Aug 26, 2014

Rainbow, Waldo or Robin Williams?


To some of us, this is the Rainbow Tunnel just a few miles north of the world-famous landmark called Golden Gate Bridge. This tunnel on US 101 is actually called the Waldo Tunnel, supposedly named after a politician of the 1850s.

Now, this tunnel in Marin County may have a change of name and if it does, methinks it will end up on the tourist map.

Last heard, a good number of Californians were working on a petition to rename this tunnel  in honour of Hollywood actor and comedian Robin Williams, who recently made his final 'exit.'

I had often wondered why this tunnel on 101 had a rainbow-coloured entrance. I finally did some research and found that a Caltrans* senior official ordered it to be painted this way because it reminded him of a rainbow. That is said to have been in 1970.

These pictures are from 2012, from our drive to Stinson Beach, a few miles northwest of this tunnel.

Inside the Waldo Tunnel

*California Department of Transportation
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  • See a (real) Double Rainbow HERE 

Aug 19, 2014

OurWorld: Greek and Roman touch to San Francisco

Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. 
This structure, which takes inspiration from Greek and Roman architecture was originally built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. 

Today, the rebuilt structure with its man-made lagoon, fountains and all, is an attraction for visitors to the city, photographers and people who like to hang out near San Francisco's beautiful landmarks. .

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More SF posts:

Aug 7, 2014

A hike into Elephant Seal territory

If Winter has passed it means breeding season is done and it is time for molting. Spring and Summer months mean a good time to visit Elephant Seal habitat because this is when the Northern Elephant seals settle down on shore, bask in the warm sun and let go their old skin, fur and even their whiskers.

One of the most ideal sites to see the Northern elephant seals in the process of molting is Ano Nuevo* State Park in California. Ano Nuevo State Park is situated in San Mateo County and is also famous for being one of the biggest breeding colonies for these elephant seals. Whether you are there for the breeding or for the molting season you’re in for a memorable hike.

Our hike began at the entrance of Ano Nuevo State Park where we paid a parking fee and collected our permit to visit Elephant Seal territory. The molting station is a mile-and-a-half  to two miles away and the hike is mainly through coastal prairie land. Since it was early Spring, there were a lot of wild flowers adorning the grasslands and there were different kinds bugs our on the trails. I’m not sure I would have noticed the small insects if not for my little one who got excited seeing these tiny creatures he had never seen before. His then 3-year old eyes spotted all kinds of bugs -- red and black and brown ones, and was fascinated by each one of them.

They say the area is also home to the rare San Francisco Garter Snake. We didn't see them, but might have seen some signs of snakes.

With a toddler in tow, the 3 mile hike was supposed to have been a pretty lengthy one. However the flowers, bugs, a pond, the staging station, views of the Pacific Ocean and the many information boards on the way, ruled out tediousness. The boards had so much of information on each of them that by the time we got to the seals, we had already learnt a whole lot about the Elephant seal. These snippets taught us everything we needed to know -- from how big these seals are to what they ate and what ate them, to when they bred, looked for food and molted to how close to them we humans could get.

Some scull exhibits at the Staging area

Whisker (left) and fur (right) of the Elephant Seal

This hike, I must say is a great way to learn about the Northern Elephant seals. Just in case you still have doubts after the info-boards, there are naturalists at the viewing points and believe me, they are more than happy to share their expertise on these mammals.

Our destination that day was the South Point Viewing Area of Ana Nuevo SP, which was 1.5 miles from the parking area. (The North Point is another half mile away). When we got there we saw that the beach was a sea of stretched out Elephant seals. Like I mentioned earlier, it was molting season and in the spring and summer months these seals just lie down and shed their skin, without even bothering to go hunt for food. They are said to live off their stock of blubber. That’s why visiting Ano Nuevo around this time means you will surely get a good look at some Elephant seals.

(Young) Male and Female Seals. 

Most of the seals there that day were females, although there were a few male ones with their snouts that look like an elephant's trunk. Some of them lay on their tummies and others belly up. Another way to find out if they were male or female, said one of the naturalists who spoke to us, was to look at the stomachs. The females ones have smooth ones while their male counterparts bore their genital openings.

Some of the seals that lay there had partially molted and that was quite obvious from the patches on their bodies. One of the naturalists showed us a piece of seal fur and a whisker too. She went on to say that these mammals were not hunted for their fur but for their fat, which was used to light lamps in ancient times. That must have been the reason they got into the endangered lists. At Anna Nuevo, however, this didn't seem to be the case; there was a beach full of elephant seals at the viewing area that we visited and there was another one half mile away.

A seal shedding its skin and fur.

Young seals in a fight

We also saw some younger male elephant seals in practice; they were in vocal combat which we learnt was preparation to fight for a female seal. I can imagine what that place might sound like when adult seals let out their deep - throated cries so as to claim their ladies.

At the viewing point, we watched the elephant seals for a few minutes and listened to the naturalists patiently transfer their knowledge. Soon the late afternoon winds began to blow and our hats were being repeatedly displaced by the gusts from the Pacific Ocean. It was like a sign to leave the place and let the seals go back to their business. And so we began the long walk back (with a fairly good understanding of seal life).

Molting Calendar:

  • April through May -   Female and Juvenile seals 
  • May through June -     Young Seals
  • July through August -       Adult Elephant Seals.

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A skeleton of the Blue Whale - A whale of bones

Aug 5, 2014

A Walk in the Park: Central Park, Santa Clara

This is Santa Clara's own Central Park. All of 50 odd acres, this park in California's Bay Area is a pretty place, which is well landscaped with lawns, water fountains and all.

The park's proximity to several residential areas makes it a good place for a stroll, for little ones to bike around,  some quiet time for grown ups or even picnics.There are also some play structures for kids and some sport courts.

 For some time (when I was pregnant with my second), we had frequented Central Park quite a bit. The pleasing sounds of gurgling water, the sight of water spurting out of the fountains and the ducks that swam the park's pond made it an inviting place. But in due course, it ceased to be just as much attractive. Last heard: there were plans for a thorough clean up and a face-lift. Good news. (The efforts are probably underway or done already).

Santa Clara's Central Park is also the venue for Santa Clara's Art and Wine Festival and the city's Fourth of July Fireworks. (We went to see the firework in 2013 when the event returned to the park after a 4-year hiatus. I might have pictures to put up in another post.)

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Some older posts. Some parks in and near SF Bay area:

Alum Rock Park , San Jose

Jul 29, 2014

Where Pacifica meets the Pacific

Just south of San Francisco is a beach town that is quieter and calmer in comparision. I hear it is a playground for surfers and hikers. We found ourselves visiting Pacifica, CA on a cloudy day so there weren't a whole lot of surfers out at sea that day.

What the dark skies didn't do, was stop fishing enthusiasts from coming out with rods, bait and all. The pier did seem quite crowded for a moody day.

However, what struck me most and stuck with me were the sands of Pacifica's beaches. It was darker than the sand you find in the beaches along the coast of California; like a sign of volcanic activity ages ago. (It reminded me of the black sand beach in Hawaii that we had visited a few years ago, only it was not just as dark.)

The Municipal Pier at Pacifica, California.

It's coast is hilly and scenic. I'm sure there are lots of opportunity for hikers. For those who aren't into that, and surfing and fishing, the best part about Pacifica must be walking along its promenade and watching the waves of the Pacific Ocean lash against the rocks and the dark sands of its shores.

Rockaway Beach, Pacifica

Some rocks as seen from Rockaway Beach

Also see:

This post is linked to OurWorldTuesday: