Wilderness Wednesday: Azure Mountain

This post has been in the making for at least the past month or at least once I learned that Azure Mountain’s Fire Tower celebrated its centennial on July 29, 2018. This post is a little more personal than usual because I grew up hiking Azure Mountain yearly and also because the fire tower on Azure was constructed with the intent of being part of the fire detection network New York State created in the early 20th century. It oddly has some relevance given the fact that the state of California, where I currently reside, has had a hard recently with wildfires throughout the state.

Azure Mountain is located in the township of Waverly in Franklin County and is one of the mountains located in the Adirondacks in New York State. The mountain to though, is not one of the 46 mountains that make up the Adirondack High Peaks. The Adirondack High Peaks were all originally thought to be mountains that were all over 4,000 feet. Today it has been determined that four of the mountain peaks do not actually hit 4,000 feet.  Azure Mountain in comparisons is only 2,518 feet tall, so it’s far off from being a high peak. But even though it’s not one of the coveted mountains of the Adirondacks, I still think it is the prettiest. I could be biased though because I’ve been up the mountain so many times.

Azure Mountain
View from the summit of Azure Mountain during the summer.

While the view from the summit never changes, every new trek adds to my memories of Azure Mountain. The following is a collection of photographs showing the same view from Azure Mountain’s summit just during different times of the year!

I can’t remember how old I was the first time I hiked Azure Mountain (most likely around 3rd grade) but I know my Dad dragged my brother and I up the mountain not too long after we moved to Northern New York from Osceola, NY. We would typically make our annual trek up the mountain in the fall when the Adirondacks are in full color and the mountain top blueberries are ripe enough to eat. Some falls we could determine- based on how many blueberries were left on the summit- that we had beaten the local boy scout troops up the mountain for their annual hike to the summit. On one fall hike, we convinced my mom to join us, another time we brought along some of my cousins Kyle and Derek- Kyle almost killed himself by running down the mountain, and then there was another fall trip up the mountain that I took with the modified and varsity girls soccer teams that we did in lieu of practice on the field.

Winter Hiking
Me during a hike up Azure Mountain in the winter.

When I graduated from high school in 2008, I received a scholarship from the Friends of Azure Mountain. In return for the scholarship, I had to be a Fire Observation Tower “interpreter” on the summit five different days during the summer. Being an “interpreter,” meant hanging out around the fire tower and welcoming visitors to the mountain’s summit, as well as answering any questions that they may have had about the mountain, the Adirondacks, or the fire tower. There were also other things to do other than answer questions, such as documenting the conditions of the trail, picking up any litter seen in the parking lot or on the trail, and even moving stones around the summit to help slow erosion. Was I good at being an interpreter? No, it’s because I was super nervous talking with strangers but I did hang around the tower to be there is people had questions. But I was super good at documenting trail conditions and moving rocks around to areas that needed erosion prevention. I did this adventure five times during the summer of 2008 and I dragged my brother with me every time. Two years later, my brother repaid me by also receiving the same scholarship and dragged me up the mountain a number of times during the summer of 2010. Every time there was a hike, it would be a race to see who could get to the summit first. I think Cody often beat me but there were a few times I made it first.

As you can imagine, I’ve been up the mountain many times, so many that I can visualize most of the winding trail from the parking lot to the summit. The trail starts from the parking lot, which is gravel and located in a stand of coniferous trees. There’s also a sketch outhouse in “front” of the parking in between the trees. At the end of the parking lot headed in the direction of the trail head there is a pile of stones, which super dedicated hikes can pick from and transport rocks to mountain summit. There is a pile at the end of the trail at the summit where the stones can be dropped off at. The stones are used by volunteers to help slow erosion on both the summit and along the trail. There is like a type of warm-up trail that goes from the parking lot to the actual base of the mountain, which is actually an old jeep trail. This trail stays mostly level for its duration and goes through a swampy/marsh area where you can see frogs and then goes into a heavily wooded area. Eventually, you’ll come to a mini wooden sign-in “station,” which is a common sight on trails in the Adirondacks.

The old jeep trail ends in a small clearing where the site of the former fire tower observer’s cabin was once located. The cabin is long gone but there still exists the ruins of a stone fire place indicating that there was once more to the clearing than meets the eye. The cabin went through three different incarnations, the original structure was constructed in 1914, with later reconstructions occurring in 1919 and then in 1936. The cabin would have last been used in an official capacity 1978, the same year the tower was last used to detect fires. Over the years, the cabin fell into disrepair much like the fire tower but wasn’t as lucky- it was officially removed in 1995.[i]

Ruins
Ruins of the fireplace from the former observer’s cabin.

