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Friday, July 30, 2010

Checking off the Bucket List in San Francisco

This will be the final post from my recent trip to Yosemite Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. Looking back on the posts and considering the work we completed during the actual business parts of the trip, I’d have to say it was a great success. Today’s post centers on a “bucket list” item for me, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ever since I first flew over the Golden Gate Bridge, in May 1980 – flying from the San Francisco airport down to the airport at Monterey, where I would attend the Russian language program at the Defense Language Institute – I have wanted to check out the experience of walking across the bridge. By some stroke of luck, the sun was shining brightly on the bridge that day and its bright red glowed against the sparkling waves below. It’s an image that has stuck with me now for 30 years.

So with found time on my hands, I set about the errands to end the business portion of my trip last Friday and then to go over to San Francisco and join the thousands of other tourists discovering everyone’s “second home town.” I checked out of the hotel and back in, so that I could expense one night (funny, I ended up with a better room at lower cost, thanks to Hotels.com!); and I turned in my rental car two days early so that I wouldn’t incur the extra two days rental as a personal expense. Then I walked the three blocks over to Oakland’s Ferry Terminal and took a boat across to the Marina District.

The photos of the Bay Bridge and skyline were taken from the boat.

I decided to rent a bike and ride around town. There are tons of little stands that offer this service, and by skirting along the bay from the marina, you can stay on relatively flat terrain all the way over to the Bridge – and if you’re up for it, even over to Sausalito and Tiburon. I thought about riding to Sausalito and catching the ferry back, and figured I could decide later, after I crossed the bridge.

I started out at lunch time, so after I got out of the bustling area around the piers my first business item was getting lunch somewhere. I soon decided I would never come back to San Francisco in June, the main tourist season – it’s too crowded and the bunch of us were very dangerous for each other – Mary and I usually come here in September or October. Henry had suggested that I try to find the Buena Vista during my sightseeing, and lo, there it was just as I veered off the bike route!

I stopped in for an Irish Coffee made with Tullamore Dew – just like the ones at the Irish Harp in Berlin. The place was too crowded to eat there, and I was worried about the bike, so I decided to walk around the neighborhood to look for something. I ended up in the café at the Argonaut hotel, a Kimpton establishment (we have a couple of these boutique hotels in Alexandria, too – you can count on a good meal there).

After a nice Albacore sandwich, a green salad, and two Flat Tire ales I hit the road. I encountered this idled cable car, and then this view down the hill to the Bay and Alcatraz Island – we’ll take that in on some future, less crowded visit. I pedaled back down the bike path, and rode along some of the small parks that make up the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Crissy Field, the Presidio, and Fort Point, stopping here and there to try and get a good photo of the bridge (finally got the one above in Crissy Field).

At last I was at the bridge and dismounted. I walked the bike across – my goal was to walk across, and every time I’d set out before with friends or colleagues we had turned back before the first tower. I went all the way across this time…it’s a long walk, almost two miles from end to end! When I stopped at the north observation area, I decided not to go on to Sausalito, and rode back across down to the Marina District.

The bridge is one of America’s favorite symbols, and I’d rank it far up there on my list. After thinking about this little excursion for thirty years I was glad I could finally check it off. Over the years, with a dozen vacations there, a year in nearby Monterey, and four business trips here, I’ve been calling San Francisco everybody’s second home town for a long time – so this was one more thing I’d gotten to know personally about the place.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Yosemite Final Day

Today is my final post on my recent Yosemite trip, and I am planning to include images from our side trip to Bridalveil Falls on day two, as well as parting shots from our last day at work in the Park.


I noted the other day that we made two detours on the way back to our hotel after we finished working on day two in the Park. The first stop was at Bridalveil Falls, which is one of the waterfalls in Yosemite that flows year round – although towards the end of summer the amount of water in the stream can be low enough that the flow appears to not even hit the ground.

