Category Archives: Tourism

Day Trips in Anza-Borrego State Park | Fonts Point Badlands

Like most people, I had heard the term “badlands” before visiting Fonts Point, but I had no visual notion of it in my head. Badlands are actually a very distinctive landform and remind me of something out of Dante’s Inferno. The brownish red hills are devoid of all vegetation. Being so dry and rootless, when the rain comes in torrents every five years or so it carves grooves into the sides, flowing in several directions. With each rainfall and the daily winds these grooves deepen further, making the distinct scraggly look the Badlands hills are known for.

At Fonts Point, just outside of Borrego Springs, California, you can get an overlook of the Badlands that stretch across Anza-Borrego region and down into Mexico.IMG_2758

For this trip, I recommend that you take a Jeep or another 4WD or AWD vehicle. A Subaru should be fine to get to the overlook, but if you don’t want to do any additional exploring you might need a Jeep or truck.

There is a hiking option, but it’s through a dry, dusty, flat, region with no vegetation or sights (and no shortage of sun)—so unless you really want to get some exercise, driving is preferred.

Getting to Fonts Point is easy. Take the S-22 (Borrego Salton Sea Seaway) out of town going east. When you get past the campgrounds and the small edge of the Santa Rosa mountains just to the north, keep a lookout on your right (south) for the Font’s Point Wash dirt road. It’s approximately here on Google Maps. Take the dirt road 4 miles to Fonts Point.IMG_2759

The overlook is, well, spectacular for someone who has never seen anything like it.

Beyond this, there are numerous Jeep drives you can take through the region, including the Palo Verde Wash, Vista Del Malpais, and Thimble Trail. But make sure you bring plenty of gas and water!

Additional resources:

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Posted by on May 10, 2016 in California, Deserts, Drives, Tourism


All the Hiking You’ve Been Missing in the East Bay

Get out there and start conquering the East Bay’s underused regional parks.

When you’re in the mood for a day hike, do you head over to Marin more often than not? Or even drive all the way to the Santa Cruz mountains, where you spend more time in traffic than outdoors?

Here’s a notion: You can easily avoid all the drama of these crowded, picked-over places by staying the East Bay. Within 20 miles of Oakland—the land of Oaks—there’s an abundance of sparsely populated hiking trails, with a great variety of terrain, all waiting to be trod by your hiking boots, still muddy and moldy from your humid hikes along the coast. And there’s no need to cross any bridges and pay tolls or sift through any traffic to get to there.

You’ll notice right away that East Bay hikes have more open and rougher terrain, drier land, plenty of oaks and great vistas, fewer people, and no problem finding free parking. So heed the call—Yes, In My Back Yard (YIMBY)—and get out there exploring.

Some regional parks to get started are Redwood Regional, Lake Chabot, Briones and Las Trampas. Once you’ve conquered those, you can move on to parks as distinct and diverse as Sunol, Black Diamond Mines and Morgan Territory.

If you’re looking for a particular route, you can always go to the Regional Park District’s website at for trail maps, but I tend to prefer, a private website that does an impeccable job of organizing 60 Bay Area hikes within 60 miles of San Francisco.

There are many great things about First of all, the map lets you see all of the locations, so you can find something close to you and waste as little time as possible in the car. Jane Huber, the author, provides a route that winds you through the highlights of each park, and gives important information such as the mileage, estimated time and standard weather conditions per season. The routes are mostly easy to follow, but there’s always some adventure involved, since most of the articles are over 10 years old. (And hiking guides in general seem to enjoy leaving a fair amount of ambiguity in the directions.)

For those of you who know of the site and haven’t visited it in a while, you’ll be surprised to know that it’s been updated. The browser version is a lot snazzier and the mobile version now readjusts to your device, so you can look forward to a lot less squinting and twisting your phone when attempting to follow the trails. On that note, if you’re relying on the phone to guide you, don’t forget that you’re bound to lose reception in most parks.

Happy trails. I hope to see you out there.

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Posted by on January 14, 2016 in California, Going out, Hiking, Tourism, Travel


San Francisco Fairmont Roof Garden—Hidden Public Park

Inside San Francisco’s upscale Fairmont hotel, there’s a little rooftop garden open to the public (a public park?) that affords a view of the downtown San Franicisco, the bay and Coit Tower.

