Category Archives: National Monuments

San Francisco, California ~ October 1 – 5, 2014

View of Golden Gate and San Francisco from Conzelman Rd

Like in Chicago and Portland, staying in or near San Francisco’s city center was cost prohibitive, so we again used points and stayed at an airport hotel. The commute into San Francisco was about 25 minutes but ran aside the beautiful San Francisco Bay. Finding parking was never a problem as there are plenty of public, but pricey, garages.

Alcatraz – Messages of Freedom and Justice

Alcatraz, SF

Alcatraz is part of the National Park Service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A ferry operated by a private company from Pier 33 is the only means to access the island. They run about every 30 minutes and you have to purchase fares for a specific departure time, but you can return whenever you’re ready.

That was a good thing as Trey and I became captivated by the island… its history and stories, and all the once hardened but now deteriorating skeletal structures juxtaposed amid beauty. (One only needs to look.)

We spent most of the day touring the former military outpost-then military prison-then federal penitentiary-now national treasure.

During our visit, Alcatraz was also serving as an art exhibit space.  We were fortunate that our trip coincided with Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s exhibit @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz.

Weiwei @Large in Alcatraz

The installation exhibit filled two work rooms, and began with the wonderful, welcoming face of a giant, intricate paper dragon, its body comprising the full length of the room.

The contrast of vibrant colors against decaying prison walls was surreal. As were the Lego portraits and brave words of individuals imprisoned for voicing or acting upon their truths…

Weiwei @Large in Alcatraz 5

including Mr. Weiwei himself who at the time was being detained by the Chinese government.

The entire island is open for exploring and we spent as much time outside as we did inside the various cell blocks, industry/labor buildings, and administrative offices.

The NPS has done a great job (as always!) in telling and preserving Alcatraz’s stories, from its notorious prisoners and attempted breakouts to those of the families and children of guards that were also Alcatraz residents.

We learned about the Native American 19-month (Nov 1969 – Jun 1971) occupation of the island. The cross-tribe participants (including the late Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller) claimed the island as their own citing an 1860’s treaty.

Evidence of Indian Occupation 2

In reality, the takeover was an act of rebellion for past and ongoing injustices carried out by the U.S. Government against its native people. The civil disobedience effort was successful at calling attention to those injustices and their continued effects. We were happy to find that signs of the occupation are well preserved and protected as part of Alcatraz’s rich history. 

San Francisco by Boat, Car, Bike, & Foot

BOAT
Just before leaving Austin for this trek around the U.S., Trey and I struck up a conversation with a businessman at the downtown PF Chang’s bar. He was from San Francisco, so we quizzed him on what his #1 must-do-in-San Francisco recommendation was. “That’s simple!” he said. “You have to see San Francisco from the vantage point of its bay – sail out into the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge.”

On the Privateer, SF Bay

That’s exactly what we did on the “Privateer” through the San Francisco Sailing Company. The day was gorgeous, perfect for sailing! Plus, the unique views and perspectives we experienced were well worth the $60 ticket price.

View of SF Skyline from Sailboat

We struck up a conversation with a couple sitting adjacent to us on the cozy sailboat and soon after regretted doing so. They were weirdly interested in us and toward the end of the trip, a bit too touchy and invading our personal spaces. We politely declined their invitation to join them at their home thinking that the boat’s sails were not the only thing they wanted to experience swinging that day. California!

The Ebarcadero, SF 2

The bay was beautiful though, and like our no-strings-attached friend at PF Chang’s, we highly recommend sailing around it to fully enjoy the San Francisco skyline and surrounding bridges and hills.

CAR
Beginning in the late 1800’s and through World War II, the entrance to San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean was deemed militarily vulnerable.

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As such, a series of defense “batteries” were constructed along both the northern and southern shores. The remnants of these fortifications remain for intrigued tourists to explore. We selected the northern shore route because it allowed us to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, a new experience for Trey.

Driving Across the Golden Gate

Once across the bridge, we followed Conzelman Road that curved around the hills’ edges and offered amazing views of the bay, bridge, and city.

From Conzelman Rd 2

Stopping at Kirby Battery gave us a feel for what guarding America’s western gateway was like during World War II.

Kirby Battery

It’s easy to imagine diligent soldiers scouring the ocean’s horizon for enemy vessels and the skies for foreign aircraft while bunkered behind sixteen-inch barrel guns. The never used guns are long-gone, but the bunkers and other structures are open to climb about, picnic on, or find a peaceful moment while taking in the serene beauty.