Wikipedia has this one at 617 feet in altitude. There is a short walk from a parking lot up to a viewing area, altogether less than a mile, much of it accessible, to the base of the falls. This path has a slight climb and is not very steep – and we were rewarded with a light spray coming off of the falls on the hot day we visited. The photos are of the stream at the base of the falls and a close up view from the observation area.

When we drove up to Glacier Point after this stop – the subject of an earlier post – we crossed Bridalveil Creek near a meadow, the source of the falls. The creek is fed by Ostrander Lake, which apparently is part of a network of cross country ski routes and hiking trails…maybe a future destination in the Park.

On the last day in the Park we continued working in the Lodge area, and as before, I found myself catching glimpses of the Half Dome or Yosemite Falls every time I looked up from my note taking and photography tasks. At one point, we walked down a paved path and found this sign, which shows the high water mark of the 1997 floods – one of several Merced River floods that have occurred over the years.

I asked my colleague to take the picture to illustrate how those glimpses of the famous landmarks were omnipresent – that is upper Yosemite Falls behind me.

To wrap up this series, I’ll mention the Tunnel View shot above. This is another of the famous views that you can see when visiting – it’s taken from a viewing area that has been built on Route 41, one of the main roads that runs through the Park. Route 41 was under construction during our visit, and we had to drive the length of it to get back to the hotel – a drive that took up to two hours on one of the days.

From the tunnel view, El Cap, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls are easily visible. Most of the peaks in the photo have names – but these are the main icons.

I’ve said it a few times. Even though we finished early and our visit to the Park wasn't longer, I was very lucky to get this assignment – and now that we are back in our offices the work is going on, documenting our assessments and completing analysis. But it’s a work trip I won’t forget for a long time.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

San Francisco's Golden Fire Hydrant

After breakfast at Dottie's, on our way out of town I asked Brian to go by Mission Dolores and up to Church Street, which is at the nexus of Noe Valley, the Mission, and Castro districts.  I had a couple of objectives for this little side trip - first, our friend Cathy used to live up here and I wanted to take a look at her house and the view I remembered, and second, I wanted to check out the little fire hydrant here that somehow managed to keep working after the 1906 earthquake, saving much of the Mission District from the fires.

It was easy to find the charming house up on Church Street - here is a photo of it - and the skyline view above is from the street in front of it.  We had some wonderful visits there, and I always remember my first BART trip over from a trip I made in 1998 whenever I am here - I stayed in Oakland that time also.


Slightly down the hill and a half block away is the fire hydrant.  It is marked with a plaque, and Brian told me there is an annual celebration of it.

Here's a link to an article about the hydrant:  http://geology.about.com/od/historicearthquakes/ig/SFquake2006/goldhydrant1.htm

Yosemite's White Wolf Campground

One of the areas I visited during the Yosemite trip was the White Wolf campground, which is north of the main Valley. It took about an hour to drive up there along Tioga Road, climbing along the way to about 8,000 feet in altitude – making it a high country campground. According to the NPS site (http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wwcamp.htm) there are 74 campsites, and RVs and trailers can be accommodated there.


There are a number of wood and canvas cabins available on a first come, first served basis, at a cost of $14 per night for up to six people. That’s a bargain compared to lodging in the Valley.

For scenery, besides the usual access to hiking trails, there is Olmstead Point nearby, which offers a view of Yosemite Valley icons such as the Half Dome and Clouds Rest. Also, I found this little meadow with wildflowers right next to the campsites on the drive in, and this little stream wanders through the tent camping area.

As you can see from the photos, White Wolf is rocky and sunny, and my hunch is that it is not as crowded as the main Valley, but it’s close enough that an easy day trip for the shuttle tour and sightseeing is feasible. Also on the way up from the main Valley you can visit two of the three main Sequoia groves, Merced and Tuolumne, with trees that are the largest and oldest living things on the earth, at more than 300 feet tall and more than 2,000 years old.

The history of White Wolf suggests that it started as a camp for ranch hands, and that the name is derived from a native American who lived nearby (this information from a Wikipedia article). Today there is a small store and food service is available there to support the campground.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Sutro Baths Ruins

I have a few items left to post from my business trip to Yosemite and the two days of personal travel in San Francisco, so I'll be putting those up for the rest of the week, starting with this entry about the Sutro Bath ruins on the west side of San Francisco.