As described in this SFGate article:

san-francisco-s-14-best-rooftops-a-bunch-of-which-are-totally-secretThe Fairmont’s contribution to the greening of San Francisco is a turn-of-the-century oasis with the style of a private estate. Royal palms spread enormous canopies. The wind-tossed fountain spray and the distant view of the bay add to the grand air as to the olive trees, the birds-of-paradise, and manicured lawn. Notice the granite facade of the Fairmont Hotel. On the top floor you can see the terrace belonging to the Penthouse Suite, rumored to be San Francisco’s most expensive set of rooms. Inside the hotel, wander the corridors on the lobby level where historic photos are exhibited.

Naturally, Marta and I have been there several times. Here are some views from a couple of years back. I’m still using one of the photos from that day as my avatar, though it’s getting a bit out of date…

IMG_8342 IMG_8353This place is incredibly easy to get to and surprisingly unknown. Just walk into the lobby and toward the bathroom on the ground level. You’ll pass lots of historical photos along the way. Then there’s an entrance to the park, and that’s it. You’re likely to see next to no one there, but there’s an occasional wedding or outdoor party.

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Posted by on December 21, 2015 in San Francisco, Tourism


San Francisco day trip to Angel Island

Believe it or not, you can do a bit of island adventuring in the San Francisco Bay. Although world-famous Alcatraz commands most of the attention, the larger Angel Island is equally impressive, especially if you’d prefer to do some hiking, see some nature and historic buildings, and have a picnic.

It’s a bit oceanic out there, so probably the best times of the year to come are on one of those rare nice summer days, fall or late spring. Weather is variable but tends to be some variety of mild. The ferry trip, accessible from both the Ferry Building and Pier 39, takes some time—up to an hour. And the trek itself is about two to three hours, depending on how many stops you take. All this is why the trek is more of a day trip, rather than a quick hike. (Note as well that you can also get there from Tiburon. Here’s a full list of ferry departures.)

This being the SF Bay, the ride can be bumpy, crowded, foggy and windy, but affords sublime views of the bay and its environs. If you’re coming from the Ferry Building, you actually pass and get a good views of all the main islands, Yerba Buena and Treasure Island, and then—when just a few miles south of Angel Island—Alcatraz.


Generally, there’s a lot of people sailing off the coast of wealthy Marin County, especially on a nice day. Filling the water with an active brilliance, their boats waltz over the water. Mere mortals aboard the ferry can look on in awe and wonder at the spectacular affair.


Upon disembarking, there are two routes for those who came to hike: a somewhat more difficult path to and around the top of the island’s hill and a path circuiting the entire island. They both take roughly two-and-a-half hours.


As a long aside, if you don’t much like walking or simply want a guided tour, you can also spend a few bucks to take a bus around the island, stopping at the main sights along the way. Or, if you don’t want a full hike, it’s not a long walk to a private beach where you can barbeque and hang out. I should not forget to mention that bikes are welcome, the island having great paths all around it. And camping, let’s not forget . . . (But there’s no wood fires, which in my book kind of defeats the purpose.) If none of that interests you, you can also just go to the local bar, and sit and have a drink while watching the sun move across the water in the harbor. Personally, though, I’d save that cold beer for after a hike.

So anyway, we did the peripheral trail. Of notable interest on the hike are the abandoned barracks and army officer buildings. There’s even a sort of abandoned city, with defunct factories and stately mansions falling into ruin and disrepair. On a foggy day they are gloomily mystical, like old industrial centers, whereas on sunny days they probably take the cast of ancient Mediterranean ruins. (Just speculating on that latter point, as you can see.)

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For those not as into the stark melancholia of decrepit buildings as myself, there’s a lot more to see on the island: an old immigration holding station, missile sites from the Cold War, a whole a lot of precipices, vistas and hidden beaches, and a small historical museum. You can really make a whole day trip of it if you want to, seeing everything, or just do it in bits and pieces.

One last reminder though is to make sure you catch the last ferry back to wherever you’re going, which is usually not very late. The last back to San Francisco for us was 4:30.


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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in California, Hiking, Tourism, Travel


Proposed demolition of San Francisco’s Elbo Room makes a NIMBY out of me

In the news today was an alarming story that San Francisco’s Elbo Room might be demolished to make way for a new condo development.

