Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

West Coast Loop: Yosemite, Sweet Beans, And The Rock (Not Dwayne)

QUOTABLE: “We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves.” ~John Glenn

On Monday, June 17, we were up and out really early for what could possibly be a very long day. From Lone Pine we headed north up US-395 through Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, to just south of Lee Vining. It is basically a long drive up Owens Valley to the west of the Inyo and White mountains with a turn northwest to climb up over the Sierra Nevadas. The temperature was dropping, and at 8 AM, it was 58 degrees. When we stopped at an overlook to check out the valley, I actually felt cold! You know I was happy about that!! On CA-120, we turned west and at the edge of Yosemite National Park went through Tioga Pass at 9,945′. We were getting closer to the snow on the mountains, and at one point, even had it at our elevation. Oh and at 8:59 AM, it was 51 degrees! Awesome!!

There were basically two ways the trip could play out today: 1) The short route, turning south in the park on CA-41 and exiting at Wawona, then driving the extra 20 miles or so down to Bass Lake, OR 2) The long route, exiting the park to the west, then taking the big circle around Pinoche Peak. This would add an hour, but our GPS really did not like the short route. We know from experience that Sam is often wrong, and the Yosemite website was very vague on size restrictions, so we opted to ask as we entered the park. Turned out that the short route on Tioga, Big Oak Flat, and Wawona was fine, although there are a few roads in the park with length restrictions. (Combo lengths over 60′ or a bus over 45′ may have issues. The tunnel heights that our GPS was screaming about were at the curb, not in the lane. We are 12’9″ and saw plenty of stuff taller than us driving those roads.) Having a little extra time, we decided to see about getting lunch at the Yosemite Valley Welcome Center, taking the Yosemite Valley loop. Bad idea!! There was a LOT of traffic, and driving that loop was more stressful than Houston, and you know that is bad! The tourists are so busy looking up at giant waterfalls and such that they pay very little attention to the traffic. They step out in front of you, pull out in front of you, and cut it way too close when changing lanes. In general, they are totally oblivious to the room RVers need. Plus, when crowded there is absolutely no place to pull off except very near the west end of the loop if you are lucky. So, you CAN go there, but unless you are arriving at 6 AM, you may not want to. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be headed out of a park! We made it to the campground about 1 PM, and after setup, headed over to the Ducey’s Bar & Grill on Bass Lake for lunch (great food, SLOW service). After that, it was feet up. This park is LOUD. I mean music of different kinds coming at you from three directions loud. We didn’t really expect to get to sleep until after quiet hours began at 10 PM. By midnight, though, when there was still a gathering with an outdoor TV playing and two couples talking over it, I had reached my limit. We could hear one of the women even with the ac running! I walked out and politely let them know that quiet hours started 2 hours before. No apology. No contrition. Just an obnoxious retort of “We’re just about to break it up!” These were the only people in the entire, completely full campground making noise while everyone else was trying to sleep, and they just didn’t give a crap. I’m starting to think that simple consideration is truly a thing of the past.

Tuesday was our day to do a little exploring in Yosemite, so it was a REALLY early morning. We entered the park a few minutes after 6 AM and headed up Glacier Point Road to Glacier Point. There were only a couple of trailhead parking lots along the way with a few cars, and road traffic was very light. Along the way we saw a large buck getting some breakfast in the damp grass at the edge of a pond. He didn’t even flinch when we stopped so I could get a pic, either. Must have been good stuff. Just before we made it to the top, we passed a bride and groom with another couple walking up the road to get pics. This place really makes a beautiful backdrop. At the top, the parking lot had more cars, but it turned out that most of them were there for a wedding…different bride and groom. We headed up to get a look at the beautiful valley and falls and ran into parts of that group. (It seems the bride and groom didn’t follow the signs to the amphitheater, so were wandering around in their wedding attire trying to find the place. I overheard the maid of honor saying “you need to get here quick, it’s time.” Don’t think they could start without them, though.) From Glacier Point you can see the Yosemite Valley 3,200′ below and many of the falls. Man, it is beautiful! In 1872 McCauley’s Mountain Hotel opened on the very top of the mountain, then in 1917, the Glacier Point Hotel opened next to that. Until 1969, the views from the top were mostly available only to hotel guests. A devastating fire took out both hotels in July of that year, and the National Park Service decided to leave the mountaintop natural and make the views available to all.

