Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.
Longing for a little recreational travel experience and a brief break in the pandemic humdrum, an Angel Island escape beckoned. My wife and I had been to the island twice before but hadn’t fully explored its history or beauty. With spring wildflowers reportedly in bloom, an outdoor adventure seemed perfect since Angel Island State Park is one of the largest (1100 acres) and most easily accessible escapes in the San Francisco Bay Area for nature, expansive scenic views, and the important role the island played in early California history. The Angel Island State Park is the largest nature reserve in the San Francisco Bay Area. It offers back-country trail experiences and tram and self-guided walking tours.
Beginning in late May, Yosemite National Park in California is instituting a reservation system for admission during the summer of 2022. Designed to reduce congestion while major infrastructure construction projects are underway, Yosemite spokesperson Scott Gediman estimates that the park will see about 70 percent of peak hour traffic compared to pre-pandemic levels. Depending on their success in reducing overcrowding, reservations could become a permanent factor in planning your trips to this and other popular national parks. The “Ways to Get a Reservation” section at the end of this article provides details of how, when, and where to apply for a permit. But if this summer is your one chance to visit Yosemite and you cannot secure a reservation, what are your options?
San Francisco’s gorgeous gal, Golden Gate Park celebrates her 150th birthday in April. Like many in the Bay Area, I have an intimate relationship with the park, roaming her hidden trails, sniffing and whiffing her medicinal treasures, gazing across the Moon Garden flanked by seasonal fuchsia-flecked camellia blooms and powdery pink cherry trees, each rosy and ripe in the spring, naked and lonely in the winter. Indifferent to the seasons, I never miss a chance to sprint across one of the Botanical Garden’s vast apple green lawns only to be surprised that one abuts massive grandfather redwoods, the entrance to the Redwood Forest, and home to some of the oldest trees in the park. But I digress, have gotten ahead of time, and must take you back 150 years ago to the inception of Golden Gate Park.
Living in, or visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, we are blessed with the boundless beauties of nature. Water, landscapes and terrain create splendid views on a daily basis. Seasonal changes bring puffy white clouds in winter to foggy mists in summer. Whatever the season, Marin Headlands at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge brings breath stopping vistas, good cardio-hikes and most of all, a complete escape from everyday concerns. Early morning or late afternoon before sunset, the land is still. It’s a place of constant change, of solace and stimulation, at once an escape from reality and an immersion into wonder.
John le Carré dismissed Cold War spy heroes as “A squalid procession of vain fools” in his 1963 espionage novel The Spy Who Came from the Cold. Volunteer historian Carol O’Neil at the former U.S. Naval Facility on Point Sur State Historic Park, 25-miles south of Monterey, would beg to differ. “We had heroes in the Cold War,” O’Neil insisted in a recent interview on KAZU, public radio for the Monterey Bay area. “It’s important for the cold warriors to know that they are valued and their stories are out there.” Eager to hear their stories, I joined a line of vehicles awaiting access to this former top-secret naval operation. Jim, a state park volunteer in a bright yellow safety vest bearing an embroidered NAVFAC logo patch, unlocked the security gate. An intimidating “U.S. Property No Trespassing” sign discourages intruders, now called Point Sur Naval Facility. After warnings of the dangers of ticks, rattlesnakes, and crumbling asbestos-laden structures, he directed us to the administration center. Here we joined a dozen so other visitors curious to learn the secrets hidden in this former submarine detection facility.
Our kayak slid effortlessly over the glassy-smooth water of the estuary. From the shore, an eruption of sanderlings burst into the sky. Swooping and diving in choreographed formation, a wheeling blur of birds enveloped us in a blizzard of beating white wings. Within seconds, they returned to the pickleweed marsh, cheeping and feeding as if nothing had happened. For us, this spectacular avian welcome to two days of watching wildlife on Morro Bay was a memory we will treasure.
Photos by John Williamson & Lee Daley.
We are blessed in the San Francisco Bay Area with the stunningly beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore, a mere hour drive from most locales. The atmospheric community of Point Reyes Station, described below, should be your first stop. It’s ground zero for everything you’ll need to make your getaway a true escape.
Story and Photos by Libor Pospisil.
Just one day left in the country – as usual. Going to the Kruger National Park, the ultimate place for a safari in South Africa, was out of the question given its remoteness. I feared I had to get ready for a small reserve, fenced like a zoo, if I wanted to see animals. Only after more research did I find the Pilanesberg National Park. This little brother to Kruger lies within a day-trip distance from Pretoria where I was staying. Unlike other small reserves, Pilanesberg is a vast natural park. One concerned remained: if Pilanesberg did not have the fame of Kruger, how many animals could I actually see?
On a recent trip to China, I visited Black Mountain Valley, a place of untamed raw beauty full of mystery, lush vegetation and silver hued waterfalls. The two-hour drive from Chongqing on a narrow two-lane road through greenery covered mountains delivered me from one world—of airports, highways and cruise ships–to another in the midst of nature’s unplanned majesty. It felt like an act of purification.
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo
As an American I never really investigated my Swedish/Norwegian/UK heritage. That all changed after a spur of the moment decision to fly to Iceland for a week. My pre-trip research told me that Iceland was colonized about 870 AD by Ingólfr Arnason, a Viking from Norway. Why I wondered, would a family uproot itself from a stable comfortable home and set out on a 900 mile voyage in an open boat to a land of ice and snow. As a child of the nuclear-holocaust-be-prepared-60s, I always wondered what tools it would take to survive in a hostile world.
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.
This is the third article in a series entitled “Road to Machu Picchu.” My wife and I thought our visit to Peru was a once in a lifetime experience but the experience may have changed our minds. We began our visit to the Inca Sacred Valley in Cusco. While there, we went to the COSITUC main office and obtained tourist tickets to all 16 archaeologic sites and museums including the ticket needed to gain entrance to Machu Picchu. In the first article (Cusco to Pisac – Part One) we talked about our drive from Cusco through Chincero and Urubamba, to reach our destination for the night in Pisac. In Part Two we experienced the high Andes culture in Pisac’s Sunday market and explored the Inca Intihuatana and gateway to the Amazon at Kantas Ray. In this final article I cover our journey by car to Ollantaytambo and from there by train to Aquas Calientes which lies in the river valley directly below Machu Picchu. It is the departure point for buses to Machu Picchu.