Mission Peak

It's Wednesday afternoon, July four, ninety seventy-nine. It's a very reasonable sixty four degrees with plenty of sunshine. You're making the five point six mile hike up one of The Bay Area's highest peaks. You're carrying your steel, Official Trail Canteen in its green canvas sling, playing the hell out of Super Tramp's Breakfast In America on your Walkman, fresh from its packaging. You and three of your closest friends have a large horse blanket and a cooler full of Rainier and Lucky Lager. It's the fourth of July and what better place to celebrate the birth of America.

Suddenly, one of your friends pushes you off the trail as an orange T1 Volkswagen Splittie flies by. Your headphones fall from your ears and Rick Davies gives way to flying gravel and a revved boxer engine quickly disappearing over crest. The driver is eighty eight year old Margaret Moore McClure. She's headed home. Home to what is now the oldest, free-standing, wooden structure in The Bay Area and it's nestled into the the foot hills of Mission Peak, Fremont, California.

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In the last forty years, Mission Peak has been a destination for hikers and tourists from all over. If you live here, you had to have summited the two thousand, five hundred thirty five foot peak before garnering any type of local outdoor cred. Now, tens of thousands of ambitious hikers attack its ascent every year. I pride myself in finding odd spots around the bay, so this hardly qualifies, but what does qualify is the history and the odd stories that surround the peak like afternoon fog.

Margaret Moore McClure was born in Oakland, California on October twenty four, eighteen ninety-one. She and her family owned Mission Peak until it was sold to the East Bay Regional Park District in nineteen seventy-eight, but Margaret was permitted to maintain residence until her death in nineteen eighty-two.

And so I stood there, with my camera in the foot fills of this glorious, local wonder. Smelling the smells, listening to the sounds, taking in the history (and another breath). Every time I had been to the top of Mission Peak, it had been sunny with plenty of visibility. I didn't want that. I wanted drama. I wanted darkness. I wanted clouds. Looking ahead, I could see them forming. As the moisture formed, so did my excitement.

As I drew closer to the summit, that's exactly what I got. I couldn't help but think of the falls of Scotland as the wind pushed the fog rapidly past my face. It really was incredible. Everyone knows about the fog on the peninsula and it's documented often, but being at the top of this yellow grass monument contrasted by decreasing visibility brought forth a whole new appreciation for atmospheric pressure systems. I was in another world. A world of wonder I needed to explore further.

In a perfect balance of sunset and fog, I captured this stranger posing atop the monument for her cellphone, fixed to a portable tripod. What she doesn't know, is this monument used to be just a bit higher... and a little brighter. According to a park ranger named Marie I met along the way, the monument once stood eighteen feet taller and had a flashing light attached prior to WWII. The light was taken town as fears grew that the beacon would draw attention from Japanese bombing runs, devastating the surrounding area. The pole this self-photographer has attached herself to was actually erected much later, in nineteen ninety by sculptor and park ranger, Leonard Page as a way to promote environmental awareness. At six feet high, the "Summit Pole" has molded within, cylinders pointing to different parts of the area kind of like lensless spyglasses. There is however, as in many cases, more than meets the eye.

Sealed inside the Summit Pole, is a traditional crystal, Ohlone charm stone, a bottle of 1990 zinfandel, and five time capsules with articles, photographs, and images of Bart Simpson, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Far Side cartoons. There's a lot of culture buried inside something people from all over the world stand on for selfies. It's supposed to be opened in the year two thousand-ninety.

Climbing down from this monument in the afternoon also provides for some of the most beautiful sunsets. Many like the ocean sunset, but I prefer the more tectonic landscape. I feel blessed to have access to such beautiful scenery. In the distances above, you can see the skyline of Oakland where I work. This place is quite the departure from the people and the traffic and the hurry. Some local organizations have talked about removing it to dissuade sightseers. Many are upset by the mass of visitors and the parking issues this creates. As a local who grew up here, without offering too much opinion in an editorial piece, I hope it remains up and accessible. It's much needed peace in the heart of Silicon Valley. It's a way to break free from stress and commune with the world as the world was intended. But that's just one person's perspective.

Drawbridge, CA

From Wikipedia: William Donlon “Don” Edwards (January 6, 1915 – October 1, 2015) was an American politician of the Democratic Party and a member of the United States House of Representatives from California.

Edwards was born in San Jose, California. He attended the public schools in the city, graduating from San Jose High School, before earning a B.A. from Stanford University in 1936, where he was member of the Stanford golf team. Edwards then attended Stanford Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1940.

