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Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Marin county, California

The Reason for the Trip

We had recently completed our two week Western US road trip and Mr. Pirate was sadly lamenting how he missed sleeping in "Motel One" (for the uninformed, "Motel One" is the name we have given to our trusty tent, a portable motel room, if you will). While we could camp out on our "north 40" (again, for the uninformed, we live on almost-an-acre of dead flat land smack-dab in the middle of suburban Walnut Creek. Our house is situated well back on the plot and the 2/3rds of an acre that comprises our "front yard" is amusingly referred to as the "North 40"), somehow camping out in your own front yard doesn't quite qualify as "getting away". One advantage of "getting away" is to remove oneself from the sight of all the chores you ought to be doing instead of whatever it is that you ARE doing. If you are on your own property, you can obviously SEE those chores, which patiently await being done. We needed to Get Away.

But, we didn't want to make this trip a big deal but go somewhere semi-local and just *camp*. Mr. Pirate has a substantial number of camping books in his eclectic library and several of those camping books describe some of the lesser known areas to camp in. For example, quite literally in our own backyard is Mt. Diablo, but because it only has scrub oaks, I've never considered it "real camping". Real Camping is amongst pines and redwoods. Any other collection of trees is just plain wrong. Don't argue with me. You know I'm right.

One such tempting place turned out to be Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin county. This is about an hour-and-a-quarter's drive from our house and is a stunning change of scenery. While a lot of Marin county is dry, this little pocket of privateness is dizzy with the number of incredible redwood trees. The entire area is just awesome. I must admit that it was somewhat disconcerting that after driving only 75 minutes, we were THERE. It felt like we were cheating. :-) [the above photo is somewhat incorrect. Yes, that's the entrance to the park, but the sign *today* says "CAMP TAYLOR" not Samuel P Taylor State Park. Unfortunately, I never quite got around to taking a picture of the entrance sign and assumed I would be able to find it on the Internet. How wrong I was! So, the picture above is the best I can do.]

Some Park History

Samuel P. Taylor State Park consists of 2882 acres of countryside located in the rolling hills of central Marin County north of San Francisco. While the park itself is vast, there are only 60 campsites, all tucked into the redwood trees in close proximity to each other. The park offers contrasting natural landscapes of the shady Coast Redwoods and sunny grasslands. The park is named after Samuel Penfield Taylor, who came to California from Boston in 1849 to try his luck in the gold rush. He actually found gold, cashed in, and entered the lumber business.

Purchasing 100 acres of timberland along Papermill Creek, Taylor built a paper mill and established a paper-making process. Using scrap paper and rags from San Francisco the mill produced newsprint and well as square-bottomed paper bags -- a novelty at the time.

Taylor built a resort hotel and Camp Taylor, one of the first sites in the US to offer camping as a recreational pursuit. The area was one of California's most popular and well-known weekend recreation destinations in the 1870s-80s.

An interesting slice of life history can be read at Camp Taylor 1889 Photo Album.

How the weekend went

It must be noted that we didn't do a traditional weekend consisting of Friday-Saturday-Sunday. You might wonder why. The answer is excrutiatingly simple: we couldn't. :-) Because Mr. Pirate thought of this adventure on short notice and because Samuel P Taylor SP apparently is a very popular spot, all the campsites were TAKEN for the weekend.

However, if we could just off-shift our days, there were lots of campsites available. Now, I don't exactly have a "real" job. I do work from home, doing medical billing on a part-time basis. As long as I get the data entry done before the billing review date, it really doesn't matter when I do the actual work. Similarly, Mr. Pirate doesn't have an office job either; he helps to manage his (extended) family's land holdings & investments, so there's no rigid office hours there either. In short, we can do things whenever we dang well please. :-) Life is sweet. :-)

So, reserverations were made for Sunday night, Monday night to leave on Tuesday morning.

