Archive | May, 2011
May 31, 2011

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Since I am leaving the Washington, DC area in less than two months, I’ve been trying to visit all the monuments/battlefields/historical sites that I never managed to see during my decade on the east coast. So, a few weeks ago I went to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Fort McHenry is most well-known for its role in the War of 1812, when, on September 13, 1814, British ships bombarded the fort for 25 hours in an attempt to invade Baltimore. The British, however, failed to subdue the fort and were forced to withdraw. An American lawyer and amateur poet by the name of Francis Scott Key had witnessed the battle from a British ship, which he was visiting in order to negotiate the release of a captured American prisoner. He was so moved by the sight of the American flag flying above Fort McHenry on the morning of September 14 that he composed the poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry”. This poem would later be renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and eventually became America’s national anthem in 1931.

The lyrics:

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust;”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

These aren’t the original cannons – they are Civil War era.


More photos here.

May 27, 2011

Day trip to Vancouver

Although I have traveled to some rather distant locations, I never crossed the border to visit our northern neighbors. Yes, I’ve been to North Korea and Azerbaijan, but not Canada. My friends tease me mercilessly about this.

So, when we finally arrived in Seattle, we decided to spend one of our days in Vancouver, which is about a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle. Upon arriving at the border, we encountered a Canadian immigration control officer who was, to put it mildly, a complete asshole. I wasn’t even sure he would let us in because he probably thought we were drug dealers or something. But now I finally know what it is like for my foreign friends who visit the U.S. and are constantly forced to deal with rude U.S. customs agents. Sorry, guys!

Waiting to enter

Welcome to Canada

Obligatory American pose

Vancouver harbor

Since we were only in Vancouver for the day, we didn’t get to experience much of the city. Still, a few observations: a) With the bay and mountains as a backdrop, this city is incredibly beautiful; b) it is also damn clean; c) parking is very expensive; d) it was not unusual to see people boarding city buses with their snowboards and gear.

Lions Gate Bridge, as seen from Stanley Park.

Ships in the Burrard Inlet and English Bay

More photos here.

May 26, 2011

The Oregon Coast

We didn’t spend much time on the Oregon coast, since our main reason for being in Oregon was to scout Portland as a potential city to relocate to from Washington, DC (as it turns out, we are moving to Seattle in July 2011). Also, a quick shout out to my friend and fellow LSE alum, Erin, and her husband, David, for cooking a delicious dinner for us at their home in Salem. Much appreciated!

The beautiful Oregon Coast

At Jackie’s suggestion, we stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. You can view the actual production area on the tour and then gorge yourself with cheese samples. We had ice cream, too, which was also delicious despite the miserable weather outside.

May 25, 2011

The Redwood Empire

The tallest trees in the world can be found in the Redwood Empire, the strip of land that stretches along California’s northern coast from San Francisco to the Oregon border. While driving from Eureka to Portland, we stopped in the Redwood National and State Parks to walk amongst these giants.

Elk everywhere

The redwoods were incredible. This place is definitely on my list of destinations I will be returning to sometime in the future.

More photos here.

May 24, 2011

Take a long drive with me on California One, on California One

After leaving Point Reyes National Seashore, we continued our journey northward on California State Route 1 to Eureka, where we would be staying for the night.

Sonoma Coast

More happy cows

An escapee

Fort Ross was the headquarters of the southernmost Russian settlements in North America between 1812 to 1841. Unfortunately, Fort Ross was closed due to state budget cuts, so we couldn’t see the actual fort. I was really disappointed, because I am huge Russophile.

You can see a tiny bit of the fort off in the distance

If you ever rent a car and the agency gives you a Chevy HHR, ask for a different car.

A little over halfway through our drive, we stopped for dinner at the North Coast Brewing Co. Taproom in Fort Bragg. I had the beer battered fish and chips with a pint of Blue Star Wheat Beer. Both were delicious.

By the time we were back on the road, night had fallen, which made the remaining 130 miles to Eureka slow-going. We still had to traverse over 40 miles of State Route 1, which winds along the rugged coastal cliffs and redwood forested mountains in complete darkness, before turning inland at the beginning of the Lost Coast and terminating at the US 101.

More photos here.

May 23, 2011

Point Reyes National Seashore

“It is no longer a question of whether or not we should set aside some more of the yet remaining native California landscape as ‘breathing space’…If we do not, we will leave our children a legacy of concrete treadmills leading nowhere except to other congested places like those they will be trying to get away from.” – Former Congressman Clem Miller, author of legislation to create Point Reyes National Seashore

We left San Francisco early in the morning, as we had a grueling 300 mile drive up CA-1 to the city of Eureka. On our trip north, though, we made a slight detour to Point Reyes National Seashore, located 50 miles northwest of San Francisco on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County.