The hike continues through a forested area on a natural dirt path with some sections slightly altered by volunteers through the addition of stones or logs to help keep the trail intact from erosion. Along the first half of the hike, I have my favorite rocks and trees I like to stop at to catch my breathe. The so called “halfway” mark of the hike is at a rocky outcrop that’s on the right-hand side of the trail as you climb upwards. You won’t miss it. My brother calls it the, “caves.” There are some good rocks to sit on and the cave can be explored to some extent. I don’t think there’s any real caves though, it’s just the way the rock formation has shifted and eroded over the years, which gives the idea of there being caverns.

While it is a great place to stop, eat a quick snack, take a water break, and seems like a “halfway” point of the hike, it’s all a lie. You’re not really half way up the mountain- trust me. I consider the real halfway point to be slightly further up the trail at a ledge with a great view of the surrounding mountains and forest.

Azure Mountain
This is a view from what I consider the true “mid-point” of the hike, from a walk up the mountain during the fall.
Azure Mountain
Another view from the “mid-point” stopping point of the hike up Azure.

From that point onward, it’s an even more vertical climb up Azure, kind of like stairs. Eventually, the trail curves to the left and that’s when you know you’re almost at the summit because you can start to see specks of light through the tree canopy. The last 100-200-foot climb is steep but you just have to do it because the summit is close. The trail evens out at the very end through some underbrush and you walk out below the fire tower. To the right of the end of the trail there is a pile of stones where you can drop any stones you carried up the mountain.

Rock Pile
One year, the rock pile at the summit was very inspiration.

Which brings me to Azure Mountain’s claim to fame, which is its historic fire observation tower that at one time was part of New York State’s main line of defense against forest fires in the Adirondacks. Before the current fire tower was constructed, there was a fire observation station constructed of wood up on Azure Mountain in 1914. That’s also the same year that the mountain’s name was changed from “Blue” to “Azure.”[ii]

The construction of the fire observation station at Azure followed a common trend in the Adirondack Preserve in the early 20th century- the construction of a number of observation stations on mountain peaks to help combat devastating fires. For example, in 1903 a fire in the Adirondack Forest destroyed 428,180 acres between April 20 to June 8, and only ended because of heavy rains. While in 1908, another fire caused by railroads burned an estimated 368,000 acres of the Adirondacks. In both instances, New York City experiences falling ash and smoke from the Upstate fires. In response, by 1909, a fire detection system was put in place and by 1910, 20 fire observation stations had been built.[iii]

The early fire stations were typically constructed of wood but as anyone can guess, wood doesn’t always stand up well to mountain top weather, lightening, or wind. Many of the early structures didn’t fair well and by 1916, the State had started to replace the wooden stations with steel structures and by 1918, there were a total of 52 steel towers in the State. Also, in 1918 the present galvanized steel tower was constructed on Azure Mountain- materials were transported up the mountain using horses most likely.[iv] Now the exciting thing is that the fire tower is a specific model. The steel frame was manufactured by the AerMotor Company of Chicago and they actually specialized in wind mills. The cool thing is that their wind mill structures could be easily adapted into a fire tower station, instead of the windmill on top, a cabin could replace it. Azure Mountain’s fire tower is the AerMotor Model No. LS-40, which is considered the “heavy  construction type.” These models used heavier steel for the tower legs and angled “X” braces, as well as integrated stairs, with a square steel and glass cabin with a hip roof. Because Azure’s tower has five flights of stairs that means it’s 35 feet tall.[v]

The Tower
This is the only photograph I have ever taken of the Fire Tower on Azure.

A quick search through historic newspapers from 1900 to 1980, found the first mention of Azure in a news article titled, “Commission Designates Game and Forest Protections,” in the Chateauguay Record and Franklin County Democrat on September 11, 1914 where it was reported that, “Harlow Wheeler, formerly forest ranger as observer at the new mountain station on Azure Mountain.”[vi] Now this is interesting information because most sources record that Fred N. Smith was the very first fire observer at Azure Mountain and may have even helped build the original wooden observation station.