Sunday arrival

We arrived mid-afternoon Sunday. Driving through the San Francisco Bay Area can be stressful and overwhelming, as the majority of the area is urban or urbanized suburbs. The sheer amount of cars, pavement, buildings and concrete is emmense. There really are waaaaay too many people. [please note that most of the people in this area DO NOT BELONG HERE. Go away. Go live someplace else. I, of course, know who you are. Don't argue with me.] But once you leave the immediate populated areas, the atmosphere becomes amazingly slower, more laid-back and relaxed. Instead of high energy places like San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley/San Jose, the towns are smaller with more horizontal spread rather than vertical buildings. More trees and greenery. Unfortunately, you also get more weirdos and drop-outs from mainstream life. I suppose even rabid tree-huggers need to live someplace. But, I digress.

As we put miles on our tires, even the smaller towns gave way to mere blips on the road. The kind where, if you blink, you will miss them. This is the area where Samuel P Taylor State Park is ... just outside of the blip called Forest Knolls. One of Mr. Pirate's great interests in life is the Neighborhood Bar. or Saloon. or Roadhouse. It's the place where the locals hang out, shoot the breeze and kibbitz. You always find out the best stuff at the Neighborhood Bar. :-)

Mr. Pirate noticed the existance of one such establishment, "Papermill Creek Saloon" on our way to the entrance of the park. We'll come back to it later on.

It's just amazing how quiet being in a forest can be. Especially when there aren't any humans around. :-) Setting up camp is easy with our current tent and modularized packing totes, so that within 30 minutes, everything was ship-shape, so to speak. Below is a manual panorama that I create by simply horizontally panning myself and merging the photos in Paint Shop Pro. My new camera does have an automatic panorama feature, but I haven't figured it out yet. :-) The result is that this manual panorama is kinda jerky. :-)

You will note that Mr. Pirate is already in a sweatshirt jacket and there is a small fire going in the fire pit. It might have been 90 in Walnut Creek, but here on the coast, in the redwoods, it's dang chilly! Mr. Pirate has made some clever little fire-starters to help us get a fire going Right Away. Look, we're not Boy Scouts and we don't have to prove our survival skills with just one match and cattails. We just want to get a fire going. Easily. To that end, he has perfected his version of firestarters. They are small, you just need one and they are easy to make at home with readily available supplies. He's tried a lot of different variations and settled on the version he likes best.

To make Mr. Pirate's Fire Starters:
  • mini-tart pans (like muffin/cupcake pans only TINY) and paper tart liners (available at baking supply stores). a package of hamster bedding stuff (looks like sawdust). a block of parafin (available at the grocery store).
  • melt the parafin in a pot over low heat on the stove. While the parafin is melting, put the tart liners in the tart pan. Put a pinch of hamster bedding in each tart liner, making sure that some of the bedding material is sticking up above the top of the liner. Once the parafin is melted, carefully pour it over the bedding material. However, be sure that some of the bedding material remains ABOVE the parafin; that's going to act a a wick of sorts.
  • let the parafin harden. Pop the newly formed fire starters out of the pan and repeat as necessary
  • to use: put one fire starter in the fire pit. surround with thin, short pieces of tinder arranged in a log cabin: two pieces north/south, then layer two pieces east/west. repeat the north/south, then east/west layers until the tinder is several layers high. Light the fire starter with your one match or trusty BIC lighter. Blow torches are not recommended. The paper liner will catch immediately, then the bedding material sticking above the parafin will catch. The parafin+bedding material will keep burning, allowing the tinder to catch on fire. Once the tinder has a nice flame, start layering your kindling, etc, etc.
  • As night fell, it was time for dinner. We have a supply of easily prepared meals .. we don't always do stuff from scratch. After all, who wants to do the clean up? :-) We not only have traditional backpacking dehydrated dinners-in-a-bag but we have honest to goodness MREs (military Meals, Ready to Eat)! I must admit to being skeptical when Mr. Pirate brought these home, but I have been converted to the MRE-side! Dang! MREs are tasty! :-)

    But, if you want to rub elbows with the locals, you can't have MREs at camp ... you must journey forth into their domain. So, after dousing that lovely fire [sigh], we emerged from Camp Taylor to wend our way to Forest Knolls, the site of the afore-mentioned Papermill Mill Saloon.

