Brian's Photo Blog — Article 308
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California Cruisin' — In the City and Off-Road
Wednesday 26 March 2014   —   Category: Outings
This month my family and I went on a one-week adventure to California. We hadn’t visited my parents in Santa Maria for over a year, plus my Swiss wife and kids needed to renew their Swiss passports, and the nearest place to do that is at the Swiss Consulate in San Francisco. So we decided, as the old proverb says, to kill two birds with one stone (really, that’s an unfortunate saying for a Byrd family!) by accomplishing both in one trip.

It took about 11 hours to drive from our home in Oregon to the Corte Madera Best Western, just off U.S. 101 and only eight miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a really nice family hotel, complete with a very large swimming pool, two jacuzzis, fitness room, a small mini-golf putting green, basketball half-court, ping-pong table, shuffleboard court, barbecue and picnic area, an unusual outdoor glass bead and gas fire pit, and a hot buffet breakfast at the restaurant next door — highly recommended! It was a much cheaper, and much safer, option than staying in San Francisco itself.

The next morning we gave ourselves almost an hour and a half to travel the 14 miles from the hotel to the Swiss Consulate in downtown San Francisco — and we needed every minute of it! Before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge we nearly got into an accident trying to exit the freeway at the last second so we could see the bridge from Battery Spencer on the Marin Head­lands. As you can see from the photo to the right, the view was gorgeous! You can click on the picture to see a larger version, or better yet, start at the beginning of the new 12-photo San Francisco 2014 album — which actually leads off with three shots of Mt. Shasta.

Between that sightseeing photo stop, the morn­ing rush-hour traffic, and the difficulty in finding a parking place, we made it to the consulate with only minutes to spare. It occupies the entire 15th floor of the 24-storey building shown in the left-​hand part of the image to the right. Only a block away is the tallest building in San Francisco: the 850 foot (260 m) Transamerica Pyramid (shown to the far right). Fans of Midtown Madness 2 will know the joy of smashing the lobby win­dows of this building (virtually, of course)!

I had originally planned on spending some time taking photos in downtown San Francisco, es­pe­cial­ly in China Town, after our business at the consulate was completed. But I was very un­hap­py with the parking situation, being forced to use valet parking and required to leave the keys with them. Considering all of the expensive camera and computer equipment in my truck, I was very uncomfortable and anxious.

Lights from off-road vehicles, fireworks, and camping trailers at the Oceano Dunes, July 1976 — the Bicentennial year!
This photo and below: Early-morning Oceano Dunes, March 2014

In addition, we all felt really oppressed there in the City. Part of that was likely due to our not being used to such an environment, but I think that part of it was spiritual as well. Our only thought was to get out of there ASAP, so we did — photography and sightseeing be damned!

After living for nearly 50 years in the same house, my parents moved across town this year to a newer house, about a mile from Waller Park. We walked there the morning after our arrival, and I got some great shots of the ducks, as well as some other birds. You can see all of the bird photos I got on this trip (plus a squirrel!) in the new 11-photo California Birds 2014 album.

When I was a teenager back in the 1970s, I used to go out to the Oceano Dunes on Memorial Day weekend, the Fourth of July, or Labor Day weekend for some four-wheeling fun with my extended family.

That was back in the good old days when the entire dunes was open to off-road vehicles: from Grover Beach in the north all the way south through the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes to Mus­sel Point, and from the western shoreline all the way east to Oso Flaco Lake. A couple of times I even got to drive in the sand a bit. But I had never driven there since.

When I bought my Toyota Tacoma back in early 2009, it was the first time in my life that I had owned a four wheel drive. And this trip to Santa Maria was the first time I have taken it to the California Central Coast. So imagine my delight, after 35 years, to be driving on the sand again, but this time in my very own vehicle!

My 12-year-old daughter Olivia and I left Santa Maria about 6:15 one morning. After a yummy breakfast at McDonald’s in Pismo Beach, we left the restaurant parking lot around 7:00 AM, just as the sun was peaking over the eastern hills. Then we drove down onto the beach at the Grover Beach Grand Avenue ramp.

I was a bit nervous at first, wondering how well my truck would handle the sand, therefore I stuck to the shoreline so I could get a feel for things. After a while I stopped and reduced the air pressure in each tire to 20 psi. Then we headed inland to explore the dunes. Even though my four-cylinder engine is not very powerful, and I didn’t have the proper sand tires, I was still able to traverse the inland dunes better than I had imagined. Of course, I couldn’t make it up any decent-sized sand hills, but then again I didn’t get stuck in the sand as I had feared I would.

Over the years heavy-​handed environmentalists have closed down most of the dunes to off-road vehicles, leaving only a small fraction of the dunes open for the public to enjoy in that way. I discovered that first hand this particular morn­ing. Every direction we tried to go, we kept running into fences blocking our way. It was most definitely a disappointing, caged­in feeling and experience.

Nevertheless, we were still able to drive around the dunes within those constricted boundaries. Because we were pretty much the only ones out there — it being early morning during the off-season of March — we were able to walk around, explore, and take pictures. And because it was early morning, the light from the low-hanging sun was absolutely gorgeous. You def­i­nite­ly will NOT get those kinds of shadows at midday!

All in all I was very please with how my truck, with a small engine and street tires, performed — it did real well! On our way out, the portable air compressor I had bought just for this oc­ca­sion did an excellent job of restoring normal air pressure to the tires. Next time, once Olivia turns 16 and has her driver’s license, we may decided to rent some ATVs or even a dune buggy ... now THAT would be an expensive thrill!

My truck and Olivia appear in many of the photos, giving the vast scenery a sense of scale. Out of the 124 pictures I took during a one-hour period that morning, I've chosen my favorite 32 to share with you in the new Oceano Dunes 2014 album.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 308
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