A month in California – a year on

Just a few images of my trip to California where Oona and I spent a very happy month one year ago seeing our Son Joseph and touring California and Arizona. It was all definitely the highlight of last year and one of the very best holidays of our lives.

Golden Gate Bridge
Art deco towers in international orange the Golden Gate Bridge straddling the entrance to the bay – we were fortunate in the afternoon that the Sun came out and burnt off the Pacific mist, the fog horn sounding from the bridge was pretty eerie

While in San Francisco we visited our son at Cal State East Bay, where he was studying politics. He was the real reason for the trip. We were there in January and stood alongside many Californians on the day of Trump’s inauguration, determined to add our own voices to the ‘Bridges not Walls’ protest. A lively bunch we walked the streets of San Francisco surrounded by well wishers in a carnival atmosphere. It really brought a whole variety of people together and despite the rain we had a really good time.

On the Golden Gate bridge
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge Oona and Joseph my two road trip amigos
Golden Gate Rivets
How many rivets in the Golden Gate Bridge? Answer in next picture caption
Golden Gate mist
The Sun about to break through the mist as we walked the bridge (600,000 in each tower)

Of course San Francisco is the city of ‘the bridge‘ and we had a wonderful afternoon crossing it. Opened in 1937 its famous colour is called ‘international orange’, ironic considering what had just happened in US politics. Talk of ‘walls and bridges’ was much in the air. I am definitely for bridges. People should be curious about what is on the other side and not frightened to step out and over to see what life is like looking the other way, that is a very important part of being a human being not to mention a photographer. Movement should be both ways of course, it is what being open and inviting is all about. I like the idea of free movement, much of the rest, all that wall building and stuff is driven by fear, I do not like living in fear. We certainly moved about a lot and enjoyed as much of California and the West as would could fit in and tried to spend a bit of time at each place. By serious contrast we also visited Alcatraz, not much movement from there in the past!

Oona and Joseph on the Golden Gate Bridge
Lots of people out that day walking, running and cycling on the Golden Gate Bridge
Oona on the San Francisco Tram
Had a great time riding the trams – no health and safety here!
Joseph on the San Franscico Tram
We had a great time riding up and down those steep streets of San Francisco. Riding down to China Town
Red lanterns everywhere in China Town San Francisco
New Year in China Town San Francisco!

Joseph also took us to many of his favourite places and we especially enjoyed going to Cannery Row in Monterey as we all enjoyed reading John Steinbeck novels.  Shame about the commercialisation but inevitable I suppose. The Aquarium was brilliant and the first time on the trip we came across sea otters!

Oona and Joseph with the bust of John Steinbeck on Cannery Row
Meeting John at Cannery Row Monterey Bay
Monterey Aquarium sea creatures
Weird and wonderful creatures at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Alcatraz prison
Alcatraz under a dark and brooding sky
Dodgy duo in Alcatraz
Caught this dodgy duo in the mess hall at Alcatraz. Clearly a dangerous couple of desperadoes planning an escape. Also clearly not to be trusted with a pair of scissors let alone a meat cleaver to prepare food for the inmates
Batters plate Alcatraz prison yard
And did Al Capone hit a home run from this batters plate in the Alcatraz prison yard?

After an excellent week we said a sad farewell to Joseph who had to get back to his studies and headed into the mountains, first Yosemite and then Sequioa National Parks. We had a fantastic time in the snow despite getting lost, and despite driving conditions which were far from perfect, thankfully we had four wheel drive and hired snow chains which we fortunately never had to fit. We loved the mountains and the trees and going in January meant less crowds, although we still remained wary that there might be bears, ‘oh my’! The Sequoias and Red Woods were awesome, really very gentle giants that helped us in our more mindful moments.

Snow and cloud covered Josemite Falls
Yosemite Falls
Not an Ansel Adams but one of my own
Another view of the falls, more in the style of Ansel Adams
Jasmin Mountain Josemite National PArk
Half Dome Mountain originally called Jasmine Mountain by the native Americans
Oona and General Sherman
Oona with her favourite tree in North America, the General Sherman Sequoia, one of the largest and oldest organisms alive or to have ever lived
General Sherman tree- Sequoia National Park
Oona at the foot of the greatest tree either of us has ever seen, The General Sherman Tree
Information and conveniences near General Sherman Tree
Sunlight through the clouds at Sequoia National Park high up in the Rocky Mountains

Death Valley was of course other worldly for us temperate townies. We arrived and just stood in the middle of a barren wilderness. And the roads! They really do just go on, undulating for miles into immensely distant vanishing points. Really would recommend getting out of the car and getting onto some of the trails. Golden Canyon and Gowers Gulch was epic for scale, colour and grandeur.

