Cable Cars and Towering Titans

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, April 23, 2007

Embedded somewhere deep in the recesses of our memories, we probably all hold images of action- packed car chases on the steep streets of San Francisco. With Steve McQueen behind the wheel, and at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour, the famed Mustang leapt over the brow of one hill only to be confronted with another impossibly dizzying vault. Fortunately for us, DC3 was not at all interested in competing with the movie "Bullitt", as she gingerly tiptoed down the abrupt inclines in first gear. We meanwhile were silently holding our breaths, thankful that our newly renovated brakes appeared to be trustworthy. The local residents might have wondered what all the apprehension was about, as not only do they traverse these hills on a daily basis but they are even obliged to park at right angles on a forty-five degree slope!

Yes, rather than lingering on the negative aspects of being back in North America, we finally decided to spend a few days taking in some of the highlights of the diverse neighbourhoods of San Francisco. A warm, sunny day definitely added to the attractiveness of Golden Gate - the most photographed bridge in the world. Constructed in 1937, the distinctive orange tower and cable system was built to withstand winds of over 100 mph. Several ships and a helicopter passed underneath while we walked across the one mile span, and we thoroughly enjoyed the antics of the surfers as well as the sea lions far below. In the distance, beyond the skittering sailboats, the sparkling metropolis rose from the bay to Nob Hill, while the Island of Alcatraz rekindled thoughts of Al Capone and the Birdman.

Considering that San Francisco boasts limitless panoramic views and fascinating cultural diversity, we decided to become genuine tourists by purchasing passports that would allow unlimited travel on the city's buses, streetcars and cable cars. Once again we were thrown into Hollywood movie mode as we jumped aboard several of the historic trolleys, one of which was featured in "A Streetcar Named Desire". Even more exciting was holding on for dear life aboard the famed cable cars as they maintained a steady 9.5 mph while grinding up and down some of San Francisco's precipitous slopes. Without fail, each stop brought us to yet another cultural, architectural or historical hub.

The seven blocks of Japantown are easily recognizable, not only by those realistic replicas of Japanese delicacies placed proudly in each restaurant window, but more so by its lovely Peace Pagoda currently shrouded in pink cherry blossom. Picture perfect remnants of Victorian architecture are exemplified by the "Painted Ladies" - five residential beauties lined up side by side in Alamo Square. And at the end of the 'F' trolley line, dozens of rainbow coloured flags readily label The Castro, San Francisco's lively gay and lesbian community.

After wandering around Nob Hill which is renowned for its enormous mansions constructed by the millionaires of the gold rush era, we were happy to sit in the window bay of a Vietnamese restaurant on Market Street, savouring our gourmet sandwiches while watching the life of the heterogeneous population outside. The pyramid shaped Transamerica building is only one of many spectacular high-rises that dot the hills throughout the city, but the dramatic City Hall with its black and gold dome warranted a return visit in the evening, not to mention that it was close to the Conservatory of Music where we took in a Cello concert.

Of course, we also did the obligatory meander along Fisherman's Wharf, but found it all far too crowded and touristy and preferred to spend time admiring the exotic flowers and shrubs in the 70 acre Botanical Gardens of Golden Gate Park. After only three days, we can't say that we left our hearts in San Francisco, but we thoroughly enjoyed our time in this city that has so much to offer.

With the crowds having returned to school or jobs following Spring break week, we found ourselves back in a quieter environment as we continued northwards on Highway 1, following the exceptionally scenic Californian coastline. Although our next destination was the Redwoods National Park, we happened upon the 32 mile "Avenue of the Giants" in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and found it to be an inspiring introduction to the towering titans. A major landslide has currently resulted in the temporary closure of five miles of this road, but we were awed by the remaining 27 miles of the narrow erstwhile stagecoach road that wound its way through massive stands of ancient redwoods.

Knowing that redwoods thrive in a cool and wet climate, and are often enshrouded in fog and low lying cloud, we were thrilled to have two beautiful, sunny days to hike the trails of the Redwood National Park - even encountering a black bear and numerous wild elk along the way. Most exciting was the Tall Trees Trail, home of the world's tallest trees which at 600 to 800 years of age, soar up more than 360 feet from their gigantic bases. Feeling totally dwarfed and insignificant amongst these massive redwoods, we marvelled at their 12 inch bark which repels insects; at the hollowed out cavities due to fires that simply temporarily slow their growth; at the odd looking growths (burls) that will eventually result in new growth if required after some disaster; and at the shallow root systems that thrust no deeper than six to eight feet into the ground, and entwine themselves with neighbouring redwood roots for extra support.

But most of all, we gazed upwards at the towering canopies, feeling the magic that John Steinbeck must have felt when he wrote: "The redwoods once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always......from them comes silence and awe. The most irreverent of men, in the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect". How tragic that only 4% of the two million acres of old-growth redwoods forest remains today.

Hoping to spend yet another glorious day in the silent forest to celebrate what would have been Mike's twenty-seventh birthday, we were disappointed to wake up to heavy rain and a cold, damp environment - reflecting the heaviness in our hearts. And yet we continue to marvel at the never-ending love and support of our many friends and family. Thanks so much to all of you who wrote and were thinking of us yesterday.
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