Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Summer Time...And the livin's easy...

Saturday, July 30th, 2016 12:32 am
New Camera, Summer Heat and Bridge Closures

    I have always been interested in photography, but I have never taken the time to learn anything about it. I had a Minolta 3xi film camera back in the day, but it mostly just sat around collecting dust. When I did use it, I was always on auto settings and I don’t think I ever learned how to adjust one parameter on that camera. In this age of digital photography, the best digital camera I have ever owned up until now is the one built in to my Lg G4 smart phone. So I decided, with all the trips I’ve been taking lately (and all of my unused music gear sitting around that I could sacrifice to offset the cost) that it was time to step my camera game up. I wanted something compact, with interchangeable lenses and excellent photo quality. Considering the fact that I am a complete novice, ease of use was a major priority and I did a ton of research; reading user reviews and forum posts about every camera I could find.

    After a bit of searching, I narrowed down my choices to four cameras. The Canon Rebel t3i, Nikon D3300, Sony A6000, and the camera I ended up choosing, the Olympus OM-D E-M10.

My New Olympus OM-D E-M10

As far as specs go, I was happy with what every one of the cameras had to offer and as far as I could tell from searching online, photo quality was comparable. I decided to go with the Olympus because of its compact design, and the consistently positive reviews I was finding. I’m sure I would have been equally happy with whichever camera I chose, but I am really glad I chose the one I did. I have already learned a few basics that have improved my photography, and having a new camera has been a fun excuse to get on the road.

    This week I had a three day weekend, which for me is Tuesday - Thursday and decided to take a solo trip around my local area on Tuesday, this time heading out to the east from Pittsburg along the Delta through Antioch, Oakley and Bethel Island. I wasn’t focused on finding a remote back road, but wanted to practice my photography. And so, on a 105 degree July day, I headed out, camera in hand to take some pictures.

    I took Jersey Island Road, north from E. Cypress Road in Oakley. Jersey Island Road is a typical delta levee road, bordered by canals carrying water in from the San Joaquin River, and running through the vast acreage of a cattle ranch. I was going out that way to find a spot I saw on Google maps called Jackass point, but as I got farther down the road I started seeing signs about land use permits and decided to head back the other direction because I wasn’t sure if I was actually supposed to be there or not. This is not the first time I have turned back on one of these trips. A lot of the more remote roads out there run through regulated land, or even private property so I always try to be mindful of the boundaries and stay on public land. On the way back, I did stop on the side of the road to snap a few shots of some cows that were hanging out along the side of the road and an old oil derrick that had obviously been sitting motionless for a long time.

Some cows hanging out in the cool water on a hot day

    My next stop was Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley. Big Break is a small regional park with paved trails running back to the water and some pretty lush plant life. I stopped there during the hottest part of the day, and by the time I had walked about ¼ mile down the trail in the beating sun, I was feeling a bit over heated and in the 15 minutes or so that I was out in that sun, my shoulders got sunburned bright red. Needless to say, I didn’t stay at Big Break for long, I quickly retreated back to my truck and sat there with the A/C cranked contemplating whether or not I was going to keep going or head home. I decided to head for home but I took the route that kept me close to the river and stopped a few more times along the way.

Trying to catch a shot of some elusive otters

    After Big Break, I headed back to the west on Main Street and took Bridgehead Road up to the Antioch/Oakley Pier, at the base of the antioch bridge. Most people reading this that are from east Contra Costa County are familiar with this place and the pier is always extremely crowded and the fishing is terrible but the views of the bridge are pretty awesome and being on a local photography tour, it only made sense for me to stop there; I used to fish there every day before and after work, whatever hours I had available between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm. The Antioch Bridge is a 150-foot high, almost 2 mile long concrete girder bridge that spans the San Joaquin river and massive as it is, it dominates the skyline at the pier and makes for a pretty cool picture.

Antioch Bridge

    I continued on through Antioch, stopping at any spots where I could get some good shots without having to be out in the heat for more than a couple minutes at a time. I made one final quick stop at the Pittsburg Marina before heading home, but by that point the heat was getting to me and I was ready to get inside.

