Muir Woods

back in April, one of my best friends got married in Muir Woods and she asked me to officiate. the entire week in San Francisco was great and the location they selected truly unique. as with Becca and Dave’s ceremony at Devil’s Lake, it was great to be outside and fun to be tramping through nature in wedding-formal attire.

I visited Muir Woods once previously; on my first trip to California the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, my mom and I drove up from San Francisco to check out the redwoods. at one time, redwood forests covered much of the coast of northern California but during the late 19th century logging cleared much of the timber. a stand of old growth trees remained untouched north of San Francisco along Redwood Creek, due primarily to its relative inaccessibility (the main road from San Francisco to the National Monument is still a steep and windy thing). concerned for the safety of the redwood grove, in 1905 Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth secured a loan from a sympathetic banker friend and purchased 611 acres of land for $45,000.

being held by private hands did not ensure the safety of the grove, however. in 1907 a water company in Sausalito unveiled plans to dam Redwood Creek and flood the valley and heart of the redwood grove. to circumvent the problem posed by local court proceedings brought by the water company, Kent donated 295 acres to the federal government and in January 1908, Theodore Roosevelt established the Muir Woods National Monument under the auspices of the 1906 Antiquities Act. Muir Woods became the 7th National Monument and the first created from lands donated by a private individual. the name for the site came at the recommendation of Kent who objected to having the site named after himself. as Muir was instrumental in establishing the national parks system, Kent later proved instrumental in establishing the National Parks Service and, in 1928, a 280 foot Douglas fir was named in his honor (after decades of environmental buffeting, the tree toppled in 2003 and remains where it fell).

despite the inaccessibility that initially kept the redwoods safe, the Monument enjoys immense popularity due in part to its proximity to San Francisco. when the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, attendance at the park tripled (to 180,000). it now receives more than three-quarters of a million visitors a year. our little troop accounted for at least a few of those visitors over the two days we went up to rehearse and conduct Lindsey & Andy’s wedding ceremony!

Coit Tower

located atop Telegraph Hill, the 210-foot Coit Tower offers spectacular views of San Francisco and the Bay. it was built in 1933 at the bequest of Lillian Hitchcock Coit, who left a third of her sizable estate the city to construct some sort of “beautifying” monument. the resulting tower, made of reinforced concrete, is a memorial to San Francisco firefighters.

until 1866, volunteers fought the fires that frequently broke out in the wooden structures of San Francisco. this meant hauling Engines up and down the steep hills of San Francisco in order to reach the site of the blazes. at the age of 15, Lillie Coit saw Engine No. 5 in action and, noticing it was short-handed, chucked her schoolbooks in order to lend a hand, enlisting bystanders to help push the Engine up Telegraph Hill. from that day forward, Lillie was an honorary mascot of the Engine company, embracing the hard-drinking, gambling, smoking, and pants-waring habits of her heroes.

in addition to being a memorial to firefighters, murals painted in the lobby of the tower depict the diverse activities of working people. carried out by the Public Works of Art Project, critics condemned the the murals and artists as communist for decades. these criticisms ultimately backfired as they engendered pride among San Franciscans and helped turn the Tower into one of the iconic images of the city.

driving down the 163

 the drive down the 163, through Balboa Park, always made the trip from home (in Clairemont Mesa) to the airport pleasant. it’s entirely unlike any other drive you’ll take in such an urban setting.
the El Prado bridge connects the Hillcrest side of Balboa Park with the side of museums and the Zoo. (since this is a bridge theme, I will save any ode to Balboa Park and environs for another day.) (some people refer to it as the Laurel Street Bridge, but that street actually ends at Sixth Avenue.) it was built for the Panama-California Exhibition of 1915 to allow pedestrian and car access across the Cabrillo Canyon (which hosted grazing cattle until the late 19th century). the bridge was dedicated in 1914 by Franklin Roosevelt (then Assistant Secretary of the Navy), prior to the opening of the 1915 Exposition. Roosevelt returned as President in 1935 for Park’s second Exposition. due to the height of the bridge — flush with the rim of the canyon on both sides — traffic on the bridge is not visible from 163.

though initially designed to get people across the canyon to the museums of the Exhibition, the bridge has been used for many other purposes. not surprisingly, the height of the bridge proved attractive for despondent visitors and residents, including sailors. in it’s first 16 years, some seventeen people took advantage of the bridge for suicide, prompting the mayor and city officials to campaign to add some sort of preventative barrier. nothing came of it until 1950, when city workers installed wrought iron fencing on the parapets on both sides of the bridge. that didn’t stop people entirely from using it for suicidal purposes, though the completion of the Coronado Bay Bridge in 1970 provided a more effective means to that end. additionally, in 2008, a group of transients managed to penetrate an opening in the base of the bridge (for rainwater) on the north-facing side of the western edge of the bridge and constructed elaborate, multi-level housing structure inside the bridge. (very much like that episode of  This American Life, “The Bridge“.) they’ve closed up the holes now. don’t want to freak out drivers on the 163 or pedestrians on the bridge, I suppose — people use cars to avoid the problem of homelessness in San Diego, right?

the only time I ever walked over the bridge was when I went to visit last May and went on a rather sweeping walk from near the hospital in Hillcrest, through the park, past the zoo, and back over the Robinson Avenue Bridge. I made an effort to explore all kinds of “touristy” things while I was living in San Diego, but this walk was the kind of thing that you can only really appreciate once you’ve known a place and come back. (why would you take such along wander around Hillcrest on foot while you live there and could just as easily take your car?!) it was a lovely walk, as one would expect of San Diego in early May.

(got some of this info from Wikipedia, but a 2004 Union-Tribune article was much more useful)

Point Loma Lighthouse

and back across the country to climb to the top of more things … to the top of one of my favorite places in San Diego, Point Loma. the Lighthouse isn’t why I enjoy Point Loma as much as I do, but it was a good selling point for visitors. there’s a surprising lot to do on this southwesternmost point of the continental United States.

beginning in 1855, what is now known as the “Old” Point Loma Lighthouse was a beacon over San Diego Bay for 36 years. the year after California became a state, a coastal commission selected this location for its seemingly convenient and useful vantage point, 422 feet above sea level on a peninsula that overlooks both the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and construction began three years later (in 1854). workers used sandstone from the surrounding hills for walls and tiles from a nearby abandoned Spanish fort to cover the floor. the 3rd-order Fresnel lens (cutting-edge technology at the time; Fresnel lenses now go up to the 6th order) didn’t arrive from France until almost a year after the Lighthouse building was completed.

after illuminating the light for the first time in November 1885, however, it quickly became apparent that the position of the light at some 462 feet from sea level was rather less than ideal. on clear nights, the beacon could be seen some 25 miles out to sea. on foggy nights (of which there are plenty in San Diego, no matter what you hear about the weather), the light was in the middle of the cloud bank and useless to sailors navigating into San Diego Bay or up the coast. to compound the situation, there was no foghorn so, on foggy nights, the Lighthouse’s longest-serving keeper, Captain Robert Decatur Israel, would stand outside firing a shotgun into the sky to warn off ships.

while it operated, the Point Loma Lighthouse was home to a bustling family, whose quarters are recreated in the building as part of the museum. the tablecloth folded back on the table to make room for a game of solitaire, instruments propped against the wall in the children’s bedroom upstairs, a glimpse of the root cellar out back. access to the lantern room is restricted, but you can climb up those last few steps anyway and peek up into the space where the lens once resided. the light was extinguished for the last time on 23 March 1891 and duties were transferred to the “New” Point Loma Lighthouse, located at the bottom of the hill a mere 88 feet above the water.

more information from the National Parks Service and Wikipedia

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

while we’re on the subject of cemeteries, I thought I’d write about my favorite cemetery in San Diego County — the one at Fort Rosecrans on Point Loma.

Point Loma was one of the first places that I visited when I went to San Diego the first time in April of 2006. resting as it does on the ridge of the peninsula, the cemetery has spectacular views of both the San Diego Harbor and the Pacific Ocean. the cemetery and military base of which it is a part were named after a Union general from the Civil War, William Starke Rosecrans. the cemetery has a surprisingly long history — participants in the Battle of San Pasqual (about which more later) were re-interred (after initially being buried where they fell) at the military cemetery in 1874.

some other notable residents of the cemetery include a slew of Medal of Honor recipients (the most recent of which received the honor in 2006, but the last one before that was in the 1960s). also, a Major Reuben Fleet, a WWI aviator and perhaps now best known as patron of the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center in Balboa Park. another well-known name in San Diego: Major General Joseph H. Pendleton is buried at Fort Rosecrans. he graduated from the US Naval Academy and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1884. he rose to the rank of colonel and, in mid-1914 after arriving in San Diego, began advocating for the establishment of a major Marine Corps installation in the area due to the weather and harbor. he retired in 1924 and settled in Coronado, where he served as mayor for a time. he died in 1942 and later the same year, construction began on the Pendleton Marine Corps Base outside of Oceanside.

the grounds became a National Cemetery in 1934 and, while they still have room for cremated remains, the only room for caskets is in sites shared by previously interred family members.

info from Fort Rosecrans on Wikipedia and from the VA

Julian cemetery

really, I wanted to find my picture of the Julian cemetery but I couldn’t find it in flipping through my folders of photos. instead you get this sign that’s on the road between downtown Julian and Menghini & J.Jenkins on Wynola Road.

the cemetery sits atop a hill on the west edge of town. it overlooks the Julian Pie Company, as well as the fire house (put to use defending the town and surrounding area in October of 2007 as the Witch Fire burned through much of central San Diego County). the cemetery was established not long after the town; not surprisingly, the arduous trip west to the mountains of central San Diego county, and the hard life of a gold prospector beat many people and, as the Julian Historical Society puts it “For many pioneers, the toil of hard life ended on the hill above Julian.” for many years, however, the only access to the burial grounds was up the steep slope of the hill facing the main road through town. (here is where a photo would prove superlatively useful and illustrative. look here instead.) they’ve since built another road and parking lot, which access the cemetery some two-thirds of the way up the hill. when one notable resident died one winter, the burial had to be postponed until the ground thawed sufficiently to dig a space for her. there was still snow on the ground when they got her up the hill — something like eight men hauling the funeral sledge up the incline.