An article in the Adirondack News entitled, “Forest Rangers and Mtn. Observers,” reported that Fred Smith was designated Azure Mountain’s observer. The article stated that:

 “State conservation commissioner George D. Pratt has announced the appointment of his assistants in the conservation department, including the forest rangers and mountain observers, whose duty it will be to guard the forests of the state throughout the great extent of Adirondack territory from fire also from trespassers.”[vii]

It seems that yearly announcements were made in the local Northern New York newspapers on who had been appointed forest rangers and mountain observers starting in 1914 until the late 1970’s. For example, an April 8, 1948 article reported that Earl Johnson was that year’s Azure Mountain fire tower observer. That year mountain fire observers went back to duty starting April 1 and that a number of observers would be assigned once the weather demanded it. Between Clinton, Essex, and Franklin counties there were a total of 18 mountain stations.[viii]

The Azure Mountain Fire Observation Tower was used as part of the fire detection system in New York for 60 years. The last fire tower observer was Mike Richards, who closed the tower for the season in 1978, the DEC removed the lower sets of stairs to prevent people from climbing up. The use of the towers to detect fires had been slowly replaced with aerial detection flights making the historic observation towers obsolete.

In 2001, the State began to move forward with plans to demolish the fire tower, which was in poor condition to say the least. In response, a group of concerned citizens and organizations like Adirondack Architectural Heritage quickly came together with the purpose of saving the Azure Mountain Fire Observation Tower by working with the DEC. The DEC gave those concerned with saving the tower, the opportunity to form an official group who would be involved in the maintenance efforts of the tower for long term. The group that formed was the Friends of Azure Mountain and was created largely in part to the efforts of Carolyn Kaczka and Michael McLean.[ix]

In the same year, as part of the effort to save the Azure Mountain Fire Observation Tower, it was listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places as part of a multiple property nomination, Fire Observation Stations of the NYS Forest Preserve. Other fire towers included in the nomination consist of the towers on Arab, Blue, Hadley, Kane, Snowy, and Poke-O-Moonshine Mountains. Azure Mountain is listed under Criteria A and C because of its historic significance to NY State’s forest preserve (Criteria A) and because architecturally it is a good representative of early 20th century fire towers (Criteria C).[x]

By 2002, the involvement of a number of forest rangers helped the cause. Jeff Balerno was able to coordinate seven helicopter flights to Azure’s summit to drop off needed construction materials that would be used in restoring the tower. During the 2002 summer, a collection of people including forest rangers, Americorp volunteers, members of the Friends of Azure Mountain and volunteers worked to replace damaged and rotted wood, hardware, repainted metal, etc. basically everything you see today on the tower was done during the 2002 restoration. Eventually, a DEC structural engineer inspected the newly restored Azure Mountain Fire Observation Tower and on September 27, 2003, the tower was once again open and could be used by the public![xi]

The Cabin
View from the fire tower’s cabin and those three mountains again!
Map
This is a close-up of the map that is located at the top of the fire tower. You can see the names of the three neighboring mountains, I’ve photographed constantly.

The interesting thing is that Carolyn Kaczka trained me on how to be a fire observation tower interpreter for my internship/scholarship in 2008. ON the first day that I was the interpreter for the summer. I don’t think I saw again for a very long time. After moving back home from graduating UVM, I did occasion consultant jobs, one of which was conducting a free walking tour of downtown Potsdam, NY, which is known for its Red Sandstone buildings. I did this as part of Adirondack Architectural Heritage’s yearly tour offerings in May 2016.  At the end of the tour, this woman came up to me and re-introduced herself as Carolyn and that she had enjoyed the tour! I can’t remember how the full conversation went but I do remember telling her that after graduating from SUNY Potsdam, I went on to grad school for historic preservation and was doing the occasional odd consultant job. It was a wonderful surprise to see her again and, in a way, see how somethings in life are connected.  I’m not sure if being having a scholarship/internship with the Friends of Azure Mountain is what exactly got me into historic preservation but maybe subconsciously, it was there the entire time when I was making decisions about grad school.

On that note, Friends of Azure Mountain is always looking for volunteers, as is most non-profit organizations. If you live in the area of Azure or any historic fire tower for that matter, and enjoy hiking and helping preserve history and trails for others to use…. I suggest volunteering or at least contacting them to see in what ways you can help.

Thanks for reading this Adventure with Courtney.