Downtown Pittsbrug

    Thursday, Deena was supposed to be working, so I was going to cruise around town and practice with my new camera again. Just a few hours before she was supposed to start work, her boss called and told her she could have the day off if she wanted, so we immediately started trying to figure out a road trip we could take. My niece was in the hospital in Walnut Creek recovering from surgery, so we went over there to hang out with her for a couple hours and then stopped to grab some food before getting on the road. We still hadn’t figured out where we were going to go, but I had been wanting to check out the Isleton and Walnut Grove area so we started out north on 160 over the Antioch bridge and we were off. Just a couple miles down the road, traffic started slowing way down and all of a sudden we were at a standstill. They have been repairing and painting Three Mile Slough Bridge, which sits about halfway between the river and highway 12, for a few months now and it has been down to one lane. This Thursday they were finishing up and were cleaning up the last bit of mess left over on the closed lane of the bridge, and in place of the traffic light that was there previously were workers with stop signs, and they were not letting enough cars through each time, causing a major backup on both sides of the bridge. It took us almost an hour to move three miles and after sitting there on yet another 100+ degree day, I almost suggested that we turn around and figure out somewhere else to go, but we both agreed that we were in no hurry and continued on our way.

Deena taking in the view

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

    After that hour in traffic, staring at the back of a semi trailer, it felt nice to be moving again, and we were once again happy to be on the road. We made our way up highway 160, a.k.a River Road, heading toward Isleton, stopping briefly at a roadside turn off that ended up being nothing more than a dusty parking lot. Getting into Isleton, we crossed over Isleton Bridge, which is a rather narrow, steel deck drawbridge, typical of the California Delta region.

Isleton Bridge

    North about 15 minutes from Isleton is Walnut Grove, featuring yet another drawbridge very similar to the one in Isleton. We didn’t stop and look around much in Walnut grove we just drove through town and kept going north for several miles, just driving and trying to decide where the day’s journey would take us. We ended up choosing Jackson as our destination. Deena’s mom had spent time in Jackson and said she thought we would like it, so we’ve always wanted to check it out. The drive from the Walnut Grove to Jackson is a pretty straight shot across the expansive, Central Valley of California to Amador County. Two lane highways are flanked by endless miles of orchards, vineyards and pastures; Some parts of the central valley were much more beautiful than I had expected and it was a nice easy cruise. The weather in the valley was very unforgiving that day so we didn’t stop much until we got closer to Jackson. As we started up into the foothills, we were greeted by beautiful views of rolling hills. Large granite boulders dotted the landscape and seemed to be out of place amongst the trees and dry grass.

Amador County

Amador County

    We didn’t hang out in Jackson for very long and continued on highway 88 out of town. We looped back around, heading towards highway 12, on highway 26. From the highway we spotted signs for the Mokelumne river and decided to stop and explore. The spot where we stopped is Big Bar launch area. The river forms rapids over and around large boulders, which have been polished smooth by the water barreling down the mountain and the water there is very cool and extremely clear. With a little more planning, a trip to the Mokelumne is going to be a guaranteed great time and we plan to go back sometime this fall when the weather is a little cooler. We continued on and headed straight back across the central valley and headed home. We were only gone for about 6 hours, but aside from the nightmare traffic on the way out of town, we had a great time.

Mokelumne River

Mokelumne River

Mokelumne River

    All in all, I really love the delta region and all the natural beauty (and bridges) it has to offer, and I now have a strong desire to continue exploring Amador County and the areas surrounding it. I have already been scouting a few new areas to check out, and with the help of my new (to me), Audubon Society field guide that a friend of mine just gave me today, I plan to explore more natural places and try to not go back to the same spots too many times.

    Driving through all the dusty little towns along the back roads and two lane highways of northern California, is always a reminder to me that a simpler lifestyle is a real possibility if I believe I can make it happen and put in the work required to get there. Deena and I have a dream to own a small piece of land outside of small town somewhere, where we can be surrounded by the nature we are always seeking out. I am at a crossroads in life where I am conflicted about whether to thrust myself deeper into the corporate chaos that pays my bills, or to make a drastic change in life, and take the risks required to reap the greatest reward. I tend to favor the latter option, and the more trips I take; the more time I spend wandering, the more I know that the right thing to do is trust my instincts and make that move as soon as the option presents itself.

