Bay Area – off the beaten track

The Bay Area has without any doubts a lot of absolutely beautiful and stunning sights. San Francisco for example has the Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, Pier 49 or whichever it is, Coit Tower, Alcatraz. It is probably quite arrogant to get a “been there, done that” attitude about a city like San Francisco. But I just did not feel like seeing those places again so I was more than happy to talk to my hosts in San Francisco about some other places in the city and around it. I figured I could share some photos and experience about these places. Mind you, the Golden Gate Bridge just kept drawing me towards it. While not a natural thing, it is really beautiful.

On my first Saturday off in San Francisco I went to Pinnacles National Park.

This is the newest National Park in the USA, up until 2012 this was a National Monument. While it might not look at as spectacular as Yosemite or Yellowstone (or my secret favorite, Bryce Canyon) it is nevertheless beautiful and has a lot of interesting sites. There are caves with bats (I didn’t see any bats, though) that you can crawl through, there is that strange mixture of Mediterranean and high desert flora, there are beautiful rock formations and the very rare Condor. I came on Friday, checked out the place and drove a little further south to find a spot to camp in the car. Early next morning I drove back into the park, secured a camp site and went hiking. Something that’s very satisfying: within two days you can hike all the major trails in this park. The trails in the center of this park are in my opinion the more exciting ones. High elevation, steep steps cut deep into the rock, a lot of vertigo. The campground is pretty nice and even though it was early in the year, it was quite packed. The night ranger talk about the geolgy of that place is highly interesting. It was held right after sunset in the outside amphitheater under the stars and trees. Part of Pinnacle’s geological formation is more than a hundred miles South and Pinnacles National Park moved North through the eons along the San Andreas fault. You could say that “the rest of Pinnacles” just stayed further South. I really enjoyed the relative loneliness of Pinnacle National Monument. If you look on a map, you might think that it is not too far away from San Francisco. But you’d be surprised how far out in the wild it feels. My car couldn’t even get any radio in. I hiked here all Saturday and half of Sunday until I drove up to Salinas, to pay the John Steinbeck Center a visit.

Maybe some of you know that John Steinbeck is my favorite writer (of the US ones). It was basically a no-brainer to check out his home-town and the museum about him. When I came to the states I started reading “East of Eden”. The opening of that book is just epic:

“The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer—and what trees and seasons smelled like—how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.”

John Steinbeck – East of Eden

I was not even aware that I spent my first night in the Salinas Valley. I was next to King City which is mentioned quite often in the book. However, since I was low on gas, I decided to not drive through the Valley but rather to Salinas directly (I did have a pretty good view of the Valley from Pinnacles and honestly, it was not that spectacular as it is one huge agriculturally used valley). Salinas itself is also not a very spectacular town, either. But the exhibit about his work and life is quite interesting. I wish it had a little more information about Steinbeck’s private life but after all, it was his private life and is thus probably none of my business anyway. At the end of the day I drove up Highway 101 back towards San Francisco. I was so close to Apple’s, Google’s, Intel’s, Opera’s and so many more companies’ headquarters that the area outside of the Silicon Valley feels quite backwards and old-fashioned to me now. This weekend was quiet, exhausting and refreshing and educating. I liked it a lot and it felt good to be in Steinbeck Country.

One week later I went to see Lands end and the Presidio, two sites located in San Francisco. Starting at the ruins of Sutro Baths where there is a very interesting cave, I hiked from Lands end along the coast, enjoying the sights of the Golden Gate Bridge and the North Side of the Bay. I ended the day with a hike along Baker Beach and the gay-nude beach right next to the Golden Gate Bridge. I walked underneath the bridge, watching big waves crush against its pillars. Through a hole in the fence you can walk into San Francisco and watch the surfers taking advantage of the huge waves passing the bridge. After climbing the rocks and cliffs of the Pacific Coast, the view of San Francisco felt inviting.