Lost in Death Valley
Lost in Death Valley! We got lost looking for the ‘Red Cathedral’ in the Golden Canyon. Many beautiful coloured rocks everywhere. We have of course lived to tell the tale
Salt flats in Death Valley
There is water in Death Valley but not a drop to drink – all salty
Badwater Basin Death Valley
Looking cool in the desert heat of Death Valley at Badwater Basin

After Death Valley we high-tailed it over to the Grand Canyon for yet more awe and wonder. Waking up with a morning sunrise view of The Canyon was spectacular. The first morning Oona opened the curtains to reveal the shadowy statues of deer grazing beneath our window. With a double take we realised they were real deer! The species for those interested was Mule Deer because of their big ears!! We bought some special snow grips for our boots and ventured down into the depths. Amazing how the walls rise above you so very quickly, often on three sides as you meander down the steeps, and then there is always the vast vista across the valley. Next time we are thinking of going all the way to the bottom where the Colorado looks very inviting. The trail we went down was called ‘Bright Angel Trail‘, must return and do the whole thing one day! We spent a couple of days walking the rim with each new vista causing a lot of stopping and sponging to take it all in.

Snow in the Grand Canyon
You hardly ever see images of the Grand Canyon in winter with snow lying on the terraced cliff faces
On the edge of an abyss
Oona and I wrapped up well as we ‘walked the rim’. Could not believe how some people just sat with their legs dangling off the edge, mad!
The Grand Canyon is big
Oona and I relaxing and enjoying ‘the view’. It is just very very big!

From there its back to the desert and an amazing place called Joshua Tree, named after the weird and wonderful plant that grows there. Named Joshua trees because it reminded early Mormon settlers of the biblical Joshua’s outstretched arms in supplication. This is also cowboy country and we had an odd experience walking around ‘Pioneer Town‘. Not really a town at all but a film set with lots of false shop fronts and a few concessions. Built by Jean Autry and Roy Rogers so they would have somewhere to set their films. A sad place really, a reminder of by-gone-times. Loved Roy Rogers as a kid with Trigger his dancing horse and Roy singing Hollywood style western songs.

Joshua Trees growing in Joshua Tree National Park
Just love to be in the desert especially in a strange landscape of trees and rocks such as this
Joshua Tree desert forest
It was an alien world, no wonder Hollywood love it!
Pioneer Town California
Oona in ‘Back to the Future’ Part III! At the mock-up Pioneer Town near Joshua Tree National Park
oona waves to the Obama's
Oona waves to the Obamas who were holidaying in Palm Springs down in the valley after leaving Office

Then off we go again to Santa Barbara and that Great Pacific Ocean. Enjoyed my birthday here with Oona buying me pizza at Ca’ Dario and an epic piece of birthday cake from Lilac Patisserie.

Santa Barbara pelican preening
Hansom pelican down on the pier at Santa Barbara

The West Coast coastal road was now beckoning and my birthday presents from Oona came in very handy reading – Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the road’ and ‘Big Sur’, and a guidebook called  ‘Backroads of the California Coast’ by Karen Misuraca and Gary Crabbe. We never quite made it to The Big Sur because the road was closed due to a mudslide. The weather when we were on the coast was wet and stormy and we were introduced to a new weather term, ‘a weather bomb’! Weather in California in the last year has been very bad, even up to the writing of this nearly one year on.

We got as far north as Cambria and stayed at the Bridge Street Inn. This was a much smaller town with a lot of atmosphere and the Inn was a very unusual and traditional place to stay. The sound of frogs ‘croaking’ and ‘ribbiting’ at night was very evocative. This was where we began to see some wonderful wildlife, sea otters by the score and elephant seals by the hundred. The fact we could get so close was incredible.

Sea Otters Morro Bay
Happy sea otters eating clams in Morro Bay. We were able to get up really quite close
Mummy otter rafting her young
Mummy otters support their young acting as a raft to give the baby otter somewhere to rest
Elephants seals up lcose
A Bull Elephant Seal calls out across his territory and harem and his wives call back
Nature can be violent and deadly
Two bull elephant seals shape up to each other, the females and pups between are in danger of being crushed!
Young elephant pup suckling
Suckling seal pup. There were many on the beach as it was birthing time for the colony

It was now time to head back to see Joseph once more for a few days before flying back. We had spent an amazing time in a place we probably had not expected to go to. I had had the best company I could have wished for, people to share the experience with whom I love. Seeing Joseph was the highlight and we all want to go back at some time in the future. It is a great place to visit and so much to see.

With the exception of San Francisco we tended to go to the National Parks which have come under a lot of pressure from the new administration. I hope that when the next President gets into power they will reverse the damaging policies of the present one and the beautiful wild places and wildlife might again be properly protected.


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