Edwards was a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1940 to 1941, when he joined the United States Navy as a naval intelligence and gunnery officer during World War II. In 1950, he was elected president of the California Young Republicans. But he had switched parties by the time he was first elected to the House in 1962. He was the president of Valley Title Company of Santa Clara County from 1951 to 1975, and a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1964 and 1968.

That quenches the curiosity of this twenty-year Bay Area resident, but why is his name on everything west of 880? Well, that’s actually kind of a neat story.

The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (DESFBNWR - pronounced “Dez-if-ben-wer” (I made that up)) was founded in 1974 as the first urban national wildlife refuge in the United States. It’s home to the endangered California Clapper Rail, salt marsh harvest mouse (awwweee), white pelicans, kites, hawks, ospreys, eagles, and millions of shorebirds and waterfowl who stop along the Pacific Flyway for some much-needed R&R. You’ve probably seen the iconic photos of the Cargill Salt ponds from above. Those are the pools of brightly coloured brine water. That’s part of the DESFBNWR. It extends over thirty thousand acres from the Dumbarton Bridge, south into Milpitas, making up most of the East Bay shoreline. The southern part is where today’s journey began.

There, buried deep inside the marsh, (mostly) inaccessible, resides a legend. A story I’ve heard from the generation before me. Recounts of a town before my time rang through my ears since I was a kid. A town kids used to sneak into. A town lost to history. A town slowly being reapportioned and reclaimed by mother nature, herself. This is the town of Drawbridge.

I did what anyone else would do. I tapped “drawbridge” into Google Maps on my phone. The last resident is said to have left in 1979, but good ol’ Google lead the charge! Or so I thought. The faith is strong in this one. My trusted navigator let me not to the mythical town of Drawbridge, but to Clipper Court. A commercial cul de sac with a trail entrance. “Well, yeah” I thought as I parked my truck. You can’t drive to Drawbridge. Consulting satellite imagery and constantly checking my exposed legs for ticks, I proceeded forth into the marsh.

I eventually came to this bridge. Sketchy doesn’t describe it. It led to the thin sliver of land I needed to follow all the way to Drawbridge. On the other side, I found a bicycle and twenty feet away, a man sitting on a dock. He had a tangerine and an iPod. I had to lose sight of my goal for a moment as I envied this stranger. What a way to spend an afternoon. Sitting under the sun on a secluded dock with his music and daily dose of Vitamin C. Idyllic. Unfortunately for me, this dock marked the end of my trail. I needed to turn left here, but my only option was to traverse marsh mud which might as well be sucking black tar. It was time to head back to the truck and find another route.

I tapped around on Google Maps for a bit longer until I found my entry point. It was an environmental education center at the southern and of the bay. I hopped on McCarthy to 237, exited Zanker, followed through some waste and water treatment facilities, turned right on Grand, and I was there.

I consulted my phone again to suss out my corrected and final path. As it turns out, there is only one easy way to get to Drawbridge. It’s taking a trail from the environmental education center and cutting over to a railway that leads directly through it. Supposedly. The trail is not a short walk. It’s not even a long walk. It’s a really long walk. Fortunately for me, Mr. Always Prepared, I wore a pair of Vans flats. This whole trip would be six miles of walking. Sigh. Not easily discouraged, I persevered down another trail I wasn’t certain would lead me to victory.

Along the way, I saw all the birds mentioned above and spring was in the air as I saw several pairs of Canadian Geese with their fuzzy little goslings (awwweeee). These folks were busy! I ran into these little families everywhere. I was even hissed at by protective mothers. I found the best thing to do when confronted with an angry mother goose, is not to run or make noise, but to walk slowly away. If they follow and hiss (they will), make sure you’re not between them and their babies, face the goose and make a “made you flinch!” sort of movement in their direction. You’re a goddamn human being. It’s a goose, not its crazy, velociraptor uncle. You got this. Make your little “I’m bigger than you, bitch” move and continue to walk further away at a normal pace. Please don’t scream or run or throw anything at them. You’re a person, not a dick. Hucking rocks and dirt clods at wild animals is a dick move.

So, I finally hit the railroad I was promised. This is great news! There’s a small sign that says “This area is closed.” That can be interpreted in many ways. Proceed with caution. I followed the tracks for an additional half mile to my destination, regularly looking behind me for giant, bone liquifying monsters that would take my life in an instant without a second thought. Trains. Like I said, proceed with caution. It was particularly sketchy as the wind was howling in my ears louder than anything around me, and I still had to cross a bridge. You can’t escape a train on a bridge. I looked down at the rails and they looked worn in the right ways, but also kind of rusty. I figured I was safe and proceeded across the bridge. I could see buildings!

