California ~ Unframed Photography
In June of 2014 I found myself back in my old familiar surroundings of the San Francisco Bay Area.
I lived there as a bachelor in the 1980's and have returned a few times to visit friends and family
(I even considered moving back there during a difficult, unemployed period of my life back in early 2011!)
This time however, I returned with my newlywed wife Susan by my side! It was a journey back in my previous
life for the very first time - if that makes any sense!
The first stop to this northern California sanctuary by the sea was to the City by the Bay, San Francisco. Our impression on that very first day, (and my wife Susan's most indelible memory!) was how cold the temperature was for a June day in California, especially with the wind blowing hard off the Pacific Ocean and the seemingly, ever-present fog bank looming just off shore. For those first days on the ground in CA, we spent more time huddled together whenever possible in sweatshirts and wool socks. While I assured my new bride numerous times we'd find warmer temperatures further east and south of our current location (which we did!), it did nothing to warm our extremities those first two days in Frisco. I think it was Samuel Clemons who cited: "the coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco!" How true that observation was! Anyways, my two California brothers met us early on the morning of June 16th to set out for a day of sightseeing. For our first point of interest that day, we headed for was the infamous Twin Peaks summit, which rises above and just to the West of the great City of San Francisco. This natural vantage point allows for amazing views of the City and the Bay (to the East), Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge off in the distance (to the North), the Pacific coastline and ocean (to the West) and Silicon Valley to the South. We stayed there not very long as the wind was blowing at a gale and not one of us (even the California boys!) was up to battling that force for very long. We had our first look of the City, took some pictures and off we went. The next stop was out to Seal Rock and the Cliff House, an area known as Land's End in the annals of San Francisco history. We took in the sights and sounds of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the rocks of the shoreline, then headed inside the stately Cliff House for a little warm up (topped off with our first Irish Coffees of the day!) We then struck out on a hike along the trails that circumnavigated this prominent point of land, passing by the runes of the old Sutro mansion, the monument to the Battleship San Francisco, The San Francisco Legion of Arts Museum and an overlook that afforded amazing views of the actual Golden Gate (mouth of San Francisco bay) and the infamous bridge that crosses over it. I snapped numerous pictures along the way, including a few of a carefree coyote which passed near in front of us and didn't seem to care at all of our presence! Next we headed over the Golden Gate Bridge, parked at the Visitor's area at the North end of the bridge, then hiked back out onto the bridge half way where the water was about 200 feet below us. The wind was still blowing something fierce but it was great to be out there nonetheless and to admire the shear magnificence of this structure - standing there, day after day, year after year, against such awesome forces of nature, all the while carrying thousands of cars and trucks across the great divide below every day without seemingly a care! It also struck us, while out there, how anyone might contemplate suicide by jumping off this bridge. It takes a lot of courage to even look over the railing for some, let alone climb over them and cast oneself off. We took all this in, and then headed back to our car and off to Sausalito for dinner and more Irish Coffees. Thus ended day one!
Our second day in San Francisco included a tour of Golden Gate Park, its amazing Museum of Natural History, and the Japanese Tea Garden. Then we headed downtown to meet up with eldest brother Mark and old family and personal friend. Joe Oster. Together we rode am infamous Cable Car, toured the Fisherman's Wharf area, Pier 39 and culminated the evening with an exquisite seafood dinner at a fine waterfront restaurant. All lived up to expectation and concluded our initial 2-day tour of the City of San Francisco. On Wednesday, June 18th, Sue and I struck out early by ourselves heading east towards the Sierra Nevada and most specifically, Yosemite National Park. It's a lengthy car ride over the East Bay hills, across the San Joaquin Valley, up into the Sierra foothills and into the mountains, but all familiar roads I had traversed many times as a young truck driver, back in my days living in California, so again, it was a surreal journey down another memory lane! I had also been to Yosemite once before - way back in 1980 at the tender young age of 20, heading there for my very first Thanksgiving with my West coast family, which we celebrated in the grand dining hall of the Ahwahnee Hotel in the heart of Yosemite Valley. We spent our nights in the Curry Village tent cabins, froze our collective butts off, and had the time of our lives to that point! Sadly, I took scant few photos that time around. This trip to Yosemite, some 34 years later, was nothing short of spectacular and the opportunities/objects I found to photograph at every turn, never seemed to end (oh what a trooper my new bride was!)
Our first stop heading into Yosemite was at the roadside vista point along the main entry road, Big Oak Road, where I shot my first images of Yosemite. We proceeded from there to Mariposa Grove, home of the park's Giant Sequoias. We arrived rather late in the afternoon, but still tackled the 4-mile loop hiking trail that circumnavigated the grove's major points of interests. We timed it perfectly, starting the hike as the sun headed for the peaks to the west and finishing as the shadows from the massive trees surrounding us, grew ever larger, to their maximum extent. After we completed that adventure (getting back to the car as total darkness descended), we retired to the Wawona Hotel for a good dinner and night's repose. The next day, we woke early, had breakfast then once again headed down the road back to Yosemite valley, stopping first at Tunnel View overlook for a first true valley vista (and where the picture of Sue and I, used on this webpage, was taken). Then it was on to Bridalveil Falls for a quick look and some picture taking. It was a perfect clear, dry day with midday temperatures hovering in the mid to high 80's. Next, we parked our car at the main visitor parking lot in the middle of Curry Village, and walked over to the main Village center, checked out the museum, gift shop and other associative buildings. After that, we walked over to the foot of Lower Yosemite Falls, found a spot in the shade to take in the glory of this magnificent landmark, pondered the beauty and meaning of it all, then headed back to Curry Village where we timed it perfectly to take advantage of an inexpensive hamburger barbecue for our lunch - um, there's nothing like a cheese burger barbecued over real coals! After sating our midday hunger pangs, we struck out by foot once again for the far eastern end of Yosemite Valley and Mirror Lake. Along the way, we stopped into the previously mentioned Ahwahnee Hotel and checked out its magnificent main dining hall. It didn't look familiar to me at all but then again, there's been thousands of memories captured by my noggin since then (especially in the last few years!) so no wonder it looked so unfamiliar to me. After that stop, we found our way back to the trail which continued on and took us along the foot of Half Dome, possibly the most spectacular and recognizable piece of granite in the world, especially standing about 3000 feet below its summit!
We eventually reached Mirror Lake after a fair trudge under blazing sun, in and out of much-needed tree shade. Unfortunately, what we found there was only the remnants of what used to be Mirror Lake - a once large body of water now reduced to a small pool of water or two, product of numerous seasons of draught here in this corner of the world being severely affected by climate change. Even still, this spot proved to be a very picturesque corner of the valley with glimpses of the diminished Mirror Lake, North Dome and some of the other precipices looking farther to the East. After adequately exploring this portion of the valley, we headed back to our car and then up the long and winding road to the top of Glacier Point. This is one of the most spectacular overlooks you would ever want to spend the time and driving expertise to navigate up to - it's nearly 3200 feet above Curry Village on the South wall of the canyon and provides incredible views looking East and West in Yosemite Valley. It includes incredible and unique views of Half Dome, as well as Vernal and Nevada Falls, hundreds of feet below. From this awesome summit, we retreated once again back to the Wawona Hotel for another good dinner and well-deserved night's sleep (we figured we walked/hiked 6 miles that day!)
On our last day in Yosemite, we drove down through the Valley for the last time, stopping to take pictures of El Capitan and the Merced River as it winds through the mystical valley. After that, we headed back out the way we came in on Big Oak Road, but turned right at the top of the valley on State Road 120 and headed for Tioga Pass. Along this route, we came upon Olmsted Point, which affords a completely different view of Half Dome, from several miles to the East. I took numerous pictures from that direction of the magnificent rock and beautiful Tenaya Lake to the East, from approximately the same location. After that, we headed for Toulumne Meadows, Mono Lake and onto Nevada.
Following our amazing visit to Yosemite, we traveled to Nevada for a quick tour of Virginia City - a consummate old western mining town, mostly preserved as it was over a hundred years ago, complete with wood sidewalks and saloons with bullet holes in their walls and windows! If you ever find your way there and are looking for a good place to dine, check out the Café Del Rio, a fine southwestern cuisine restaurant in a quaint old, authentic building on C Street, just a hop, skip and jump down the road from the main shopping/attraction district. You also might want to stop into the Bucket of Blood Saloon and the Delta Saloon Café to check out their history and the Delta's vintage Suicide Table. Take a tour of the town aboard a tractor drawn passenger car and learn of the town's history and anecdotes from the heyday of this rowdy town's past. This place is definitely a step back in time of one of the most infamous destinations of the old West.
From Virginia City, we proceeded over the hill to Lake Tahoe, where we "holed up" at a Holiday Inn Express in the town of South Lake Tahoe. The next morning, before heading back to San Francisco, we jumped on the Heavenly Valley gondola to take the ride up to the summit of their impressive facility. From the top of their multiple mountains, a lofty height of over 9,000 feet, we had a nearly 360° view of both Lake Tahoe to the West, and the Carson Valley in Nevada to the East. It was cool and clear up there, which made for spectacular viewing and some incredible photographs. I've never seen a more vibrant color of blue as we saw that day of Lake Tahoe in the glimmering sunshine below!
After that, we headed back to San Francisco via Route's 50 and 80 - again rolling down old familiar roads from past travels, though now, they hardly looked familiar! We landed in Frisco mid afternoon, checked into a quaint little hotel in the Marina District of the City and prepared for a night out with friends and family to go out for dinner and to the theater to see Beach Blanket Babylon, a must-see for a first-time San Francisco visitor! On Sunday, after a hearty breakfast, Susan and I jumped on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system and rode over to the Oakland Coliseum to see the Oakland A's against the reviled Boston Red Sox, play baseball and the wrong team won! On Monday, we met up with brother Mark to more thoroughly tour the Marina district, Fort Point, the Palace of Fine Arts, Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf and we even boarded a San Francisco Bay tour boat which took us under and out past the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz Island, another must-do for a would-be visitor to this City by the Bay. Once again, we were pummeled by the wind and cold, cementing forever in my wife’s mind, that San Francisco is indeed, the coldest place on earth!
On Tuesday, Sue and I headed over to the East Bay to explore my old haunt of Canyon, located deep in the Oakland Hills. This is the place where I lived with my trusty dog Jessie for close to nine years back in the 1980's. Susan was none-to-impressed with the old, dilapidated trailer and surroundings I used to live and thrive in way back when! What could I say, it was a long time ago in a far away place and let's face it, for only $200 a month, as good as it gets for in the San Francisco Bay Area in the era. Meanwhile, my mind spun incessantly as we inspected the outside of my old habitat, the area that used to be my dog Jessie’s “plywood palace” and we even discovered an old burned out picnic table still there some 25 years later, a remnant of those long ago days, compliments of an old/late friend of mine, (Mike Mason), still sitting there where it was all those years prior! We then proceeded to hike the old trails I used to truck with my faithful German Sheppard by my side, evoking even more fond memories of an innocent time in my former life. Not much has changed in this remote corner of the Bay Area and a couple people are still living there who even remembered me! What a wonderful and memorable trip is was down that memory lane!
On Wednesday morning, June 25th, we set off bright and early for the Monterey Bay peninsula, a good two hour drive south down Interstate’s 680 and 101 – once again, roads I traversed dozens of times when I lived out there. We arrived around noon and found the coast pretty much socked in with fog so we headed for downtown Carmel to explore the main downtown shopping district, taking in the sights and incredible price tags on everything from articles of clothing to artwork to pieces of furniture. In some stores, items weren’t even marked, to which my wife pointed out, if we had to ask the price, we probably couldn’t afford it. Anyways, we walked around for a while and window shopped, then my brother Mark rolled into town and we met him for lunch at the infamous Hog’s Breadth Inn (used to be owned by one Clint Eastwood!). It was very quaint; we had a nice lunch, a couple beers and had our pictures taken under one of the aforementioned wall-hung, stuffed hog heads. After that, we took in a walk along the seashore and dipped our feet into the Pacific Ocean for the first time this vacation, then headed for the hotel to check-in and catch a nap before re-grouping to head out on the town for dinner and entertainment in downtown Monterey. We did find a great seafood restaurant (The Fish Hopper) and while it was a little pricey, the food and view was incredible! We had a pretty near 180˚ view of the harbor, sunset and fishing boats working on their catches (apparently squid by the beam of their lights). We then found a nightclub / bar that had a live rock band playing that we stopped in for to listen, have a cocktail and dance a song or two to. After that, it was off to the hotel and bed, we had another big day or two ahead of us and needed to close our eyes.
On the 11th day of our west coast adventure, Sue and I arose early, had breakfast with brother Mark, then the two of us headed South along the Pacific Coast Highway, down to and through Big Sur with our final southern-most destination being Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Along the way, we marveled at the amazing Pacific coast seashore as the roadway took us right down to the water’s edge and then back up, climbing a good thousand feet or so above the waves, like little wrinkles on your skin, viewed from far away. All awhile, PCH 1 winds up and down on a narrow two lane road with scant little room for error and little or no breakdown lane or barricades to prevent the distracted driver from plummeting to their death! The occasional pull-off area/vista point, afforded incredible views of this almost too-hard to imagine earthly landscape, desolate and lonely, traversed only by those seeking to get from one end to the other – could anybody really live along this barren stretch of land? Well they do, it’s just hard to imagine! Anyways, after a long and challenging drive, we arrived in San Simeon and made our way up to the Castle on the mountain top, first in our car and then by tourist bus, which is the only way to arrive at the top of “La Questa Encantada” ~ the enchanted hill (so named by William Rudolph Hearst). It was a lovely afternoon, tour and visit to this magical place, once again affording far off views of the Pacific coast and rolling hills that comprise the Santa Lucia Mountains. The building itself, gardens, swimming pools and grounds are one massive exercise in overindulgence, ostentatiousness and gluttony that while amazing to see firsthand, are also very disturbing to see how much wealth one individual could ever attain. At the very least, it was good thing the property was awarded to that State of California (upon the demise of Mr. Hearst) to serve as a museum for folks like my wife and I to marvel at for the rest of time.
After that tour, we out and north once again back to the Monterey peninsula, stopping briefly along the way at the Piedras Blancas rookery to view the giant elephant seals as they bask in the sunlight along the shore. After that, we jumped on our or horse and scurried north to meet up with brother mark once again and good friends Mary & Bill to have dinner at an enchanted place called the Mission Ranch, which is a magnificent restaurant, piano bar and establishment owned and operated by Mr. Clint Eastwood. Sue and I arrived there in the nick of time as we had a dinner reservation, but managed to have one cocktail before we were seated for dinner at the infamous, previously-mentioned piano bar. Brother Mark and I headed to the bar to order up a round of drinks for all of us and while we were waiting for said drinks, he exclaimed to me that for all his ventures to this destination, he’d never run into the owner, movie actor extraordinaire and no sooner did the words pop out of us his mouth that I glanced over his shoulder to see sitting a fair pace off behind him, Mr. Eastwood himself! He was having dinner with a group of people at a table near an aisle we later take to our dinner table, which afforded us close-up vantage point of the man himself. We were all a buzz as we ate an amazing meal, drank a bottle or two of wine and marveled at what an extraordinary time we were having! After dinner, we proceeded back to the Piano Bar area of the facility, where we once again spotted Mr. Eastwood mingling with some patrons. I once again headed to the bar to purchase two drinks for my wife and I. When I turned around to head back to where my wife was, there Clint was, right in front of me in my path of travel! Mr. Eastwood, seeing drinks in both my hands, stated: “looks like you’re all set!” To which I could think of nothing else to say except “Yup!” then proceeded to offer to give him the one in my left hand, thrusting it forward forcefully and thus spilling it over the edge of the glass and right towards the celebrity standing before me – he said nothing, aptly dodged the liquid heading in his direction and stole away as quickly as he could manage. I gasped at my tomfoolery but laughed a plenty when sharing my story with the crew shortly thereafter. In fact, I still laugh at myself whenever I re-tell this story to this day!
That was basically the climax of that day and our venture down to Monterey, though the next day did deliver to us a spectacular tour of the Monterey bay Aquarium. I was prepared to skip it altogether, having visited there on at least two prior occasions, but upon the insistence of our dear friend, Mary Fitch, opted to take my wife there and we’re both really glad we did. The exhibits this museum offers are unparalleled in this country and the location right on the harbor with views and terraces overlooking the ever flowing tide, are just magnificent. From the sea otters to the octopuses to the jelly fish to huge fish tanks, this museum has it all going on and no trip to northern California should ever not include this stop!
After our tour of the aquarium we toured the Los Lobos State Natural Preserve (another worthwhile tourist stop), the headed north back to the San Francisco Bay Area for our final weekend in California. We met both of my brothers and some other friends for dinner on Friday night, toured the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California on Saturday during the day, traveled up to Hayward, California to visit and have dinner with age-old friends Kim and Evelyn Riley on Saturday night. On Sunday, we toured downtown Palo Alto, hiked Stanford University, climbed Hoover Tower in the middle of the campus, checked out the HP Garage (where Silicon Valley got its start way back in 1938!) and the Hewlett Packard headquarters, also located in Palo Alto and my spouse’s employer, then headed to brother Paul and his mate’s place for dinner on Sunday night. On Monday, June 30th, our last full day in California, we made a trip back up to San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County to visit another old friend of mine. We only stayed for a while there and also made a trip over the Marin headlands and down to Stinson Beach where we walked along the beach, dipped out feet in the ocean for the last time this visit, and had lunch before heading back south to say our final farewell to friends, family and the San Francisco bay area!
On Tuesday, July 1st, we boarded a plane at San Francisco International Airport, headed back east and home. Sue and I sat on that plane and reflected upon what an amazing visit time we had and what a wonderful place San Francisco was (despite the at-times bone-chilling wind & cold!) and of the outstanding honeymoon we had there! Now, it was back to the East coast and the grind, which was not going to be too easy after such a memorable adventure! Then again, maybe memorable adventures made the grind an easier pill to swallow!?!