US road trip day 19 – Golden Gate Bridge and el Diablo

Follow the trip from the beginning here.

The next morning found our truck and all our belongings safe and sound, just as the security guards had promised us the night before. We didn’t waste any time getting back on the road; Jill was longing to reach the ocean. The route we had planned meant we would be lucky to reach the Lost Coast by nightfall, but we set off with great expectations nonetheless, rushing out of Salinas just as Steinbeck did in his Travels with Charley. As I watched the outskirts of Salinas drift into the distance, I thought of Steinbeck’s poignant observation that ‘you can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.’ I sense that this was the profoundest discovery he made on his trip; subsequent chapters seemed to be tinged with disappointment as he wound his way back across the country.

We took 101 North and in no time were engulfed by the urban sprawl of San Jose. Every couple of miles, cast iron mission bells on the side of the highway marked the supposed route of El Camino Real, an historic trail which connected missions, pueblos and presidios along a 600 mile stretch of the California coast. The Santa Clara Valley through which we now drove was once one of the foremost agricultural regions in the world; thick with orchards and vineyards and flowers. The Valley of Heart’s Delight, as it was once known, bears little resemblance today to its not so distant past, thanks to the explosive growth of the computer industry, the internet and the silicon-based microprocessor responsible for the valley’s more recent monicker; Silicon Valley. We drove past cities bearing names drawn from nature, now synonymous with globally recognizable companies: Google’s Mountain View, Facebook’s Palo Alto and Oracle’s Redwood City.

In what seemed like minutes, we entered the city limits of San Francisco, where 101 takes a delightful little jog through the heart of the city. We left 101 briefly on the north side of town so we could get out and stretch our legs. A sailboat floated by on turquoise water and the sun shone brightly. It was a beautiful day.

sailboat boat sailing San Francisco Bay us usa america road trip

Jill wandered over to a portable bathroom close to the water’s edge; it had been a while since the last gas station, but she turned away with a look of horror on her face. “That’s just not right” she said, aghast, and peeping through the door, I had to agree. It was like the aftermath of a war in there; a really nasty war where opposing armies flung soiled diapers and wads of used toilet paper at each other, peed in each others shoes and left syringes floating in pools of disturbing brown liquid. It was the Battle of Armageddon in a Honey Bucket. We decided to wait until the next gas station.

Jill decided to cheer herself up after the porta-potty incident by taking a short detour through the streets of San Francisco. While she waxed lyrical about the cute little houses lining the streets, I marvelled at the insane inclines of the streets which have given us some of the most spectacular car chases in the history of cinema.

cute san francisco house road trip us usa america

san francisco steep hills us usa road trip america travel

We had a quick wander around the lagoon in front of the beautiful Beaux-Arts Palace of Fine Arts, soaking up the San Franciscan sunshine before getting back on the road.

palace of fine arts san francisco us usa america road trip

As highway 101 skirted the top of San Francisco’s Presidio, I caught a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge out the window.

san francisco golden gate bridge us usa america road trip travel

Checking the map, I realized we were going to cross it on our way out of town. Both highway 101 and state route 1 cross the bridge – actually, technically, both roads stop 1,000 feet south of the toll plaza and pick up again on the north side where it touches land – but that’s just silly. Sillier still is that the bridge is not considered part of the state highway system, but is considered part of the national highway system.

The bridge flashed its trademark shade of high visibility international orange, which looks more red than orange, as we drove across. It gets its name from the 3 mile stretch of water, the Golden Gate Straits, that connects San Francisco Bay to the Pacific; a wise choice – the International Orange Bridge sounds far less commanding.

golden gate bridge international orange san francisco us usa america road trip travel

Halfway across the bridge I looked out the window, suddenly remembering San Francisco’s involvement in the demise of the ever-contentious Hetch Hetchy Valley, about 200 miles due east of the Golden Gate Bridge. This glacial valley in the northwest corner of Yosemite National Park was hailed by naturalist John Muir as “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain mansions.” It was home to an extraordinarily diverse ecosystem and a wealth of wildlife. Officially within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park, it should have been afforded protection from greedy developers but unfortunately, National Parks at that time were under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, who saw (and still see) their role as resource management rather than conservation, preservation and protection.  The City of San Francisco had its beady eye fixed firmly on the valley, lobbying Congress for the right to dam the Tuolumne River and flood the valley as a reservoir. Muir and the Sierra Club fought it, but after seven long, bitterly-contested years, Woodrow Wilson passed the Raker Act in 1913, the dam was built and Hetch Hetchy was lost.