 

Further Information:

Friends of Azure Mountain:

Historic Images of the Fire Tower: http://azuremountain.org/azurehistory.htm

History and Facts about Azure Mountain: http://azuremountain.org/azurefacts.htm

History of the Restoration Work for the Fire Tower: http://azuremountain.org/restoration2.htm

National Historic Register Lookout, a website dedicated to documenting historic fire lookouts: http://nhlr.org/lookouts/us/ny/azure-mountain-fire-tower/

Brief History of Azure Mountainhttp://people.clarkson.edu/~csmith/azure-hist.html

Online Surveys and Reports of Fire Towers in the Adirondacks:

Bill Star, “A Pictorial History of the Fire Towers in New York State,” (Unpublished Work, 2009): http://www.nysforestrangers.com/NYS%20Fire%20Towers%20Pictorial%20History%20by%20Bill%20Starr%20(3-7-09).pdf

Bill Star, “Listing of the Fire Towers Operated by the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation Bureau of Forest Fire Control,” (Unpublished Work, 2010): http://azuremountain.org/New_York_State_Fire_Tower_List_by_Bill_Starr_%288-8-10%29.pdf

Thomas Kapelewski, ed., Fire Tower Study for the Adirondack Park, (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Published Feb. 2010: https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/ftowerstudy.pdf

National Register of Historic Places Nomination:

Wes Haynes, “Azure Mountain Fire Observation Station,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination (2001): https://cris.parks.ny.gov/Uploads/ViewDoc.aspx?mode=A&token=Y1kP//aSeWpM1M4gIzsYeyveaD53bfW4CS+k/lBOKffSh81hZ+fiI9qEQ6rBmRgtPHrv1qFLD8mAMhusZlYM6As1PZqN9qSRlx5Sv8nga6ja1vmqRlmR06ERYZAh7/hF&q=false

NYS Historic Newspapers:

“Commission Designates Game and Forest Protectors,” Chateauguay Record and Franklin County Democrat, September 11, 1914: http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn87070301/1914-09-11/ed-1/seq-11/#date1=01%2F01%2F1900&sort=date&date2=12%2F31%2F1980&words=Azure+mountain&to_year2=1980&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&index=0&am+p=&from_year2=1900&proxdistance=5&page=1&county=Franklin&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=azure+mountain&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateFilterType=range&SearchType2=prox5

“Forest Rangers and Mt. Observers,” The Adirondack News, May 15, 1915: http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn87070345/1915-05-15/ed-1/seq-3/#date1=01%2F01%2F1900&sort=date&date2=12%2F31%2F1980&words=Azure+Mountain&to_year2=1980&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&index=2&am+p=&from_year2=1900&proxdistance=5&page=1&county=Franklin&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=azure+mountain&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateFilterType=range&SearchType2=prox5

“? On Watch at Fire Towers for 3-County District,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 8, 1948: http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn86033360/1948-04-08/ed-1/seq-2/#date1=01%2F01%2F1900&sort=date&date2=12%2F31%2F1980&words=Azure+Mountain&to_year2=1980&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&index=12&am+p=&from_year2=1900&proxdistance=5&page=1&county=Franklin&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=azure+mountain&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateFilterType=range&SearchType2=prox5

 

End Notes:

[i] Wes Haynes, “Azure Mountain Fire Observation Station,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination (2001), 3.

[ii] Ibid, 5.

[iii] Thomas Kapelewski, ed., Fire Tower Study for the Adirondack Park, (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Feb. 2010), 39-40.

[iv] Ibid, 41-42.

[v] Ibid, 45-46.

[vi] “Commission Designates Game and Forest Protectors,” Chateauguay Record and Franklin County Democrat, September 11, 1914, 11.

[vii] “Forest Rangers and Mt. Observers,” The Adirondack News, May 15, 1915, 3.

[viii] “? On Watch at Fire Towers for 3-County District,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 8, 1948, 2.

[ix] A Near Ending, A New Beginning: A History of the Fire Tower Restoration: http://azuremountain.org/restoration2.htm.

[x] Haynes, “Azure Mountain…,” 5. Azure Mountain Facts at a Glance: http://azuremountain.org/azurefacts.htm.

[xi] A Near Ending, A New Beginning: A History of the Fire Tower Restoration: http://azuremountain.org/restoration2.htm.

Point Reyes National Seashore

I meant to get this post out sooner than what I did. Work had been much busier than expected since returning to California in January. So free time after work was limited but I still have been going to the Sunday “Shut Up and Write” sessions. For the time being though I’m currently on a much needed vacation home in Northern New York. So while I’m home, I hope to catch up on a number of posts I’ve written but haven’t yet shared on the blog.

Anyways, the next part of my adventure along California’s coast was in Point Reyes National Seashore where I stayed at a hostel located within the National Park and hiked a couple of shorter trails: the San Andres Fault Loop and part of the Coastal Trail.