 My name is Tim Drake.
This is my backroads blog.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Looking Out My Back Door.

Monday, July 18th, 2016 10:26 pm

Morgan Territory Road - Clayton to Livermore (and back)
Distance : 14.5 miles
Est. Drive Time : 35 minutes

    I decided to take an impromptu solo trip today. I knew I wouldn’t have enough time during my days off this week for any kind of a long trip, but I did have a window of about four hours this afternoon with no plans or obligations. I had seen Morgan Territory Road on Google maps a few weeks ago, and after checking out a few sections on street view, I knew I had to check it out.

The beginning of the 8 miles of one-lane road, heading toward Livermore

    So I headed over Kirker Pass to Clayton, and took Clayton Road which eventually turns into Marsh Creek Road, and turned off onto Morgan Territory Road. The first couple miles is a sweeping two-lane road with small farms and homes on land on either side. Winding deeper into a section of the East Bay hills that used to be known as the "Black Hills", Morgan Territory becomes a winding, sloping, sometimes very narrow one-lane road that snakes its way through the hills; varying greatly in elevation. At the top of the road are beautiful views over the lush valley surrounding Marsh Creek.

View from Morgan Territory Road

View from Morgan Territory Road
At the Livermore end of the road is Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, a 4,700 acre preserve in the hills of Morgan Territory. I pulled into the parking area and walked about ¼ mile down the main trail to check things out. There were lots of squirrels running around, many different species of birds and I’m sure, remote as it is, Morgan Territory Regional Preserve would be a great place to set up for a day of wildlife watching or photography. I will definitely have to go back sometime for a hike. Heading again towards Livermore, the scenery changed and before long there were very large luxury homes lining the road and I could see that I quickly coming into town.

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve
I decided to turn around and head back the other way over Morgan Territory Road to get back home; the drive in this direction (Livermore - Clayton) was a bit more interesting and I think it made it easier to enjoy the views. The 8 mile section of one-lane road is wonderfully remote and I saw very few other vehicles or signs of human existence. Some sections seem just wide enough for a vehicle and there are many different hairpin turns winding their way up and down the hills.
View from the highest point on Morgan Territory Road.
A winding, wavy section of Morgan Territory Road.

I’d recommend a drive across Morgan Territory Road for anyone in the East Bay that may not have enough time for the long drive to the coast or the mountains, but still wants to get out in nature and explore the most remote sections of our state.

Trying to catch a shot of a family of deer, but they eluded me. Beautiful scenery either way.

With all the time spent searching for different places to explore and new roads to drive, I largely ignored my local area, which of course includes Mt. Diablo and all of the surrounding natural land of the foothills. I now know that I have been selling myself short by not looking for adventures closer to home. I would never have believed that anywhere within the confines of the Bay Area could be so remote without having seen it myself. Taking this trip on my own also made it feel that much farther out there. The feeling of isolation was rather relaxing and I enjoyed knowing that for the most part, I was the only person around. This place is literally right over the hill from my house, and was really an eye opener for me. I will now be making a point to explore as many back roads as I can find; as close to home as possible. These will probably make for the the shortest stories, but will be something I can do more often, and honestly I’m intrigued by the thought of searching for remote areas and discovering all kinds of awesome places close to home.

My name is Tim Drake.
This is my backroads blog.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


Friday, July 15th, 2016 2:17 am

    I decided it would be fitting that my starting point for this blog would be to write about the trips I have taken over the last 14 months or so with my fiance Deena riding shotgun every mile. I will try to keep my stories as straight as possible and I’m sure I’ll forget plenty of the details but this last year I have been taking more trips than ever and they have played a huge part in me rediscovering a love for exploring that had all but disappeared for several years.