You know how sometimes you go to local, state, or federal parks and they have blocked off access to the cliffs or falls? They put up chain- link fencing and signs saying “Stay Back. Dangerous”. Well, you can thank folks like the guy in the pic below. He walked right past signs saying to stay on the pavement and danger, then climbed up on the rocks, stumbling a little as he stepped across a crevice to make it out to the sheer drop. He was going to walk out to the leading edge, but his wife told him not to. Why did he do it? For a picture. He could have gotten the same background in a pic standing on the platform, but he wanted to look like the big man climbing the mountain. Had he slipped, he wouldn’t even have hit anything for probably 2,000′, and it would have been a mess. Then his widow would have sued the National Park Service, saying they should have protected him. The result would probably be a big payout instead of a court case, and guess who would be footing the bill for that?! In response, the parks would replace the signs with chain link fencing and our grandchildren’s pics of this spot look will be filled with that. Sometimes the signs are for danger. Other times, they are trying to rehabilitate an area. Sometimes the reasons aren’t readily apparent. Regardless, we constantly see folks who totally ignore them. If we aren’t willing to protect our parks, then we can’t complain when they fence us out of the good places.

On our way back down the mountain we stopped to hike the trail out to Taft Point, another amazing overlook. It was about 2 miles round trip, and had beautiful scenery through the forest and open areas out to the rocks. It was a bit rocky in spots with some up and down, but it was just enough that my legs felt it pretty good by the time we made it back to Big Jake. We were pretty much alone on the trail until we neared the furthest point, then were passed opposite direction by a large group. One of the women in that group, I’m guessing in her 20s, was walking with a broken off stick and whining in the voice of a 5-year old the entire time she was within earshot. “My knees are hurting.” “This is hard.” You get the picture. As we passed, I asked if she was hurt, and she said no. I wondered if her friends would ever invite her to hike again. At the top we passed the same bride and groom we saw earlier taking pictures near Glacier Point. I assumed they were taking pics before the wedding, like many couples do these days, and asked about the big day. Turned out that they were from Pennsylvania and got married the previous Friday. I asked if she was wearing the dress for all of their vacation pics, and the groom, without missing a beat said “To be honest, I was wearing it half the time!” LOL. So that young lady hiked 2 MILES that day in that dress, which she had to hold up to walk, to get pics out there at the dome. Wow! Cool idea, but I would have neatly rolled that dress up and put it in a backpack, then put it on over my clothes at the top.

We had the dome to ourselves for a little bit, which was nice. There were a couple of unattended backpacks that were perplexing, but some kids showed up to pick them up before we headed back down. (We didn’t know if someone fell off or what. Backpackers seldom leave their packs alone, and these had expensive camelbacks, too.) The edge at the top was a steep drop, and the views were phenomenal. There were also these crazy crevices in the rock that went down for quite a ways. It was totally worth the hike in. As we started back, we passed another larger group of people, so we must have hit the timing just right. It was a beautiful day for a walk in the woods!

On the way out of the park, we stopped in at the Wawona Visitor Center. We planned to have lunch at the hotel (built in 1879), but the restaurant didn’t open for a while. After looking around, we headed down to Oakhurst, California, planning to have lunch at Me-N-Ed’s Pizzeria. The GPS took us to Pizza Factory, though, which ended up being a happy and delicious mistake. (Me-N-Ed’s was in the next building down.) Then we popped in at the drug store and checked out Reimer’s Candies and Gifts (YUM!) on the way back to Priscilla. Although it was just as loud as it was the night before, everything quieted down by about 10:30 PM. I was so exhausted, though, that I might have been able to sleep regardless.