The Point Reyes National Seashore was established in 1962 by Congress and is located on the Point Reyes Peninsula. The Peninsula is separated from mainland California by a linear valley, which happens to be on the San Andres Fault. The Fault is where the Pacific and North American Continental Plates meet; geology talk time- this means that the Pacific Plate is slowly sliding underneath the North American Continental Plate and when things don’t go smoothly with this geological process, earthquakes happen. Today about 1/3 of the National Seashore is a protected wilderness, while another third is preserved as a pastoral zone for dairy and beef farms that date back to the 1880’s. The National Seashore also offers numerous outdoor activities and places to see for visitors; there’s roughly 150 miles of trails within the boundaries of the Seashore.

Visitor Center

The drive from Sacramento to Point Reyes is roughly two hours. Inverness, which is the place I wrote about in the last post, is about a 15 minute drive from the National Seashore’s main entrance….longer if you’re planning on driving deeper in the Seashore. The car ride is very simple. The route goes through Point Reyes Station- a quaint looking town but I didn’t stop. I drove to the Point Reyes Visitor Center to get a map and to buy some souvenirs. I did walk on a short trail located near the visitor center: the San Andres Fault Loop (roughly 0.6 miles long). The trail is along a mostly even terrain that winds through a field and a forested area, which must be a popular hangout for the local deer population.

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The local welcoming committee to the Point Reyes National Seashore

Along the trail there are a number of signs giving both geological history of the region and the history of the Great 1906 Earthquake. By the way, it seems any time I go to something related in anyway to history here in California there’s always some connection to the 1906 Earthquake or the Gold Rush….there always is a connection….no matter what.

San Andres Fault Loop
View of the trail of the San Andres Fault Loop.

Blue Markers

 

San Andres Fault Loop Trail
The fence was split in two when the 1906 earthquake hit. The blue markers also indicate the active fault line.

Within the National Seashore, I stayed at the Point Reyes Hostel located in the heart of the Seashore. It’s very secluded yet homey with a large kitchen, porch area and a cozy living room. The hostel is at the site of the historic ranch, Rancho de Laguna, which was established at the current site in 1866. Eventually, the ranch buildings were purchased by the Park Service in 1971 and instead of demolishing the buildings, they were renovated and the hostel was opened up in 1972.

Decorations at the Hostel
Decor outside of the hostel.

The ladies eight bed dormitory was spacious, as was the shared bathroom within the main hostel house. There’s also a number of newer looking buildings that are apparently more dorm rooms for larger groups aiming to stay within the Seashore. When I’m traveling around I like to stay at hostels because it’s way cheaper and it gives the opportunity to meet cool people. While at the Point Reyes Hostel I didn’t really talk to anyone like I had at previous hostel stays in San Francisco and San Luis Obispo. Since the Point Reyes Hostel is secluded and in a forest, there is no Wi-fi and there’s definitely no cell service. I was able to get one bar at the end of the road on both of my cellphones (work phone is AT&T and my personal cell is Straight Talk in case you’re interested). I spent the night at the hostel writing…you guessed it…blog posts and reading on my tablet, A Company of Liars by Karen Maitland is what I had been reading at the time. Side note- it’s a very interesting book but literally the last chapter isn’t the best. I looked up the book after finishing to see if others were as annoyed as I was and it seems like the general consensus was that the ending isn’t the best. So readers beware.

In the morning, I decided to hike the Coastal Trail, which the trail head is just down the road from the hostel. The morning was colder than I expected- probably in the 40’s. I didn’t see a lot of wildlife on the trail other than groups of partridges. On that note, I’ve never seen groups of partridges- they’re funny little posse and they all flap off together when you get too close. Closer towards the coast and the beach, you could hear the crash of the ocean waves.

There were no other people on the trail, which can kind of be unnerving in a large national forest especially since there’s signs telling you to watch out for mountain lions, not to hike alone, and to flee to higher ground in the case of an earthquake/tsunami death combo. On another side note, what the wrong with California?!?!?!?!?! We don’t have these kind of warnings at the beginning of trail heads in New York. This all just continues to solidify my thoughts that California is a hostel environment….

Now back to the coastal trail….

When I emerged from a marshy area with a lot of tree coverage, there were sloping hills where grazing elk could be seen. Let’s be honest, they probably saw me first and were probably wondering what the hell I was and why I was up so early. I assume I must have been a spectacle for the elk to watch since I was flaying my arms around trying to determine if my phones were going to pick up a signal or not.

Elk

The trail curved through the hills without any real incline. To be honest most of the trail seemed to be an even grade without any real noticeable inclines/ downhill sections and then finally the path emerged onto rolling hills towards the beach.