going back to an earlier Julian-related post about the sense of history of a place. I’ve uncovered some of the reason I feel so strongly that San Diego has less weight of history than anywhere else I’ve lived. although the state was established at nearly the same time as Wisconsin, that didn’t mean there was anything approaching population centers at the time. it was more a consequence of the Gold Rush, and less the need for governmental services to serve the population. Julian was settled in 1869 and San Diego wasn’t even chartered until 1886. one of the founders of Julian, Drue Bailey, is buried in the Julian cemetery. he arrived in the area at the age of 25 — he was only five years old when Wisconsin became a state, and six when California followed suit. beyond all of this, he died in the twentieth century (in 1921). if your headstone isn’t old enough to threaten toppling, isn’t so abused by the elements that you can barely read the inscription, then I have a hard time granting you any “weight of history.”

historic Julian

another reason I so enjoyed driving up to Julian is the sense of history the town possesses. even though California became a state immediately after Wisconsin (and was followed by Minnesota), and San Diego was incorporated the year the state was established, it always seemed to have a more limited sense of history. (I anticipate that at some point I’ll get into San Diego history, but today is for Julian.)

the unincorporated town is a California Historical Landmark, and the surrounding area is the Julian Historical district. it was established following the Civil War by soldiers who headed west to California. gold was discovered in the area by a former slave in 1869 and a minor gold rush began. the lode didn’t yield much, but during the period another settler brought some apple trees up into the mountains and discovered that the plants flourished. now Julian is well known for it’s apple pie. mmm, apple pie.

the town was home to some of the first settlers in San Diego County and, according to information from the 1880 census, the majority of blacks in the county lived in and around Julian. the first business to be owned and operated by blacks in the county was in Julian — the Robinson Hotel, owned by Albert and Margaret Tull Robinson. it’s now the Julian Gold Rush Hotel (pictured above). it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Julian wine

the mountains, the sunshine, the sense of escape that comes with traveling an hour away from somewhere — all reasons I’d drive up to Julian while I was living in San Diego. I don’t have the same inkling to head an hour away now that I’m back in Wisconsin. even gas edging towards $5 in Southern California didn’t deter me from my Julian sojourns when I needed them.

but beyond all of that, perhaps the biggest reason I’d escape to Julian: it served as an excuse to visit the Menghini Winery. I don’t even know what drove me to stop there the first time, if it was apple pie or wine tasting or just getting out of San Diego. (I remember my second visit quite clearly, with one Miss RLD.)

the winery is located in a valley and, in the winter the wind howls something terrible around the converted barn that hosts tastings. there are resident cats and dogs, tables and chairs out the back and in the front for leisurely tasting. I went up often enough that the woman who usually ran the tastings (and whose name now escapes me) recognized me. on my last visit before I moved, it was mid-week at the end of apple season and I was the only there. they were getting ready to drain and bottle one of the aging tanks. she let me try some of the unfiltered white wine. it was a most peculiar taste, and something that, while I can’t quite describe, has certainly stayed with me.

Menghini Winery

the sky goes on for days

yesterday I had a sudden and strong desire to be driving through the mountains on the way to/from Julian. whenever I needed to get away from San Diego for a while, I’d take to the hills. drive a loop that would take me up through Poway, and the fire-scorched land around Ramona, Santa Ysable and Wynola. sometimes I’d double back through Ramona, but more often I’d take the twisty turny mountainy road down through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. the land to the east and south of Julian is devoted to parklands — Cuyamaca, Cleveland National Forest, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park/Wilderness. on days like the one when I took this picture, the sky is an amazing gradient of blues, from the whispy white-blue near the horizon to an incredible azure above your head. it’s also a drive that requires your attention — switchbacks, narrow roads, blind curves. one of my favorite places on that drive is a short stretch through real (Californian) forest (with actual trees and low scrub brush, much more reminiscent of forests I am used to), where there are two curves that turn back on themselves and you drop your speed down to near nothing. take them a little on the speedy side and it’s a thrill.


Cuyamaca State Park association

Mystery Spot!

one tourist trap that I long wanted to visit in Santa Cruz: the Mystery Spot.
managed to convince everyone to take the jaunt up into the hills for what proved a thoroughly entertaining visit to this nook of warped perspectives (and/or reality). whatever causes the place to do what it does … I enjoyed it. Gabrielle and I took our turns fudging with our heights with respect to one another. we all climbed a ladder on the wall of the shack like stairs. Tanya stood in a line up of tall people to short people, which then reversed and everyone appeared the same height. the experience was rather disorienting (as, I take, it ought to be) but lots of fun. the best $5 tourist trap I’ve ever visited, for sure.

for more info, visit the official Mystery Spot website