Going on a -.-. — .– Walk at Pt. Reyes… Plus: Peggy Snuggles up to a Police Horse

The cows had a hungry look in their eyes. We were thankful they were vegetarians.

Peggy and I had decided to revisit an old favorite of ours, the Palomarin Trail that enters Pt. Reyes National Seashore from the south. We had driven down to Bolinas and were on our way out the narrow, pothole-filled road that leads to the trailhead when we saw a series of poles, lined up like they were standing at attention in ranks. I knew immediately what they were. 

The poles were part of the historic Marconi wireless radio station near Bolinas. At one point, they had been connected by wires.

In 1914, decades before the likes of Elon Musk and his techie cohorts started working on worldwide wireless technology, Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the wireless radio, had built a huge, wireless radio station near Bolinas to send Morse Code messages flying across the Pacific Ocean, setting up the first-ever communication system between ships at sea and land. A small parking lot was connected to a walking trail that wound its way past the historic poles and toward the ocean. We were easily diverted from our original intent of hiking the Palomarin Trail.  

The pole-filled field was doing double-duty as a cow pasture and a herd of cattle insisted on checking us out— up close and personal. It was lunch time and they may have thought we were sneaking alfalfa past them. The Morse Code in the title, BTW, spells C -.-. O —, W .–, in case you were wondering. And boy, that takes me back to my Boy Scout days in the 50s when memorizing Morse Code was essential to working your way up through the ranks.

We checked out the poles, talked with the cattle, and had a pleasant walk out to the coast with both Peggy and me taking photos. 

Not quite Mt. Everest, but I was still willing to pose for Peggy. We found large cement blocks throughout the area. At first, I though they might have been part of the coastal fortifications the US built along the Pacific Coast in WW II. Then we decided they were used to anchor the poles and wires. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A whole herd of cattle was lined up along the road. They remained on the road, not budging as we walked by.
I thought this young fellow munching on grass was quite handsome.
Peggy stopped to admire a lone tree on our walk. The brush had a soft, welcoming look to it. But looks can be deceiving!
It was close to impenetrable.
As we approached the coast, the Pacific Ocean stretched off into the distance. The Farallon Islands can be seen as bumps on the horizon. They were once known at ‘The Devil’s Teeth’ for their ability to rip the bottoms out of sailing ships. In the 1800s, millions of birds’ eggs were taken from the islands to feed San Francisco’s growing population. Today the islands are a designated wilderness area and are part of a marine sanctuary. The birds no longer have to worry about their babies being stolen.
Looking north, we saw some of the towering cliffs found along the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Sir Frances Drake, the renowned English hero and buccaneer (fancy name for pirate), apparently admired these cliffs on his visit to the area in 1579. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Looking south we could see the giant Sutro Tower that dominates the San Francisco skyline. Herb Caen, the well known and beloved columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, once described the tower as a “giant erector” that was stalking and planning to eat the Golden Gate Bridge. I read Caen religiously when I was growing up. It was back when newspapers still had a sense of humor, before they adopted their Doomsday, Penny Henny view of the world. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Afterwards, we stopped off in Bolinas for lunch. It’s another favorite coastal town of mine. One reason is the fact that the locals refuse to have signs leading into the town from Highway 1 for tourists to follow. Whenever Cal Trans puts one up, it’s torn down. I think that Cal Trans has finally given up. At least I didn’t see any signs. It has always been a fun, quirky town with its own unique cast of characters. Last time when Peggy and I visited with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake, we came on a bookstore without staff. A sign said “Take any book you want and leave whatever you think the book is worth to you in the cash box.” It was a very Bolinas type of thing.

While I’m on Bolinas stories, I’ll mention that it was also the site of my first ‘Hippie’ experience. I’d stopped in the town in 1968/69 and decided to do a little sunbathing on its infamous nude beach, which I had read about in the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a time before Google listed “The Best Nude Beaches in Marin County,” a time when the Protestant ethic still reigned supreme among America’s middle class. I confess I was a little nervous about getting naked, but it was the sunburn that left a lasting memory!

