Monday, December 8, 2008

Mendocino County for a weekend

I escaped the city life for a weekend and drove up to Mendocino County. I’ve never been up this way and have wanted to go for so long but never had time. I planned it to be an extended foto trip and would drive up HWY 1 on the winding and narrow but scenic coast with stops along the way. Then I would return via HWY 101 for a faster return to the City. Being so cold at night, I decided not to sleep in the car and booked via the internet a room at a motel on the outskirts of Fort Bragg. Located on the main street I was hoping it would provide me a simple means to explore the town.
Departing Saturday morning at 7am, I drove on almost-empty streets toward the Golden Gate Bridge. It was so eerie to see nary a car when normally I would encounter a continuously onslaught of vehicles, tour buses and trucks. San Francisco is normally a nightmare of double-parking and a obstacle-course of parking and driving hazards ~ I was already enjoying getting out of the City even for this short two-day escape.

From the bridge the sunrise over the East Bay was gorgeous and I wanted to stop, but experience from previous road trips warned me and I decided not to stop at the northern lookout point. I drove through the Rainbow tunnel and continued toward Mill Valley to get to Stinson Beach and the Coast Highway. After three decades, I would be finally going from Stinson Beach to Pt Reyes – or at least in that direction – and seeing the great scenery enroute! Up the curvy narrow road to Mt Tamalpais I stopped for a second – a long second – when I saw the fog over the bay and gentle slopes below, and snapped a pix, the first of many….

To make a {very} loooong story shorter, descriptive of winding curvy tight narrow road driving, gorgeous rocks sitting in the surf off brown and sheer cliffs, let me just say that I have been known to stop and take pictures just a few times along a drive. This trip was planned with that in mind and I did stop a couple of times. The last time this happened I was exploring Oregon in early 2006 with a friend who drove me to Newport from Eugene. This is normally a two-hour drive, perhaps 30 minutes more should the traffic be bad…. That trip took five hours. So, you may be asking, did fototaker break this record? Hahahahaaaa not by a long toss, but let me say that from San Francisco to Fort Bragg let’s say it’s about a leisurely three-hour drive and in this case, it took me eight hours to finally arrive at my destination!

I departed with the sun barely awake over the Oakland hills and stopped the engine just in time to see a great Mendocino County sunset!! The surf was filled with ocean debris washing up after a recent storm but it just made the view a bit more unique. Seeing the colors of the sun over the rocks made me quite sad as the blue splashing surf and coastal rocks made me think of the rocks on my beach in Spain, and the solitude of watching a sunset alone made me think of my solitary life then.
Within a month I’ll be back in Rota again ~ but it’s only a month…. sigh.....

The motel room was very clean and nice, though located at the very far end of the town, and it would be a looong walk in the chilling air. So I drove to the main part of downtown after the sad sunset and looked for a place to eat. Most of the prices were quite expensive – SF style – but I expected that as it's a coastal resort area. There was a small Italian-style place on a side street which I finally determined would be a good safe place to eat, and had a good big plate of pasta with warmed bread and olive oil.

A local holiday parade started after 7pm with the town residents slowing filling up the streets of the main thorough-way. Back in the old days – I was told – the parade consisted of the lumber trucks which hauled their long wood loads to and from the town. With that industry gone, the parade continued but now trucks and vans participate, each with their array of festive holiday lights as decoration. We even saw a AMTRAC which torn up the street, and the ATVs and even the bicycles were participating dressed in bright Christmas lights! I’ve never before seen a bicycle with lights such as these! Pictures of this parade are posted in my foto site.

The next morning I departed late as I was listening to the commentary of my favorite Spanish soccer team on my laptop ~ they lost 3-4 ~ then departed and headed for the long drive back. I didn’t plan to stop at all so hopefully would arrive in three hours or just a bit more. The connecting road from HWY 1 with 101 was snaky and narrow in some spots too, but the traffic was practically nil, so it was an enjoyable drive… did I say I love driving on narrow curvy roads? They remind me of the roads in the Cadiz province in southern Spain…. And amazingly the scenery was just as similar!!

Once on HWY 101 the drive was smooth and quick. Upon entering San Rafael there was a thick fog that appeared as a wave and thicker than maple syrup, and that continued for about ten miles. It was a great experience watching the headlights of approaching cars appear slowly through the gray mist, as the red brake lights of cars in front of me slowly disappeared into the soup….. sigh…. It was a great sight and I wanted to grab the camera to make a moving capture of the sight, but knew with the lower light it would be a slow exposure and decided against it. At one point, after seeing miles and miles of vineyards along the highway, I decided to stop suddenly to get a shot of the vines against a mountain topped with the golden orange glow of the sun already set, when just as suddenly and seemingly out of Nowhere, a CHP stopped behind me and informed me to move on or be ticketed for stopping… I couldn’t argue to that and left, without the shot but with a memory of the gorgeous colors seen in the blink of an eye at 65mph.

Eventually I reached Marin County and from there it was just riding the traffic tide across the bridge to the City, where I went to Chinatown first to eat something quick and cheap, before I returned “home”. It was without fanfare or celebration, and just more pixs to add to my fast-growing virtual list of millions of image files to record onto plastic DVDs.

During my trip I had poked myself in the eye with a piece of my camera strap. It was not a pleasant experience of course and with my recent correction procedure I was worried about tearing the eye but after a few minutes it was almost as good as new, though a little sore.

I ate during the trip, which is a surprise and I finally experienced a very lovely and easy drive to northern California and Mendocino County. Mendocino in itself is very tiny as I discovered, though very picturesque.

The houses display very interesting architecture, and many square-shaped buildings are seen in the area, remaining from the era when wind-mills power provided water to the homes and buildings from wells. They still exist and are interesting to see....

The below picture is of an unusual sight in downtown Mendocino: Father Time and the Maiden... which sits upon a pedestal on top of a white building in the downtown area, now a bank though it used to be the Masonic Lodge in much earlier years. Carved by mason Erick J. Albertson who worked for a local lumber mill, it was in his free time within a small shack where he made this interesting depiction of Father Time and the Maiden out of redwood. It also shows the Hourglass of Transience, the weeping Maiden with the Anointment of Her Hair, the Acacia Branch and the Sacred Urn, the Sundered Column, and the Book of Light - all of which are items symbolic of the Masonic Order. Thanks to the Mendocino Visitor Center whose kind wise volunteer provided me with this information and much more.