View from the Fairfax-Bolinas Road looking down at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge with Mt. Diablo in the background.
In Tom Steinstra’s SF Chronicle column last week, he wrote about the Fairfax to Bolinas back road. As we have never driven it we decided to give it a go. Today promises to be a little cooler and, as we have been enjoying/suffering a period of hot weather over the last couple of weeks, it will be nice to get out into the fresh air. Let’s hope it gets a bit cooler during the night as it will be nice to get a decent night’s sleep for a change.
(Click on the images for larger versions)
We set Mollie, our GPS, for San Anselmo, where we intended to have breakfast. She was directing us to take Highway 101 but we decided to confound her and take Highway 280. To us, not only is it the most direct route to the Golden Gate Bridge but it is a better road and much more scenic. 101 is, after all, boring with lots of traffic and nothing to feast the eyes on apart from the dirigible hangers at Moffett Field. Whereas on 280 there is a wealth of interesting things to look out for. For a start there is the scenery – rolling hills, wooded hillsides, mountain ridges and Crystal Springs Lake. As for man made structures there is the Maryknoll Tower in Los Altos. On first sight it’s architecture looks Spanish Mission but on closer inspection you will find that the roof corners turn up a little which gives it an oriental look. Passing Standford University in Palo Alto there is the the two mile long linear accelarator tunnel which passes underneath 280 and the satellite dish on the top of a small rise. There is a hiking tail up to the dish but we haven’t done it yet. Between the Woodside and Edgewood Road exits there is the Runnymede Sculpture Farm. It is a privately owned estate which has over 150 outdoor sculptures, some of which can be seen from 280. I’ve spotted about five of them. Then between the Bunker Hill and Black Mountain Road exits there are two things to look for. If you are traveling towards San Francisco, watch out for the Flintstone or Bubble House as you cross the Eugene A. Doran Memorial Bridge on the right hand side. It used to be painted off white but is now terracotta red. The second object is the 26ft high statue of Father Junipero Serra, who is pointing westwards, created by Louis Dubois. Father Junipero Serra was a Spanish missionary who founded several of the Californian missions.
We leave 280 where it veers to the east and drive north along 19th Avenue through San Francisco. There are a lot of traffic lights between here and the Golden Gate Bridge bit it is interesting to note the flavor of the San Francisco architecture. At first the houses are mostly two stories high, with a garage on the ground floor, steps leading to the main entrance on the second floor which is next to a large picture window. None of the buildings have a front garden and some of them are maintained very nicely. Some, though, are not a very good shape at all. On the other side of Golden Gate Park, the houses are larger and set back from the road. No two buildings are alike.
Driving through the Gen. Douglas MacArthur tunnel, the anticipation of seeing the bridge in all its glory is electric. It doesn’t matter how many times
Looking down at a lake with Mt. Tam in the background
we cross the bridge it always gives us a thrill. Today though it was a little overcast – a typical summer day in San Francisco. We can see Alcatraz but not the top of Angel Island. The Bay Bridge and the city are bathed in light through a break in the cloud while everything else is shrouded in fog. As usual the joggers are out in force crossing the bridge on one side and cyclists on the other.
Once over the bridge and through the Rainbow Tunnel we look down on Sausalito and the ribbon of houseboats along the edge of the bay. We notice that the tide is out. In fact the seaplane which takes tourists over the city and which is normally afloat, was resting on mud.
With the infamous San Quentin State Prison in sight on our right, we turn left onto the Sir Francis Drake Blvd and drive through pleasant communities until we reach San Anselmo. After breakfast we continued on to Fairfax, which is were the back road began. The article mentioned the tricky connector to get onto Bolinas Road and we went slightly wrong. We missed the left hand turn onto Pacheco Avenue and took the next left, where we immediately turned left again and soon were able to turn right onto Bolinas Road.
The first part of the drive was through the outskirts of Fairfax but within no time at all we were out in the country and climbing. The whole length of the road is narrow with barely room for two lane of traffic. It is also very twisty with steep drop offs on our right. I was looking down into narrow valleys and on houses built precariously into the hillside. There were a lot of cyclists around. In fact, bikes outnumbered cars by about 50 to 1. Although they were pedaling uphill at a steady pace, their speed was only about 15 miles an hour. The curvy road and blind bends, along with the double yellow line down the middle of the road, made passing a risky business. To make matters worse, quite a few of the cyclists insisted on driving two abreast. But we were in no hurry so we only passed when it was safe to do so.