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There was, unsurprisingly, no one at the beach. So I was able to hang out on the beach by myself and take lots of photographs. Based on the trail signs, the Coastal Trail continues past the first beach stop to another beach area. Instead of continuing on the trail, I decided to head back to the hostel to get ready to leave for the day to travel the rest of the way to Fort Ross, which would be another 1 ½ drive up the coast.

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On the walk back through the woods, I was still keeping an eyes and ears alert for any unusual rustling sounds. Call me a Nervous Nancy but there’s a crazy need to be alert in the California woods especially when most trail head signs warn of tsunamis and mountain lions. It also didn’t help that the local, patrolling, partridge posses are noisy in the wee hours of the morning. So while I was walking along the trail observing my surroundings, minding my own business, I looked down the trail and saw that it was clear, I looked down at my feet and then I looked back up and saw some four-legged canine creature ahead of me on the trail.

Coyote

Well let me tell you. I freaked out. I think it was a coyote.

It looked at me.

I looked at it.

I mentally freaked out.

It remained calm.

I yelled a little to scare it off.

It stayed on the trail staring at me- probably wondering what the hell was happening.

Actually, wait. It was probably judging me for hiking alone on the trail in the early hours of the morning. Obviously that’s what it was doing- judging the lone human in the woods.

I decided my best move in our standoff was to walk towards the coyote while making some obnoxious noises. It must have been my menacing look and walk that caused the coyote to saunter off the trail….LOL. Who are we kidding, probably not. But at that moment I realized that I probably needed an adult supervising my outdoor adventures, especially in California. For the rest of the walk back to the hostel, I only saw a few cute bunnies and luckily no more sightings of larger mammals.

And that was my adventure in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Thanks for reading! Next up, Fort Ross.

*See below for applications to be a “supervising adult for Courtney’s Adventures.”*

 

Further Information:

All of the information about Point Reyes came from a pamphlet I picked up at the Point Reyes National Seashore Museum but more information about the National Seashore can be found here:

https://www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm

http://news.aag.org/2016/02/point-reyes-national-seashore-a-brief-history-of-a-working-landscape/

https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1127/chapter9.pdf

http://www.norcalhostels.org/reyes/history

 

*Sadly, there’s no actual applications to be a supervising adult in my adventures, I just need to be better prepared for the unexpected. Obviously, my years as a girl scout didn’t prepare me for coyotes in the woods at 8 am. But if you’ve had moments in your own adventures, where you questioned your life choices, please feel free to share!

Sight Seeing in Inverness, California

This week is going to focus on a weekend trip I took out to Marin County to see the central coast area of California, especially around Point Reyes National Seashore and up to Fort Ross, a historical site with a reconstruction of the original Fort that was used by the Russian’s from 1812-1840’s. The main reason for the trip was to see Fort Ross but I also stopped along the way in Inverness and Point Reyes.

Shameless Selfie

While in Point Reyes National Seashore, I visited Inverness, California to get dinner. Inverness is located on the west shore of Tomales Bay and is surrounded by the National Seashore. Fun fact about the town, parts of two John Carpenter’s films, The Fog and The Village of the Damned, were shot in and around the community. I only stopped in the town briefly to get dinner at the Saltwater Oyster House but while there I discovered a place that’s part of the Atlas Obscura atlas, the “Tomales Bay Shipwreck,” also known as the S. S. Point Reyes, which is an apparent nod to the S. S. Minnow from Gilligan’s Island. The shipwreck is not really a “shipwreck” but more of a fishing boat that has been grounded in the restored wetlands of Tomales Bay. A previous owner had made plans to restore the boat but these were never acted upon. Instead the boat has become an added tourist attraction and photography spot for the National Seashore and the Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project.

S.S. Point ReyesTomales Bay ShipwreckTomales Bay Shipwreck

The S. S. Point Reyes is located in the Giacomini Wetlands, right behind the Inverness store. At one point there boat was almost removed because of the restoration work to the native landscape but the photography community rallied around the boat and it has remained in its place. In 2016, the haul of the ship was burned pretty bad by either vandals or photographer’s who screwed up during their photo shoot; a full investigation was never conducted on the fire.

