We pull out of the KOA around 10:00 and head towards Monterey under an overcast sky. We will pick up California State Route 1 to head North towards San Francisco, another city to navigate around or through, I am not sure. I have visions of the camper slipping downhill past the house in the opening credits of Full House. It gives me the chills as I know John Stamos wouldn’t come out and help. Does that guy ever age? I think he is my generation’s Dick Clark.
California State Route 1 also known as the Pacific Coast Highway is famous and I am looking forward to the views. It does not disappoint as we can see the ocean almost the entire way. Mabel and I stop often at the state beaches, the first being Waddell Beach in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The hills were shrouded in fog but that didn’t keep the surfers out of the water. We talk to one that liked Mabel as he changed into non-surf wear. He had been in the water for almost six hours that morning and it sounded divine. His entire attention was focused on catching waves and having fun. The parking lot was host to a group of German Harley riders that had been on the road for 14 days. They had matching denim jackets and a chase van trailered two Harley Davidsons for “just in case”. It was a southwest tour through California, Arizona and of course Las Vegas. I walked Mabel by the group and I heard them call her a wolf. I don’t know many German words but understood what they were saying. I laughed as we passed.
We meandered during this part of the trip and I stopped where the view struck me as a need to stop. Pigeon Point lighthouse had a desolate feel even though it was close to the highway. It just felt old and battered by the sea. The grounds jut out into the ocean and the air feels heavy with salt. They used an old building, maybe Coast Guard quarters in a past life as a hostel and thankfully it looked nothing like the movies. I saw some of its residents and their view was nice. The lighthouse hasn’t been used for a long time and there is a renovation initiative asking for donations. Dogs were prohibited so Mabel guarded the car, wondering why she couldn’t come along.
More northward travel mixed with frequent stops. We get out at Pomponio State Park Beach and walk on the beach towards the cliffs. A man is fishing and I sense he wants some privacy after I ask how he is doing. I understand, as fishing is either social or solitary and today he preferred the latter. The cliffs were striking and they rose high above the beach. Mabel is greeted by a little dog that she tries to play with, getting so excited that she becomes kind of a bully. The couple were cool with it but didn’t stick around. We leave the beach and climb the path that leads to the bluff on top of the cliffs. A German family is already there and the daughter, around 16 seems to speak the best English. She misses her surfboard which is a surprise. Do people surf in Germany? They are going to San Francisco and then to Yosemite, part of a California trip. I spread my arms towards the Pacific and ask them to remember “this” when they think of America. The girl giggles “Trump” as they make their way down. Mabel and I stay a while looking out over the ocean, the view was great.
I let Mabel run on the beach as it is mostly deserted. This is a beach to use, not just visit, and she runs far down the beach chasing birds. Her progress is stopped by more cliffs so I know she can’t go far. Back she blasts with that look of utter enjoyment in her eyes, a barrel race turn just past me. There is a small life guard stand on the beach that is closed for the season. It is a miniature version of the ones you see on Baywatch but I have no urge to channel my inner Hoff.
We go through Santa Cruz and continue to ogle the view eventually ending up in Half Moon Bay. I pull through the main street and eventually find an open double-parking spot that happened to be across from the San Benito House Deli. I was in the mood for a good sandwich and they advertised homemade bread so a salami sandwich found its way onto my plate. The patio was dog friendly and Mabel joined me for lunch as I sat at a round table with wooden parrots in the center. We walked the main street afterwards, it was busy, people shopping or drinking a late cup of coffee. There was a mix of old and new buildings and all were occupied. Sheri would have liked it here; the town was small but had substance and knew its sense of self.
We are getting closer to San Francisco, I can feel it.
I knew our route would take us over the Golden Gate Bridge and this would be my first time seeing it. But I didn’t know what I would be going through as I approached the bridge. Would it be like New York City? I had some city confidence at this point in the trip, mainly garnered from my excursion into Brooklyn. But I didn’t want to relive that experience, not that it was too bad, more that I just didn’t need the hassle. So, as I started seeing signs for the bridge, and the GPS told me I was getting closer, I started to sweat.
The approach for the bridge was different than what I expected and we had to merge with another highway. We travelled through business areas with multiple lanes. No one was squeezing me out of my space and I felt a comfortable buffer space between cars. This was not my experience in New York. The signs though, led me to believe I was closer than I thought so again more sweating. Finally, I could see the bridge and it was spectacular, its iconic rusty red color a contrast to the grey day. Traffic flowed smoothly and I was able to gawk but it killed me to not take a photograph. I really wanted a picture but thought better of it as I crossed.
