The Golden Gate National Parks

“I’m here, but I’m not really sure where I am,” I said going up to the counter in the visitor center for Point Reyes National Seashore.

After much back and forth, I came to the conclusion that I would skip my plans to drive into San Francisco, and stay in the Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel. I had fun things planned on my original itinerary. I wanted to visit the Walt DIsney Family Museum, Lombard Street, Japantown, as well as some other typical sites. But for some unknown reason at the time, my plans did not sit well with me, and many nights I reviewed my atlas, trying to figure out how I could change my plans.

Along my way across California from Lake Tahoe I connected to internet with my tablet and found the address to this visitor center for Point Reyes National Seashore. I decided I would pay a visit to the seashore, check out the nearby Muir Woods, and find a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but at the end of the day I would not cross over into San Francisco, instead I would proceed to Pinnacles National Park.

I followed my GPS instructions to the Bear Valley Visitor Center for Point Reyes National Seashore, and when I arrived, I knew close to nothing about the layout of this park, what its features were, or how it fit into the surrounding area.

The kind National Park Service employee handed me the park map. She explained some sites worth checking out and gave advice on where to get the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Leaving the visitor center I headed towards Point Reyes Lighthouse. The drive was very pleasant, through forest, and along the water of Tamales Bay, by little fishing ports and quaint small towns, and then into the rolling hills and grasslands that led up to Point Reyes itself. Eventually the road was closed, so I parked my car and went walking on the road at the cliff’s edge.

DSC06149Another couple were walking near to me. We exchanged small talk about the intense wind and thick fog which came over the place. Just moments earlier, little further inland, the sky was blue and warm. But here it was cold, windy, and all mysterious-like. We could hear the ocean and smell the salt air, but the fog and mist was so thick that we couldn’t see water at all. All we could see along this road were the trees that grew on the sides, which had been so consistently blown by the wind that all of their branches had grown in one direction.

The lighthouse sat down lower than the plateau of the land among rock cliff on a peninsula, where the land fell sharply into the ocean somewhere below the fog. To get to it I had to walk down hundreds of stairs. Roaring sea and misty wind was whipping all around. Inside the lighthouse I found refuge and a small group on a tour with a Park Ranger. I listened in.

DSC06159This place was fascinating, but was by no means relaxing. It seemed at any moment this lighthouse could fall off the cliffs edge into the sea hidden somewhere below the thick fog. I knew this was not going to happen, but it was astounding to imagine the lighthouse keeper having to live out here back in the day, so isolated from everyone else, hidden in the fog for much of the year with the tumultuous weather all around. My attempt at imagining such a life inspired me to conjure up pieces of a story I considered writing, but I would eventually abandon that story, and those ideas would become but a ghost town.

After seeing the lighthouse, I drove down to the beach. It was so cold and windy that my visit was very brief. I got back in my car and drove further inland. I stopped by a small gourmet grocery store across the street from the bay where I ordered a double decker BLT and chicken salad sandwich which was absolutely monstrous and delicious. This was not the kind of store catering to tourists but seemed like a local establishment for the people who were so privileged to live nestled in these woods among the bay, cliffs, and sandy beaches.

DSC06182At one point in the day, I came to a great overlook of the ocean. I looked down across the shoreline and could see the many cliffs and the very edge of California spilling into the Pacific. I noticed a path along the wispy wild grass. It descended down a hill among the cliffs to the water below. It was beautiful. I could see miles of beach and waves reaching for shore all over. The sun was warm, and the California coast was just plain golden. I got down to the water and was climbing over rocks to get to a cove where I saw a beach. When I approached the cove, I noticed something peculiar. Everyone was naked. There were maybe ten elderly, weathered, leathery, naked old men. Welcome to California!  I turned around. I didn’t want to see anymore. I passed some young clothed teenage boys descending while I was ascending. Should I warn them? Nah, it’ll be a surprise.

