placing them there.Bus number 5, traveling along Market Road, advertised Ocean Beach as its final destination; I boarded it and got a close look of Fulton Street, which delimits the northern side of the Golden Gate Park. I left it next to the junction with the 26th avenue and entered the Golden Gate Park. The park was established in 1870 and is bigger than Central Park in New York. Its features are monumental and the trees are in such quantities, size and density that they do resemble a natural forest, next to them, pleasant lakes are irregularly shaped and surrounded by promenades, special areas are fenced for dogs to play unleashed and even there is a special Petanque playground. I left the park next to the 45th avenue and continued by foot to the nearby beach, passing in my way a huge and inactive windmill.Ocean winds made an effort to temperate the city and the drop of temperatures was evident by the beach; the promenade and the shoreline were almost empty and no shops spoiled the view. The promenade offered glorious views of the coastline; the beach was wide and had dark gray sand, the waves were low and cold. Low houses kept a respectful distance. The few people were a pleasant contrast to downtown, but with a painful determination to maximize the sights in that day, I left the beach.Reaching the Golden Gate Bridge was a bit tricky since it is off center and few buses reach it. I took bus 5 along Fulton Street back to 25th avenue and from there took bus 29 until the bridge. An advantage of such a landmark is that there are no worries of missing it, and pretty soon I was approaching its southeastern side, where a souvenirs shop and a sample cable are located. A short ramp gave access to the bridge and even from there, awesome views of the bay created a symphony of cameras' clicks. Walking across the bridge is free and easy: it is flat and the winds cooled down the crossing crowds. The first massive column is just five minutes away from the entrance and the second fifteen minutes from the first. The traffic is heavy, pedestrians, cyclists, teams of workers painting the bridge and narrow maintenance vehicles fiercely compete for the limited place, but the views compensate for everything. San Francisco, the East Bay, Marin County and Alcatraz appear behind a graduated mist, which increases with the distance.Back at the bridge’s base, I took bus number 29 to the end of its line and from there walked through Lombard Street and others to the Fisherman's Wharf; the walk was gave a good sight of the residential areas of the town. The wharf is one of the main attractions for tourists here; along the piers are endless restaurants and shops catering for all their needs and next to them, loud sea lions await visitors at Pier 39. Tours of the city and the bridge are offered using open deck buses, bikes, Segways (a two-wheel electric vehicle balanced with a gyroscope) and low motorized tricycles.The promenades continues east under the name of Embarcadero and is the perfect way to reach back downtown and end a busy day. Turning right at the prominent Ferry Building, I returned to Market Street by the sunset. Sitting over a coffee in a corner coffee shop, I watched with interest how the police was speaking with a handcuffed couple. After a while, the police reached the man's pocket, took money from there and gave it to one woman waiting nearby; the couple was subsequently taken away in a police car. Apparently the many cameras in every corner and shop of the town failed to fulfill their purpose, and I decided to take the BART to other shores before night would ease certain crimes. Close
Written by SeenThat on 18 Jul, 2006
Amtrak asked for $184, Greyhound settled for $84 in a weekday or $96 in a weekend trip with a week's advise. Feeling generous with my time and eager for a direct contact with the towns along the way, I chose Greyhound and got in exchange…Read More
Amtrak asked for $184, Greyhound settled for $84 in a weekday or $96 in a weekend trip with a week's advise. Feeling generous with my time and eager for a direct contact with the towns along the way, I chose Greyhound and got in exchange for my money an elaborated collection of vouchers for the four buses in my way. The heavy package in my pocket gave a sense of security and reliability. My assumption was that someone who takes so much care with the tickets must care similarly for the other details.Bus Number OneNext Saturday, I arrived at the humble Santa Fe's Greyhound terminal a bit before the scheduled departure at 19:50. The attendant told me that the bus will be at least two hours late and at 20:30 he sent all of us out, since he needed to close the station. Foods of an astonishing variety were spread out over the dry asphalt and an improvised picnic was organized by the waiting passengers. At 21:43 the bus arrived to the station and we boarded it; it left seven minutes later and at 22:51 we arrived at the brand new terminal in Albuquerque. The terminal had been opened a week before and it was spotless. Its location is central, next to the Amtrak terminal, the Century Theatres which feature fourteen theatres and Central Avenue.Bus Number TwoSince the next bus was scheduled to 2:35am, I had plenty of time - despite the delay - to explore the town, if it wasn't for the new terminal's oddities. There were no lockers; but plenty of video cameras transformed every traveler into a movie star. At least the luggage was automatically transferred between the buses. Carrying my daypack, I explored the nearby blocks, but scarcely dressed women and open cars loudly playing rap music quickly convinced me to return to the terminal.At 2:45am it was clear that an undefined delay was occurring for the second time: no explanations were supplied by the attendants, but at least they supplied entertainment. People boarding other buses were physically searched, officially for dangerous objects, but apparently for the benefit of the attendants' toolboxes. A plastic knife wasn't confiscated. An innocent and colorful screwdriver unable to attack the bus weakest screws was taken away. The criminals carrying those weapons of mass destruction were offered to pay an extra five dollars and to ship them separately; however, they were denied the option to put them in their stored luggage.At 3:19am, with a delay of less than an hour, we began traveling towards Phoenix, Arizona's capital and the next bus exchange point. Unable to sleep, I watched the dark desert night, until we arrived to Gallup at 5:30am. The town is advertised before the entrance as the "Heart of the Indian Country" and sits next to the Arizona border. At the other side of the town, we stopped for fifteen minutes at the Gallup Travel Center, which had the good sense of selling coffee in bulk quantities; several travelers managed to fill up with the precious liquid thermoses containing up to two liters. The driver announced that we should move our clocks back one hour. The road was surrounded by many low and narrow mesas.The next stop was Flagstaff, at 08:00. Greener than anything else until now, the town featured many grown up trees, which turned into an impressive forest once we left the town toward the west. Santa Fe being well over 2100m above the sea level, most of the way was down; the descent intensified after Flagstaff and signs around the road announced the altitude. At 09:37 we crossed the 1200m line; at 10:07 the 900m one and at 10:24 the 600m just before we reached Phoenix. Mentally transforming imperial feet into meters became my main pastime.Phoenix had extensive suburbs; from its eastern limit to the Greyhound terminal next to the airport, we traveled almost forty minutes. Before arriving to the terminal, the driver announced that the luggage won't be transferred to the next bus; thus, I collected my backpack and entered the terminal. Just before the entrance, pipes run along the ceiling and throw water at regular intervals, in a simple attempt to cool down the steaming area. The building has an appealing coffee shop; however, reaching it would mean leave the line to the buses to LA and to move there with the entire luggage. It was quite obvious that the line contained much more people than the able to enter a bus even by Asian standards; hence no one dared to leave it.The Third BusAt 12:20, a mere half an hour of delay, we left for LA. Apparently, because our luggage wasn't transferred automatically, there weren't any physical checks before boarding. The last sentence is not very logical, but it mirrors the behavior of Greyhound during the trip. More than two hours later, after crossing the arid zones of western Arizona, we crossed through a beautiful, old and inactive customs gate to California. Across the border is the town of Blythe; its exuberating green seemed to declare our arrival to Eden.The driver announced a twenty minutes stop for lunch. Beginning to understand the company's codes, I expected the break to be twice as large and was pleased to see that the driver followed my timetable down to the last second. We stopped at a large complex of fast food joints and nothing in the innocent looking greenery, prepared me for the blast of heat, pure fire, once I touched ground. The arid mountains in the background were telling the truth; once we left Blythe, the overwhelming green disappeared and the sudden loss transformed the area into a drier version of Arizona.Around 16:00, we crossed down the 300m line and the landscape began turning Mediterranean. Casual palms adorned the towns, and those became bigger and separated by diminishing distances. Wind energy stations hinted of a different, greener future.A bit after eight we arrived to Greyhound's terminal in Los Angeles, to what became the worst stop in the trip. The station is placed in a desolated area of the city; warehouses, wholesalers and topless dancers clubs surround it. The luggage transfer wasn't automatic here and lockers were available for two dollars for the first two hours. The cafeteria offered a wide range of food, but at exaggerated prices; unfortunately, there weren't any other options. At least my next bus to Oakland and San Francisco was supposed to leave at 22:00.The Fourth BusThe electronic board stated that the bus would leave on time, but it didn't state from which gate. Worried, I exited the terminal to the boarding platforms and asked for directions. One of the drivers told me the number of the right gate and on its other side I found an endless line. At 22:00 there were no signs of buses; the main desk had no idea when the bus will arrive. "We have no drivers," I was told by an unhelpful clerk.We left at 23:45, with a delay of almost two hours. No explanations; no apologies. "Your time has no value," was the message broadcasted by Greyhound all along the trip.Against all odds, at 03:30am we stopped at a burgers fast food joint and despite the hour, all the passengers, except the single foreigner one, attacked the round, fatty things.At 07:00, with a two hours delay, I landed in Oakland's Greyhound station. "Don't worry - my host answered to my apology - they are always late."Close
Written by jim on 03 Sep, 2001
I enjoy doing a couple of triathlons each year and have done the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon a couple of times. It is one of my favorite triathlons and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a challenging but fun triathlon. Every triathlon…Read More
I enjoy doing a couple of triathlons each year and have done the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon a couple of times. It is one of my favorite triathlons and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a challenging but fun triathlon. Every triathlon offers physical challenges, but this one takes it up a notch with the swim across the bay and the run through the sand and hills of the Presidio. The route includes a 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz island to the marina, a 18 mile bike ride with three loops around a six mile course through the presidio, and a ten mile run that winds through the presidio, onto the beach near the Golden Gate Bridge and through the beautiful neighborhoods next to the water.
THE SWIM: The first question everyone asks, "how was the swim". Truth be told it is surprisingly manageable. I live in New York City so it is hard to train for the swim (plus I am a very weak swimmer). But even without a significant amount of training, I have made the swim both times. Having said that, I was ready to kiss the ground each time I finished. It was particularly hard this last time because the bay was very choppy and you swallow a lot of water when you turn your head to breath. There a definitely several times when you ask yourself, "what the hell am I doing out here", but the sense of accomplishment at the end is tremendous. As for how it works, you board a ferry that goes right to the tip of Alcatraz Island. Then in groups of five you jump out the side of the ferry as if you are parachuting into the ocean. The ten foot jump is definitely gut check time. Once in the water you are surrounded by a few hundred other swimmers and dozens of kayakers who are watching out for your safety. At the sound of the horn, you start swimming toward the marina next to Fisherman's Wharf. It took me about an hour and five minutes to cover the distance, but I am a very weak swimmer. However, I was gratified to see a couple of hundred swimmers still in the water when I reached land. When you finish, your stuff is waiting on the steps of the marina and you put on your running shoes and leave your wetsuit in a plastic bag. Your wetsuit is waiting for you at the end of the race with your bike and other equipment.
THE BIKE: You run about 1.5 miles to your bike from the marina. This is actually nice given you are a bit chilled from the swim. Your bike is in a very organized staging area where you can make the final transition from the swim. As for the course, it is a six mile loop around the presidio that you complete three times. The best two words to describe the route are uphill, downhill. I don't think there is more than a couple hundred yards of flat on the whole course.
THE RUN: The run is usually my strong suit, but this is a tough course. Ten miles is no joke anytime, but add the hills and the sand and you have a serious challenge. Much of the course is on a series of dirt paths. You wind your way up and down several hills near the Golden Gate Bridge and eventually down to the beach (which is a nude beach that will provide the occassional naked person along the beach). You also wind your way through the beautiful neighborhoods along the water. The highlight, or lowlight depending on how you look at it, is the famous sand ladder. It is about 200 meters of sheer hell straight up sand steps built into the sand dunes. It is impossible to run except for maybe a handful of elite triathletes and will put the final touches on a very tough run. One fantastic part of run is the view. You will run next to and above the water for most of the route and will have a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The triathlon cost $185 to enter. Don't wait to the last minute because it does fill up. You can find the entry form and details at www.active.com or at envirosports.com.