California Natural: Photos from the 1970s

21 Apr

If you’ve read The Private Naturalist’s profile page, you know I grew up in a part of the San Francisco Bay Area known locally as The East Bay. When I was a kid, my folks took me along on their “Sunday Drives”, fishing trips, and vacations… most of which were in and around the SF Bay Area. This habit of “getting out and about” on weekends served to whet my appetite for exploring on my own. When I bought my first motorcycle (see the photograph below) and my first SLR camera (an East Geman Hanimex Praktica TL), I started my exploration in earnest.

My CB350 on Crow Canyon Road

My beloved Honda CB350 parked at a creek crossing on Crow Canyon Road.
(Click on the image for a larger version.)

I remember the Berkeley Hills as an uninterrupted stretch of parkland, open space preserves, and small isolated ranches, where you could walk from Berkeley in the north all the down to Hayward in the south without hitting a fence or KEEP OUT sign. When I left California for the last time in 1986, the Hills were beginning to grow bedroom communities of expensive single-family homes that covered the once-green slopes. I’m glad I took photographs, but seeing this one (below) makes me sad and reminds me that you can never go home, ’cause it’s not there anymore.

Poppies Berkeley Hills 1977

A field of California Poppies (bright orange flowers) and clover (purple) in bloom: the Berkeley HIlls – 1977.
(Click on image to see a larger version.)

One afternoon I came upon this old derelict ferry boat moored alongside an old slip and quay. I tried to get closer to get a better shot of the boat and its anchorage with the northern shoreline of the Carquinez Strait in the background, but my way was barred by a chain-link fence topped by razor wire and well-posted with NO TRESPASSING signage. I never did find out the name of the ferry boat, but I knew that many of the old boats that made the runs between the San Francisco Peninsula and the East Bay city of Oakland had been either sold or left to rot in forgotten anchorages around the San Francisco Bay. This was obviously one such boat. In later years I consulted online satellite images of the same locale: the ferry boat itself was gone, but I could still see the pilings and wreckage of the quay to which it had once been moored. I rode on those ferries as a very young child and have fond memories of them.

Carquinez Straits 1974

A derelict ferry boat moored on the southern shore of the Carquinez Strait: January 1974.
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

I was very much a part of the whole “California Dreaming” scene of the southern coast in the late ’60s and early 70s. I spent a LOT of my free time roaring up and down Highway One (known back then as “The Coast Highway”) on my motorcycles (I’ve had more than one, of course!). Whenever I hear California Dreamin’  by the Mamas and Papas, I get all nostalgic (I’ve been known to tear-up, on occasion) for scenes like this one…

Big Sur coastline 1978

The coastline near Big Sur, one of my favorite haunts: 1978.
(Click on image to see a larger version.)

Shortly after the ghost town of Bodie became Bodie State Historic Park (in 1962), my gravel-rash buddy and I took a ride up the West Slope of the Sierra Nevada to see what all the fuss was about. Back then, the state and federal agencies in charge of Bodie had only just gotten around to putting up official signage, and the place had yet to be discovered by the touristas, so we had the place to ourselves on several occasions; so much so that we camped INSIDE the park “grounds”, which was technically against the law. We didn’t care: we explored the old mine dumps and poked around inside houses and storefront buildings that had not yet been secured. It was also pretty scary-cool to sleep in a ghost town for a couple of teenagers.

The ghost town of Bodie 1974

The ghost town of Bodie, nestled in the Bodie Hills east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and south of Lake Tahoe: 1974.
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline lake in Mono County, on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. It was originally part of ancient Lake Lahontan, a post ice-age mega lake that covered parts of Utah, Nevada, and California. Formed about 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in a basin that has no outlet to the ocean, Mono Lake’s waters have high concentrations of alkaline salts. When its waters were drawn down by the Los Angeles Water and Power District in the last century, those salts became hyper-concentrated and began forming the “tufa towers” seen in the photo (below).

As a budding geologist, I was fascinated with the lake and the Long Valley Caldera, the seismically active geological structure in which Mono Lake rests. One year my girlfriend and I decided to do some camping on the shores of a small hydrothermal pond in that same caldera. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by what sounded like the passage of a freight train locomotive at close range. As there was a full moon, we could see  the slopes all around our campsite quite clearly. A stand of trees further down the trail on which we had come the day before was violently shaking and throwing up a large cloud of dust. The next morning we walked back down the trail to see what had happened the night before. We found that an immense boulder (about 10 meters in diameter) had rolled down the nearby slope and come to rest in an abandoned cattle pen at trailside. That boulder and its accompanying landslide had been the source of the noise that woke us the night before. The landslide had been caused by a large Magnitude 6 earthquake.

Mono Lake 1972

The tufa beds on the shores of Mono Lake: 1972.
(Click on image to see a larger version.)

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3 Responses to “California Natural: Photos from the 1970s”

  1. Guinane 6 September 2014 at 1:57 AM #

    My relatives all the time say that I am killing my time here at web, however I know I am getting experience daily by reading thes pleasant posts.

  2. samochody Jelenia Góra 15 May 2013 at 5:05 AM #

    I like this web site because so much utile material on here : D.

  3. Liz Croonquist 21 April 2013 at 5:40 AM #

    These taken back in your earlier California days are such a great delight for me to see. I especially love the landscapes with the California poppies. You have captured some marvelous shots, Mike…well done on digitalizing these remarkable and beautiful old photos. Thanks for sharing and journaling each one! I lived in the Bay Area in the mid 60s, and several of these photos give me some very warm and nostalgic feelings.

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