Wednesday, May 21, 2014

San Francisco

May 18, 2014

For the second day of my parent's visit, we spent the day in and around San Francisco.

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA
Mute Swan
We started our day in Oakland at Lake Merritt looking for Hank the Pelican.  No luck.  Then, Mom wanted to see the Greek Orthodox church on Lincoln.  I had no idea where Lincoln was, but I knew there was a Greek Orthodox church right next to the Mormon Temple in the hills, so we drove there.  Sure enough, that was the one.  She didn't want to go in or anything, so we just did a drive by and headed over to the city.

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA
Our first stop in San Francisco was the Palace of Fine Arts.  I like taking visitors here because not only is it beautiful it's also completely and utterly worthless.  One of San Francisco's most endearing traits to me is its ability and willingness to build things for no other reason than "Hey, man, it would be cool."  The Palace of Fine Arts is perhaps its finest example.

The original building was left over from the 1915 World Expo.  The people of that era liked this particular part of the expo so much that when it came time to tear it down along with all the other buildings of the expo they couldn't bring themselves to do it, so they kept it around.  That original building lasted into the sixties, but it wasn't built to last nearly that long.  It fell into disrepair, but the people of that era were no more ready to give up the building than the people from the 1910s, so they put a bunch of money together and built the cement replica that stands today.

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA
We went to a French cafe in the Marina for lunch.  Then we headed over to Marin to take in the views from the Headlands.  It was windy up there, but the skies were clear so we could see for miles.

Marin Headlands, CA
Pocket Gopher
My parents wanted to walk across the bridge but we missed the exits and didn't feel like back-tracking, so we went to Golden Gate Park instead.  My mom and I walked from the bison paddock to the beach while Dad doubled back to pick us up.  We saw a gopher on the walk.  Not a gopher hole.  A gopher.  I don't think I've ever actually seen one in a natural setting before.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
The windmills in the park are also good examples of San Francisco's useless beauty.  They were originally functional, supplying the power needed to pump water in the park.  They were replaced by electric pumps decades ago.  Both windmills were recently rebuilt, again because some people got it into their heads that it would be a cool thing to do.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA

Monday, May 19, 2014

Yosemite National Park

Glacier Point

May 17, 2014

My parents were in town for the weekend.  I took them to Yosemite last year when they came down.  That worked out pretty well last time, so I thought we'd give it another go this year.  By all accounts, it was a day well spent.

Pale Swallowtail -- Yosemite National Park, CA
Leaping Lizards!
Our initial plan was to see the giant sequoias in the Mariposa Grove and then head over to Glacier Point to take in the view.  We scrapped that plan after finding the parking lot was full.  We could have parked five miles down the road and taken a bus to the grove, but the parking lot at the bus stop was full as well.  It just wasn't meant to be.  Luckily back up plans aren't hard to come by at a place like Yosemite.

Snowberry Checkerspot
After stopping for lunch and sticking my feet in the frigid waters of the South Fork of the Merced River (refreshing yet painful), we headed up to Glacier Point, stopping here and there for pictures and miniature adventures.  Dad said he saw a field that looked like it was on fire so we stopped for a few pictures there.  Not literally on fire, mind you.  The bushes were red and kind of glowing in the sun. The bushes are behind Sam in that picture of him with the rusty chainsaw we found inside the hollow of a burned out tree.  You never know what you'll find out in the woods.

Yosemite National Park, CA
Yosemite National Park, CA
Yosemite National Park, CA
Saying the road to Glacier Point has a handful of nice views is kind of like saying you think the Pope might be taking that whole "Catholic" thing kind of seriously.  Glacier Point just might be as good as it ever gets.  I think I got some pretty good pictures, but the size and power of these vistas is mostly lost.  Go there.  See it.  Breath the air.  Breath deeply.  It's not something to be missed or forgotten.

Yosemite National Park, CA
It was pretty crowded at Glacier Point.  I usually find the Yosemite crowds to be a bit annoying.  That's one of the reasons I like the less popular parks like Death Valley and Capitol Reef.  I didn't mind the crowd at Glacier Point, though.  Everybody was pretty cool.  Maybe I was just a little in awe of the view, too.  Perhaps a bit of both?

