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Changing Location, Changing Direction for The Blog

17 Oct

It’s been awhile since the Private Naturalist last uploaded a blog post. That’s because I’ve moved to California. I accepted a position with the Technical Information Division of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. While I still have one foot in Hawaii (still own my condo on Maui), my natural environment has changed dramatically, and so the subject matter of this blog will change as well. Instead of photographing Humpback whales…

Surprise breach 1 

…and tropical plants…

Torch Ginger

…I’ll be snapping more pix like this:

poppies-Berkeley Hills 1977

Poppy field in the Berkeley Hills, California’s East Bay.

I’ll also be working as a volunteer at the Children’s Natural History Museum in nearby Fremont. Specifically, I’ll be working with museum staff to curate the extensive collections of fossils and minerals, develop new ways of displaying and presenting the museum’s science collections to the public, and participating in the museum’s educational outreach program that serves local school districts.

Returning to the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area is a homecoming for me: I grew up in the Berkeley Hills of north Oakland.  In 1986, I left the Bay Area for the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, the shores of the Red Sea and the savannas of East Africa. After a long absence (a 30-year-long detour to the Rocky Mountains and the Hawaiian Islands), I’m going to be reacquainting myself with the much-changed landscape of my childhood home.

Big Sur coastline 1978

The coastline near Big Sur: 1978.

Those of you who have followed some of that journey by reading this blog will be seeing my new-old home’s  natural landscape through the lens of my aged Canon 40D. There’ll be new geology, plants and animals to see… and maybe a few beaches and some whales, too.   

 

 

Derelict Ferry Boat of Carquinez Strait: The Garden City

29 Jul
The Garden City @ Carquinez Strait Jan 1974

The motor ferry Garden City tied up at the old Eckley Pier.
(Click on image to see a larger version.)

When the works of humankind are abandoned by their makers, they pass into the natural world, becoming subject to the erosive agents of water, wind, weather and time. For that reason, I’m posting this story of my relationship with a derelict ferry boat, the Garden City, and its final resting place along a lonely stretch of the southern shoreline of California’s San Francisco Bay.

On a clear, cold Saturday morning in January of 1974, I was riding my Honda 350 motorcycle on a narrow winding one-lane road paralleling the shoreline of San Francisco Bay’s Carquinez Strait. I set out that morning to find a road I’d never been on before, and so when I happened onto Snake Road heading east out of Crockett I stopped a few times to photograph the unpopulated north shore opposite me across the strait. Amongst that day’s shots was this image of an old motor ferry boat anchored next to a disused wooden pier.

Thirty-eight years later, while going through prints from my pre-digital-camera days to find older photos to scan and include in my online galleries, I came across that long-forgotten January 1974 pic of the ferry boat sitting by the dock of the Bay (apologies to Otis Redding for stealing his lyrics). But where was the shot was taken? No idea! I uploaded the photo and left that question for another day. Later that year, while visiting relatives in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spent a day touring the historic vessels collection anchored at the Hyde Street Pier of the Maritime Museum in San Francisco. While strolling the decks of the old motor ferry Eureka, I was inspired to continue my research into the whereabouts and name of my own mystery boat.

Passenger ferry Eureka, Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco

The passenger & motor ferry Eureka, anchored at the Maritime Museum’s Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco.
(Click on image to view a larger version.)

I began by searching a satellite image of the Bay’s shoreline between Crockett and Port Costa known as the Carquinez Strait. At first, I couldn’t find even a trace of the old ferry or its wooden pier, so I went back to the picture itself to find a landmark in the photo that would still show up on a satellite image. Sure enough, the huge steel tower (located at Dillon Point on the Benicia side of the strait) that held aloft the high-tension power lines crossing the strait was still there!

Dillon Point tower, Benicia, California

Dillon Point tower, Benicia, California.
(Click on image to see a larger version.)

Even though I was able to trace the tower’s power line’s wires to the Crockett side of the Bay, I still couldn’t find the ferry or its anchorage.

I finally got a big fat hint about its fate when I zoomed in at high magnification where the boat should have been on the satellite image: Staring back at me was the outline of the old pier, now just a line of rotted pilings, their stumps sticking out of the water. Nearby were the rusting remains of a ship’s boilers and drive train partially submerged in the muddy shallows.

Satellite image - Remains of the Garden City

Satellite image of the remains of the Garden City and the old pier next to the new Eckley Pier (at far right).
Click image to see a larger version.)

The ferry was still there, but it was missing most of its wooden superstructure and all that remained was its various heavier mechanical bits. Surely there should have been more left than just this wreckage. I reasoned that if I could come up with a name and history for the boat that I would discover what had happened to my derelict ferry since 1974.

I tried online image searches for photographs and records of individual ferry boats that had served on the many San Francisco Bay runs prior to the late 1950’s when the last wooden-hull ferries operating in the SF Bay Area were retired. My first breakthrough was finding the Ferries of San Francisco Bay Wikipedia page: it included a comprehensive list (as well as a brief history) of all the wooden-hull ferry boats that had operated in the waters of the Bay Area from 1851 to 1958. I still had to connect a boat’s name with the wreckage. But how to do that?

While conducting random scatter-gun-style Boolean web searches using terms like “San Francisco ferry boats”,  I blundered onto a photograph of the ferry boat’s wreckage on Russell Mondy’s Flickr website. All the landmarks I had been looking for in the satellite image were in the photo: the ferry’s rusting boilers and drive train, the old pier’s rotted pilings, and the C&H Sugar factory and Carquinez Bridge in the background. Tracking back into the local photographer’s gallery, I eventually found an image with a caption that named the ferry: The Garden City. But the icing on my cake was a comment by a well-informed visitor (Ian Forry) to the Flickr website:

“This rusting heap is the boilers and paddle-wheel hub of the old Southern Pacific Ferry Boat “Garden City”… it burned to the waterline in the fire of 1983.”

With the boat’s name in hand, I began another web search and immediately found several brief articles about the history of the Garden City and its days on the San Francisco ferry runs.

Built and launched by the Collyer Brothers Shipyard of New York on 20 June 1879, the 1,080-ton Garden City was 37 feet long, powered by a 625 HP steam engine driving twin paddle wheels, and manned by a crew of 19. It was originally owned by the South Pacific Coast Railroad, which was later bought by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Fitted with narrow-gauge track on her main deck (for transporting freight cars), she was also capable of carrying passengers. She served both functions on various ferry runs until 1929 when she was anchored permanently at the old Eckly Pier near the city of Crockett on the south shore of the San Francisco Bay’s Carquinez Strait. It served as a sport-fishing resort until it was eventually abandoned some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It was at that point in its history that I photographed the boat, outwardly in good condition and still sporting its all-white paint scheme. During a mysterious shore-side brush fire it was set alight and burned to the waterline. Its rusting drive train, boilers, and other mechanical equipment, as well as the remaining pilings from the pier to which it was moored, are all that remain to mark its last anchorage.

To read more about the history of the Garden City, visit the following websites:

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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