The Sutro Baths were a large privately built swimming pool facility that opened to the public in 1896, right next to the Cliff House (as shown in the first photo), which had been around since the early 1800's on the cliffs overlooking the ocean in that part of the city.  The Cliff House has its own unique history, which includes a visit by Mark Twain, which you can read about on this site:  http://www.cliffhouseproject.com/

Both of these sites are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), an affiliation of several National Park Service assets in the Bay Area.

In looking at the pictures and other records of the Sutro Baths, I am fascinated by how large the facility actually was - inside the building, apparently there was a choice of seven swimming pools - six salt water and one fresh water.  There were galleries and arcades, and the swimming area was surrounded with stadium style seating.  Read about it on Wikipedia here, but there has been an article or two in National Geographic as well:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutro_Baths

Apparently, the baths were built as an attraction at the end of the street car line, as were many amusement parks in that era.  All that remain now are ruins of the old concrete works, which are fascinating to explore, after a fire completely destroyed the buildings in the 1960's.  At the time, the baths had been converted into a skating rink.

Brian and I took a walk around the ruins, including walking through one of the tunnels where utilities and water collection activities happened.  After 100 feet or so, you come to an abrupt stop at a cliff, with great big seaside rocks filling your view. 

The Cliff House has been renovated over the last decade and its appearance is designed to look like it did in the 40's. Earlier versions, including a grand Victorian building, were destroyed by fires. 

This was my third visit to the ruins, which don't cost anything to visit and there is ample free parking nearby.  The scale of this development and the - for lack of a better word - folly, of building something like this with the powerful Pacific Ocean right there ready to take its vengeance, are something I simply find fascinating. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Catching up in San Francisco

I've said it before, I was really lucky to have the chance to travel to Yosemite last week on business.  I was also lucky to be able to find time to visit some good friends along the way, including Brian McGowan, who was stationed in Berlin with me way back when.

Brian keeps a blog, which is in the blog roll column to the left, called Breakfast at Epiphany's (link:  http://breakfastatepiphany.blogspot.com/2010/07/dotties-true-blue-cafe.html) - he's already got a post up there about our trip to one of his favorites, Dottie's True Blue Cafe.  If you are planning a trip to SFO the blog is something you need to check in advance to make sure you start the day right with your most important meal.

Brian was a great sport and we had fun catching up on old times while sightseeing around the city - more to follow.  But first, let's get down to business. 

Brian referred me to the specials board for some choice breakfast selections - he picked the Portobello Frittata, and I had the black bean cakes with two eggs over easy.  I expect food to be good in San Francisco and have rarely been dissappointed there - and Dottie's delivered and then some.  Categorically, those were the best black bean cakes I have ever eaten!

Using his trademarked Glen Bacon scale, Brian gave his frittata a high rating of 7.5 - I gave my black bean cakes a 7.1.  It was truly a good breakfast and prepared us for the grueling trip to Sausalito and Tiberon to follow!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Yosemite Second Day - Post 3

We took a couple of detours going back to our hotel from the Valley on day 2.  I am going to start by posting on the second of those detours - a drive up to Glacier Point, which is as advertised:  some of the most awe inspiring views on the planet.

For the most part, I am going to let the photos do the talking.  Here is a link to the Glacier Point article on Wikipedia, if you want to read more.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier_Point

In the first photo, the main landmarks visible are the Half Dome (click on the Half Dome label in the left column for the story of a hike Chris and I did in 2005), then Vernal Falls, the lower of the two waterfalls, and Nevada Falls, the upper falls visible here.  The valley they emerge from - by the way, they are both on the Merced River - is called the Giant Staircase, the result of glacial action approximately 20,000 years ago.

Below is a look to the west in the Valley.  The stone here is famous, it was featured in the Ken Burns films.  Also, another look at the Half Dome, washed in golden light.