It was a long bridge and at the North end is a park that looked to offer amazing photo opportunities. But parking looked tight and I didn’t want to get into a spot with the trailer that I couldn’t get out of so I continued on my way. We were heading to Muir Woods and it was starting to get late in the afternoon.
My Aunt Carlene told me about Muir Woods National Monument and Sheri emphasized that I should visit. To be honest I didn’t know who he was or what he did but there are woods named after him so it must have been something good. It turns out he was a naturalist that “lived it” and was a major force for convincing those responsible to save our national treasures. The road winded through the hills and once again I had to use my Andretti skills as we rose and descended the hills. The drive was nice but I would have liked more flatness.
The park is tucked away and parking was atrocious, especially with a trailer. I found a spot at the side of the road almost a mile away and left Mabel with the camper. Dogs are not welcome since this is a National Monument.
This was one of the most beautiful stops I have made so far. The woods are rich in color with the overcast sky providing contrast. Green and brown are everywhere and a hush is constantly present. I don’t want to talk as I walk down the paths, I just want to stare and let the woods consume my thoughts. There were enough visitors to remind you others were there but it wasn’t crowded and I navigated the paths with little interference. Another couple and I were on the same pace but I hung back to give them space, plus I wanted to enjoy the woods and that meant spending some time.
There are paved and unpaved trails that let you explore the park and I travelled on both but not all the six miles. The unpaved trail took me above the valley and I could look down at the redwoods which still looked large. In 1945, when San Francisco was host to the United Nations Conference on International Organization, the delegates travelled to the redwoods at Muir Woods to pay tribute to President Roosevelt. The idea was that this “temple of peace, would give them a perspective on time that could be obtained nowhere in America better than a forest.” I can’t think of a better place to absorb nature and let it soothe your fractured soul.
It was getting late, survival mode was kicking in, and I still had to get out of the hills, so we pushed towards HWY 1 but found ourselves on HWY 101 which was taking me away from the coast. I was reading the map while driving and found that a westward turn at Novato would take me to Marshall which sat predominantly on HWY 1. This would allow me to continue up the coast.
The road’s line width on a map tells you a lot and this one was very thin, but I saw no better options. This road turned out to be my definition of “the middle of nowhere” with a lot of twisting turns sprinkled in. There were few cars on the road and cows were the only other life forms I saw. There was a lot of space for cows because all I saw were fields, just like the others, fences, just like the others, and a lot of nothingness, just like the others. My gas gauge was getting low and phone service wasn’t the best so a little more sweating was going on. I finally saw signs for Marshall and followed them to the town.
Once back on the coast, we soon left the coast, for a more wooded view. I missed the ocean; the woods and distance removing our view. It looked ordinary here, but then again, my lens might have been skewed by Muir Woods which is almost not real.
Our map designates campgrounds with a small triangle representing a tent, and I find one in Bodega Bay about 20 miles east of Santa Rosa. It is Wednesday so I am not too worried about finding a site when I finally find a campground. A sign for Doran Regional Park pops up and I follow the arrows to the ever-familiar site board, this one a little harder to read. As best as I can determine, the white spaces show availability and I press on without writing anything down. This can backfire as the board may not show reservations after the office closed, but tonight it was too late and too dark to worry.
There are three campgrounds totaling 81 sites at the park which are dispersed in three circles. The map looks like three gears with just enough distance to prevent meshing together. I pull into the first loop and see open sites but most are full. It is dark but I can still tell we are close to a beach. I am doing the predatory loop; driving slowly through the grounds trying to determine the best site. I enter the second loop and find one that backs up to a beach and eventually back in. It looks like we have a lot of open space, but I am hoping it isn’t reserved. Mabel and I set up camp and wait.
I am waiting to make sure it isn’t someone else’s reservation and figure that by 11:00 we are safe. We take a walk and explore the beach across the street and the bath facilities. Both are nice but I wasn’t in the mood for a pay shower so will be camp clean tonight. People are out enjoying fires and I can hear the faint hum of generators. The lights from the town of Bodega Bay are behind us and reflect off the bay. I hear activity from the small Coast Guard station up the street. It is nice here and I look forward to seeing what it looks like in the light.
No knocks on the door tonight so Mabel and I hit the hay.
Thankful tonight for experiencing the wonder of Muir Woods and that people had the foresight to preserve its beauty.