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Friday, May 10, 2013

Most interesting crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge

While on his visit to The Bay Area, my nephew Josh wanted to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. I'd tried it once before when other friends were visiting and didn't make it more than half way. It was so windy that day we were exhausted from pushing against a wind that was so strong I didn't have to hold myself upright as I walked, it held me in place if I just leaned into it.

Why take a typical picture? Taken with an iPhone Photojojo Fisheye lens.

Thankfully while overcast, the weather was much better this past week for Josh's visit. We made it all the way over from the Marin (north) side of the bridge to the San Francisco (south) side. It's a total of 3.4 miles from end to end and back so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.

If you park on the San Francisco side you'll probably have to pay to park. On the Marin side the parking is free but you have to pay the bride toll to get back to SF so either way you'll end up paying if you arrive by car. We were heading north to Mill Valley after so we went over the bridge and took the Vista Point exit to the free lot and path to the bridge.

Once on the bride he east side is divided into pedestrian and bike lanes. On weekends I think the east side becomes pedestrian only and the west side is opened for cyclists. Also, worth noting, the bridge closes to pedestrians in the evening but remains open for bicyclists by using a special push button. CLICK HERE to learn more about the hours and rules regarding use of the bridge.

If you take the time you can learn all about the history of the bridge by reading the plaques and displays as a self-guided tour.

I love this shot. The separation of bay and bridge is quite cool.

When we arrived around 11:00 AM it was quite hazy. I was excited to see one of the America's Cup catamarans off in the distance along with the Bay Bridge and a huge cruise ship.

I also love this shot of one of the tour ferry operators leaving behind a perfect trail in the water as they headed towards Alcatraz.

Around this time I thought I saw a large dorsal fin break from the water. I pointed it out to Josh but it was fleeting and we couldnt' tell for sure what it was. My first thought was it could be a shark but it could have been anything including a Sea Lion's nose.

I actually took this photo of Alcatraz Island on our way back when the skies had cleared a bit and the foggy haze had burned off. This was near the mid-point of the bridge.

You'll see plenty of tour buses crossing over to park at the Vista Point lot. Their occupants can hop out and take photos of the city skyline from the Marin side of the bridge.

I also noticed a lot of people (Is three a lot?) seem to lose their camera lens covers over the side of the bridge. I even saw one lens hood. Just a warning to turn away from the edge when you're taking your lens cover off. That way it will roll onto the sidewalk instead of out of reach or into The Bay if you drop it.

It took us 52 minutes to walk from one end to the other. This is the view of the bridge from the eastern side of the south end of the bridge in San Francisco.

A huge bush of blooming protea flowers greeted us!

There were also places to spend money! The Bridge Cafe is where I got a snack because I needed sustenance to make it back across the bridge. LOL. The Bridge Pavilion is a gift shop, and the Bridge Round House had snacks and a green screen photo booth that (for a fee) makes it look like you are climbing the bridge itself for a dramatic photo op.

After a short break we headed back over the bridge. A large freighter was chugging its way towards the port in Oakland.

On the way back we also had the opportunity to see the America's Cup catamarans much closer than before. They were fast and gorgeous and made me want to come back up to watch some of the America's Cup when it begins in July. The United States' Oracle had been joined by Sweden's Artemis. I watched the boats make practice runs back and forth from Alcatraz right up to the Golden Gate bridge. Tragically the Artemis capsized the following day killing one of its team members. I blogged a memorial post yesterday as it didn't seem right to combine it into today's post with the rest of my bridge report.

From very sad news I do have something that made me incredibly happy that I can share with you. I'd heard there are often dolphin in Monterey Bay but hadn't ever seen dolphin in the wild anywhere. The last thing I expected that day was to see them in San Francisco Bay.

But as I was walking slowly and watching the water I saw a grey fin pop up. What??????? I stopped walking and stared near the spot. DOLPHIN (ETA: I later was able to confirm with Bill Keener at Golden Gate Cetacean Research that they were in fact not dolphin but harbor porpoises)! I was so excited I almost couldn't think straight. They were far away at first and hard to pick out of the water. But as the clouds broke and more sun hit the water it became easier to see them, especially because they were moving towards the bridge not away from it.

They were porpoises, not dolphin.

Hubby and Josh had walked on ahead so it was just me. And that was fine. I chose a spot and waited for the show to continue. They were mostly near the center of the bridge just slightly to the North of mid-span. What began as one quickly became a pod. My guess is there were at least 8-10 swimming near the bridge.

For the next 11 minutes I stood there trying to photograph them as they surfaced to breathe. The best I could do was to keep my lens set wider than I would have liked because it was next to impossible to follow them in my camera's view finder. As I watched I saw their noses, dorsal fins, shiny grey bodies, and tails rise and dip in and out of the water. A few times I even saw them blow water from their blowholes as they exhaled as they surfaced.

It really felt magical and I was so lucky to be there at that moment in time. Definitely an experience I'll cherish.

I've since learned online there is a Habor Porpoise and Bottlenose Dolphin Project being conducted by Golden Gate Cetacean Research as the dolphin have only recently begun coming into San Francisco Bay and the porpoises have returned after an approximate 65 year absence. If you spot either porpoises or dolphin in The Bay you can report your sighting at THIS LINK. Bill Keenan who ID'ed the porpoises for me wrote the article Safe Harbor
Welcoming Porpoises Back to San Francisco Bay
about the cetacean research being done here.

After finally moving along I did notice what I'm 99.99% certain was a harbor seal in the water. sea lions are dark brown while harbor seals are often lighter with dark spots on their coats. This one seal was just floating along all by its lonesome seemingly sunning itself as the clouds broke.

And the last shot I took that day was this small building set out on a rocky outcropping at the north end of the bridge. I came home and Googled to learn that it is the remains of San Francisco's old Fog Station.

At dinner that night Josh surprised us with Official Pedestrian  Day Souvenir postcards. Definitely a cool memento to remember the day.

In total it took us 2.5 hours from start to finish. Had we not stopped for the break and to take so many pictures my guess is it would have taken half that long. But what's the point of rushing through the experience? I'm happy I was able to spend quality time with Josh, saw the dolphin/porpoises (TBD), and was able to see the Artemis in her full glory gracefully gliding along The Bay.

If you want to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge my tips to make it as much fun as possible would be:
  1. Wear layers because it can be much more windy and colder crossing the bridge than on land
  2. Wear comfortable walking shoes. At 1.7 miles that's over three miles if you walk to one end and back
  3. If you wear a hat make sure it has a chin strap you can tighten or odds are your hat will end up in the SF Bay
  4. If you park on the SF (south) side of the bridge there is a fee to park and a gift center. If you park on the Marin (north) side of the bridge parking is free but you'll have to pay the $6 for cars bridge toll when you return back to San Francisco. Instructions about each option are here on About.com.
Also, it turns out there are all kinds of rules about what you can't do on the bridge:
  • Electric Bikes may be ridden but cannot be under power while on the bridge.
  • Small Scooters may not be ridden on the sidewalk in the power-on mode. They are allowed to be pushed or ridden across the sidewalk in the power-off mode only.
  • No Roller Blades
  • No Skateboards
  • No Roller Skates
  • No Pushcarts
  • No Wheelbarrows
  • No  Animals, including dogs and horses, which are being led, ridden or driven. The only exceptions are service animals, such as guide dogs, signal dogs and service dogs

More San Francisco Tourism Suggestions:

My First Trip to Alcatraz Island
The California Academy of Sciences

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