Big Red, Shiny, Mack, Fire Engine

Trip Start Nov 29, 2007
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Trip End Jan 30, 2008


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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, December 31, 2007

The last early start of the year. And the last junior ranger chance.

Head out to Muir Woods, home to a grove of coastal redwoods. Not as cold as some of our earlier treks, but still chilly down in the valley where the grove is.

Amazing trees - in terms of their size and in terms of their age - some more than 300 ft tall and more than 1100 years old. And the bark on some of them is more than 12 inches thick. Standing among them makes you feel small - in terms of stature and also in terms of your place on this planet. These trees have seen an awful lot.

Head out on a 2 mile walk amongst the giants. Come across one tree that collapsed in October, but it was only about 120 ft tall. Made a huge mess. Fell right across the trail. And when they fall, they shatter because the timber is not a hard wood. Figure out that if we here any loud cracks, we should probably just run. Fortunately (or maybe otherwise) we hear nothing.

The walk is fascinating and Zac loves it (despite it being on a properly designated track). Its a bit different from the deserts we have been accustom to. And he loves the chance to run ahead a bit, hide inside enormous tree trunks and scare the rest of us when we wander past. Fortunately, there are not too many others on the path - otherwise they might have the shock of their lives and certainly would not be able to experience the serenity that otherwise accompanies the usual Muir Woods experience.

Make it back to the start of the park. The ranger's station is now open and Zac asks for his junior ranger book. He gets a few bits of paper stapled together and a sticker. Thats it. Oh, and if we fill out a form, they will prepare a certificate and send it out to us. For a National Monument that is merely moments away from San Francisco, this is very disappointing - no badges, no patches. Just a sticker.

The questions are also impossibly difficult, to the point where we would have to hike the track again to answer them. Zac would have no chance in completing stuff on his own. Maybe its more designed for school groups. But, it does make for a disappointing end to the junior ranger part of the trip (at least for us - I suspect Zac could not care less - he just does what ever we have planned for him).

As we leave, an Asian family arrives. The two boys (about 8 and 10) spy the "donation" box which the rangers leave out on the track for those who arrive at the park prior to the ranger's station opening. These two kids can't believe their luck - a big, clear plastic box full of money just sitting there, waiting for them to open it up and empty it out. These kids jump on the box, pull it, push it, poke it and try whatever they can think of with their 8 and 10 year old brains before their horrified parents see what is happening and race over to put an end to the treasure hunt. Poor kids. Don't think the walk will be as interesting for them as the prospect of free money.

Driving into San Francisco on a clear day is always fun. And today it is clear, it is warm and it is just magical. Cass had kind of hoped the weather would be foul, foggy and not nice - only because she did not want to fall in love with San Francisco all over again. On reflection, I think we were all (including Cass) pretty happy she did not get her wish. Not sure what it is about this place. But it does have a weird attraction and its hard not to like the city - all 49 square miles of it. The ten years between visits have not dimmed the romance of the cable cars or the allure of the architecture and open spaces.

Staying down near Fishermans' Wharf for the first time. Its very different from Union Square and the perfect spot for a kid - its close to a lot of stuff and nearly all of the public transport options swing past. Only downer - costs about A$100 to park the car for two days (on top of the accomodation costs) which is why we have never kept our car whilst in San Francisco - we either pick it up at the end or send it back as soon as we arrive. Driving in, Zac seems to think this looks like a fun place as well. A brand new fire engine roars past with its siren blaring. Zac thinks that is pretty cool. He has no idea what we have in store after lunch.

After lunch and less than a block from our hotel is a big, red, shiny Mack fire engine parked on the side of the road. Our tour guides are also on hand, dressed up and raring to go. Its an old fire truck from the 1950's and has alot of the same mystical/romantic feel as the city. Zac is beside himself with excitement. He has figured out we are about to go for a ride. Two other families are booked for our tour as well - one family from Newcastle and another from Sydney. Half a world away and the whole tour is Aussies. The internet is an amazing thing for sizing up tourist-type opportunities from afar.

Everyone is kitted out in a heavy and very authentic fireman's jacket and then we are strategically strapped into the back of the truck. Strategically because it seems they have tried to figure out who is most likely able to hold on in an emergency and put them at the back. The candidates most likely to fall out sit further at the front. I don't remember signing a waiver. That might come in handy. Hopefully not.

The couple who own the truck and who are our tour guides are brilliant. She is an entertainer and he is a great foil/straight man. She sings songs about the big, red, shiny Mack fire engine, she talks about her entertaining past and we learn alot about the city we never picked up on the Grayline tour we did years ago. And with the fire engine, we get to places the buses don't go including through the Presidio, which was still an operating military facility last time we were here.

Great views of Golden Gate Bridge and then we cross it. Roaring along in the wind, the cold and traffic is an unusual way to see the bridge and we get plenty of waves and honking from the traffic as it goes around us. We see a bit of Sausalito and stop for a few photo ops near the bridge. Then we get bundled back in for the return trip.

Its a brilliant way to see San Francisco and something that Zac is not likely to forget any time soon.

But the locals must cringe when the all singing, big, red, shiny, Mack fire engine comes roaring along their street. One guy had a go at the tour guides when we were stopped at the lights, complaining about the noise whenever the fire engine makes its rounds. As a tourist, two thumbs down to him. But as a resident, you would not want it heading down your street.

The afternoon is still young and there is much to see. And it is new years eve, so we head over to Fisherman's Wharf. Last time we were there, there was a panhandler who used to hold and hide behind a couple of tree branches that he brought with him. When unsuspecting "victims" walk past, he simply shakes the branches and says "boo", but invariably scares the pants off his victims to the delight of a huge crowd. Amazingly, he is still there. Same spot, same gimmick, same crowds. Dad can't seem to get enough of it. The rest of us are anxious to move along, wise to the trick and determined to avoid it whilst we are in town.

At Fisherman's Wharf, we check out the sea lions and the shopping. Not perfect for a kid, but a few things to see.

Cass, Zac and I decide on an early dinner. Its been a long day. And we head over to Bubba Gump Shrimp for a kitchy feed. Forrest Gump is old news now but Bubba Gump seems to have lived on. Its as popular as ever. We manage to grab a table overlooking the bay (including Alcatraz) and prepare for dinner as the sun sets behind us. Not a bad location for a new years feed, albeit a bit earlier than what most of the revellers would expect. Only difficulty was the absence of any decent desserts. And the walk home only went past ice cream parlours that were closed. Sure its cold, but that is a bit rough. Still, we can still find Ben & Jerrys. That does just nicely.

Its bed well before New Years. Without the sun its a bit cold and we can think of plenty of reasons not to get cold and only one reason to brave the icy wind. Reason wins over romance and we stay tucked up and warm as the fireworks echo around the buildings. Nevertheless, its a happy new year and it will, no doubt, be full of interesting adventures.

Drive - 20 miles
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