Our destination was the huge Golden Gate Park, which is administered by the Park Service and comprises most of the land immediately north of San Francisco, directly across the Golden Gate Bridge
. We drove up into the park, along the steep cliffs looking back toward the city on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. For the first time, we could begin to understand what drew people to San Francisco -- it was truly breathtaking. If the land had not mostly been under military control, and then transfered to the Park Service, I am certain it would be covered with houses and roads, but as it is, it is all but empty reserve. I can only guess, but I'd wager they've had to battle prospective developers over the years.
We stopped at the main Visitors Center and learned we were in luck. There is a light house at Point Bonita, at the mouth of San Francisco Bay. To reach it, you have to walk through a short tunnel and then across a small suspension bridge -- capable of only holding two people at a time. It is only open for four hours each Saturday and Sunday, and we'd arrived at exactly the time it opened, and walked right out. Hopefully the attached pictures can begin to convey the beauty. Along most of the route, you would look right, to the ocean with huge whitewater waves crashing against the cliffs, and on the left -- bay side -- you could see San Francisco and there were gray seals in the surf immediately below the cliffs.
Within the park property are still two military-controlled facilities, as well as one former one -- a Nike nuclear missile battery
. The site dates from the late 50's, and up until SALT I in the early 70's, it was an active facility, with nuclear-equipped Nike surface missiles. We lucked out here too, as on the first Saturday of each month, for three hours only, the site is open for visitors. It is staffed by volunteers -- mostly retired military, many of whom used to be stationed here. K sat this stop out, so Anna and I went in and immediately joined a group clustered around one of the missiles. As soon as joined the group, the volunteer told us to put one hand on the missile. Next thing I know, we were slowly descending into the ground, and into the missile magazine. They'd put us on the elevator which rose the missiles for launch. Down below was room for five missiles, each stationed side by side. To show how easy it was to move the missiles into position to be raised and fired, they had Anna and one boy in the group step forward and push one of the missiles into position. It moved with almost no effort. After a lot of explanation, including very good Cold War history -- which of course is rather alien to Anna -- we got to ride back up with the missile. Once we had dispersed, they pointed the missile as if it were going to launch. The history freak in me just loved this stop, and surprisingly by Anna lists it among her favorite moments of the trip, too.
We slowly made our way back across the Golden Gate and into San Francisco proper, going over to the large Ferry Building Market. It is still an active ferry terminal, but the building itself is now home to something akin to a farmer's market, with lots of food stands and little shops. We opted for fresh sushi for lunch, and then visited a flea market of sorts, set up in the plaza across from the terminal.
For our flight home, we were utilizing San Francisco Airport, vice Oakland as on the inbound leg
. Our timing was good, and we had the car returned and were checked in and at the gate with plenty of time for our flight We were to take a short flight down to Long Beach, California, and then board an overnight red-eye flight back to Dulles. As it was, our flight was delayed and we feared missing the connector. We took off about an hour late and when we arrived in Long Beach, they asked everyone else to stay seated so the Dulles-bound passengers -- just us, it appeared -- could get off and run -- literally -- to our plane, which they'd held. We boarded -- along with at least 50 middle school students off on a spring break trip of their own to Washington.
I'm not sure if it was luck or what, but our flight back took less than four hours -- shortest transcontinental flight I've ever had, so we landed around 4:30am. Ouch! We did, however, manage to stay awake long enough to retrieve bags, grab a cab, get home, discover that the Easter Bunny had indeed visited overnight -- even though we weren't home -- and then all collapse in bed.
We took our time on Saturday morning, as we had to reassemble our mobile life and get everything back into suitcases, bags, etc. After last year's close call -- weight wise -- in Alaska, I brought a small portable suitcase scale, to ensure nothing was over 50 lbs. We moved things around -- often piece by piece -- and reached the magic equilibrium between bags and the wine carrier, and off we were. The sun burned through thick morning fog, and by 9:00am we were in bright sunshine and cloud-free skies. We drove through the Sonoma Valley, and then down toward San Francisco. We stopped in Sausilito for some quick sight-seeing. Couldn't figure out why it was so famous, until we got back into the car and realized we'd been in the wrong area of town -- who knew?!