Trey in Kirby Battery Tunnel
Trey posing in a Kirby Battery tunnel

Continuing on Conzelman Road until it dead ended, we turned left onto Field Road which leads to the steep ledge of Bonita Point. The tiny Bonita Point Lighthouse sits atop a rugged crag and is accessible via a wooden suspension bridge – a good challenge for those wanting to confront a fear of heights.

Bonita Point Light House

The ocean and bay views are spectacular, but we enjoyed the scenes below the most… sunbathing seals and ocean spray rising from waves crashing upon black rocky ledges.

Heading inland on Field Road, we made our final stop back in time at Nike Missile Site SF-88…

Nike Missile Site SF-88
Greely & Norton greeted us upon our arrival and kept careful watch over things

where we walked above ground among retired missiles and below ground where missiles were stored and readied for launch.

The site closed in the 1970’s and is well maintained by the NPS. Just as the old battery sites had done, this retired missile site provided a good sense of life at a cold war defense site.

BIKE
From The Embarcadero’s Pier 39, it is about a 5.5 mile ride (one-way) across the Golden Gate. The route takes you along the beach, by gorgeous waterfront homes, and through Presidio to the Battery East Trail.

Bike path from Presido with Palace of the Arts

The climb up to the bridge is steep, but there are plenty of overlooks to stop, rest, and take in the changing scenery… another great way to enjoy the cityscape.

As we climbed we noticed a thick fog rolling in at a fury’s pace. It quickly engulfed the bridge and we wondered whether we’d be able to ride across the bridge, and if so… would we be able to see anything?  By the time we huffed our way to bridge level and emerged from the trees there was no trace of fog, not a single remnant.

East Battery Bike Trail

I understand that is how fog is in the bay area… it is an entity in itself, choosing to come and go, disrupt and displease at will.

The ride across the Golden Gate was thrilling. The rails are high enough and the path wide enough that we felt perfectly safe and comfortable crossing over and back on the 1.7 mile bridge.

Along with sailing around the bay, I consider bicycling across the Golden Gate as a San Francisco must-do!

FOOT
We fell in love with San Francisco. It’s a very walkable city if you don’t mind hills. If you’d prefer to avoid hills then stick to the shoreline areas of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero.

With loads of fabulous restaurants, shopping, boats, nightlife and wildlife, they contain essential elements of the quintessential San Francisco experience.

Pier 39, SF

The Ebarcadero, SF

We also loved walking through Pacific Heights, China Town, and Telegraph Hill.

Lombard St, SF
Lombard Street, San Francisco
Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, SF
Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower

Golden Gate Park was on our itinerary, but the streets surrounding it were impassable due to an annual bluegrass festival. Next time!

San Francisco Food

Breakfast – To offset the expense of eating out, we started most days with a cheap but hearty breakfast from Ed’s Diner in South San Francisco.

Ed's Diner, South SF

They served an excellent version of Trey’s favorite, the traditional American breakfast. We would fill ourselves enough to skip lunch and then carry a snack bar and piece of fruit to make it to dinner.

Our one breakfast exception was Mama’s On Washington Square, a recommendation by my sister-in-law who grew up in San Francisco.

Mama's, SF

We were warned that it is small and there is always a crowd, so we arrived twenty minutes before its 8:00 a.m. opening time. That wasn’t early enough to keep us from waiting in line, but the owner-operated café knows their business and has perfected a system of getting people in the door, through an ordering line, seated, served, and back out the door with a full stomach and happy heart.

The freshness and quality of the food is tops! The menu is extensive so I felt a bit overwhelmed with being pressured to order quickly and not hold up the line. We also completely forgot to record or photograph what we ordered.

Dinner – This is it! My absolute favorite dish from our trip around the United States…

Crab Enchiladas, The Crab House, SF
Crab Enchiladas, Crab House – Pier 39

Crab Enchiladas from the Crab House at Pier 39. They were what I imagine eating in Heaven will be like. A melt in your mouth unique flavor, yet still enchilada tasting enough to be called an enchilada. The above photo is not an exaggeration, together the two enchiladas were the size of a Texas big-as-your-face burrito and I finished off each one then wiped the skillet clean.

Even Trey, who is not a shell food person, enjoyed the small bite I shared. He opted for the Fish & Chips, a very generous portion of perfectly fried and fluffy cod, served just as it should be.