    As of last year, I hadn’t really done any exploring since 2004, but I was starting to get the itch. I was traveling for work, and I was always gone; on the road living out of a suitcase in a hotel room and working crazy hours. When I was home I was always packing and getting ready to leave again. I did finally get to take a vacation at work and the first thing we planned for that time off was a trip to the redwoods and the coast. Deena had never been to the coast and was very excited to see the ocean, and I was excited to be able to be the one to take her to that place that is so special to me.

    The first trip we took was on May 27th, 2015. We planned a trip up 101 to Leggett to see the drive-through redwood tree known as the Chandelier Tree. Then down highway 1 to Fort Bragg and the glass beach. The night before our trip, we were like a couple of kids waiting for Christmas morning. We’d spent the evening hours going to the store and picking up snacks and drinks for the road, filled the truck with gas and checked all fluids and tire pressure, and packed a bag with all the essentials we would need for the trip. Once we completed our preparations, we sat around drinking coffee and looking at Google maps and talking about our upcoming adventure and ended up staying up way too late for the night before a 400 mile road trip. When we left in the early morning, tired as we were, we were both happy to finally be on our way away from the chaos and noise that is the bay area.

    The drive to Legett from my home in Pittsburg, Ca is about a 3 ½ hour trek that takes me up through Vallejo and Sonoma and a quick jump through Petaluma to get to highway 101 north. Driving north on 101 through Sonoma county is always relaxing for me. It’s not the most scenic stretch of highway, nor is it the most interesting, but to me it signifies the beginning of what I know will be an amazing journey. Once you put Santa Rosa in the rearview, traffic begins to die off rather noticeably with every small town you pass and by the time you pass Healdsburg, traffic is usually a fading memory and stress begins to melt away into relaxation. Once in Leggett we engaged in the proper tourist activities. We drove our truck through the Chandelier tree, explored the redwoods and bought souvenirs in the gift shop. We had originally planned to find a spot to hike before heading to the coast but it was getting pretty hot outside and we were both ready for more food than the Power Bars and chips we had packed in our backpack.

Driving our Mazda b2300 through the Chandelier Tree, Leggett, Ca

Giant Redwoods, Mendocino County, CA
We headed south on highway 1, winding our way up the mountain and seeing very few other vehicles besides an occasional sports carving carving up the twisties or the logging trucks flying down the hill seemingly unaware of the brake pedal. The desolation of that stretch of highway 1 was a shock to the senses for us both after the hectic lifestyle we had been maintaining. As highway 1 reaches the summit and begins to descend toward the ocean you can feel the temperature begin to drop immediately and the shoulders of the road are suddenly covered in moss and you start seeing bits of fog filtering its way through the tree-tops.

Highway 1 meets the coastline just under 30 miles north of Fort Bragg and as we came around a long, sweeping curve to the left, the blue waters of the Pacific ocean; dotted with the white-caps of waves breaking, came into view and instantly I was overwhelmed, again, with the majesty and beauty of the ocean paired with a healthy dose of nostalgia making me feel like I was 10 years old all over again. Deena’s eyes were locked on the waves and the first chance I had, we pulled off the highway onto a bluff overlooking a rocky beach to take in the view. We stood for several minutes, silent and just staring at the water. We continued on to Fort Bragg and headed to the Glass Beach after grabbing a quick bite to eat.

North Coast 
North Coast

North Coast

    I knew from previous experience that every time you see the Glass Beach after a long time, it never looks like the same place, but what I saw when I reached the end of Elm st. was rather disheartening. Years ago, when you would go to the the Glass Beach, parking was a strip of dirt along the side of Old Haul rd. and you had to walk in over the sand dunes to access the beach. That has all been replaced with a parking lot where the dunes used to exist and sidewalks where I used to hike cliff trails above the seaglass covered beach. Over time erosion has also shaped the beach and left only a few small spots where the seaglass covers the beach. Although I will still go to the Glass Beach from time to time, it no longer feels like the same place to me, and I feel like a lot of the history and natural beauty has been lost with the new development of the ‘park’. All of my personal gripes aside, we had a great time and Deena got to experience the power of the ocean and just how small it makes us all feel to look out over the endless horizon.