The other cool part of the boat’s location is the Giacomini Wetlands themselves. The Waldo Giacomini Ranch Wetlands Restoration Project, other than being a mouthful, is the attempt of the National Park Service to restore the former dairy ranch back into the tidal wetlands and floodplains the area is meant to be. The project’s roots stem from the 1972 statewide Coastal Act, which places a high value on protecting California’s natural resources. The act was directly related to a failed 1968 plan to extensively develop West Marin. The ranch lands were eventually incorporated into the Boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, so that the Park Service could purchase the land to do the work. In 2000, the purchase was finally completed and within 7 years the wetlands restoration work done. The project has resulted in 550 acres (roughly 50% of Tomales Bay’s wetlands) to be restored to their native habitat. In comparison though, the 550 acres is the estimated equivalent to just 12% of the total lost coastal wetlands in Central California. The restored wetlands are home to a number of animals including: salmon, seals, bat rays, white pelican, black-bellied plovers, white tailed kits, river otters, raccoon, and even bob cats.

Giacomini Wetlands Northwest ViewGiacomini Wetlands South ViewGiacomini Wetlands East View

Across the street from the Inverness Store, is the post office and the Saltwater Oyster House, an upscale yet laid back restaurant that’s open for lunch and dinner. I went during their dinner service and was lucky enough to get a seat at the bar during the busy dinner service. My bartender, who happened to be the owner was great and attentive. I went with the Oyster Stew, which was cream based with chunks of oysters, leeks, and brioche croutons. It was very good, not too salty and the leeks went well with the oysters. I know, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t get any raw oysters. It’s because I’ve never had them before and felt a little out of my element trying to order them. But seated at the bar I did get a great view of the man preparing the oysters for those who ordered them. It was hypnotizing to watch him shucking oysters and plate them on a bed of ice. I did order dessert though, the chocolate brownies sundae, to be exact. I was expecting something small and delicate and instead got enough sundae to share! Atop of the very dense brownie was frio gelato and that was covered in a creamy chocolate sauce that also hardened into a shell on the gelato. I just want to let you all know, that I took one for the history adventure team and ate most of the dessert.

I had no regrets.

It was glorious.

Dessert for One

I would highly suggest visiting Inverness and especially the Saltwater Oyster Bar to anyone. I definitely plan on visiting the area again and would to go there for food again. It might be fun to go during the lunch services to see how different the menu is and if it is as busy as dinner had been. I would love to go back and explore the small town of Inverness now that I know it was used in a few films. It would be fun to compare scenes to what is there now much like I’ve done with historic postcards in the past.

Watch for my next post on Point Reyes National Seashore and my brief time there!

Thanks for adventuring along with me.

Resources and Further Information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverness,_California

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/point-reyes-boat

http://www.calexplornia.com/point-reyes-shipwreck-divert-your-plans-to-the-inverness-shipwreck/

https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/upload/planning_giacomini_wrp_legacyfortomalesbay_081026.pdf

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3465854/Heartbreaking-photos-reveal-charred-remains-iconic-Californian-shipwreck-loved-locals-tourists-alike.html

Saltwater Oyster Depot:

https://www.ptreyeslight.com/article/saltwater-one-year-nourishes-verve

https://www.remodelista.com/posts/the-world-is-his-oyster-saltwater-depot-in-inverness/

Donner Pass and the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Last week I had an opportunity to travel to Donner Lake, which is located in the mountains of Tahoe National Forest. Along the way, I stopped at a couple of vista point “exits” off of Interstate 80 and took a number of photos of the mountains.

Selfie Time
This view is from one of the vista points located along Interstate 80.
Soda Springs General Store
I stopped in Soda Springs for lunch. Soda Springs originally was called Summit Valley; the name change occurred in 1875. It is located 3 miles west of Donner Pass. The elevation here is 6,768 ft.

Lunch Time

The Tahoe National Forest was originally established in 1899 and named Tahoe Forest Reserve. In 1905, the name was changed to Tahoe National Forest and controlled of the National Forests was changed from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service; President Theodore Roosevelt was in office during this time. His presidency consisted of pushes to conserve our Nation’s natural resources. President Roosevelt, actually established the US Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, which created 18 National Monuments.

Sierra Mountain Range
This is a view of some of the mountains along Interstate 80. This is the view from on of the vista points along the interstate. Maps are unclear but I think this view is looking at the general location of the Donner Pass. The elevation of Donner Pass is 7,056 ft.

