Baghdad by the Bay 

Mission Bay Trail, San Francisco, California

Sailboats and the Mission Trail pass under the Bay Bridge.

Sailboats and the Mission Trail pass under the Bay Bridge.

While visiting family in Vallejo, California, my Trusty Traveling Partner (a.k.a. my husband, Keith) and I took a ferry ride to San Francisco for a very urban hike in two neighborhoods new to us - The Mission and Dogpatch. Keith found a self-guided walking tour by Kristine Poggioli and Carolyn Edison, “Explore Dogpatch, South Beach, and the Embarcadero…” Having a map with descriptions of the area helped us focus on where to go. It gave us our itinerary for the day.

And what an amazingly beautiful day for an urban walkabout!

First stop, the Ferry Building.

First stop, the Ferry Building.

We approached the city from the bay via the ferry to the Ferry Building. We know this building well, and strolled through foodie heaven, checking out the cheese, wine, fish, bread, and mushrooms. A proverbial feast for the eyes. All beautifully presented, unique, and top quality! 

IMG_9474.jpg

We went south from the Ferry Building, along the Embarkadero. Our trail guide says that "Cupids Span was inspired by San Francisco's reputation as the home port of Eros, the Greek god of love," then under the San Francisco-Oakland  Bay Bridge.

Big art in an even bigger city.

Big art in an even bigger city.

We once attended a Giant's baseball back when it was called PacBell Park. As we walk around the stadium and along McCovey Cove, we lament that something was lost with the commercial naming of the stadium. Candlestick Park was always Candlestick Park. "This was PacBell Park. What is it called now?"  I ask. Oracle Park, for now. 

Hiking along McCovey Cove on the back side of the Oracle Park. Go Giants!

Hiking along McCovey Cove on the back side of the Oracle Park. Go Giants!

Near the shipyards, a small sign reads "Herb Caen Way." When Keith and I were students at Humboldt State, we enjoyed reading the San Francisco Chronical. My favorite part of "The Chron" was the weekly column by Herb Caen. Herb has since passed on, but he lives on as a beloved San Francisco author, philosopher, gossip, and satirist.  Herb always called San Francisco "Baghdad by the Bay."  I miss Herb. 

Pier 70 is owned by the Port of San Francisco and has been a hub of shipbuilding and repair for over 150 years. Now, this Historic Waterfront is filled with the construction of new high-rise apartments, new neighborhoods, new businesses. 

On one side of the road, the area is overgrown with weeds.

On one side of the road, the area is overgrown with weeds.

On the other side of the road, a shiny new Tesla sits in the new parking lot.

On the other side of the road, a shiny new Tesla sits in the new parking lot.

Lunch at The Ramp was a perfect place to stop and enjoy the sunshine, the bay breeze, and a beer or two. It definitely has its share of tourist traffic, but I felt it was authentic, historical, and a worthy destination. The sun was warm, the beer was cold, and the service was casual but attentive.

A stranger on the ferry recommend having lunch at “The Ramp.”

A stranger on the ferry recommend having lunch at “The Ramp.”

The trail is well marked, mapped and friendly.

The trail is well marked, mapped and friendly.

 
Major construction along the trail at historic Pier 70.

Major construction along the trail at historic Pier 70.

Street art with a sense of humor. How sweet!

Street art with a sense of humor. How sweet!

A city is a state - of mind, of taste, of opportunity. A city is a marketplace - where ideas are traded, opinions clash and eternal conflict may produce eternal truths.
— Herb Caen
A historic building with new bikes for rent.

A historic building with new bikes for rent.

There are still a few houseboats in San Francisco, adjacent to new apartment buildings.

There are still a few houseboats in San Francisco, adjacent to new apartment buildings.

After blocks and blocks of new construction, we move over a street or two to the west and discover a part of the bay that still has houseboats resting under new high rise apartments. 

A twilight view from my sister-in-law’s home in Vallejo.

A twilight view from my sister-in-law’s home in Vallejo.