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CA
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CA
Tide Pool at the Glass Beach
Sea glass at the Glass Beach
We didn’t stay long at the Glass Beach, instead we headed right up the street; to the end of Old Haul rd. to one of the parking areas for MacKerricher state park. We walked over the foot bridge and about a mile down the path until we were beyond all of the beach resorts that line that section of highway 1 and climbed down to what ended up being one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen in my life. The sand was smooth and the ocean was angry under a foggy sky that day and we hiked as far north on that beach as we could go; walking along the water line and running from the crashing waves. We stayed on that beach for hours hiking along the cliffs and exploring the rocks and just enjoying being there.

MacKerricher State Park

MacKerricher State Park

MacKerricher State Park

Calcium deposits on the rocks at MacKerricher State Park

To Be Continued…

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

    After we had tired ourselves out from hiking and then running in the waves, we decided it was time to begin the drive home. We were both exhausted and the lack of sleep the night before was beginning to set in. I took the easiest route home, taking highway 1 south to highway 128 to get back to 101. Highway 128 is a beautiful (especially on the western end), redwood lined, two-lane highway that snakes its way up and over the mountains, through the mountain town/village of Boonville and down to Cloverdale where it meets with 101. Highway 128 is one of the best routes to take to the coast in my opinion. The landscape and scenery vary greatly over the 50+ mile stretch between highways 1 and 101.

    The night we got back from that first trip, we began planning our next trip immediately and from that day forward we made a point to go to the beach as often as possible and find as many routes as possible. We have ventured farther off the beaten path than I ever even knew we could, and that has created some of the best memories as well as some of the most exciting drives.

    I won’t go as far into detail about all of the 2015 adventures but I will mention a few of my favorite roads and destinations.

Sunday, July 17th, 2016 12:18 am

Mountain View Rd. - Boonville to Manchester
Distance : 25 Miles
Est. Drive time : 50 Minutes

    Mountain View road I discovered while looking at Google Maps, and searching, as I always do for different routes to the coast. Winding its way from Boonville, 25 miles west to Manchester over a remote and rugged mountain range, Mountain View road goes from a well maintained two lane road, to a winding one lane road with sheer dropoffs. The views from the top section of Mountain View road are breathtaking and seem to go on forever. They are your reward for the white knuckled drive required to cross Mountain View road.

    Although I greatly enjoyed the trip over Mountain View road, I would not recommend this drive for nervous or inexperienced drivers.

Expansive view on Mountain View Road

View on Mountain View Road

Chinese Gulch trail - Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve

    Chinese Gulch trail is one of the places my family found on a trip we took that had us lost in the mountains. Located about ½ mile east of highway 1 on Kruse Ranch road, Chinese Gulch trail is a dim, mossy trail up the side of a hill that looks down into a densely wooded gulch at the edge of Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve. It is an easy hike on a trail where you will rarely find other vehicles parked at the trailhead, and it is close enough to the ocean to still be nice and cool during hot summer days. Although it is still beautiful Chinese Gulch is now littered with the trunks of fallen trees, and lacks a bit of the mystique it always held in my mind.

    I’d recommend a hike at Chinese Gulch trail to anyone looking to get farther into the middle of nowhere and closer to nature at it’s finest. Keep an eye out for black bears if you do make the trip, Deena and I nearly walked up right behind one last time we were there.

Moss covering all the foliage at the beginning of Chinese Gulch trail

Stump Beach - Sonoma County

    I found Stump Beach by accident looking for somewhere to stop on the way back from Fort Bragg to watch the sunset. Stump beach is rather small and is located down a short path from a large parking area. Located at the end of a long, narrow cove and surrounded by jagged cliffs, there is a very strong rip current at Stump Beach. At high tide, 2 - 4 foot (by my estimation) waves curl under and form a perfect tunnel before slamming down on the beach. Created by those powerful waves are several small rock caves that can be explored at low tide. The surging tides are the highlight of Stump Beach in my mind and are the reason I make a point to stop there as often as possible.

    Not an isolated location, or off the beaten path by any stretch of the imagination, I still felt like Stump Beach was worth a mention because it is different than most other beaches along highway 1 and it’s beautiful, especially at high tide. I wouldn’t recommend playing in the water at this beach, but I would recommend planning this beach as a first stop on your way up highway 1, or as a last stop on the way home.