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R & G Lounge in Chinatown – Authentic, traditional Chinese. We Texans felt a little out of place and lost at first, but the servers were kind and helpful, and the food was excellent.

McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood & Steaks, Ghirardelli Square – we failed to take a photo of our meals and neither of us recall the meal. We do, however, vividly remember the gorgeous bay views.

Sunset View, SF Bay

We watched swimmers doing their evening laps while the sun set behind the hills and turned sailboats into silhouettes.

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Dessert was a Caramel Sea Salt Hot Fudge Sundae that we split from Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.

More pics…

From Conzelman Rd 3

Alcatraz Artsy pics…

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Next Stop… Carmel By The Sea

 

Astoria, Oregon & US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive, Part 2 ~ September 15-17, 2014

Quaint Astoria sits on a peninsula barely east of where the Columbia River clashes with the Pacific Ocean. Outlined by Young’s Bay and River on its southern shoreline, with the mighty Columbia River comprising its north border.

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Above Astoria, looking west: Views of the Pacific and Columbia, Young, and Lewis & Clark Rivers.

Yes, water is the heart, soul, and breath of the community. Its sustenance, and existence.

Accessing Astoria from Washington State requires either a boat or crossing the massive Astoria-Megler Bridge, a cantilever through-truss design. As we drove the 4.1 miles across to Oregon, my thoughts turned to my sister. Many times, she had relayed her dizzying experience bicycling over the Columbia River while water rushed in one direction below and crisscrossing cars whizzed past her side. I was grateful to be inside the Escape Mobile.

Welcome Party
Astoria’s Welcome Party

Checking into our riverfront hotel just before sunset, we were greeted with an unrecognizable noise permeating throughout the lobby. Curiosity led us down a corridor and out a back door where the now recognizable barks overwhelmed our senses. Seals, hundreds of them, had taken over docks and landings sitting 150-ish yards away. Gladly, the barking did not disrupt our sleep.

With one full day to explore Astoria, we made the most of our time. First order was a must-visit to the Goondocks…

Gonnies House
The Goonies House

a row of Victorian houses made famous in the 1985 Goonies movie. While we easily found parking and walked up to the primary “Goonies’ House” to snap photos, increased tourist traffic and mishaps have since halted such practices.

Next, a walk around and up into the Astoria Column provided both a historical accounting and scenic overview of the area.

Styled after Rome’s Trajan Column (which Trey has since visited), its spiraling pictorials tell of the “discovery” of the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and the arrival of John Jacob Astor’s merchant ship which was instrumental in establishing Astoria as a key outpost in North America’s fur trade, helping Astor to control much of that trade. How ironic, or perhaps “offensive’ is more fitting, that Astor’s descendants later dedicated the column as a memorial to the Chinook Indians.

The remainder of Astoria was explorable by bicycle via The Riverwalk…

Astoria Bikepath, Trey
Trey on The Riverwalk near base of Astoria-Megler Bridge

a roughly 5-mile pathway following the Columbia River bank from the peninsula’s westernmost point, and turning into forested hills at the eastern end.

Astoria Bikepath
Eastern end of Astoria’s Riverwalk bike path

Along the way, The Riverwalk provides easy access to downtown shops and restaurants. Note, a trolley line follows much of the pathway.

During our bike ride, we enjoyed eating wild blackberries growing aside the pathway, watching the day’s catch being unloaded, the ever-present wildlife, and being entertained by Coast Guard drills while eating pizza.

Astoria gulls

Astoria is charming with a laid-back, fun vibe that balances well with the hard work and challenges that I imagine accompany living at the convergence of three rivers and an ocean. Also apparent was Astoria’s reliance on tourism.

Downtown Astoria

Astoria Food experiences…

A bit of a foodie city, there were several on-budget options. Five stars to T Paul’s Supper Club for dinner, Street 14 Café for coffee and lunch, and the chain restaurant Pig N’ Pancake was a breakfast favorite for locals and tourists.

Fort Clatsop – Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Fort Clatsop is just south of Astoria so we saved this historical site for the morning of our departure. The fort sits where the Lewis and Clark expedition settled in for winter, awaiting and planning for their return east.

All structures are replicas based on surviving journal entries. A footpath leads to the Lewis and Clark River and follows the shore 1-1/2 miles to Netul Landing (Netul is the river’s original name).