At the end of the day, the ferry ride back for dinner with family.

At the end of the day, the ferry ride back for dinner with family.

On the return, we stopped at the Ferry Building to purchase food for dinner, then onto the ferry back to Vallejo. 

One of the cool things about cities is that you can visit them a hundred times and always go someplace new.

There is no need to pay for a tour in San Francisco.  Google is a great tour guide.   "Where can I hike in San Francisco?"  It helped us have a great day.  But even without help, you can just strike out on an urban hike anywhere in the city and be surprised.

Thank you, Kristine Poggioli and Carolyn Edison for putting out a fun and free walking tour. 

Old Friends, New Friends

Whelan on Walkabout in Washington - Olympic National Forest

Quinault-1000117.jpg

When I worked with the cabin owners at Huntington Lake, Sierra National Forest, I would hear their stories about their cabin being passed down for generations. They would talk about how they met there, who was who at the lake, who had which cabin and what they did to it over the years. The would tell nostalgic stories about "Thirty years ago, when I came up here for the summer, I would hike, or swim, or boat or meet people at the cabin for a holiday party. Their cabin was their old friend. 

They were very nice stories and I would listen to them thinking about my parents. My family could never dream of buying a little cabin in the woods. But what they did own then, and what we own now is public land. We all have our old friends the National Forests and National Parks.

After the stress and anxiety of moving to Washington, it came as no surprise that my first day-trip was to the Olympic National Forest and the Olympic National Park.  A visit to a new old friend. 

 
Quinault-1000096.jpg

Rain Forest Nature Trail - Old Forest
The simplicity of taking a short walk through a tunnel of life - tall, dense, growing, green, natural, perfect in its own way, connected in time, space and experience. This nature trail is short, flat and perfect for close up interaction with the temperate rain forest. Everywhere you look, everything you see is covered with green life. The old dead support new life. Green on green is the color scheme with no place to rest your eye. It is a friendly visual assault. Like a giant vegetative hug, it walks up to you and you can't help to hug it back, and love it back. We are visiting on a clear sunny day and everything seems to be shouting "The sun is shining! Quick soak it up while you can. Soon we will be bathing in rain."

Douglas Fir grow big on the Olympic National Forest. 

Douglas Fir grow big on the Olympic National Forest. 

Handsome cozy chairs in the lodge's public space - lodge style done well. 

Handsome cozy chairs in the lodge's public space - lodge style done well. 

World's Record Sitka Spruce - Old Tree  How can you not love a very large and very old tree? I would just go crazy when people jumped the fence to take a selfie on the roots of giant sequoia trees. While in Cambodia I was disappointed to learn that platforms were needed to keep selfie seekers from stomping the roots of the strangler fig tree featured in the Laura Croft Tomb Raider movie. Unfortunately, fame comes at a cost. 

I found the very same people taking selfies on the roots of this amazing sitka spruce.  I did speak to the tree and told it "hang in there big boy. We love you. " Then I took my selfie by the sign in the parking lot, away from my new old friend's trampled roots. 

Ferns cover the forest floor like bear clover in the Sierra, only ferns are prettier. 

Ferns cover the forest floor like bear clover in the Sierra, only ferns are prettier. 

Lake Quinault Lodge - Old Lodge
A historic gathering place that is still loved and cared about. Unlike my previous experience with resorts under special use permit from the US Forest Service, Lake Quinault Lodge is well managed, well maintained and continues to create memorable experiences. It was stylish with the look and feel of old historic Park lodges.  

"Built in 1926 and styled after Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone and Sun Valley Lodge in Idaho, the Lake Quinault Lodge reflects the spirit of a bygone era. This cozy getaway offers a serene retreat from the pressures of the outside world." 

We casually enjoyed our beers with lunch on the outdoor patio overlooking the lake. While visitors sat on the lawn, we speculated about staying at the lodge when the weather is more representative of the temperate rain forest. "If the room had a fireplace and a good book, this could be a fun place even in the dead of a rainy winter." 

Selfie by the sign, not on the roots of the World's Largest Sitka Spruce. 

Selfie by the sign, not on the roots of the World's Largest Sitka Spruce. 

The view upstream with a peek of the peaks of the Olympic National Park backcountry. 

The view upstream with a peek of the peaks of the Olympic National Park backcountry. 

South Shore Drive/North Shore Drive - Old Drive
Still one of my favorite activities - taking a drive exploring new roads in the forest. Up stream along the river, there are few cars on the drive as we weave back and forth from gravel to pavement, from one lane to two lanes, from open views through caves of moss covered maples. The forest reaches above and beyond. The trees are so tight, maybe they are blocking out the cell phone service protecting us from thoughts of the outside world? 

A tunnel of green on North Shore Road, Quinault Valley, Olympic National Forest. 

A tunnel of green on North Shore Road, Quinault Valley, Olympic National Forest. 

A forever landscape in the Olympic National Park. 

A forever landscape in the Olympic National Park. 

Olympic National Park Beaches - Old Friend

I can't resist a visit to the beach. Olympic National Park has beautiful long, wild, and cool beaches that stretch as far as I can see. There are footsteps in the sand, but no one is around. Even the names "Beach One" and "Beach Two" are simple and unassuming as if to not clutter the space with expectations. "This is all there is" says the waves as they roll without regard to me or anyone else in the world. How may years have they been doing this without notice? Beaches are prehistoric relics alive today and hopefully forever. 

Perfect beach stones. 

Perfect beach stones. 

I'm still trying to get back to my old self in my new environment. I'm having a bit of writer's block and I want to thank you for reading my blog. 

Oso Flaco Isn't Painful

The trail through the arroyo willow and oaks. 

The trail through the arroyo willow and oaks. 

"Let’s go to Oso Flaco.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Let’s go to Oso Flaco,” proudly proclaims my Ever Planning Another Adventure Husband.

I winced thinking “that sounds painful.” And I paused while my brain kept searching, searching...

Is it rising to a higher level of spiritual consciousness? Is this a country I haven’t hear about? Maybe a Karma Sutra position?  A day spa, a concert, a performance venue, café, auditorium, hot spot, dinner club, gallery, conservatory, institute, infirmary, or maybe a medical clinic? 

“But will it hurt?”

“We could do it as a day trip.” He replies, beaming with anticipation.

IMG_4240.jpg

My friends Google and All Trails helped me figure it out.

In Spanish it means skinny bear, and it is a coastal California State Park trail. The complete title is Oso Flaco Lake Trail. It is just north of the small town of Guadalupe, and according to the Dunes Center, "it is one of the most scenic natural areas all along California's coast. 

Cormorants, the lake and the dunes at Oso Flaco

Cormorants, the lake and the dunes at Oso Flaco

“Oso Flaco Lake is part of the former Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Preserve, operated by The Nature Conservancy. The area has been transferred to California State Parks, and is now part of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.”

According to San Luis Obispo Visitor's Guide, Oso Flaco is an ancient name given to the lake by the Spanish in 1769. It is where they killed and ate a skinny bear. That sure sounds like it hurt for the bear. 

We painfully woke at 0500 and it was very dark. The drive is almost four hours long, and we pass several Fresno favorite spots: Paso Robles, Morro Bay, Cayucos, and Pismo Beach.  My husband’s motivation for the trip was to see two warblers that he needs for his life bird watching list. Me, I am always happy to have a chance to see, hear, and smell the Pacific Ocean.

 

The coastal access and parking are on a dead-end road flanked by fields of truck crops and hoop houses covering strawberries. This is hardcore California heavy-duty agriculture land.  We pass brilliant green field after field with rich brown dirt, all punctuated with turquoise farm worker portable toilets.

It wasn't log ago that there were no toilets in the fields. 

It wasn't log ago that there were no toilets in the fields. 

Oso Flaco Parking Guard Chicken

Oso Flaco Parking Guard Chicken

The parking lot and trailhead were well signed and patrolled by a welcoming chicken looking for handouts. In addition to a trail map, the bulletin board informed us to be aware of mountain lions and report any bear sightings.