SIDE NOTE – ENTERING NATIONAL PARKS: Seeing America’s beautiful national parks isn’t as easy as it used to be. The most popular are now requiring reservations, at least part of the time, which requires advance planning. At Yosemite we saw first-hand why they are going to this system. Right now that park only does reservations on holidays, weekends, and peak season. (We were not there during peak.) When we passed through on Monday, the crowds were absolutely crazy. We didn’t attempt to park, but even cars were struggling. As we drove out of the park through the Wawona Gate at around 12:30 PM, we estimated the wait to get in at about 1-1/2 hours. (They have signs for 30 minutes and 1 hour, so we extrapolated from there.) Tuesday when we arrived at 6 AM, there was no wait and very light traffic. That all changed by 10:30 AM when we exited. The line to get in stretched 2.6 miles back from the gates, and we estimated that wait to be more than 2-1/2 hours! As we continued on down to Oakhurst, the steady stream of opposite direction traffic most certainly sent it well above that in the early afternoon. I wonder how many of those people had a clue how far away they were? Can you imagine sitting for 1-1/2 hours and then seeing a sign saying you’ve got an hour to go? Or parents sitting in a car for HOURS with children waiting to get through the gate? DANG!! Due to the Juneteenth holiday the park required reservations on Wednesday. We did not go down for fear of getting stuck where we couldn’t turn around, but would like to have seen how that affected the line. My recommendation: Get up before dawn and be at the park gates as the sun is coming up. (Some parks, like Glacier, let you in before a certain time without a reservation, even on days when they are requiring them.) Traffic will be really light, and the added bonus is that early morning is when you will see the most wildlife. You can always take a nap later.

Wednesday we got a relaxing start, then headed out to take a train ride. You know MW was excited about that. The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad is located about 10 minutes outside of the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park. Notice anything about the engine? Instead of the normal drive bar that runs all of the wheels, this one has a drive shaft that turns gears on each of the wheels on the right side. We had a chance to talk to the young mechanic who told us it is basically like going from 2-wheel drive to 12-wheel drive. Built by Lima Locomotive Corporation of Lima, Ohio, the design was patented in 1908, and this one was built in 1913. While it is not designed for speed, this setup can haul a LOT more weight than the standard steam engines of that time.

The ride is about an hour round trip through the Sierra National Forest, on old logging roads. There are modified log cars, open cars, and the caboose to ride in. They also have a gold panning area, the Thornberry Museum, a kid’s depot toy store, a gift shop, a sandwich shop, and a picnic area. It was a beautiful day for a train ride, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the parking situation there stinks, though. The overlap between those finishing their ride and those coming in for the next train overwhelms the space. It was chaos trying to get out, especially with a long pickup truck. When we finally got turned around and made it out of there, we headed to Bass lake to fuel up and hit the Pines Market for a few groceries. After a bit of writing and leftovers for supper, we got Priscilla all buttoned up and ready for a quiet, early morning departure.

BEAR NOTE: At about 5:15 AM, I woke up when MW headed out to the bathhouse. A minute or so later there was a slamming noise and some moving around in the site directly behind us. It was awful early for these particular neighbors to be up, so I looked out the window. They still appeared to be buttoned up, and I didn’t see anything amiss, so went back to bed. Later in the afternoon while MW was dumping the tanks the woman said there was a large black bear in their campsite at around 5:15 AM. It knocked off some stuff, waking them up, then chewed on their cooler and rummaged around on the back side of their RV. So…as MW was exiting the front side of our RV, a large black bear was approaching the back side of our RV. I’m not surprised MW didn’t scare it off, because he tries really hard to be quiet. He didn’t see or hear anything, though.

Outdoorsy Yosemite had the potential to be a really nice RV park. Located in the High Sierra in Bass Lake, it is about 25 minutes from the south entrance to Yosemite, 10 minutes from the larger town of Oakhurst, and just up the hill from the stores and restaurants of Bass Lake with a convenient trail. There you can rent boats, jet skis, canoes, and paddle boards. The wooded property has an office/store, pool, playground, clubhouse, kid’s clubhouse, basketball court, dog park, laundry, horseshoe pits, a campfire area, and a clean bathhouse. Cell phone signals were minimal, but wifi is included. They advertise cable TV, but it is no longer available. There are plenty of over-the-air stations, though. Lodging options included cabins, glamping tents, a rental camper, 12 tent sites, and 152 RV sites. Sites are 30/50-amp and mostly back-in, with 10 pull-throughs. We liked the wooded park that was clean and well-maintained . Some of the sites are pretty close together, but that is to be expected in a private park. It was irritating that they made a big show of reviewing rules when you arrive, but then never followed up. No loud music is near the top, yet there was a group of tent campers across from the office blasting Spanish music when we got there. At a later point we had loud music coming from three sides in a mix of Spanish, country, and pop! I love all kinds of music, but that is just ridiculous. I also enjoy the sound of children playing, but not balls hitting the side of our RV or kids running around yelling after quiet hours. It was just over the top at this park, and that is why we wouldn’t return. For this stay in June 2024, we paid almost $88 per night.

