Friday, February 28, 2014

Marin Headlands Day Two

The fog horns from the lighthouses had lulled me to sleep. I listened to their unceasing serenade trying to pinpoint the unique blasts of each one, the chorus of bellowing horns was surprisingly calming as I drifted off to dreamland. 

Having gone to bed so early I arose at an ungodly hour, but decided to take advantage of the fog less sky and the morning lighting to try and get a photograph of the sun rising over San Francisco. It was still dark down at the campsite as I negotiated my way up to my car. I stopped short when I heard growling coming from the bushes. I pulled out my flashlight, it’s weak beam unable to penetrate the thick shrubbery. The campground was covered with flyers warning of mountain lions up at my camp in Mt. Tam, which was just a 20 mile drive away, and my mind started fearing for the worst. I scrapped my feet on the ground and waved my flashlight around, hoping this would disorient the unseen predator. Soon the growls were followed by the alarming sound of a bird, panicking as it struggled in the brush, apparently the creature had found it’s prey and it wasn’t me. The brush quoted back down and I continued you up the path, periodically looking around me to make sure I wasn’t being stalked. 

I grabbed my camera from the car and set up along the bridge capturing the sunrise as it crest over the cityscape and ascended the tall tower of the bridge. The sky glowed a magnificent orange, attempting to match it’s hue to the that of the famous bridge. After a moment of glory the show was over, and the day began, a clear blue sky overhead and the distant skyline of san francisco diluted by the bright rays of the low lying sun. I had a quick breakfast and decided I should take advantage of my early rise and go for a hike while the park was still empty. 

I was still wearing my pajama pants, my pants were still in the tent, so I threw my camera in the car and ran down to grab my pants. On my way back to the car I was created by a bobcat, leisurely strolling across the road in front of my car, but I was camera-less. I looked at the bobcat and asked him nicely not to leave, he sauntered over to the woodbine and stood there, I quickly and quietly grab my camera out of the car, he sat still for a few minutes allowing me to get quite close to him before he lethargically retreated into the underbrush. It was then that I realized he was probably the creature who I had heard growling in the bushes earlier that morning, his listless pace the result of overindulging on the bird he had devoured. 

The day was already off to a wonderful start as I headed to the trailhead at that unearthly hour. The parking lot at the trailhead was, predictably, vacant. The trail was really just a steep dirt road down to a cove approximately a mile below, short tree sprouted up to one side, the sheer walls of the mountain to the other. An old battery lay hidden just down a steep hill in the forest, I ventured down. The vandals had had their way with this facility, every inch of concrete splashed with colorful paint. 

I have a tumultuous relationship with graffiti, I see it’s artistic potential, and I find it speaks of a silenced segment of society. Youth begging to be heard, lacking a more conventional medium for expression. When graffiti is done in a torn up section of town, down an alley way, it can transform blight into brilliance, squalor into sensation. But when done sloppy and ill placed it can have the obverse effect, ruination of aesthetic. This display was the later, a hodgepodge of undeveloped pieces, coating a historical landmark, disturbing the quite serenity of this corner of the world. A few of the pieces were truly well done, but there disgraceful placement spoke little of art and mostly of disrespect. 

I Left the site and headed down to the beach, wondering what was so enticing about scouring such a beautiful place. 

I continued on down the path, a group of contraction workers were clearing some land, for what purpose I did not know, but a young man with dreadlocked hair watched their progress, noticeably upset by their destruction. Down at the beach the waves gently rolled ashore, the Golden Gate Bridge, hanging high above the water, framing the distant skyline of The City by the Bay. I took off my jacket, lying it on a bleached piece of drift wood and walked down the rockery beach. The small stones underfoot gave little support, sliding away with each step, a cascade of pebbles rolling back into the frothy water. I walked the entire length of the beach, the sound of tumbling stones only overwhelmed by the distant sound of the cars passing over the bridge. 

A couple birds played in the water but other than that the world was still as I made my way back to my jacket and back up the trail. The steep walk up was interrupted by a rabble of Mission Blue butterflies, an endangered species only found in California, Marin Headlands being one of only five known areas where Mission Blue colonies have been confirmed. The butterflies wafted in the updraft coming from the see, dancing from flower to flower in search of nectar. 

The parking lot was still nearly empty when I returned to the trailhead, choosing to take an adjacent trail that gave views over the Golden Gate. The beautiful clear skies allowed for views that stretched out for miles, the blue bay filled with sail boats out enjoying the placid water and warm sun. I sat and watched as the cars seemed to inch along the bridges enormous 8,980ft span suspended some 740 feet above the sparkling bay. 

I returned to camp to tear down, I had decided to leave my tent up so it could dry, having been saturated by the fog from the evening before, and have a quick lunch of granola bars and bananas. I planned on speeding the night at the hostel in the headlands so I headed over to book a room. Having secured a room I decided to head out for a short walk to the Marine Mammal Center, a private non-profit that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals found injured, sick or stranded along the pacific coast. 

The Marine Mammal Center is located in Marine Headlands, on what was once a Nike Missle site. At the facility they treat an array of marine mammals, from sea lions and seals to dolphins and even open water rescues of whales entangled in netting. The facility had very few patients when I arrived, which is ultimately a good thing but provided me little to see. I was, however, able to see a Guadalupe fur seal, which the lady at the facility explained to me was one of only 10,000 left in the world and only the 10th or so to ever be treated by the Center. A northern elephant seal pup, named Coyote, was being treated for malnutrition. When I asked about the peculiar name the lady informed me, that the person who finds an injured animal that is rescued, gets to name the animal, in this case the name Coyote was given because when the pup was found she was being chewed on my coyotes. 

(Random side note: Elephant seal and sea lion vocalizations were recorded at the Marine Mammal Center and used as the moan component for the sound of the Orcs (elephant seals) and the Uruks (sea lions) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.)

It was wonderful to see so many dedicated people putting so much effort into helping these animals. The goal of any treatment at the facility is to ultimately release the patients back into the wild. A pamphlet I grabbed on my way out told of a couple of the success stories from the centers nearly 40 year history in which they have treated over 18,000 animals. 

It was still too early to check into the hostel, so I wandered around the park some more, taking a stroll down to the beach, one of the few places dogs were allowed. The dogs played happily in the sand running after any object thrown by their owner, as couples sat on the short bluffs watching the waves roll in. Eventually I made my way back to my car and ran off to the grocery store to grab food to make for dinner. I was eager to no longer subsist on granola and fruit and happy to have a kitchen where I could fix myself a proper meal. 
Cacio e pepe, literally my favorite food.
When I returned to the hostel I was able to check in, instantly taking a shower before cooking myself a glutinous meal of pasta and italian sausage. I had explored most of the park, having successfully done all the activities I had wished to see, so I tucked in for the night and watched television, burning the evening away relaxing and refusing to get off the comfy couch. 

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