The last two photos are taken looking down into the main part of Yosemite Valley.  In the first, the Ahwahnee Hotel is visible, in the second the Happy Isles parking lot is visible.  The trailhead to the cable route described in the Half Dome hike posts starts there.

A second point of interest in the Happy Isles photo is the light colored stone visible below.  This part of the mountain has had several significant rock falls over the last 10 years, including some fatalities.  Part of Curry Village, one of the larger lodging facilities in the Park, is closed due to the danger.

Glacier Point is approximately 7,400 feet above sea level, or about 3,000 feet above the Valley floor. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Know I Look Like A Tool

But for some reason you find that you are a little envious.

The reason?  Because this is what I drove by to get to work today.

We were working most of the day on parking lots and drive ways, so we had to wear the high visibility gear.

Here is an action photo of a pothole I had previous assessed.

Also you can seen that the new Vasques are working out...here's a shot out to the AOA gang! 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yosemite Second Day - Post 2

Still waiting on some photos.  Here are a couple from the start of the day, as we first arrived at Yosemite Valley.  Eventually, when the remainder arrive, I will have a few more to put up.

These are of Bridal Veil Falls and El Cap. 





Also, while we were stopped, I caught site of this seasonal fall to the west of El Cap.  I'll have to look it up and see what its name is, and any other details I can find.

Yosemite Second Day - Post 1

There is a bit of a delay waiting for my photos to upload from my mobile phone to my email account, and the mobile blogger plan has crashed and burned.  All fingers point to AT&T.

In the meantime, at least one of my early photos made it through - this one of Yosemite Falls.  We spent the day working in the Yosemite Lodge area, and as it turns out, this view was right in front of us in the parking lot we chose.  I didn't even notice the Falls were straight ahead of us until we were unloading the trunk.  You may have to click on the image to see the Falls through the trees.

Yosemite Falls is one of the iconic sites of the Valley.  I have been here before, in 2002 with Mary and again in 2005 when Chris and I hiked the Half Dome - but both of those were late summer visits, and there was no water coming over the Falls, as they often go dry after all the snow melts.  This is early enough that they still are flowing strongly.

The height of the Falls is over 2,400 feet, and there are three stages.  At the top, you have the first stage, which is about 1,400 feet, then the second stage which is actually a series of cataracts, amost 700 feet, and the third stgage for the balance.  There is a great accessible trail leading up to the base, and you can hike a good way up, to the top of the second stage.

I have more photos coming, in fact my phone is almost out of memory.  Hope to get these up soon!

A few more Farmers' Market Photos

Well, my AT&T account must be logjammed, or the aol account where I send the photos is.  So I am waiting for a few more Yosemite photos.  In the meantime I received three more of the farmers' market photos from the other day I will go ahead and post now...

First, everybody seemed to have a lot of these squash and/or cucmbers the other day.  There were two or three kinds that were spiny or ribbed.  Looked pretty interesting.

Also, here is a Tofu stand.  We don't see those around much on the east coast.

The last shot is the sign on the booth from one of the family farms.  I think these are probably pretty big operations at the end of the day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yosemite First Day - Part 2

Here are some more photos from the first day, ending with the same shot in the late afternoon that I started with in the morning.  We had a long midday ride over to White Wolf as part of the days work load.  I have some shots of that campground I'll post later in the week.  The wide out view of the Valley is from the overlook on the highway to White Wolf, the other is from the "Tunnel View" parking area.

Yosemite First Day - Part 1

My colleagues are trying to roust the old guy out onto the road by 6:15.  Actually, that's important, as there is construction between here and there - and if we get on the way earlier we miss delays from it.  Still, I am lobbying for a Starbucks stop this morning.

I'll just post photos today without much text as a result.  In roughly chronological order - with the first Valley View from our arrival and the last Valley View as we were leaving the Park.  We're keeping pretty busy and I am finding the perspective of having all these icons everywhere you look when you pause from taking notes to be a pretty interesting experience.