A sign of the times in Bolinas. As we were walking through the town in search of lunch, we came across a car with a ladder on top that included a sign that set me to laughing. I could identify with it.

Having featured cattle today, it is only right that I should feature a horse as well. It’s a requirement of the Old West. The day after our Bolinas walk found Peggy and I hoofing it along the Bear Valley Trail. It connects the Visitor’s Center with the ocean in an 8-mile round trip. We were feeling our oats, so to speak, when we came across a pair of real hoofers, i.e. horses. A woman was walking one and stopped to chat. As it turns out the horses were part of ‘San Francisco’s Finest.’ It was a police horse, a proud member of the mounted patrol that can often be found patrolling Golden Gate Park. They’ve been at it continuously since 1864. The horses were out for a play day on the Bear Valley Trail. 

Peggy, who likes horses, insisted on snuggling up to it and I dutifully snapped a photo on our iPhone. I, on the other hand, am not a horse person. It isn’t their size, their looks, or their personality, all of which I find pleasing. It’s their smell, and the fact that they often leave prodigious piles of poop along hiking trails. Have you ever seen a sign that says “Clean up after your horse?” I’m not sure what it is about their smell, but it clings to you. I wonder if cowgirls and cowboys think of it as perfume? 

Peggy snuggles up with the horse along the Bear Valley trail.

That does it for today. I’ll wrap up our recent visit to Pt. Reyes in my next post. Then it will be off to Fort Bragg and Mendocino.

Olompali: Miwoks, the Grateful Dead, and a Hippie Commune… The North Coast Tour

I photographed this picturesque oak tree at Olompali State Park. Later I discovered the same tree was featured on the cover of the Park's brochure. Acorns from oaks were a major source of food for the Miwok Indians.

I photographed this picturesque oak tree at Olompali State Park. Later I discovered the same tree was featured on the cover of the Park’s brochure. Acorns from oaks were a major source of food for the Miwok Indians.

 

When Peggy headed off to England with her sister in August to visit English gardens, I headed off to the north coast of California for a couple of weeks to see what mischief I could get into. Peggy has promised some guest blogs on her experiences. Here is the first of several blogs on mine. 

The small community of Novato lies 20 miles north of San Francisco along Highway 101. The little known California State Park of Olompali is just north of Novato. The staff at the Days Inn where I stayed didn’t even mention the park when I asked about interesting places to explore. “Go to the Marin Museum of the American Indian; explore historic Novato; check out the Marin French Cheese Company,” they told me. And I dutifully complied. My adventure started just outside my door.

To me, the coastal ranges of California provide some of the most scenic views in the world. This was behind the Days Inn where I stayed in Novato. I love the contrast between the gold of the grass and the green of the oaks.

To me, the coastal ranges of California provide some of the most scenic views in the world. This view was behind the Days Inn where I stayed in Novato. I love the contrast between the golden brown of the grass and the dark green of the oaks.

One evening I went out and captured the same shot as the sun went down.

One evening I went out and captured the same shot as the sun went down.

It is a good thing that the Marin Cheese Factory isn't located near my home. I'd end up weighing 300 pounds. Its brie cheese is to die for.

It is a good thing that the Marin French Cheese Factory isn’t located near my home. I’d end up weighing 300 pounds. Its brie cheese is to die for.

As for Olompali, I had to find it on my own. It was a mile up the road from the motel, just past the US headquarters of Birkenstocks. It proved to be a very interesting place, indeed.

Once, the area had been home to the Miwok Indians. They had been living in the region for over 3000 years when Sir Francis Drake landed at nearby Point Reyes. Although he was something of a pirate, and would have been an illegal alien by today’s definition, Drake claimed the land for Queen Elizabeth. The Spanish arrived a few years later and claimed the land for Spain. The Miwoks weren’t invited to participate in either decision.

These distinctive cliffs at Drakes Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore were used to help identify where Sir Francis Drake landed in

These distinctive cliffs at Drakes Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore were used to help identify where Sir Francis Drake landed in the late 1500s. The tracks in the foreground speak to how popular this beach is in the summer. I had a difficult time capturing a photo that wasn’t packed with people.