But the story doesn’t end there. There are grassroots environmental organizations pushing to restore Hetch Hetchy to its former glory. As recently as November 2012, a proposal that the city investigate alternative power and water sources, paving the way for restoring the valley, was voted upon by San Franciscans. 77% voted to keep Hetch Hetchy underwater. The fight continues.

Pushing north, golden hills bore traces of what looked like controlled burns; the sharply etched lines of the scorched earth were too neat to be random.

scorch burn hills california us usa america road trip travel

Then the golden tones gave way to the lushest of greens as we tumbled into wine country. Acres of neatly trussed vines danced by; the orderly rows creating ripples that seemed to ebb and flow up hillsides and down valleys, twirling around slopes like ruffled taffeta.

california vineyard winery vines us usa america road trip travel

california vineyard winery vines us usa america road trip travel

california vineyard winery vines us usa america road trip travel

Further north still, as daylight began to dim, the vineyards were replaced by thick forest on both sides. Jill was beginning to despair that we would never reach the ocean. We were still miles from the Lost Coast and when we pulled over at a rest stop and got talking to some locals, they told us the road down to the coast was not one to be driven after dark.

california vineyard winery vines us usa america road trip travel

california vineyard winery vines us usa america road trip travel

Defeated, we decided to camp for the night in Richardson Grove State Park, just a little south of the turnoff for the Lost Coast. On our way, we stopped off at a quirky little store called The Peg House for firewood. It had an eclectic assortment of vehicles outside and a sign that read “Never don’t stop”.

us usa america road trip travel roadside attraction

us usa america road trip travel roadside attraction

It was dark by the time we pulled into the camp site, but we were now seasoned professionals at pitching the tent at night. Foxes scurried around as we got the campfire started and rustled up dinner. Substantially larger-sounding creatures rustled in the bushes as we huddled by the flames, and Jill, watching as I shifted my chair closer to the fire, reminded me that everything sounds big in the forest at night. I smiled wanly, my thoughts skipping back to Christmas dinner the previous year in Ireland. As we had been tucking in to my sister-in-law’s delicious meal, we had switched on the BBC and listened to a wildlife expert explaining the different methods of defending yourself against bear attacks. “With a black bear, fight back, kicking and punching it in the nose if possible” he had advised. “If you’re being attacked by a grizzly, play dead.” “What about polar bears?” the interviewer had inquired cheerily. “You can do whatever you like” the expert had replied, laughing uproariously. “Play dead, fight back, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to die.

There was a bright silvery moon but the forest was so thick its rays barely penetrated the branches overhead. We cracked open a bottle of Chilean wine and as I drained my glass, the cork glowed in the firelight. The word Diablo stood out in sharp relief. Jill started to get jittery because she was convinced I was going to sleep in the car and leave her alone in the tent. To reassure me that sleeping in the tent would be fine, she produced a bottle of bear-strength pepper spray and shoved it in an overhead pocket. Of course, it had the opposite effect. I figured if Jill thought our surroundings merited pepper spray, we were in deep doo-doo. Bear doo-doo, to be precise. As the bushes continued rustling merrily around us, I stoically poured myself another massive glass of wine because it was the only way I was going to get any sleep tonight.

casillo del diablo wine chilean

(Continued here.)

Here’s a short clip of our trip today:


About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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55 Responses to US road trip day 19 – Golden Gate Bridge and el Diablo

  1. Lynette says:

    Great pictures! Can’t wait to see the ones at the ocean. Always wanted to go to the California coast. For now, I will live vicariously through you. 🙂 Have fun!

  2. Angeline M says:

    Wonderful narrative!

  3. Hi Ailsa,
    Looks like you enjoyed your brief stay in my city … and sorry about that unfortunate Port-potty incident. Actually, sadly, they’re all like that.

  4. dorannrule says:

    Thanks for taking me along! Gorgeous photos!

  5. Amy says:

    Beautiful photos of SF. Thank you for the tour!

  6. Well…I’ll assume you chased off the bears, since you were able to post this. What an amazing trip you’re having!

  7. MaanKind says:

    Thank you once again…

  8. Pat . says:

    I guess they were grizzly bears – and since you had passed out, it was just like playing dead – and you survived!