On Thursday morning we hit the road before 6 AM, heading first up to Oakhurst, then on CA-41 to CA-145 west. We passed through beautiful, rolling grasslands and lots of nut groves that we think were walnuts. There we hit CA-99 north at Madera, which is just like the interstate. North of Merced we exited for our first stop of the day. MW dropped me at the Subway in Atwater to do some writing while he checked out the Castle Air Museum. He said that, unlike most of the air museums we’ve visited, this one has a tiny inside area and a huge tarmac filled with parked planes. There were a lot of models that you don’t normally see and was laid out very well. Near the former Castle Air Force Base, which provided B-52 Stratofortress and KC-135 Stratotanker training from the mid-50s to the mid-90s, it included both of those planes. There were also a B-36 Peacemaker, a British Vulcan bomber, a Swedish Saab F-35 Draken, an F-106 Delta Dart, an F-102 Delta Dagger an F-101 Voodoo, and a B-58 Hustler, all of which are rarely seen. Of course, they also had the two most important ones…a EA-6B Prowler and a SR-71 Blackbird. They also have an F-117 Nighthawk and a U-2 Dragon Lady among others that are currently being restored for future display. You never see those up close and personal, which means there might be another pass at this particular museum! All-in-all, he said it was definitely worth the $25 entry fee to see so many well-restored planes, many of which you don’t get to see too often. Plus, if you really want to spend some time checking stuff out, they have RV camping available. Too cool!

Thankfully, MW did come back to get me, and we ate sandwiches at Subway before getting back on the road. Then we continued north on CA-99, side-stepping over to I-5 (joy!) at Stockton. At the Lodi exit, we headed west on CA-12 to Fairfield and our second stop of the day…the Jelly Belly Factory. This was a pretty neat little setup where you could do a self-guided or guided tour, plus check out the store and museum. They also have a full-time artist who makes Jelly Belly artwork, which is also pretty cool. Since it was a travel day, we opted for the self-guided, walking above the factory floor. It was a partial operation day, so we didn’t get to see all of it in action, but it was very cool. So, these delightful little bites of flavor are made by first putting the center filling slurry into molds which have to dry. Then they are dusted with sugar to keep them from sticking together, put into crates, and stacked according to flavor. There they rest a bit and wait until their turn to get a coat. Next the dried centers are put into hoppers, which look like front loader washing machines tilted slightly up, and tossed around while flavored syrup and sugar are added by hand to form the coating. After one more rest, they get one more coat of syrup followed by a glaze with a bit of beeswax for shine. The final piece of the process is inspection and printing, then it is off to packaging. It takes 7-14 days to make a Jelly Belly jelly bean, and the strong flavors can be attributed to flavoring in both the centers and the coating. Famously, they were President Reagan’s favorite candy, although when he first fell in love with them, they were still called Herman Goelitz Mini Jelly Beans. In 1976, Goelitz rebranded the jelly beans and Jelly Belly was born. The first eight flavors were root beer, green apple, licorice, cream soda, lemon, tangerine, very cherry, and grape. Then, in 1980 when everyone found out that our new President was a fan, the sweet beans’ popularity exploded. I love the things and cannot have them around without constant snacking. Here are a few little tidbits for you: 1) If you like the beans but not the price, keep an eye out for Belly Flops. I’ve found them at either Big Lots or Ollie’s before, and they are about half the price. 2) If you have a special occasion coming up and need specific colors, you can order them directly from Jelly Belly. 3) If you are a parent or grandparent of younger kids, get the BeanBoozled game. Someone gifted it to our grown nephew, who gave it to our Boogers. There are ten look-alike pairs of colors, and the bad ones are things like booger, dead fish, rotten egg, barf, moldy cheese, stinky socks…you get the idea. Each player spins the wheel, then eats the color it lands on. Will it be lawn clippings or lime? Canned dog food or chocolate pudding? While it sounds absolutely disgusting, my Boogers all totally LOVED playing it, and us adults laughed so hard at them making retching noises, running to spit it out, then going back for the next round. Pro tip…give them solo cups in advance, because they aren’t going to want to swallow the yucky ones. Oh, and the factory tour is very cool for kids and adults alike.

