Tuesday, April 3, 2012

More snow-play
11-16th March 2012

A cold front is on the way, promising feet of snow which, if you are a skier, is a great thing, but if you are camping, is not something to get stuck in, so we have a day or so to play before we head back down to the coast and on to San Fran.
MorningView from Big Pine Creek below Palisade Glacier
This morning's vista from from Big Pine Creek certainly gave no inkling of the cold change that is meant to be coming - a beautiful clear morning with a spectacular backdrop. We had camped the night in a closed campsite (California is going broke so they have shut all of their parks over winter to save money) so we have now spent about 5 nights in a row camping for free.  

An American Widgeon

Headed for Mammoth Lakes where we again found a remote campsite in the snow and unpacked the snow shoes to do so some local exploring - not a lot of snow around at the moment but enough to enable us to get our snow legs sorted out. 
Trying out the snow-shoes

As the snow came in that night, we decided to head down hill, visiting Mono Lake - the site of a contentious water battle between Los Angeleans and environmentalists. The Dept of water was diverting streams that flowed into the internally draining, saline Lake Mono to enable people in LA to wash their cars, thereby reducing the water levels and threatening the limited (in diversity but not in numbers) yet unique biota that occurs there. Fortunately the court ruled in favor of the lake and, while water levels have not yet returned to the agreed target levels, it is still very impressive. One of the lake’s claims to fame are the Tufa structures that formed under water as sodium-rich spring water seeped out under the carbonate rich lake, causing the formations of weirdly shaped columns of sodium-carbonate.

Not-so-sunny San Francisco
16th -19th March 2012
Arriving in San Fran as the cold front rolls in.
The weather that is bringing snow to the mountains is also dumping rain on Frisco so we’re taking the opportunity to catch up with friends, take in some sights and get some jobs done.
The Women's Centre in San Fran
Our first social engagement was a catch up with Mike Schuller, a friend I had made in Sabah with whom I spent some magical times on the Kinabatangan River watching elephants and spectacular sunsets and less magical moments traipsing around in swamps at night in an unsuccesful search of the elusive slow loris. We had a great evening chatting over a few premature St Patrick’s Day Guinnesses before Mike took us on a guided tour of the  extraordinary murals on the alleyway walls in his local Mission neighborhood - the location of the first settlement in San Francisco. A delicious Japanese dinner topped off the evening - thanks for the great company Mike!

Our second social event was a catch up with a Somali family in Oakland, the sister of one of Christine’s work colleagues in Perth. A delightful family who hosted us with a scrumptious Somali lunch.

Not the usual view of the Golden Gate Bridge!
Of course, our sightseeing took in the mandatory bridge (although in the time of our stay here we crossed just about every other major bridge in the Bay Area, each of which is quite impressive in its own way.  Had a crab pizza lunch with champagne sitting by an outdoor fire by the waterside in Sosolito, on the northern side of the bridge, and cooked our own meal on the hills over-looking the bridge as the city lights came on - a million dollar view from our mobile restaurant!

The more conventional views of the most photographed bridge in the world

View from our restaurant window

Another highlight was the Museum of Modern Art, the interior of the building itself being an attraction in its own right, with a diverse range of permanent and visiting exhibitions making for sometimes challenging but always fascinating viewing, watching and listening. 
Hung Liu - Loom

Robert Rauschenberg - Collection

Our theme song!
When too many toys are barely enough....
20th March 2012

The good thing about a big van is that you can fit a lot of toys in and on it, so today we treated ourselves to a new acquisition - a modular kayak that converts from solo to tandem. We thought it was a bit of a gimmick at first but our reading of revues and discussions with people in kayak shops suggest that it is a fair dinkum serious canoe, so we loaded one atop the car and headed out to Point Reyes, a spectacular coastal reserve just north of San Francisco with a number of sheltered inlets just perfect for novice ‘yakers to get their sea legs. While unloading the boat, we got chatting to a fellow called Tom who was out for a stroll after just returning from a holiday in New Zealand. Having accepted his very generous offer to drop around for a drink later that day, we put boat to water and passed the morning paddling beneath the cliffs and forests of Tomales Bay.
Lionel the Loon enjoying the ride
From there, we headed out to  Point Reyes where we watched whales off the headland - lots of gray whales heading back north after wintering in warmer climes - as the mist rolled in off the ocean. Also spent a bit of time in the parking lot talking to people about Sportsmobiles - a very frequent event - beats dogs for initiating conversations with strangers! Again US hospitality astounded us with an invitation from Amira and her partner to drop by if we came through Berkely. Unfortunately it is not on our now-northward route, so we’ll have to take a rain check on that one - maybe on our return in autumn.
Returned to visit Tom and his wife Barbara who live in a stunning house that they had built themselves, overlooking Tomales Bay. Chatted about travels, holidays, politics, forestry and back-country roads. I think that Barbara was at least pleased that Tom had managed to bring home two of the few other people on the planet not interested in fishing, so we didn’t have to cover that topic! Again - thanks for the hospitality guys - really enjoyed the evening.

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