Oso Flaco Lake is recognized as an important migratory bird location. I’m a Reluctant Bad Birder. I call blackbirds starlings, and I mistake turkey vultures for red tail hawks.  Real birders roll their eyes when I say "look is that a falcon or an owl?"  But, today I was able to identify coots, cormorants, mallards, herons, cinnamon teals, white pelicans, western gulls, and goshawks.  Birds putter under and around the boardwalks. At the lake and on the shore, birds vie for fish and so do people. The air is filled with squawks, tweets, squeaks, peeps, flirts, chirps, blurts and an occasional splishy splash of a catch.

My Ever Planning Another Adventure Husband looking for birds. 

My Ever Planning Another Adventure Husband looking for birds. 

OsoFlaco (13 of 13).jpg

An extensive boardwalk is well maintained and meanders above the lake, through the dunes and  dumping onto the coastline. Along the route, there are benches to sit, and places to secure your tripod or spotting scope, or space to take a contemplative moment to reflect.  

There is something about seeing the waves on the beach that always seems to call for a moment of silence. A minute to respect the land, to honor the people who were there before us, a time to be outside of time and space, but in the here and now.

I like broccoli. 

I like broccoli. 

Oso Flaco is a place where the broccoli and beach are separated by dunes.

“An' I got to thinkin', on'y it wasn't thinkin', it was deeper down than thinkin'.” 
― John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath

In this place, I couldn’t help but recall “The Grapes of Wrath”; the historic and current struggles of farmworkers.

Mallard duck butt. 

Mallard duck butt. 

All the hard labor in the broccoli at my feet.

I like broccoli, and berries, and the food from this land.  

Adjacent were the dunes, shifting in the wind, unstable for walking.  

Rambling along the boardwalk built to cross unsettled ground.

A natural lake filled with birds and fish, and people looking for both.

And at the end, the beach, timeless, constant, peaceful.

Wind and waves washing out human strife.

A story of convergence; California ecology and history.

OsoFlaco (5 of 13).jpg

The Oso Flaco mystery is solved.

If your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, fiancé, son, daughter, sweetheart, or significant other ask you if you want to go to Oso Flaco, say “yes.” 

It won’t hurt.

And you might hear history in the waves.

OsoFlaco (9 of 13).jpg

Sand dollar with barnacles in the waves. 

There's Hope in the High Country

Great Basin National Park

Pinyon pine prevelant in the Great Basin.  

Pinyon pine prevelant in the Great Basin.  

What first struck me about the Great Basin was the numerous high mountain peaks within the “basin.” Driving through Nevada, we took advantage of the space in-between and stopped for a few days at Great Basin National Park, one of the many places that we routinely discuss during the long drive from one National Park to another. Rising above the blue-green sea of sagebrush, I realized that I didn’t properly pay attention to my high school geography lesson. I missed a few mountains and valleys. The Great Basin National Park brochure sets me straight. “It’s not one, but many basins, separated by mountain ranges roughly parallel, north to south, basin, and range alternating in seemingly endless geographic rhythm.”

Environmental extremes, highs, and lows, a string of unique biomes all in a row. That’s my kind of place. We camped at 7,600 feet and after the first day of altitude acclimation, we hiked the Timber Creek Loop Trail up to 10,000 feet elevation. What a change to be in the spruce aspen forest, making friends with a dozen wild turkeys that paced back and forth as we enjoyed our lunch. What a joy to see the small waving leaves of quaking aspen trees, delicate paper-thin spruce cones, spiny prickly pear, manzanita, and hairy mountain mahogany all living along the same trail.