    Papermill Creek Saloon is just a regular ol' neighborhood bar. Funky old bar, big screen TV, couple of pool tables in the back, some tables. And lots of "local" decor to personalize the place. A very homey sort of place, if your home is the neighborhood bar.

    02 Bartenders for Dummies (38K) But the most amusing thing I saw was right there on next to the cash register, for God and everyone to see ... yes, a Bartenders for Dummies book! You just gotta admire a barkeep, who is self-assured enough to admit to anyone who cares to ask, that he doesn't know everything about bartending. :-)

    The locals are friendly; after a beer and some conversation, we determined that we would have that night's dinner at the local deli. Eating local food is always an adventure, a gastronomical crap shoot at times. Now, this area of Marin county is *really* big on organics ... health food ... free-range ... fair trade stuff. Personally, I don't care .. I just want something that tastes good .. and doesn't have any cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts or cabbage. Luckily, the local deli, just up the street from the saloon, had a small but interesting selection of foodstuffs made on-prem. I chose the crabcakes, as I adore them. Unfortunately (but I should have expected), the crab was the imitation stuff and there was no sauce to accompany the crab cakes. They were a bit dry but edible. No side dish for me, as I didn't particularly care for their offerings (humus and cous-cous don't do it for me). Mr. Pirate had chicken, when he said was quite tasty.

    Back at the campground, we re-started the fire and gathered 'round to stare into the mesmerizing flames. Flames are fascinating. I can stare at them forever .. totally destroys your night vision, of course. We talked of our travels for the following day. For whatever reason, at the ungodly early hour of 10pm, we decided to turn in .... our air mattress and sleeping bags were calling to us. :-)

    04a raccoon cabinet (38K) We tidied up the campsite ... we decided that since all but one of our storage totes were Rubbermaids with solid locking tops, they could remain outside. The open-topped tub that contained our in-Jeep nibbles was stored in the locking food locker at the end of the table. Dousing the fire, once again, we retired for the night.

    [cue ominous music] It was at o-dark-thirty that I was awakened by a chittering. I knew EXACTLY what it was, as I have heard those critters at home. Those doggone raccoons were trying to get into the storage locker or pry the tops off our totes! No fool I, I promptly but gently elbowed Mr. Pirate in the ribs.

    "HONEY! There are animal sounds outside!"

    Protecting hearth and home (even if home is a tent) is a MANLY thing to do and requires ample amounts of testosterone, which I don't have. It also allows me to remain snugly inside the sleeping bag. :-) *My* mama didn't raise no dummy.

    Mr. Pirate is nothing if not protective of the ladies in his life. Gotta bug to squash? Mr. Pirate is your man. Got gopher guts to clean up? Mr. Pirate is Johnny-on-the-spot. Someone assaulting our sensibilities or, Heaven forbid, threatening our person? Mr. Pirate goes into Rambo-mode ... yipee ki-yay, MF .. there won't be enough pieces of the offending person left to bury. [let's not even whisper what happens if Mr. Pirate finds out you've made us cry. You better run. Far away. And never, ever, ever come back.]

    So, believe me when I say that Mr. Pirate JUMPED up, out of a deep sleep, ready to protect my honor. He could have been more effective if only he could find 1) his slippers 2) his flashlight and 3) the zipper to the tent door. But once those minor, *minor* obstacles were overcome [sigh. my hero!], he was investigating the cause of the disturbance.

    The next thing I heard was, "Scoot!". And then some indistinguishable sounds followed by an quietly exasperated, "What are you DOING in there? Get OUT!". Then more sounds.