Fort Clatsop View
View of Lewis & Clark River from footpath to Netul Landing

US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive – Part Two

Astoria to Lincoln City

Mesmerized with our first Oregon coast drive, we stretched the 2 hour and forty minute trip to Lincoln City into most of the day; stopping at numerous overlooks…

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 6

touring Tillamook Cheese Factory…

and traipsing between homes to access a public beach…

Lovely day best expressed through photographs:

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 5

We arrived in Lincoln City at sunset, without hotel reservations, and famished. Trey had spotted Puerto Vallarta Mexican Restaurant as we entered town — best Tex-Mex fix since Pittsburgh, margaritas included of course.

Sailor Jack Inn, Lincoln City
Trey checking in

Lincoln City’s Sailor Jack Inn stands out as one of our more memorable sleeping experiences; notable in a unique, funny, and lets-not-do-that-again way. It was a cheap motel with a million dollar view.

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 4

Slinking carefully into bed, we drifted to sleep easily to the sound of crashing waves. I’m sure the margaritas were helpful, too!

Woke the next morning to clear skies, and another Pig N’ Pancake breakfast fueled our bodies for the drive inland to Portland.

More pics…

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 2

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 3

Lewis & Clark Routes

 

Devil’s Tower and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monuments ~ August 9, 2014

 

We departed Black Hills National Forest with the sunrise and via the infamous community of Deadwood, South Dakota.

Deadwood SD
Deadwood, South Dakota

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

After breakfast wraps and coffee at Wild West Espresso in the also infamous ranching community of Sundance, Wyoming, we detoured 27 miles from Interstate 90 to Devil’s Tower, our nation’s first national monument under the Antiquities Act.

Wyoming
Beautiful Wyoming

We were greeted by grazing buffalo and longhorns – sights we had not seen since leaving Texas.

Wyoming Buffalo Longhorns

We were officially in “The West” and it was exhilarating! That feeling was amplified at our first glance of the massive igneous rock protruding from the horizon – Devil’s Tower, or Bear Lodge, one of its many native names.

Devils Tower Horizon Shot

The tribes of the northern plains consider Devil’s Tower sacred and regularly conduct ceremonies or leave prayer clothes and offerings at its base. Visitors are reminded to respect and honor these traditions. As we strolled around the tower’s base on the Tower Trail, we sensed a hallowedness among the rocks and colorful cloths tied around tree limbs and branches. The feeling was no less, and perhaps greater, than the feelings we experienced within the great ornate basilicas we had visited.

Devil's Tower 2

This church however was formed from and by the earth, rises 867 feet above it, and hosts a diverse group of plant and animal species. Its great columns cling tightly together in their battle against the elements and gravity. That’s what it looked like to me anyway. Kiowa legend states that the rock had been sculpted by the claws of a great bear – it’s easy to see that, too.

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We had heard from a ranger that golden eagles were in the area and we spotted one fly over and around the tower’s top a couple of times, but the eagle was too quick for us to snap a photo.

Climber on Devil's Tower
Climbing is allowed only by permit

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana

We arrived at the Little Bighorn battlefield as a park ranger began recounting the story of the U.S. Army’s 1876 effort to end the centuries old independence, cultures and customs of the northern plains’ native people.

Indian Memorial at Little Bigfield Battlefield

Thousands of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho had joined forces in a valley east of the Little Bighorn River where they outnumbered and overwhelmed General George Custer’s regiment of 262 men.  It was one of the northern plains Indians last successful  battles in preserving their identity. We had been starkly reminded of their eventual defeat while driving through the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations on our way to the battlefield.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
The Battlefield of Little Bighorn

The young ranger confidently relayed the battle scene while pointing out specific hills and slopes that laid out before him and the crowd that had gathered. He was Crow and a U.S. government employee.

Lacking the time for a guided tour, we walked along Battlefield Road and walking paths surrounded by tombstones that had been placed where bodies had been found.

Path through Little Bighorn Battlefield

Last Stand Hill and the Indian Memorial are easy walks from the visitor’s center.

Little Bighorn Battlefield

We left the monument feeling somber and wishing we had been able to spend more time there.

Markers in Little Bighorn Battlefield

As it was, we had two more hours left of the seven and half hour drive to Red Lodge, Montana.

More pics…

View of Montana from the Tower Trail

Buffalo and Bird

Devils Tower Columns