Of course, this one’s personal: Elbo Room is where I walked up to my future wife and made enough witty banter to get her to go to the next bar with me.


Living in San Francisco for this long, it’s not surprising that finally one of the many changes here will affect me personally and force me to become a stick-in-the-mud NIMBY.

Honestly, I’d really hate to lose Elbo Room. It’s quite possibly the only place in the city with strong $3 drinks from 5-9 every weekday. My kind of watering hole.

More details:

The owners of the two-story Mission district building at the corner of Valencia and Sycamore which is currently occupied by the Elbo Room have quietly drafted plans to raze the bar and construct a new five-story building in its place.

Early plans for the development include nine (9) residential units, three one-bedrooms and six two-bedrooms, ranging in size from 500 to 1,000 square feet over a 770 square-foot commercial space and parking for six (6) cars on the ground floor.

There’s only two types of housing they build in the mission: luxury housing and low-income housing. Regular working stiffs just don’t get new places to live in the city. I can’t really tell which one this is going to be, but either way, I’ll be shut out.

But wait, there’s a slight chance of blocking this development. The building might be deemed “historic.”

While the existing building at 645 Valencia Street wasn’t deemed to be historic when reviewed as part of the Inner Mission Historic Resource Survey in 2011, the Planning Department has since “received additional information that suggests that the subject property may have associations with the history of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals in San Francisco.”

As a bar in San Francisco, that sounds reasonable. Let’s hope it works.


Turkmenistan’s Door to Hell

Over forty years ago, Soviet scientists detected a large natural gas source in what’s now Turkmenistan.

They set up a rig and got drilling. Shortly thereafter, though, the rig collapsed and formed a giant crater.


The crater, moreover, was giving off large quantities of poisonous methane gas, threatening the lives of villagers in nearby Turkmen villages.

To solve the problem in one fell swoop, the scientists decided to burn off the methane gas and then resume drilling.


After starting the fire, it expanded to cover the entire crater, but the fire neither burned off the methane gas nor abated.

In time, it became just another forgotten failure and, before too long, became part of another country.

To this day, in the Karakum Desert, the methane still blazes in the crater, creating a tourist attraction dubbed the “Door to Hell.”



Pyramid Lake, overlooked gem outside of Reno

Just 45 minutes outside of Reno–and even within distance of San Francisco–lies the under appreciated Pyramid Lake. If you don’t like dealing with fees, permits and waits for taking your boat into Tahoe, it’s an ideal alternative. You usually can pick up a boat permit at 7-11 in Reno before heading out north, and completely avoid the lines there.

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Brief digression: would you want to go to Pyramid without watercraft? I suppose you could go for swimming and hanging out at the beach. The water can get quite warm and clear in summer, even if it’s a bit salty. Even so, it’s more of a fishing/boating/jet-skiing area than a beach hangout spot like Tahoe. Boating seems to be the ideal activity; you’ll be surprised by the lack of traffic there.

Having driven over from San Francisco that morning, we didn’t get in a little after 1 o’clock. My mom remarked that there were more people there than she’d ever seen, but, apart from some cops annoyingly looking us over, it was a smooth, quick departure.


We started roaring over the water at 30 mph and once the cops were out of sight cracked open bottles of beer to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend.

Straight across from the boat dock at the fisheries is the Pyramid. It’s probably more of a ziggurat, with a typical Nevada moon-like surroundings. The water, too, is a deep green, giving it an extraterrestrial appearance.


After taking a dip in the water–which was, this late May, still freezing coldOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA–we pulled up to the bay and got out to get a closer look at the Stone Mother.

It’s Paiute Indian land there and the Paiute tribe nearby comes to her to pray, sometimes leaving the Stone Mother offerings. There were none today, but when we started to move off, we noticed some of the Indians setting up for what looked to be a ceremony.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA See the face? The offerings are left in the broken rock to the right.

Afterward, we got back in the boat and headed for a long, fast ride around the Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge, a bird sanctuary which happens to be a large, pyramid-shaped island in the middle of the lake.


Sun-drenched, we then headed back to shore. In total, we probably covered 7 or 8 miles by boat over the course of a couple hours. But if you’ve got the time, Pyramid Lake is enormous–nearly the size of Tahoe–so you can boat all day and camp out in different locations along the way.