Drawbridge was built in 1876 by the narrow-gauge South Pacific Railroad. It doesn’t look like much now, but ten passenger trains would stop there each day. It was actually quite the destination as an average of one thousand people would show up every weekend. The town had an astounding ninety buildings and no roads. Roads aren’t required for division, though. The north end was occupied by Protestants while the south was Roman Catholic. We can’t come together because we share a town when something as substantial as religion stands between us. If gods exist, they must get real tired of being the elephants in the room.

From analyzing more satellite data, I can see I approached only a small portion of the Bay Area’s only ghost town. More lies further up the track, but I had half an hour before the gates closed on the environmental education center, leaving my trucked locked into the parking lot. I plan to return some day and hopefully unlock more of this mystery. This forbidden ghost town. With the Bay Area’s history and occupants, I half expected to find some weird science or military experiments out there. Who knows. Maybe through the skewed, bleached threshold of the right half sunken building, lies an elevator that leads into a subterranean, experimental, military funded, science lab. Coyote Hills has missile sites and some other weird crap. Drawbridge is across the bay from NASA. Don Edwards was a special agent in the FBI.
It’s probably just graffiti and spiders, though.

Crockett, CA

So I started a new job. It’s a position I’ve been after for a while and I’m happy to say I’m finally there. I have clients with offices around the Bay Area so I’m doing a fair amount of driving. Sometimes if I don’t have anything pressing to do, I like to take the long way home. In this case, that meant finding two towns I didn’t even know existed. The first of which, is Crockett, California. Named after Joseph Crockett, a former California Supreme Court Judge, the town was started in 1866 when a man named Thomas Edwards Sr bought 1800 acres of land from Judge Crockett and built his home, which stands today as an historical landmark. In 1906, an agricultural cooperative of Hawaiian sugar cane growers built a sugar factory in Crockett that was to become the very well known C&H. According to Wikipedia, there are rumours of underground sugar caverns under Crockett. If that’s true, they are unfortunately closed to the public.

I’ve spent many years passing the C&H factory on the Amtrak that goes past on its way from Sacramento to Fremont. I’ve never had the opportunity to take any pictures of it until this day. As I was on my way home from a client site in Petaluma, I decided to detour and get as close to the factory as possible. This led me off 80 and into the dirt parking lot of a little bar and restaurant on the water called The Nantucket. I love finding little, out of the way places like this so I had to park and go inside for a beer. They were closed, but there was no limit to the things I would find while exploring the property. I found massive piles of rubbish containing household goods, construction waste, and even boats sitting out the rest of their days landlocked and weathered.

I followed some train tracks down to the C&H factory, but couldn’t get a good vantage point at such a low angle. I headed back the other way and saw a shirtless man sanding down primer on the side of a 1970 C10 Camper Special. I have a particular affinity for this truck, specifically the ‘72 as I’ve owned two of them. I started talking to him about the truck and found that he lived there, in one of the boats. His boat was next to an early '90s jet ski. They were both on land. Right beside the truck. He said the area used to be really big for boating, skiing, and fishing, but everyone just kind of forgot about it. He said he looked after the property and that The Nantucket had good food.

The second town I discovered was Port Costa. This place was straight out of a dream. Leaving Crockett, I followed Carquinez Scenic Drive east until making a left on Canyon Lake Drive. This, as it turns out, is the main and pretty much only road into and out of Port Costa. Everything was lush. The houses, maybe a hundred years old, stood strong, flanked by green trees, shrubs, and ivies.

Port Costa, California was founded in 1879 as a landing point for a railroad ferry called the Solano. Operated by Central Pacific Railroad, it was a paddleboat that would carry entire trains across the Carquinez Strait between Port Costa and Benicia as a part of the famed Transcontinental Railroad. That is spectacular. What’s even more spectacular, is that before its younger sister ship, The Contra Costa, The Solano was the largest ferry boat ever built. Port Costa was actually the busiest wheat-shipping port in the country, but after wheat output fell and Southern Pacific took over Central Pacific, building a bridge over the Strait, Port Costa fell mostly into obscurity. A 2010 consensus showed Port Costa has having only 190 inhabitants down from 232 in 2000. Since the '60s, it’s been a place for antique shopping and a gathering place for bikers.

Heading down Canyon Lake Drive, I passed an amazing school on the right. The road led me to the waterfront, where I found an incredible bar called The Warehouse. It was quiet at the time, but filled with the most interesting found artifacts from stickers to signs to lamps to a real-life, standing polar bear behind glass in the corner. I had a beer and a sandwich and was on my way. I can’t wait to come back to this place on a weekend to do some more exploring.

I tried to drive out to Port Chicago which has its own rich and very interesting history, but ran into a security checkpoint for the Tesoro Golden Eagle Refinery pictured below. I'd really like to find another path out there and write about what happened in 1944 when a munitions explosion killed almost 400 people.

Flynn Rd.

I moved to Denver in, gosh… I guess it must have been 2011. It wasn’t an easy move. I was living in Los Angeles at the time with a friend of mine I’d known since we met in the Air Force around 2003. A girl I was kind of seeing was headed out to Denver for school at the same time my friend and I had our falling out and I hitched a ride out there with her. She let me stay with her for a few nights in school housing while I looked for an apartment. I had dated another girl a couple years prior who lived in Longmont, Colorado with her mother. She was ready to move to Denver so we decided we’d be roommates.

I remember standing on the balcony of the school housing building, smoking a cigarette, and talking to the guy from Craigslist who would ultimately buy my $5000 worth of photography gear for $2000, allowing me to put a deposit down on my apartment in Denver. It was a Canon 5D Mk II that I sold in 2011, along with its 24-105 L kit lens. That camera, along with my bicycle had become my entire world for years. I adored it. That was the last time I would hold a DSLR until this year, 2017.

After months of research and jumping back and forth on what I wanted, I ultimately decided on the Canon 6D. It’s nearly identical to the 5D Mk III I’d wanted since it debuted in 2012, but a few hundred dollars cheaper. It has an improved version of the full frame sensor I fell in love with in the 5D series, similar resolution, and spectacular low light performance. Others have chosen the 5D III because of the dual card slot and the bajillion auto-focus points. I didn’t care about either of those things. The 6D also has built-in WiFi and GPS that I use way more often than I thought I would.

So here we are. I’ve taken my new prized possession out on our first photo adventure. It was the middle of a week day and I headed up 580, into Altimont Pass to take some pictures of wind mills. I exited onto Flynn Road N and drove into the hills, there. I got some alright shots, but the things I heard and saw while I was there really excited me.

I’m standing on the side of Flynn road and it’s dead quiet save for the sound of a couple of birds chatting back and forth. I’m clicking away when I hear a faint siren back towards the highway. I assume it’s Highway Patrol pulling someone over. Then I notice every time the driver blips the siren, it echoes all around me. It’s not a normal echo, though. There are a lot of repeats, coming from multiple sources, and all at consistent rates. This goes on for about 30 seconds. The officer blips the siren, and I get about 15 different echoes each time. As I look around me, and more importantly up, I realize what’s happening.

The siren is being sent into the hills and sent back not by the hills themselves, but by the giant blades on each of the windmills. There is enough surface area on these blades to bounce the siren back right to my head as they rotate into the right angle, relative to myself to do so. It was such a simple thing, but at the moment, in the middle of that quiet field, on that perfect day, it felt like magic. So that siren… it got closer.

The echos stop and I go back to what I was doing. The siren disappears into obscurity for a while. Then it comes back. Louder. Much louder. I look up from my viewfinder and jump as a Ford Police Interceptor Utility (That’s what they’re called, apparently.) hits its horn 50 feet away from me. It’s not a normal horn. You know that amplified, Klaxon-type sound emergency vehicles make? Then he gets on the horn:

“Time to go. We’re chasing somebody through here. Time to go.”

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Holy shit! My serenity out here in the hills has turned into a Highway Patrol pursuit. I’m stoked! I run back to my truck as not to be run down by whatever may be coming my way. There are two CHP vehicles there, next to my truck. When I get there, they pull out and head up the road. Of course, I follow them.

I get to where Flynn Road N turns right into Flynn Road S and see more Highway Patrol. In the field to the left, is a Subaru hatchback. Two officers are walking up the hill in pursuit of whoever ditched the Subaru. I pull off the road, turn my engine off, turn on a police scanner app, listen, and watch. Apparently, they were chasing someone up Flynn Road S who instead of making the left, blew straight through a fence, a little bit up a hill, and took off on foot into the hills above. There wasn’t much to see from the road. A tow truck showed up pretty quickly and they had a plane on its way to help find whoever was on the run. I was able to grab a picture of an Officer Andrade coming down the hill.

So yeah. I’m back in the photo game. I’m back out exploring which is amazing. Most people try to have a plan, but you never really know where you’re going, how you’ll get there, or what you’ll see along the way. You’re shooting fashion in Los Angeles. You lose everything. You’re taking pictures of windmills and getting caught up in Highway Patrol chases. Life’s a trip.