Along the way we passed the turn off to Lake Lagunitas and a little further the Center for Peace and Compassion. Tom’s comment was ‘welcome to Marin’. Marin County is avant-garde in the environmental movement and many ex hippies and wealthy commuters to San Francisco live here. I always get the impression that the air is cleaner here.
We catch a glimpse of Mount Tamalpais, or Mount Tam as it is affectionately known, in the distance and pass the entrance to the Meadow Club golf course on our left. Meadow Club was built in 1927 and was the first golf course designed in America.
The weather has improved greatly now we are not only north of the bridge but at a higher elevation. We stopped and parked on a large gravel shoulder at the top of the hill. Tom wanted to take some photos and I wanted to stretch my legs. There was an unmarked trail in front of us so Tom set up his camera on the tripod and we set off. The trail was a bit steep at first but worth the view a little later on. We both noticed a wonderful herby smell during our hike but just could not work out where it was coming from. It was great to be out walking on such a beautiful day, breathing in the good, fresh Marin air with nobody else in sight. Tom stopped to take photos and I carried on making my way to a large boulder via a side track up a small rise.
Occasionally I heard rustling in the undergrowth and caught sight of lizards darting out of the way. I tried to climb the boulder but decided it was just too high. Besides, I might have had trouble getting down. Nearby a found a smaller rock and sit down and scanned the view. In the distance I could see the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge partially covered by a finger of fog with Mount Diablo rising above it. On top of Mount Tam I could see the hut we climbed to in February 2008, when we witnessed a group of Mongolians celebrating their New Year.
Cyclists along Ridgecrest Blvd
It was so peaceful up there, gazing down on a couple of golfers at Meadow Club and listening to the hum of wasps investigating the skinny yellow flowers which proliferated at the moment. Tom caught up with me and set up his tripod and took lots of photos of Mount Tam and the Richmond Bridge. Then he climbed even higher and called out that he could see a lake. He thought it was Lake Lagunitas but looking at the map I think it was Alpine Lake. There was no clearly defined trail but by a dint of rock climbing I was able to join him. The view was breathtaking. Not only the sight of the sparkling blue lake surrounded by trees but also panoramic views. It felt like sitting on the top of the world but knew it wasn’t as Mount Tam is definitely higher.
Earlier, down where we parked the car, we overhead a couple of cyclist, who were taking a break, talking about the flies. At the time I did not know what they were talking about, but at the top of that hill I found out. The flies were continuously buzzing around and were most distracting. As far as biting me, I don’t think so but guess I will find out later.
I noticed a couple of concrete cylinders half buried in the soil, one with a stamp on the top which I couldn’t read. Tom found a plaque on a nearby boulder which had the mark of the Corps of Engineers, US Army on it. No elevation or date were noted on it.
We got back to the car and then continued our drive downhill towards Bolinas. We negotiated a horseshoe bend and soon were driving through redwoods. At first they were relatively small redwoods but further on we passed some larger specimens. We approached a dam and the road went across the top. It was difficult to negotiate our way across as it seemed to be a major meeting point for all the cyclists and there were several large groups straddled right across the roadway.
Beyond the dam there were several hairpin bends and soon we came to the junction with Ridgecrest Blvd. If we had carried straight on we would have arrived at Highway 1 and the small town of Bolinas but we turned south along the Ridgecrest. This is one of the most scenic roads in the area. On a clear day there are wonderful views over Bolinas, Bolinas Lagoon and the ocean but today, although we are in the sunshine, all below is covered in fog.
We pulled over to take some photos and discovered a wonderful little trail. It is the McKennan Gulch Trail and is only 0.12 miles long and very easy
Outlook at the end of McKennan Gulch Trail. It's a real easy stroll.
walking. There is marked parking for disabled drivers and the trail could easily be negotiated by a wheelchair. At the end is a stone seat. As we approached it I thought it was just a cairn of stones and was pleasantly surprised to find a very convenient place to sit and contemplate the view. Not that there was much of a view today but I can’t wait to come back here again on a clear day. I can see this becoming another of our ‘must take visitors to’ spots.
Back on the road again we drove to the end Ridgecrest Blvd. One word of warning, this road is only open during the hours of daylight and there are gates at both ends which presumably are closed at night. Our journey continued through Mill Valley to Highway 101, back over the bridge and home.