    04b raccoon cabinet (37K) When the Conquering Hero returned to his castle, I had the explanation: raccoons, being rampant in the park, are fully aware that Humans=Food.

    Raccoons are clever little critters. From long exposure, they have learned that the food storage lockers are laughable.

    Yes, they doors have a locking latch. BUT .. get this ... there is enough play in the latch so that EVEN LOCKED, the doors can be pushed open enough to let a lithe and agile raccoon to GET INSIDE the locker. Well, folks, that's all she wrote.

    Everything inside the locker is now fair game.

    04c raccoon cabinet (26K) Luckily, I had heard the furry little creeps at the beginning of their escapade and Mr. Pirate had rained on their parade, spoiling ALL their fun. I'm sure they were mightily disgruntled.

    All the sounds I had heard were Mr. Pirate then relocating all of storage tubs to the Jeep. As yet, raccoons haven't figured out how to open a locked car door.

    I was a bit dismayed at the apparent loss of our travel nibbles ... sourdough French rolls & a package of beef jerky. But Mr. Pirate, ever the practical, said that only the top 2 rolls had been nibbled on and rest were "still good, still good!" It must be a variation on the 5-second-on-the-floor rule of food. He did toss the partially eaten rolls out into the bush ... bon appetit! ... but saved the rest for himself.

    Forevermore, those rolls will be known as Raccoon Rolls in our family.

    The rest of the night passed without incident. That I can remember anyway. :-)

    Monday

    Monday morning dawned. NOT bright. Definately not early. I don't do early. Ever. When I finally did emerge from the tent, the picture at left is the sky that I saw. Overcast. SOOOOOO typically coastal weather.

    Fortunately, it didn't last very long and for the remainder of the day, we had a glorious, fantastic, unbelieveable cloud-free, sunny day. You have NO idea what a rare occurance this is on the coast!

    Point Reyes Peninsula (37K) First, a little local geography and history lesson to set the stage:
    The Point Reyes peninsula is a unique triangular piece of continental crust attached to western Marin County in northern California. It's unique because it is totally different geologically-speaking, than its mainland neighbor. The geological difference is because Point Reyes is on the Pacific plate and Marin county is on the North American plate. For millions of year, the Point Reyes peninsula has been traveling at a rate between 1" and 1-1/2" a year toward the northwest. The boundary between these two plates is the San Andreas fault (shown as a red dotted line).

    The San Andreas fault is a strike-slip fault that separates Point Reyes peninsula from Marin County. The fault zone travels through Bolinas Lagoon in the south through Olema Valley and out Tomales Bay in the north. In the famous earthquake of 1906, Point Reyes peninsula moved approximately 16 feet north relative to Marin County.

    Point Reyes was originally named Punto de los Reyes ("Kings' Point") by the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino as his ship, the Capitana anchored in Drake's Bay on the Day of the Three Kings (Epiphany, or the end of the 12 Days of Christmas) on January 6, 1603.

    Meanwhile, back on the road ....

    Tom had plotted out our travels with his GPS unit and you can follow along with us, using the map below. Each of the active call-outs will present you with a new window of information. I've color-coded the different legs we traveled: yellow (call-outs 1, 2, 3), then pink (#4 & 5), then green (# 6 & 7), then gray (#8) and finally orange (back to our starting point). Due to the nature of the geographical layout, there was necessarily quite a bit of back-tracking.

    M01 SPT to Olema (28K) Call-out #1 doesn't have a link; but here's the info: from our camp at Samuel P Taylor ("A" in the green circle), our first stop was the small town of Olema, 7 miles and about 14 minutes away ("B" in the green circle).

    Since I was a slug and didn't get up until mid-morning (ahhhhhh, it felt so nice!), we decided to have breakfast on the road and Olema was the first opportunity. It appears that Olema is a nice sized, *functional* town .. a real one, not one that subsists soley on the tourist trade. A small cafe served us our breakfast.