View from Vista Point 1

The Tahoe National Forest includes parts of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The mountain range has been created by a geological activity called plate tectonics (movement of plates that make up the crust of the Earth). In particular the creation of these mountains was caused by a “subduction zone,” where one plate moves beneath another plate and as that happens magma is created from movement, that slowly cools down and the magma rocks created at the zone build up to create these mountains. It takes a very long time. The plates that helped make the Sierra Nevada Range are the Pacific and North America plates. This geological activity began somewhere between 400-130 million years ago but the range as we know it, really was created until between 20-5 million years ago. That means the Sierra Nevada Range would have been around when dinosaurs walked around North America. Parts of the mountains have also been created by the weight and movement of glaciers during the ice ages; “U” shaped valleys are a geologic indicator of this. I just want to give a shout out and thank you, to my basic 9th grade Earth Studies class, where I learned geology….oh, and I guess those geology courses I took at SUNY Potsdam.

Vista Point No. 2
This marker was at the second vista point I stopped at along Interstate 80.
Mountains
This is the view from that second vista point! It was really pretty!

So that’s some real brief history of the Tahoe National Forest and it’s geology. There’s a lot more that could be added but let’s keep it simple and move on to the juicier stuff.

Next up. Cannibalism!

Sooooo, Donner Lake and Donner Pass are named after a very, very, very ill-fated pioneer wagon train that tried to cross through Donner Pass in 1847. Let’s back up a little bit before 1847, to 1846…not that far back in comparison to 1847… when nine families left Springfield, Illinois in April of 1846 to head west to California. The families were organized by James Reed and George Donner was the captain of the wagon train. The nine families met up with other families headed west creating a large wagon train. Everyone stopped at Fort Bridger, which was located in modern day Wyoming, to resupply and get ready for the long haul to California.

While at Fort Bridger, 87 members of the much larger wagon train decided to set off on their own to travel a new route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This group is known as the Donner Party and consisted of the group first organized by James Reed and headed by George Donner. Reed had learned of a new route through a pass in the Sierra Mountains near a lake (known today at Donner Lake). With that information, Reed assumed that if the Party took this route, they would arrive in California sooner.

James Reed got some real bad information.

The Donner Party arrived at the summit of the mountains at the lake around October 28, 1846. By that time, there was already 6 feet of snow and this stopped the Donner Party dead in their tracks. The different families set up camp around the lake using their wagons and other materials for shelter. The families technically were trapped by the snow- they couldn’t go forward or even back the way they had come by late fall. In the middle of December a group of 15 people left the encampment to travel the rest of the way to California in the hopes of getting help. Only 7 people survived the trek into California and reached Sutter’s Fort, where they were able to get much needed help. During that time the Donner Party went through most of their supplies and livestock. People starved and froze to death, and some of the survivors turned to cannibalism to survive. There was a total of four rescue parties that went to Donner Lake from Sutter’s Fort. Of the original 87 pioneers that got stuck at Donner Lake, only 48 survived and made it to California.

Donner Lake, Looking West
Donner Lake is located in the Truckee, California. Donner Pass is located about 9 miles in this general direction.

Donner Lake, Looking East

This information sign is located at that gravel “parking lot”/extended shoulder.
This is a view of mountains and Interstate 80 from a “parking lot” right next to the Donner Memorial State Park.
Donner Party Memorial Statue
At the Memorial State Park, there is a statue for the Donner Party. The State Park actually preserves the site of where the Donner Party camped. It’s located towards the eastern point of Donner Lake.

Obviously Donner Lake and Donner Pass are named after the Donner Party. Donner Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been used in a series of different transportation routes starting with the California Trail (wagon trail). Eventually the pass was incorporated into the route of the Central Pacific Railroad for the First Transcontinental Railroad. More recently, in the age of the automobile, there has been a route through the pass for U. S. Route 40 (the Lincoln Highway), which was the first road across the United States and then the pass was indirectly used by Interstate 80. Interstate 80 was the route I took to get to Donner Lake.

So there you have it! A very brief history on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Donner Party.

If you have any questions or comments, let me know in the section below.

Thanks for reading!

Sources and Further Information:

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/donnerparty.htm This website has a detailed narrative about the Donner Party and includes some diary entries from a member of the Donner Party.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donner_Pass Wikipedia has a number of great visuals to check out about Donner Pass.

Soda Springs General Store: http://sodaspringsgeneralstore.com/

Tahoe National Forest:

https://www.fs.usda.gov/tahoe

http://www.tahoefund.org/about-tahoe/tahoes-environmental-history/

https://www.nationalforests.org/our-forests/find-a-forest/tahoe

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tahoe_National_Forest

Tahoe National Forest History: http://www.foresthistory.org/ASPNET/Publications/region/5/tahoe/contents.htm

Sierra Nevada

https://geomaps.wr.usgs.gov/parks/province/pacifmt.html

http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/science/profiles/erwin_0609geology.php