The next day I set out to visit Bobbi, an old friend of mine for who I still have deep feelings of gratitude and affection. She is a great woman and makes one fantastic chicken salad. 🙂 She lives in Fairfax which is a beautiful town in its own right. It is built in a small valley and up the hills and mountains that cover the area North of the Bay. It is remarkable how close to a gigantic urban center such a wild and impenetrable area can be. No big roads, just chaparral and trees.  In the early afternoon I went on to Muir Woods National Monument, which I have never visited before. It contains a big amount of Redwood trees, giants even taller than the Mammoth Trees everybody in Europe likes so much. While the admission to this place is fairly high (7 Dollars) it is absolutely beautiful, serene and quiet. It is good for the soul. One thing I cannot understand though is that people come out into the middle of tranquility just to talk and chatter loudly rather than just enjoy the beauty that lies in the stillness of this place. But those people are usually too fat to walk the upper trails so I stayed to them and all was fine. One thing to consider: the free map you can get at the entrance is hardly exact and parking is almost impossible to find on a Sunday afternoon.

If you have any questions about these places, let me know. The photos apparently are in reverse order.

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Just a pretty flower.

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Redwood giants in Muir Woods.

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Muir Woods.

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Golden Gate Bridge. Covered by fog.

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All of a sudden, the famous fog crawled in from the Ocean.

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Golden Gate Bridge. It attracted me like a light attracts a moth.

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Golden Gate Bridge.

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Back towards San Francisco.

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You might be able to see people up there.

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The bridge from below.

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Just imagine the sheer size of that bridge and how loud this place is with the waves crushing in.

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My feet in the Pacific.

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Another view of the Bridge.

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Marshall’s beach (gay/nude beach). Golden Gate Bridge in the Background.

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Bunkers and the Golden Gate Bridge, packed with cars.

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The Golden Gate Bridge and me.

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Shady area near the trailhead at Lands End.

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Lands End.

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Lands End.

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Cave entrance and the mighty Pacific.

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At the end of a small caves. The waves were pretty intense that day, there even was a warning on the Weather Service website.

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Sutro Baths ruins. Restaurant in the background.

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Lands End. Sutro Baths to the right, restaurant and visitor center to the left.

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Ocean beach, near Lands End. This is San Francisco.

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The Steinbeck house!

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… and the inside.

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Rocinante from the outside….

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He really was… 🙂

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These are some of Steinbeck’s original books.

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The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Ca.

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Morning view on my last day in Pinnacles.

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The creek right behind my real camp site in Pinnacles National Park.

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On this side, Pinnacles almost looks like Portugal or Italy (which is not too surprising, I guess). The wind definitely shaped those trees!

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Towards the East, Pinnacles looks a lot more Mediterranean.

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Wind in my hair and sun in my eyes. It’s a good life. In the back you can see the Gabilan Mountains.

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Hiking higher and higher up towards the peaks of Pinnacles National Park.

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A lizard.

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Bear Gulch Reservoir.

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Steps towards Bear Gulch Reservoir in Pinnacles.

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“I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother.” – John Steinbeck

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View towards the Salinas Valley from my “campsite” on the first night. Yes campsite = road side.

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I’d like to thank the Academy

Working in San Francisco at the Academy of Sciences is quite different from working in Reno. Reno was great. I like the “World’s biggest little city”. I would never compare it to San Francisco. That would be unfair. The UNR campus was very pretty, neat and old. But the place where I work now is just… Special. Let me explain why. I don’t know if you remember the view from my workplace in Reno. You can see it here:

Workplace in Reno

Workplace in Reno

Well, this is how my new workplace looks like:

Workplace in San Francisco

Workplace in San Francisco

When I look to my right, this is what I see:

Cabinets in the CalAcademy

Cabinets in the CalAcademy

This is where a part of the plant collection is stored. This room is cooled down enough that I still feel very cold despite my wearing a heavy winter coat. Now you probably think this is a pretty terrible step down from Reno.

Well, what can I say, my early morning commute makes up for that a little bit. I walk up the street towards Golden Gate Park, where the California Academy of Sciences is located. I turn right at the rose garden. This is what it looks like.

Rose garden

Rose garden

I cross over the street next to the de Young museum:

Backside of de Young Museum

Backside of de Young museum

And walk around it.

Left side of de Young museum

Left side of de Young museum

Right side of de Young Museum

Right side of de Young Museum

I reach the Music Concourse and the Spreckels Temple of Music.