One of the first things you will notice about Point Reyes is that it is inhabited by cows. A lot of cows, most of them looking quite content to live on some of the most beautiful real estate in California. The cattle ranches and dairy farms within the National Seashore were established in the mid-1800s, and produced renowned butters and cheeses that were used in high-end hotels and restaurants in San Francisco. When the National Park Service created Point Reyes National Seashore, the agreement allowed many of the remaining dairy farms and cattle ranches to continue operating.

This is why happy cows come from California.

An escapee. Be careful when driving through Point Reyes, as there are many cows on the loose.

It was foggy, of course

Point Reyes is the windiest location on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent. The Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 to warn mariners away from the treacherous rocks that define the Point Reyes Headlands. Due to the high fog that plagues the Headlands, the lighthouse had to be built very low so that mariners would be able to see it.

It’s a tough climb, but it’s worth it. And you won’t feel as guilty when you dig into some tasty fish and chips with a pint of beer later in the day.

Local wildlife

Drake’s Bay, named after the explorer Sir Francis Drake. According to many historians, Point Reyes is the site where, during his circumnavigation of the world, Drake landed in 1579, claiming a portion of the North American Pacific Coast for England.

Elephant seals

Point Reyes beach. Beautiful, with good surf, but pretty sure the water is teaming with Great White Sharks.

More photos are here.

May 20, 2011

POTD: Pyongyang high-rises

A high-rise apartment building in Pyongyang. The building on the left is the Koryo Hotel, which is basically the Ritz-Carlton of Pyongyang. Like most hotels in North Korea, it features a revolving restaurant.

May 19, 2011

The Marin Headlands

After driving through Big Sur, we stopped for some delicious clam chowder in Monterey and continued north to San Francisco. The following morning, at my friend Adam’s suggestion, we drove to Battery Spencer, in the Marin Headlands, for some amazing views of Golden Gate Bridge and the city.

Other than seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, we didn’t have any particular plans for that day, so continued driving along Conzelman Road, further into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. And I’m glad we did, because the views were incredible.

We decided to park the car and hike down to the beach

We drove out to the Point Bonita lighthouse, but it was closed.

We came across SF-88, a former Nike Missile Site. I was surprised to see this well-preserved piece of Cold War history in the midst of such beauty. SF-88 is the only restored Nike missile site in the United States. Opened in 1954, this site was part of the last line of defense against Soviet bombers. With the advent of ICBMs, these missile batteries became obsolete, and this site was decommissioned in 1974.

The ranger on-site gives a very thorough tour, and even allows you to ride the missile elevator down into the storage area.

Heading back into the city

The rest of the Bay Area photos are here.

May 18, 2011

Hiking Joshua Tree National Park

When I was back in California during the Christmas holidays, we went hiking at Joshua Tree National Park. Much like the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree is another desert wasteland favorite that I try to return to every few years.

During our recent visit to Joshua Tree we hiked the Lost Horse Mine Trail, a 4.5 mile roundtrip hike that takes you to a well-preserved former gold mine site.

The tree from which the park takes its name.

Mine cart remains

The Lost Horse Mine. This mine produced 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver between 1894 and 1931.

The mine’s stamp mill

After our hike, we drove through the rest of Joshua Tree National Park.

Skull rock

Cholla Cactus garden. Stay away from the cacti. Trust me on this one.

More photos here.

May 17, 2011

The Salton Sea

I have been fascinated by the Salton Sea since I was a kid. I grew up 30 miles north of the Sea, and can still remember the pungent odor that wafted northward from the Sea on a hot summer’s day. Every few years, when I am visiting my parents in the Coachella Valley, I make the drive south to visit this aquatic wasteland.

The Salton Sea isn’t actually a sea, but rather a lake that is saltier than the Pacific Ocean. At 376 square miles, it is the largest lake in California. It averages 15 miles wide, 35 miles in length, and is 52 feet at it deepest point.

Although salt lakes have existed, and then evaporated, in this desert region for many years, the present Salton Sea was the result of an engineering project gone wrong in 1905, when workers attempted to divert water from the Colorado River to irrigate land in the Imperial Valley. The Colorado overflowed, breached the structures, changed course, and began to fill the empty salt basin, creating the Salton Sea. Although the Salton Sea would have eventually evaporated on its own, it soon became a depository for agricultural runoff, which replenished the Sea with wastewater.

In the 1950s, tourism and development promoters billed the Salton Sea as a “miracle in the desert”, where one could relax by the water, water-ski, and fish to your heart’s content. Yacht clubs, hotels, and restaurants were built, turning the area into a “Palm Springs with water.”

This desert riviera, however, was short-lived. As salinity and pollution levels began to rise, the tourism industry collapsed. Today, with the exception of a few hardy residents, most of the developments surrounding the Salton Sea have been abandoned. If one visits Salton City, you can drive through entire subdivisions, all perfectly gridded and marked with street signs, that are devoid of any structures. Walking along the sea, you notice that the beaches are not composed of sand, but rather barnacle shells and the skeletal remains of fish, with more decomposing fish deposited on the shore by gentle waves.