    Call-outs #2 - #7: In the map below, you will see yellow circles with numbers in them. When you move your cursor over each yellow circle, it will turn into a clickable link. Click on the yellow circular links (#2 through #7) to read about that particular leg of the trip. Each link will open up a new window (or tab). When you are through reading that page, just close the window/tab to return to this main page.


    M08 Bolinas to Stinson Beach (27K) Call-out #8: One interesting geographical fact about the Bolinas lagoon (you did read the info for link #7, didn't you?) is that it is literally a hop-skip-and-jump away from Stinson Beach ... *the* beach where everyone in San Francisco goes when the weather is half-way decent. (Ocean Beach *in* the City is just too doggone cold.)

    It really does look like you could walk across the very narrow straight of water from the lagoon right onto Stinson Beach. And maybe you could, but we didn't try. We took the land-lubber's route overland, 7 miles and 14 minutes away.

    And the only reason we went there was because Mr. Pirate was utterly appalled that I had never, ever, ever been there. My goodness, he said (well, no, not really, Mr. Pirate doesn't say such things.) Again, it's COLD here .. why on earth would I go to the beach only to freeze????

    But, for the sake of completeness, we did journey north out of Bolinas, making a great circle to the south to visit Stinson Beach. A very nice place; no pictures. :-)

    M09 Stinson Beach to SPT Park (21K) The last leg was from Stinson Beach (A) back to Samuel P Taylor (B), 19 miles and 32 minutes away.

    We had traveled about 102 miles this day but Monday wasn't over! Not by a long shot! When we were at the Papermill Creek Saloon the previous day, we had noticed that they were having a Monday Night Football BBQ. We're always up for a BBQ and if you add in football, well, that's just gravy. :-) When we started out on Monday morning, we had every good intention of partaking of the BBQ ... but you do know what They say about good intentions. Yes, I thought you did. It was co-opted in Bolinas ... that very late lunch had wiped out any hunger pangs by the time we arrived at the BBQ shindig.

    Eventhough we did buy our beers, Mr. Pirate felt badly about not supporting the BBQ as well, especially in light of the fact that he had talked about it the night before. So, we plunked down our $2 donation (!) and got a hot dog (Mr. Pirate loves hot dogs) and a chicken leg. Now, the doggie wasn't for us. It was an appeasement to the raccoon gods later that night. :-)

    Upon our return to camp, we, once more, started a camp fire, broke out our glasses of wine, stared at the flames and talked of the events of the day. The nights were absolutely dead calm, not a whisper of a breath of a breeze. So *why* does the smoke ALWAYS drift in *my* direction?? It's really, really, really annoying. harumph.

    58 offering to the raccoon gods (32K) the raccoons-small (24K) Eventually, the time was approaching to retire to Motel One. But *first*, the appeasement! Mr Pirate cut the doggie & bun into raccoon-sized chunks and placed them on the table. It wasn't long after that until the little cheeky critters came a-visiting. There were only 2 of them but I think they were having a grand time. (Because I didn't want to get too close to the table and scare them off, my pictures are dark ... the flash doesn't carry very far. And since my camera doesn't have a red-eye feature ... wait, does it? I don't really know! ... they do look like the are Creatures of Evil. :-) )

    I'm not sure if we the appeasement worked but we sure had a great night's sleep. :-)

    Tuesday

    Traditionally speaking, breaking camp has always been a frantic affair. Upon reflection, I think this is because, up until now, all of our camping has been with my extended family & friends during our annual camping vacation. Trying to get everything broken down, packed up while keeping track of the kids is a challenge. (It got better as the kids became older and didn't need 24/7 supervision). But with only Mr. Pirate & myself, breaking camp is a piece of cake. There's not as much *stuff* and we both know in which tote items go and what sequence the totes get packed into the Jeep. We were packed, on the road and back home in Walnut Creek by 11:30am. Phenomenal!

    It was an absolutely wonderful, lovely time ... and I swear it's taken me longer to document it than to have actually experienced it. :-)

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