When we made it back to Big Jake, we took I-80 south to CA-37, which skirts the north end of San Pablo Bay and passes by Sonoma Raceway, although you can’t see anything but a sign. At US-101, we turned south, passed through San Rafael, and finished the drive at the Marin RV Park in Greenbrae, California. We had received a call before arrival saying that we were in a site that didn’t allow for slides, although we have them on both sides and said so when we made the reservations 5 or 6 months ago when there was plenty of space. They figured it out on their own, and the solution was to keep the site next to us empty. They said to park as close to the driver side edge as we could, and our slides would overlap into site #19. The guy in site #20 was in the same boat, but that should give us plenty of space, except when you factor in parking two 8′-wide pickups there, too. It was jammed so tight that you could barely walk between the trucks! The sites are perpendicular, and getting in was a BOOGER!! Ours, I kid you not, was about 13′ wide with 6″ x 6″ boards along the edges. With all slides out and steps down, our RV is just about that wide, so even parking with the tires as close to the driver side as possible, our steps were very close to the edge. We backed all the way up to the fence and had plenty of length with our 33′ rig, but folks over 40′ would be too long. It really didn’t seem too bad with site #17 empty, but we had wonderful neighbors show up at MIDNIGHT. His site was wider than ours, but in the dark with the fence in the rear, he struggled to get his giant diesel pusher in. The driver and the person helping yelled back and forth for the 10 minutes and multiple tries that it took. Did I mention that it was MIDNIGHT??!! The icing on the cake was, after finally getting parked, one man stood right outside our bedroom window smoking and chatting with the other guy, who was getting everything hooked up. Wow! Seriously, that’s just plain rude.

CAMPING KINDNESS: Always plan to arrive at a campground before the start of quiet hours. Crap happens, though, so in the event you are stuck arriving late, pretend you are a kid who is not supposed to be awake trying to sneak cookies while your light-sleeping parents are dozing in the next room. Be vewy, vewy, qwiet!! Get parked with as little communication as possible, then do the bare minimum on setup to sleep. The rest can wait until morning. And for gosh sakes, don’t stand outside someone’s window and smoke anything! The vents just suck that stuff right into the bedroom!! MW and I use hand signals during the daytime, and can park with zero conversation. At night it’s a bit more tricky, but a flashlight with up and down movement for go and left and right movement for stop will suffice.

Friday started with laundry. Thankfully, the campground has a pretty terrific laundromat with 10 new washers and dryers, so that made it a quick chore. Then we took the 15-minute walk over to the ferry terminal. I love ferries, and we’ve even dragged the RV on them in Alaska, Texas, and other spots. This one is just for foot/bicycle traffic, though, and makes the trip across the bay much more relaxing than driving into town and trying to park a giant pickup. (The only places in California set up for trucks are the agricultural areas. Parking spaces are narrow and short, and many of the roads in cities don’t have the necessary width to accommodate the turn radius.) Our first task in town was to walk the mile or so down to Pier 39, where we had lunch at Fog Harbor Fish House, a recommendation from the campground staff. It was scrumptious! Afterwards we walked around the pier and checked out the sea lions before jumping on Big Bus San Francisco, which is a hop on-hop off deal, and rode a part of the route back to the ferry terminal. That was enough for one day, so we hit the ferry and headed back north. On the walk from the terminal to the campground we saw a group of high-school-aged boys milling about on the bridge, looking suspicious. After we walked past, they stripped down to their swim trunks and jumped off!! Don’t think that is technically allowed, but they sure did have fun doing it. By the time we got to Priscilla, I had walked over 12,000 steps, and my dogs were tired! We did find our neighbor in the bus gone, but a new fifth wheel came in a bit later. He had a rough time getting in, too, and parked so that his slides were right at the edge of his site, which put them about 4 FEET from our slide. He did his hooking up before putting the slide out, so stayed in his site. I slept like a log, but MW was awakened by another camper a couple of sites down coming in at 1:30 AM. Wow!!

SIDE NOTE: Any time you go to a big city, you can expect to pay high prices for food, gas, and just about everything else. When you dine out in San Francisco, though, you pay the high prices PLUS the ridiculous taxes PLUS tip. THEN…see the shot below. Apparently that is sick leave for hourly employees mandated by the city.

