We set out for San Francisco early on the morning of the 5th. Bill had his heart set on it although he didn't know exactly what in S.F. he wanted to see. So we just drove west until we hit the 101, then started south. As we rounded the bend on the approach to the Golden Gate bridge, all of sudden we spotted the very top of the bridge peeking out of the heavy marine layer and catching beautiful sunlight. Just then we saw the exit for the Marin Headlands, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, so up we went.
We stopped at the first overlook, and I could not believe how cold and windy it was. We grabbed fleece pullovers from our backpacks, and since it was a short hike to reach what I hoped would be a good spot for photos, Bill decided to stay with the jeep to keep an eye on our possessions. I prowled around for half an hour but the fog never lifted, so I started back to the jeep. There are some very cool abandoned military structures out there; I'm guessing they were from Fort Cronkhite. Would have made for some great photos if I had time to explore, but I didn't want to leave Bill on his own any longer and it didn't seem like the best place for a woman to explore on her own.
Back in the jeep we headed for even higher ground and I was finally rewarded with the top of the Bridge making an appearance through the fog again, although it wasn't catching the sun the way it had earlier. It was just incredible to watch the fog come rolling over the top of the hills like a freight train.
We decided to head toward the Golden Gate Bridge Visitor Center and take a closer look, but when we got there the crowds were horrendous. We circled and circled looking for a place to park, then Bill announced that he didn't really need to see San Francisco anyway and he wanted to move on. We drove through the Presidio and stopped for a few minutes so Bill could set eyes on "The Rock." We initially had wanted to tour Alcatraz, but it was obvious that everyone decided to take the second half of the week off rather than the first half, and neither of us felt like dealing with the crowds.
We continued heading south on PCH (CA1), and the fog got thicker and thicker. Although I had photographed Monterrey and Big Sur in fog conditions before, I was concerned that the marine layer was too heavy this time. I was really looking forward to this return visit and a second opportunity to photograph one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the world, but it just didn't look like it was going to work. Over lunch at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company Bill suggested that maybe it didn't make sense to drive in the fog any longer since it limited the photographic possibilities and that we should head inland and jump on the 101 - the historic El Camino Real and try to make it home that night. It was breaking my heart to skip Big Sur, but he was getting road weary and so was I, so after a wonderful lobster and crab salad sandwich I hunted down a latte for the road and we detoured to the 101.
The historic El Camino Real is the 600 mile stretch of the California Mission Trail, which connects California's 21 missions. The missions are approximately 30 miles apart, making them one day's journey by horseback. From Los Angeles to San Pedro it follows along US 101, it's route marked by bells hanging from tall shepherd's crooks. Most of the original bells have been stolen or vandalized, and in the 1990's efforts began to replace the missing and damaged bells. As of June 2006, 555 bells have installed.
This stretch of highway really highlights California's agricultural nature; it is miles and miles and miles of farmland, with an occasional small town. Some absolutely gorgeous scenery, and I was disappointed that the harsh light of mid-day limited my photo opportunities.
We hit Santa Barbara county by late afternoon. This is one of my favorite areas to photograph. The hills and vineyards present a wealth of opportunities. I was able to spend a few hours here two years ago after working Camp Jeep, and have been wanting to return ever since, but life keeps getting in the way. We were keeping an eye out for someplace to get off the highway in Los Olivos when we noticed smoke in the hills and realized that a wildfire had broken out. There was no place to legally stop for several miles until we hit the shortcut at 154 - San Marcos Pass. We stopped at the intersection with Zaca Road and took a few photos of the vineyard with the smoke from the wildfire in the background.
Anyone who lives in wildfire country knows the feeling of dread one experiences at this sight, especially given the drought conditions this year. I honestly cannot remember the last time we had rain in Orange County; we've had less than three inches in over a year, and I believe that last rain was in April.
We watched for a while as helicopters dropped water and the smoke climbed higher and higher. It was obviously that this was a fairly new and growing fire, and we later learned that it was the Zaca wildfire in Los Padres National Forest. More than a month later and this fire is still raging; it has consumed over 80,000 acres (125 square miles) and is still only 68% contained. Full containment is not expected to be achieved until September 9, another full month from now. There are over 2,500 fireman battling the blaze, and the costs have already exceeded $59 million.
As the sun began sinking we knew we would have to make good time if we wanted to be home before midnight. We made one more stop for this sunset shot, the beauty of the sky enhanced by the tragedy of the wildfire smoke: