Northern California- Day Eleven

It was cold & foggy when I left Marin County in the morning of day eleven. I was headed toward East Bay, first via the Richmond- San Rafael Bridge, the into the Sam Ramon Valley via CA24 and I680. My first destination of the day was the town of Danville.
It was brilliantly sunny when I got to the Museum of the San Ramon Valley in Danville. I was meeting my shuttle bus to the Eugene O’Neil National Historic Site in front of the museum.
The site preserves the Tao House, the home O’Neil, America’s only Nobel Prize winning playwright, and his wife lived in between 1937 and 1944. The site is only available by tour, with reservations needing to be set up in advance with the National Park Service. 
The interior of the house has been restored to look like it did when the O’Neil’s lived in the house. It has a heavily Asian influence, as the name would indicate. The NPS was aided in refurnishing the house by a photographic spread taken for Life Magazine, that, oddly enough, never appeared in the magazine, but instead was borrowed from the magazine’s archives when the site was being renovated for visitor use.
O’Neil wrote three of his most famous works here; The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and A Moon For The Misbegotten. Our ranger lead tour took about two hours, and gave a good portrait of O’Neil the man, a brilliant but deeply flawed individual. I did not know a lot about him before I visited, but learned quite a bit on the tour.
The most touching part of the site is the grave of O’Neil’s beloved dog, Blemie. It is set on a hillside out behind the main house and the barn. O’Neil also wrote a Last Will and Testament for the dog, and it is very sweet. As much as I didn’t like much of what I heard about him as a person, this was a very sweet touch for a guy who seemed emotionally damaged.
The site had a beautiful view over the San Ramon Valley and Mount Diablo. A signboard showed how much development the valley had undergone since the time the playwright lived there, which was quite a bit.

The second stop on my tour of the four East Bay National Park Service sights was supposed to be a tour of Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in nearby Concord. The site marks the largest domestic loss of life during World War II, when, on July 17th, 1944, 320 mostly African-American sailors were killed when the ships they were loading exploded. This is another site only available via tour, but my tour was canceled about a week before my visit when the U.S. Military shut down access to the base, a common occurrence according to the apologetic ranger who administers the site. Hopefully I’ll be able to revisit San Francisco someday and visit the site then.

Instead, my second stop of the day was at John Muir National Historic Site. Muir, the famed naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, lived in the house from 1890 until his death in 1914. 
My favorite room in the mansion was Muir’s office, filled with the papers and documents you would expect from a man of his intellectual vision.
As I walked through the site, I thought about how appropriate that the National Park Service preserves a site dedicated to a man who was instrumental in helping preserve many of the areas that became National Park, either during or after his lifetime. One of the first floor rooms contains a beautiful painting of Yosemite Valley, an extremely sacred place to Muir. He spent much of his later years lobbying to stop the damming of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley, a fight he lost that broke his heart.
Rosie the Riveter Memorial
Ford Richmond Plant

 The final East Bay National Park Site of the day was the Rosie the Riveter/ World War II Home Front National Historic Park. This is one of those sites that was established fairly recently (2000) and has quite a long way to go before it is visitor-friendly. It is also one of the NPS’ new style of parks known as Partnership Parks, meaning the National Park Service itself will own none of the lands or the buildings. When the park is completed (to me it seems many years down the road) the park will consist of at least seven different sites. Of these that are somewhat accessible today are the Rosie the Riveter Memorial and the Ford Richmond Plant. Of the sights that will one day be open are the Richmond Shipyards, which were once major producers of military ships. The SS Red Oak Victory, currently docked near the shipyards, is open as a museum ship, but was closed on the day I was visiting. I know the NPS will do a fine job on this site someday, as they always do, but for right now, it’s a little underwhelming.

It was around 3PM when I finished at Rosie the Riveter. While walking around the site I had done some quick calculations and realized that the park was National Park number 299 on my list. Knowing that, I figured I would stop by Muir Woods National Monument, only about 20 minutes from my hotel, and finish milestone park number 300 that afternoon.
I was surprised how crowded Muir Woods was for a weekday during the school year. I had to park in the auxiliary lot quite a walk away from the visitor’s center. I also had to wait for a parking spot to open up. 
I had already visited two much more impressive groves of trees on this trip, first in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and later in Redwoods National Park. I suppose the popularity of this site was based on it’s proximity to San Francisco and the ability to do it on a day trip, whereas the other parks require more effort to visit.
Still, with the setting sun, it was a beautiful and peaceful walk. I liked how the low light gave me some cool shading on my pictures.
It had been foggy when I headed into Muir Woods, but as I headed out and toward my hotel, I noticed some clearing in the distance. Impulsively, I headed south on US101 instead of north toward my hotel, hoping to finally see the bridge.
Sure enough, the area around the bridge was clearing. I turned off at the last exit before the actual crossing of the bridge and parked in the first spot that came available. I quickly grabbed my camera and ran up the hill toward the overlook, expecting that thick layer of fog to roll in again any minute. 
If I look pretty pleased in the above picture, I am. There was still a light layer of fog over the city in the distance, but the view of the bridge was incredible, especially since it was the first time I had been able to see it in person.
I spent the next half an hour exhausting the space on my second memory stick of the day, then moved further up the bluff for another angle.

I drove down to Fort Baker, near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge to take more pictures as the sun slowly set into the Pacific. I didn’t know if the fog would allow me any more views of the magnificent bridge in the following three and a half days, but I left satisfied with the few hours of clearing I had been given.

2 Responses to “Northern California- Day Eleven”

  1. I love Muir Woods–I'm always amazed that people who have been to SF many times have never even heard of Muir Woods. Thanks for the post!

  2. You covered a lot of ground and saw a lot of great stuff!

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