Stump Beach, Sonoma County, CA


    2015 was a fun year of getting to rediscover my love for the north coast of California, and remembering to take time on the journey; in fact, the journey is now the main motivation. Writing this blog is really just an excuse to slow down and enjoy the scenery, stop in more sleepy little mountain towns, and expand my travels to areas beyond the coast. In closing, as I try to narrow down in my mind, the direction I want to go with this blog, the only thing I can say for sure is that I feel privileged to have seen just a fraction of the beauty the state of California has to offer and I want to share that and maybe inspire someone else to take the trip they keep talking about.

My name is Tim Drake.
This is my backroads blog.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Please allow me to introduce myself.

Thursday, July 14th, 2016 1:40 am

    Starting when I was young kid, my family would always take road trips from our home in Suisun City, Ca to the coast. Fort Bragg; specifically the glass beach at the end of Elm St., was usually our destination and we went often and always had a great time. We would spend hours exploring the rock caves at low tide, searching for anemones and all other kinds sea creatures living in the tide pools.

    To this day I am still fascinated by the rocky beaches and the waves of the Pacific ocean and consider it to be a spiritual or enlightened moment every time I have the privilege to stand at the edge of the land staring out over the crashing waves...That being said, the more trips I made to the coast, I began enjoying the journey required to get there just as much as actually being at the beach. My step-dad, California Road Atlas in hand and his “Freedom Rock” cassette in the tape deck, rarely took the same route to the coast and because of that we ended up seeing some pretty cool scenery and driving across some remote, rarely traveled back roads. One trip in particular has always stood out in my mind and is still a common topic of conversation in my family.

    Around the time that I was 9 or 10 years old (1993 or 1994) my mom, my step-dad, my older brother and myself piled into our 1991 Toyota Camry and took a summer trip to the coast. We had turned off of highway 1 somewhere near Jenner; most likely Meyer’s Grade Rd., but at that age I doubt that I ever knew or even paid attention to what roads we were on. Somewhere in the the winding roads of the coast range my step-dad took a wrong turn and we were lost and totally confused about where we were. We drove aimlessly for what was probably a couple of hours trying to find our way back down to the coast and that ended up being one of the best trips and we all had a great time. Driving up one of those roads, we came across what we believe to be a couple of temples or something similar and have always wondered what those gold-dome topped buildings hiding behind the trees really were. We finally did find our way back down to highway 1 down a winding, one lane dirt road (that I now know to be Kruse Ranch Rd.), through Plantation farm camp and down through Kruse Rhododendron state park. About a half mile from highway 1 we noticed a trail-head and decided to stop and take a hike and stretch our legs. The trail we took is called Chinese Gulch trail. It winds it’s way up the side of a hill and is lined with moss covered redwoods whose trunks haven’t felt the light of the sun in many years...but I’ll talk more of Chinese Gulch trail in one of my first entries.

    The reason I tell that story is actually the mysterious temples I mentioned us “finding” (we really just caught glimpses of them through the trees). I was searching a while back trying to locate Chinese Gulch trail, and once I did I instantly had a deep urge to further explore the mountain roads to find those ‘temples’ again just to answer the question of what they are and where they are. I don’t think anybody but myself, my mom, my brother and my fiance who takes these trips with me now, would care or even understand how much I want to figure it all out, but it has stayed with me since day one. I will continue searching like a kid trying to remember where he buried his jar of pennies (Like that Stand By Me reference? lol) until I find what I am looking for or run out of places to look.

    The experiences I have had driving the back roads near Jenner, Cazadero and Fort Ross have inspired me to spend more time on the journey to the coast and I have had some great times exploring the back roads of Napa County, Sonoma County, Mendocino County (and soon to add Humboldt County to that list) and I want to share a little of that joy with anyone willing to endure my poor writing, and mediocre at best cell phone photography.

    So I jumped on Google and searched ‘how to start a blog’ and that brings us here…

My name is Tim Drake
This is my backroads blog.