By 1776, when Americans were fighting for independence from Great Britain, the Spaniards were busy establishing their first missions north of San Francisco, an effort that was a continuation of the work of Junipero Serra. In return for supplying ‘civilization and salvation’ to the Miwoks, the Catholic priests expected the natives to work for nothing in what can best be described as a system of slavery. Going home to visit family without permission, or even going fishing, could earn a whipping and a jail sentence. And, if ‘civilization and salvation’ weren’t enough, the Spaniards brought the European diseases with them that more or less wiped out the native population and opened the area for white settlement. It’s small wonder that California’s remaining Native American population didn’t celebrate the recent canonization of Junipero Serra with enthusiasm.

The Miwok, for the most part, were a gentle people who lived in close harmony with the land. An area of Olompali State Park has been put aside to display the native plants and housing the Miwoks used. The natives practiced house cleaning in the extreme: They burned down their houses once a year to get rid of bugs and vermin that had taken up residence.

The Miwoks built some of their homes with redwood siding, or at least redwood bark. This example of a Miwok shelter is located at Olompali.

The Miwoks built some of their homes with redwood siding, or at least redwood bark. This example of a Miwok shelter is located at Olompali.

While most of the plants on display were suffering from the drought, an attractive Bay Laurel caught my attention. A signpost reported that the Miwok had eaten the fruit raw. Nuts were dried and then pounded into flour that was used for bread. The leaves were used for spice. A tea made from the leaves was used for stomach-aches, colds and sore throats. Fresh leaves were put on the head for headaches and an infusion of the leaves was used for washing sores. Shoots growing from the tree were used as arrow shafts. Visiting the Bay Laurel, it seemed to me, would have been like making a trip to the grocery store. I found several of the plants the Miwoks made use of, such as the California Buckeye and Harvest Brodiaea, were also common to the Central Valley of California and the Sierra Nevada Mountain foothills where I lived for many years.

The drought that has California in such a tight grip, didn't seem to impact this Bay Laurel that was growing in the garden of native plants important to the Miwok.

The drought that has California in such a tight grip, didn’t seem to impact this Bay Laurel that was growing in the garden of native plants important to the Miwok.

Buckeye trees in bloom along the American River Parkway in Sacramento. Buckeyes, well leeched to remove poison, served as back up food when acorns were scare.

Buckeye trees in bloom along the American River Parkway in Sacramento. Buckeyes, well leached to remove poison, served as back up food for the Miwoks when acorns were scarce.

A close up I took of buckeye flowers while hiking along the American River Parkway. The fruit of the buckeye was also crushed by the Miwok and thrown into streams to knockout fish that were then gathered for food.

A close up I took of buckeye flowers while hiking along the American River Parkway. The unleached fruit of the buckeye was crushed by the Miwok and thrown into streams to poison fish that were then gathered for food.

Bulbs of Harvest Brodiaea were baked, boiled or eaten raw by the Miwok. This is another photo I took along the American River Parkway.

Bulbs of Harvest Brodiaea were baked, boiled or eaten raw by the Miwok.

Wild animals, like native plants, were central to the existence of the Miwok. An informative book by Betty Goerke, Discovering Native People at Point Reyes, notes that the Miwok considered Coyote the creator of their world. As in much Native American lore, Coyote was also a trickster god, often getting into mischief. His god-like status kept him from getting eaten, however. Other animals didn’t fare as well, but even they deserved respect. “It was necessary and a common courtesy to honor an animal when it was killed,” Goerke notes. Beads were thrown into a fire to honor a dead bear. Even a small bird would receive a dance— “so it wouldn’t feel bad.” I’m not sure the dead bird appreciated the dance, given an option, but I like the sentiment behind it.

NEXT BLOG: How Olompali moved from being home territory for the Miwoks to a temporary home for the Grateful Dead and then the site of one of California’s most famous hippie communes.