Saturday we were out in time to catch the 9:30 AM ferry. Upon arrival, we found that the schedule for the weekends is different, which we didn’t think about, and a 30-minute wait was in our immediate future. It was a beautiful morning and there were nice people to chat with, though, so it wasn’t bad. Once in town, we headed straight to the hop on-hop off bus stop to finish that route. It gives you a pretty good look at the city, and you can always jump off and explore further if you like. We sat up top for the best views, and most of the time that was great. We thought we would be back to the waterfront in about 1-1/2 hours, which would give us time for lunch before our scheduled afternoon trip. We knew that plan was blown when we were just turning north to cross the Golden Gate Bridge after 2 hours. Ugh! The other thing that happened there is it GOT COLD!! The bridge was enveloped in fog as it had been all day, and I was shocked at the difference in the air temperature. That and the crazy wind combined to make my face numb. Seriously!! The tour just takes you across and turns around at a little park for the return. I was VERY happy when we made it back to the SF side and hit the warmer air again. I did get a glimpse of the bridge from the far side, though.

We made it to the other ferry dock just in time to get in line, so lunch would be whatever we could scrounge on the boat. Thankfully, they served sandwiches and hotdogs, which made my budding headache happy. The ride over is only about 15 minutes or so, then we stepped off onto THE ROCK! This is my second visit to Alcatraz, the first being some 40ish years ago. Then my young 20s self thought it was both the most beautiful and the ugliest place I’d ever seen, all wrapped into one. Today the dock was different, and the island was much more crowded and less peaceful than that visit. It also seemed more commercial, for lack of a better word. The landscaping was still beautiful, though, and the prison, sinister. We saw lots of western gulls nesting, which are apparently protected. I’m not sure why a bird with numbers so high as to be a nuisance in many areas is protected, but what do I know. The chicks are cute, though.

Everyone remembers the infamous prison, but did you know that Alcatraz Island has also been used for a lighthouse, fort, and military prison? First noted by the Spanish in the late 1700s, the “Isla de Alcatraces” was actually modern day Yerba Buena island, which connects the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. The name, which translates from old Spanish as “The Island of the Pelicans”, was later applied to the rock by an English naval officer, and there are no pelicans. Before the United States won the Mexican-American War, the Mexican governor gave the island to a man named William Workman to build a lighthouse. That didn’t last long as Mexico lost control and Alcatraz was purchased for the United States and assigned by President Fillmore to the military. The first garrison of ~200 soldiers occupied the new Fort Alcatraz, the first and largest U. S. military fortification on the Pacific coast, in 1858. Today the Guardhouse and Sally Port entrance, both completed in 1859, plus a few other military structures are still standing. During the Civil War, 105 cannons were mounted around the perimeter, and the island served as an arsenal, military prison, and training facility. It was in those war years that a lighthouse was finally built on the island, too…the first operational one on the west coast of the United States. After the war, Alcatraz remained a military prison for various populations. The main cell block, which you can still walk through, was built in 1909. It wasn’t until 1933 that the property was transferred to the Bureau of Prisons, and less than a year later, it became the notorious Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Back then, if you caused problems at a Federal Prison, they sent you to THE ROCK. The 1,576 prisoners who ended up here weren’t your run-of-the-mill criminals. They included people like Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Franklin Stroud, better known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz”. For 29 years it housed the worst of the worst, but that reign ended in 1963. Although lore says Alcatraz was inescapable, 36 people made the attempt (two of those twice). Some were shot, some drowned, and most were caught. However, there are FIVE who were never found. The prison listed them as “missing and presumed drowned”, but who really knows. Either way, you can sleep soundly because they are probably dead by now. Expense of operation and upkeep eventually caused the closure of the famous cells. The last prisoner to vacate the premises on March 21, 1963, was Frank Weatherman (AZ 1576) who said “Alcatraz was never no good for nobody.” Six years later Native American activists from United Indians of All Tribes, moved in and occupied the rock for a little more than a year and a half, protesting for Indigenous rights. Shortly after that, the National Park Service purchased the island, which is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

There is an audio tour and lots of signage. Here is some stuff I found interesting:

  • During rec time in the yard, prisoners would play baseball, run laps, or sit at the top of the bleachers and look out at the bay. Every movie I’ve ever seen just shows them trying to shank or beat the tar out of each other for exercise.
  • The coveted cell block got natural light from large windows, and the best cells were those on the top floor, because they were warmer. Prisoners recall that, when conditions were just right, they could hear people out having fun on the bay while they were stuck in their cells.
  • No one wanted to be on D Block or “the Treatment Unit”. Men were fed and given basic health care, but were confined to their cells 24 hours a day. Depending on the offense, a person could be there for a few days or several years. The “Hole” is also on this block and stretches there sometimes included total darkness and a restricted diet. Nineteen days was the max on a stay there.
  • The library included fiction, educational materials, and subjects such as philosophy. (Those with violence, criminal references, and sexual content were not allowed.) With little else to do, most prisoners escaped into the pages of a book. Those more literate would read 75-100 books a year, often on more serious and detailed subjects than an ordinary person.
  • Guards in the Dining Hall during meals had to keep on their toes. Prisoners had forks, knives, and spoons, so there was potential for danger. Above, canisters of tear gas were mounted that could be released quickly if trouble arose.
  • Guards and prisoners ate the same food, and the inmates said it was better than any other Federal prison in the system.

The line to catch the ferry back was long, but they were running them about every 20 minutes, so they made pretty quick work of it. Back in town we walked the mile back to the ferry terminal, popping into Gott’s Roadside for some pretty delicious burgers. Then we hopped the ferry back to Greenbrae, taking our last look at San Francisco. It was another 12,000+ step day, so I was ready to put my feet up. Later that afternoon we were watching a movie and heard our steps and handrail rattle. It was our neighbor trying to do something to his rig. With the slide out, he had to walk in our site, step on our steps, and skirt our handrail to access his stuff. That is just ridiculous. Of course, he could have parked a little further over and given himself some room, but the reality is that we should not be put in a position to have someone that close.

Sunday we headed over to services at Marin Bible Church in San Rafael. Pastor David Craig gave a very good talk about living joyfully. Although not always successful, I’ve always believed that joy is a choice. Believe me, I know that bad stuff happens to everyone, but as Pastor Craig said, “We do not live our best lives here.” That thought always makes me smile. Afterwards we headed over to the Miracle Mile Cafe for a delicious brunch. I was driving, which I really don’t enjoy on the west coast. There is a lot of street parking and all of the spots, even in lots, are sized for a Prius. Big Jake just doesn’t fit! Usually we park on the periphery and walk in, but there are so many darned people out here that there is no periphery. Everybody is crammed in like a baker’s dozen in a regular donut box!! One thing that did make me smile on our drive to the cafe, though, was turkeys. You read that right…we were stopped on the road by a mama and a bunch of poults right in San Rafael. They were in no hurry, either. Something like that always takes the edge off. Before heading back to Priscilla, we ran a few errands. Then it was time to relax. I hadn’t slept well, so an afternoon nap was just the ticket.

SIGN SEEN IN RESTAURANT: Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy. LOL

Let me start with the good about the Marin RV Park…the staff are VERY friendly and helpful, even giving tourist tips and recommendations. They have a terrific laundry, and the pool area looks very nice. The bathhouse is older, but is very clean and well kept. The office has some RV supplies, and they have free wifi. Their website says they have cable TV, but we didn’t use it or notice a plug so I can’t comment on that. The campground has 87 RV spots, most of which are filled with long-term folks. All sites are back-in with 30- and 50-amp electric, water, and sewer. They are perpendicular to the road, which was wide but some vehicles parked out in the way. Sounds good, doesn’t it. BUT…we would absolutely never stay here again. I talked about the size issues we had above, but suffice to that length AND width could be an issue here. Having anyone actually touch your rig to get around the back side of theirs is unacceptable! I talked to a guy in the laundromat who has been coming to this park for 15 years while visiting his son. He said that, a few years back, they split all of the nice, wide spaces in two to fit more rigs. He hates it, but still comes because it is closest to his kid. As previously stated, the hookups are oddly placed in the back of the site, which made us unable to use the septic. They do have a dump station, but it is only open from 9AM to 5PM, and we hit the road before that. Our worst place prior to this was in White Horse last year, but this one topped that. It is just WAAYYY too cramped, and not even being able to use the full hookup at the ridiculous price was crazy! For this stay in June 2024, we paid a little less than $128 a night.

Well, that’s another week in the books. Next up…The PCH, Giant Redwoods, and Bucks. See you on the path!!


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  1. David Craft

    Great post. I haven’t visited in a while.

    Safe travels tell Drew hello.

    David Craft

    • Talisa

      Thanks for reading! We are enjoying traveling. I will pass it along. TJ

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