  9. Gunta says:

    Thanks for the delicious memories of my years in San Francisco back in the 70s…. it’s such a wonderful city. You really do need to go back (on your way down to Big Sur, of course!) 😉

  10. ledrakenoir says:

    Excellent written and wonderful photos… 🙂

    Yeah “the most spectacular car chases” – exactly my first thought when I saw that picture was Steve “King of Cool” McQueen “and the movie “Bullitt”… 🙂

  11. thelaurapenn says:

    My home sweet home! warms my bones as I thaw from our day in Niagara!

  12. says:

    I did this whole trip on a bicycle 5 years ago before I was documenting my entire life and I wish I had taken these pictures…thanks for the memories!

  13. pommepal says:

    .Love your descriptive phrases Ailsa I can just picture those vineyards twirling like ruffled taffeta. The thought of those bears would not make for a restful sleep, but you survived to tell us more of your road trip.

  14. I wish one day i can go here. So nice.

  15. We have driven our fifth wheel across the Golden Gate bridge and downtown… DOWNTOWN!!! all 42 feet. 🙂 Love the pic’s. Chilean wine in Californian wine country? Really? 🙂

    • ailsapm says:

      Haha, you were the first to pick up on that, honey – we’d stocked up on wine before we left on our road trip, although I admit it did seem pretty rude to be drinking Chilean wine in the middle of Californian wine country. Still, it tasted pretty darned good! 🙂

  16. jaggh53163 says:

    My parent lived in Marin County for almost 40 years and I visited then every few years until Dad passed away and I moved out there to take care of Mom. What memories cane flooding back of all the things I’ve done while traveling those same roads. March is a great time of year to go whale watching in the Mendocino area near Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. I think their Whale Festival happens during the beginning of March. I had a wonderful time during this Festival many years ago.The whales were so thick on our boat trip, we actually stopped counting spouts and only counted breaches… and had over 20 ! Amazing !!!

  17. Wow! Perfect photos – and beautiful skies! 😉

  18. Ouh! I remember that street of San Fransisco from the movie! Haha 😀

  19. Such a great trip – I love San Francisco and California – the colours of the Pretty Ladies are really great too. I found Highway 101 nerve-wracking to drive along the coast – too bendy and no crash barriers when we were there and this just reminds me of the sunshine and fun we’ve had in California.. I don’t have a backpack anymore – too old for all that but still like to travel as you have seen by my blogs. Thanks for stopping too – come again soon…

  20. Stephen Hughes says:

    Wonderful read and fantastic images to help tell the story! (amazing scenary)!

  21. scsurfbutler says:

    I went on a road tip this weekend to San Luis Obispo Highway 101. Per your blog you were traveling farther North on the 101, Salinas Monterrey Ca.. Did you visit the Aquarium. You spoke about the El Camino Real California coast route. I drove along El Camino Real from San Luis Obispo to Monterrey Ca last November. It is a beautiful ocean view scenic route. Travel safe!

  22. Pingback: Travel themes: Bridges | A Number of Things

  23. elizabethgelhard says:

    Thank you for sharing! And thank you for liking my blog!

  24. Awesome post as usual. You got me reliving my recent trip up the coast. I traveled Hwy. 1 instead of 101, since I’ve been to wine country and wanted to see a piece of coast I’ve never seen. But you’re in for a treat the rest of the way up. There are places to hike down to empty beaches on the Redwoods Coast. Interesting you thought of Hetch Hetchy on the Golden Gate (which by the way we’re lucky is under U.S. maintenance, given California’s budget problems). If you get a chance to go to Hetch Hetchy, you’ll find it is not in fact lost. It is still a very beautiful valley, even though there is a reservoir there. I never saw it before the dam, so that would be cool to see it restored, but it’s a beautiful place as is too.

    • ailsapm says:

      I actually read an interesting piece by a Sierra Club member who suggested that, in the long run, Hetch Hetchy might fare better than Yosemite because Yosemite is suffering from the masses of tourists who make their way there each summer. I’ve never been to either, but next time I’m in the area I want to visit both. xxx

  25. tieshka says:

    Thanks for liking my blog the other day. i just took a moment to check yours out and it is awesome! I look forward to seeing photos and hearing stories about the Lost Coast. I visited/camped out there many years ago. What a fabulous place- and the only place in California where I’ve seen cows next to the ocean. Safe travels!

    • ailsapm says:

      The Lost Coast is really beautiful, tieshka, although without an off-road vehicle we couldn’t do that much in the way of exploring. I did spot a few cows by the ocean though. 🙂

  26. Sarah says:

    Well you’ve made me entirely homesick now! 🙂 Great pictures!

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