Great Basin (1 of 9).jpg

But nearby, were the granddaddy of environmental barometers, the 3,000 to 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine forest and the glacier on Wheeler Peak. Two unique relics of bygone ages. Ecosystems that are distinct and thank goodness, not yet extinct. The glaciers and the bristlecone pine endured the folly of history and the willy-nilly externalities of human cultures. We didn’t design systems that would impact these little gems, we just neglected to properly understand that our resource consuming society is harmful. No one said, “hey, let’s warm things up a bit. Let’s melt ancient relic ice and kill some trees that are older than the history of human civilization.”  People had no clue what we were doing to our environments when we cut down forests and started burning fossil fuels. We still don’t understand how things fit together.  

Alive or dead? It is hard to tell with a bristlecone pine. It only take one branch to stay alive. 

Alive or dead? It is hard to tell with a bristlecone pine. It only take one branch to stay alive. 

When we got to the bristlecone pine grove, we were greeted by a lively group of 20 high school students from Cedar City, Utah. They were having a snack and resting near a Park Service interpretive sign. The sign was one of many that explained the special environment of the bristlecone pines.  “An increment borer is a specialized tool used to determine the age of trees, without hurting the tree.” We could hear an adult voice instructing them, “Be sure to look for micro trash. Pick up anything you see, even if it isn’t yours.”

When I was in college, I decided I wanted to take care of trees. Now, that seems so pretentious. With our climate changing it ways we didn’t foresee, caring for trees is really a very tall order.  A hike in the ancient forest was an opportunity to see first-hand just how well are these precious relics? Are they cared for? Are they in good hands?

Great Basin (9 of 9).jpg
The old and the younger trees together. 

The old and the younger trees together. 

These ol’ gals, even after 3,500 years are still cranking out the cones. Beautiful creek basins were full of cones. We should all be blessed with such sexy virility! The proud skeletal remains of trees dearly departed were now their own handsome headstone monument.  Next to the time worn troupers, young, 100 years or so, trees in the landscape grasped to the rock rubble that substituted for soil.

Looking across the hillside, it was green, alive, and it looked like a forest; a beautiful vibrant community of vegetative companions.  I’m sure it isn’t as well and prosperous as it appears to the casual naked eye, but it felt good to be there. I was moved to reach out and touch a twisted tree trunk. “I love you. You are beautiful. Hang in there.”

 

Great Basin (4 of 9).jpg

 

We continued beyond the bristlecone pine grove up to a rock glacier nestled below Wheeler Peak. No longer were we among the trees, but above the pines within a series of glacier moraine. There were no birds or insects to be found, and a dark cloud was materializing above. There was no soil, only angular rocks piled into repeating rows below the ice field. We scrambled up along the trail with the side walls of the canyon enclosing us in semi-metamorphic layers of multicolored rock material waiting to crumble.

Great Basin (5 of 9).jpg

Out of place, and without context, we saw a scattering of twelve inch, brightly colored, red, blue, green, yellow, and white plastic balls. “What is going on here?” It looked like either art or science. It was hard to tell. We were greeted by a group of college students, from Fargo North Dakota.  They were tracking and mapping the glacier using pulsed laser light, the most current survey science - LIDAR (Light Directing and Ranging). The balls were their reference points.

The question was on everyone’s mind: “How is the glacier doing?” This was the fifth year of measurements and they were pleased to say that it is looking good. How fast is it shrinking? The winter snow fall is replenishing the ice and it is all moving very slowly like a glacier should be moving. We were glad to see someone is taking notice, gathering measurements, collecting data, and following the health of Wheeler’s rock glacier. Someone cares enough to be watching for good news or the bad news.

Climate change is real, and we did it.

But, sometimes I am a dreamer, an environmental idealist, an eco-friendly romantic. Weren’t the ol' masters Henry David Thoreau, Ansel Adams, Walt Whitman, and Aldo Leopold at least part-time optimists? I know they had their good days. I want to stand next to them. 

Great Basin (8 of 9).jpg

Today was my good day.  I want the bristlecone pine forest to be here for thousands of years to come. I want glaciers to move very, very slowly. I want mountains full of trees and valleys full of clean running water.  I want all the basins to be great. I hope the students want this too.

Today, I have hope for the high country.

Great Basin (3 of 9).jpg