Music Concourse

Music Concourse, Academy of Sciences in Background

Spreckels Temple of Music

Spreckels Temple of Music

If I don’t get distracted by the Japanese Tea Garden,

Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden

I stand right in front of the Academy.

Visitor entrance CalAcademy

Visitor entrance CalAcademy

I was told to not walk through there, so I walk around past these stone cats.

Stone cats

Stone cats

I finally reach the staff entrance of the Academy:

Staff entrance CalAcademy

Staff entrance CalAcademy

What I usually do then is get my work place setup, my lunch into the refrigerator and a cup of coffee. If you work there, you get as much free coffee (100% arabica, the sort is called “Venezia”) as you want so I drink lots and spice it up with chocolate, cinnamon, megnut, sugar and/or cream. When I walk over to the cafeteria from the herbariumI can see some of the sights of the CalAcademy Museum. Like “the swamp” with the ultra-extremely-rare albino American Alligator.

Albino alligator

Albino alligator

Or the Osher rainforest building within the building with its 4 floors.

Osher Rainforest

Osher Rainforest

Inside of the rainforest

Inside of the Rainforest

Or the giant skeleton of a blue whale, right above the earth quake simulation room.

Blue whale skeleton

Blue whale skeleton

Or the Megalodon-decorated entrance to the Steinhart Aquarium with its uncountable giant fish tanks.

Steinhart Aquarium

Steinhart Aquarium

On my way back to the herbarium I sometimes stop by the main entrance, where visitors are greeted by this Tyrannosaur-skeleton.

T-Rex

T-Rex

More of the T-Rex

More of the T-Rex

For lunch I walk by this guy here.

Darwin

Darwin

Most of the day I work sitting in that cold room I showed you in the second photo. But nevertheless. This academy defies description.

Life is good to me. 

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San Francisco – you just cannot not like this city

This gallery contains 12 photos.

  I remember the first time my brother and me came to San Francisco. We were 16 years old and for some reason we just decideed to not like this city before we even got here. I believe the reason … Continue reading

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Germany – Las Vegas – Reno

This video contains some photos and videos from the last weeks.

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From Reno to San Francisco

I don’t know how many people really read this blog but since I know it is at least 4, I decided to write another entry. But instead of writing about how I ended up with my car I figured it’d write about my little road trip from Reno to the San Francisco Bay Area.

So after spending a nice and satisfying week in Reno the time came to head for the Bay Area. No problem, right? The weather’s fine, the winds blow and the birds are whistling. Right.

Several people have now told me that there was a drought for years. Of course on that very day that I was done with my work and ready to cross the Sierra Nevada, the drought was over. And that meant serious snow and rain storms. When I woke up in the morning the mountains were covered with way more snow than on the other days and it was snowing all the way down into the valley to the campground. On my way to UNR campus I turned on the radio and -oh heavenly joy- there was a tire chain warning up the mountains. In fact, highway patrol would send you right back into the world’s biggest small town (Reno) in case you didn’t have any tire chains with you. Now my rental car is my home alright, but unfortunately it does not have tire chains. So I drove to the campus in order to finalize my work there and find an alternative route over the mountains. Turns out ALL roads within a 500 mile radius had tire chains required. A little desperate I went to do my work.

In the late morning hours, finally the tire chain requirements were lifted. But every single person in the herbarium that day told me to get some chains anyway because the state troopers will probably send me back if wouldn’t have any. So right before I left town I went and spent a whole lot of money on chains. Since I did not know how to put on tire chains, I did a little internet research and found a helpful and informative video (probably not safe for work, depending on your boss):

Turns out tire chains were not needed. Oh well. But it was still snowing; the higher I got up into the mountains, the more snow fell. And just so that you know, the road I took led right up to Donner Pass. Yes, that’s the place where the people ate each other because of snow and cold! On a more positive note, on my way up I stopped in Truckee which is quite a picturesque little mountain town.

I drove past the mountains towards Sacramento and the snow turned into rain. But I am not talking about your ordinary “well this is quite some rain” rain. I am also not talking about the “woha, this is an incredible amount of rain” rain. I am talking about a sheer column of water falling down from the skies. Now Germany in a way is the home country of rain so I have seen all varieties of rain, including the beloved “it doesn’t matter if you have a hat, umbrella and coat, I’ll simply pour from the bottom up” rain. But this was special. People on the interstate literally drove slower than old people walk.

Right after the rain passed I had the extreme joy of coming to the Sacramento area. The uncountable amount of rain drops was here replaced by cars. We were a solid gigantic metal slug, all wet and annoyed by the weather crawling upon I-80. But to top this experience off, my aunt’s car navigation system did not lead me to Sheila’s house but rather decided to get me onto a lonely street half a mile away from her house. And then take me about 17 miles down that very same road where there was no light at all due to the clouds, hardly a house and nothing but more rain and cows. I stopped at two ranches but nobody even knew the name of the street she was living in. So I decided to just go back and search around more. I finally found it. This whole trip should have taken me about 3.5 hours. It took me close to 7.

The evening was quite nice though. There was excellent beer and lots of it. And we went to a bar owned by Sheila’s and Ben’s friends. There’ll be live music with some local guys, they said. Turns out it was Al Lebowitz from ALO playing! I’ve got video proof of that. I still can hardly believe it.

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A typical day in Reno for a German student without a real roof above his head

A lot of people told me how great it must be to be here in Reno. Some even flat out said they’re envious. This is why I came up with the idea of describing how a typical day looks like while I am over here.

I usually wake up at 5:45, just before sunset with the urgent need to go pee. Since temperatures at night are around freezing, I quickly get into my cold jeans, sweater and parka before the shivering gets too intense. I grab what I need for the shower and run over to the campsite’s restroom+shower. In here it is unbelievably warm, so warm that I pretty soon start to sweat. After taking a shower and (almost never) shaving I walk back to the car, enjoying the sunrise. I get my camping stove out and boil water for a warm oatmeal. Sometimes I even reach that point where it is almost hand-warm. After eating I return to the restroom+shower to brush my teeth and wash my dishes. Well, wash one single aluminum cup+ plastic spoon, to be more exact. After this I drive I-80 East to University of Nevada, Reno (home of the Wolfpack, go Wolfpack!) where the herbarium is located in the building at the southern tip of that beautiful campus.

Here I spend between 8 to 10 hours, entering data into a spreadsheet software that I don’t want to advertise here. Today I began photographing my data in order to safe time. This will only postpone the Excel-part (now I said it… don’t see this as advertisement, please)  until I am back in Germany, though. I do this all day long, the same monotonous procedures again and again and again. Dr Pepper makes it bearable. With the sun slowly setting, I walk back to my bed… to my car and drive back to the campsite where I usually walk around a little or chat with the staff. Today I walked up to the Boomtown casino to watch basketball. I eat a sandwich for lunch and go to car… to bed early, usually around 8:30, where I read for an hour or two or write blog posts on my BlackBerry or notebook computer. But even before that I crawl into my sleeping bag, with a blanket ready to pull over myself in case I need it. So far, it was not needed. During the night, I wake up about 4 times, when the train crosses the bridge next to the camp ground.

Well, that’s about it.  Not so great, actually. Also, not so exciting.

My next blog post will be about why I am in the states at all and how I ended up with the car I have right now. Also check out my previous blog post about the drive from Las Vegas to Reno. I added more photos to it!

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From Las Vegas to Reno

After almost 2 weeks in Las Vegas, I safely arrived in Reno. Spent one night at Walker Lake on my way up which was great. This time of the year, nobody is collecting camp site fees at those public campgrounds so that definitely works in my favor. I added some photos at the end of this bolg entry so that you can see what the trip was like. On my way up I stopped at the Bunny Farm brothel to check out the place. They also have a “Area 51” gas station and rest area next to it if you’re not in the mood of visiting a lady in the brothel. On your way up you come through Beaty, Goldfield (with a nice old fire station museum) and Tonopah (with the famous Mizpah Hotel) before you get to Hawthorn, which is a small town right next to Walker Lake. It was a nice drive but a solitary one.

I am still figuring out where to upload photos of the trip,  because I don’t think this blog is really suited. Maybe flickr? Tell me your suggestions in the comments, or on facebook.

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