Yosemite National Park, CA
After taking in Glacier Point's scenery as best we could, we drove down into the valley, stopping at Tunnel View for the requisite photo ops.  The sun was hidden behind clouds when we got there.  As we watched, it broke through the clouds, slowly spreading its glow across the walls and trees of the valley.  It was all so dramatic, at least for those of us that are into that kind of thing.
Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, CA
We stopped at the base of Bridalveil Falls.  Sam and I tried to hike up to the base of the falls by going up and around the side, and we got up pretty high but ultimately were blocked off by some steep rocks and dense vegetation.  I think we gave it a pretty good effort.  I'm guessing we might have picked a better route.

Ribbon Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA
We spent a little time scouring the face of El Capitan for climbers.  As sometimes happens I found more at home looking over the pictures than we were able to see looking directly at the cliff.  I can't imagine trying to sleep on that slab of granite.  It must be a pretty cool view to wake up to, though.

That was pretty much it for the trip on Saturday.  Without the hike into the sequoias it ended being more driving than I'd planned, but the majestic views were well worth it.

Four Climbers on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, CA

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Alameda / Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline

More Odds and Ends

April is a great month for wildflowers.  California's wildflower shows can be extraordinary.  Each year is the luck of the draw on any given year.  The last few years haven't been that great, this year included.  Still, even the bad years have their spots and moments.

Yellow-rumped Warbler -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
Brush Rabbit -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
There are usually a lot of rabbits at the shoreline, both brush rabbits and jackrabbits.  The jackrabbits are a bit nutty.  The brush rabbits are always skittish.  The jackrabbits are less so.  They're brave until suddenly they're not, then they run like bananas for a couple of seconds, then they're rave again.  Goofballs.

Turkey Vulture -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
Black-crowned Night Heron -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
Mallard -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
Double-crested Cormorant -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
I saw a couple of pelicans in April.  The first of the year.  Loves me some pelicans.

Brown Pelican -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
Brown Pelican -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA

Monday, May 5, 2014

Yea, Though I Walk . . . Mono Lake

Heading Home

April 30, 2014


  • Elliott Smith -- Either/Or
  • Vampire Weekend -- Modern Vampires of the City
  • The Raconteurs -- Broken Boy Soldiers
The drive home was a nice one, if a little uneventful.  I took 395 North, crossing over the Sierras at the Sonora Pass.  I made a stop at Mono Lake on the way.

Owens Valley, CA
As usual, Owens Valley had me driving with my mouth open.  I read somewhere that since the lake dried up this place generates more dust than anywhere else in the world.  It's beautiful, though.

Mono Lake, CA
I stopped at Mono Lake hoping to pick some interesting bird pictures.  I did better with the landscapes than the birds.  Still, I saw a few interesting things.

Osprey -- Mono Lake, CA
It looked like these two osprey had built a nest on one of the tufa towers.  I don't know if there's much in the way of fish in Mono Lake.  I'm guessing they probably pull fish from one of the nearby lakes.  I saw one of the birds flying off in that direction later in the day.

Violet-green Swallow -- Mono Lake, CA
The violet-green swallows are the stars of the show here.  They build nests in the tufa.  They're constantly flying around from perch to perch.  They don't seem to have to work as hard as the cliff swallows I saw earlier in Buttonwillow.  Good for them.  Those poor cliff swallows looked like they didn't have it easy.

Savannah Sparrow -- Mono Lake, CA
The Tioga Pass through Yosemite was still closed for the winter.  It opened up about two days later.  That was not a problem, though, because the Sonora Pass was open just a few more miles North.  That is a steep drive.  It tops out at over 9600 feet.  The sign at the start of the ascent said it was a 26% grade.  Wowsers.  It's easy to see why they don't bother to try to keep it open with snow plows.

Sonora Pass, State Route 108, CA
I heard the sound of falling water near an especially tight turn and pulled over for a few pictures.  It's amazing what can be seen by just pulling over to the side of these mountain roads.

Sonora Pass, State Route 108, CA
Self Portrait
The rest of the drive was uneventful.  The Central Valley was as hot as Death Valley, but it was also more humid.  I was definitely missing that dry desert breeze.  Things didn't cool off once I got into the Bay Area, either.  I came home to a heat wave.  Yoshika said it had been about eighty degrees over the last couple of days.  That might not sound hot to most people, but it's about as hot as it tends to get in Alameda and our house cooks like an oven on those hot days.  We're used to cold winds blowing off the Bay at night.

Sonora Pass, State Route 108, CA