I got back in my car and made my way to Muir Woods National Monument, named after, John Muir, a man difficult to encapsulate with words. He was alive from 1838 to 1914 and is one of the greatest and my most admired explorers. He wisely advocated for the preservation of American wilderness, back before conservation was a thing. He is informally referred to as the father of the National Parks. As a skilled writer, he involved people in his adventures through essays and books. I admire John Muir greatly for his view of the world, like myself he looked everywhere and saw design and meaning. He viewed nothing in nature as accident but all as part of a continual creation. He also saw commonality in design, throughout nature, and saw unity in the entire natural world, which he writes reveals the “glorious traces of the thoughts of God.”

All throughout the day, with all my driving through the Point Reyes area, cars were sparse, parking was ample, but here at Muir Woods, the place was full, and many people were walking alongside the narrow road. These people looked like true city folk, parking in every nook and cranny. All lots had signs stating they were at capacity, but I’d come to not trust those signs. I was able to snag a spot quickly as another car was pulling out.

I was excited to go to Muir Woods, because I thought I was going to Muir’s home and would be able to learn more about him. I was wrong, so when I arrived at the park, I was very confused. I kept looking for his house. It wasn’t there. This was just a section of forest named after him. I discovered Muir Woods is basically a series of short paths and boardwalks through a Redwood forest, adorned at times with quotes of John Muir and signs asking visitors to be quiet and enjoy the scenery. This was my first experience in a Redwood forest. Although similar to Sequoias, the Redwoods seem much more jungle-like, in a wetter environment, with giant ferns and more plant life growing on the forest floor. The Sequoia seems to be much more of a dry pine and very much fits the dry-piney feel of the Sierra Nevada.

DSC06194I took this visit to Muir Woods as a preview to what I would eventually find in the future in the Redwood Forest National Park. Based on just the preview from the Muir Woods, I knew the Redwood Forest must be amazing and inspiring.

My final stop of the day’s exploration was a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge. A prime viewpoint was from a place called Battery Spencer, a nineteenth century concrete battery. There was parking at the battery, but when I was there, the lot was full. There were even cars lined up waiting to pull in.

I drove further down Conzelman Road. There was another lot for people to park and observe the bridge. It too was full. I eventually found parking at a third lot, which on Google Maps is called Golden Gate Public View. Since the view at Battery Spencer was the closest and seemingly best, I decided to run alongside the road .6 miles from the small parking lot to Battery Spencer. I got to enjoy the Golden Gate bridge along my run.

Might I say the Golden Gate Bridge is something definitely worth seeing. For it’s the most impressive human construction I have ever seen. The immensity of the bridge along with the fact it was constructed in and over water, is nearly beyond comprehension. It is quite a view. I stood there captivated in wonder, imagining Baymax and Hiro flying up around its giant Red spires, and observed the little miniature San Francisco on the other side.

I might not have made it to San Francisco itself, but my visit to the surrounding Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods, and Golden Gate Recreational Area was definitely a rewarding experience. At Pinnacles National Park I would soon find out that all of my hesitation to go to San Francisco was for a reason.

When I arrived at Pinnacles it was late that night, around 11pm. I had a hard time seeing campsites and orienting myself to the grounds in the dark,  but I eventually got a rough grasp. I quickly popped up Kelty and found the campground bathroom. Signs were posted everywhere about the extreme threat of wildfire, but I wasn’t too concerned. The bathroom was located right next to the campground host’s site. My car trunk had become unorganized, so as I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed, I kept having to open the trunk, and this door and that door, searching for things. I was growing concerned that I would become an annusiance to the campground hosts, but as far as I knew, they weren’t too disturbed.

Back at the campsite, I zipped myself into my tent. I had covered a lot of ground, seen a lot of sights this day, and now it was late, so I was tired and fell asleep quickly.

Read the next entry, “Pinnacles of Purpose,” here:

Read the previous entry,  “The Plague at Lake Tahoe,” here:



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