Secret Yurt Camping in the SF Bay Area

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Spring Break last week and we managed to literally get away from the crowds and be the only people camping in a Yurt in a location just over 1 hour away from our house! Now as I write this it seems impossible to get away from ALL the people in the Bay Area because where ever you go within an hour or so from your home there is usually many more Bay Area folks camping or doing whatever within your vicinity.  Never in our camping experiences, have we gone away especially during a break from school and been by ourselves! Just to have that experience was incredible so before I spill the location be sure that you don’t mind setting up camp next to a graveyard on an abandoned Naval Base!

This beautiful part of the Bay area was in Vallejo on a peninsula called Mare Island named after the white mare who swam to shore after her ship was sunk. It is a place of beauty and solitude with the added bonus of yurt camping with all the gear supplied including a gas grill and a super clean porta potty close by.  The view from the top of the island is of 7 counties surrounding the island and right by the lookout is an art installation called the Spirit Ship in honour of the Naval families who once lived here. Spring brings the beautiful poppies, and the smell of wild fennel was in the air.

Surrounding the Mare Island Preserve are barbed wire fences – man I thought I was in a detention centre in Australia when I saw these familiar eucalyptus trees. But no, looking through the fence I found abandoned houses and buildings still needed to be cleared up by the US Federal Government due to munitions being left behind – I imagine that is a huge task and they have better things to focus on at the moment!

Wandering through the preserve right by the graveyard are some beautiful roses right in bloom for spring and for the two days I loved taking pictures of them in the different light. The graveyard was so peaceful and so old – graves dating back to 1856, this is the oldest Naval cemetery on the West Coast.

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My hubby and I wandered to the top of the hill of the afternoon we arrived – the kids get a bit mad about walking up hills, but we know better. The bonus when you climb a hill is always the view, and this panorama is what I saw when I was up there, surrounded by water most of the way with land on the horizon.

 

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Yurt party with Pusheen
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Old Tennis Court Yurt

 

Then we came back down to set up the Yurt for the evening. This yurt is made by a local Vallejo yurt maker Yurtastic, and he used billboard fabric for the exterior, roof and floor. What an excellent idea, the light is bright inside, and we had Dory on the floor from Finding Nemo.

Oh, and did I mention the views from the top of the hill, the Spirit Ship in panorama with the detail of the floor beneath the Spirit Ship with nature growing up around it.

Dinner was homemade lentil rolls we heated up on the gas grill – it acted just like an oven! On the side, we had watermelon radish and ate by the candle light of a citronella candle as there were quite a few mozzies though they did not bother us that much.

 

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Messy Missy in the truck
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The Spirit Ship at Sunset
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Inside the Yurt at night – complete with fairy lights

 

In the evening our lovely host Myrna took us for a spin with her dog Nitro down to the bunkers. We sat in the back of the truck and saw this island in the light of dusk with the beautiful colours all around. Myrna was the best and so thoughtful with her organisation for the yurt supplies in the outdoor kitchen including an outdoor screened tent, so we were mozzie free. Nitro was the sweetest dog who loved pats and was ever so friendly with all of us, we had such a fun time together.

The next day was Thursday, and we were on our own on after a night of rain over the yurt we thought our riding plans were busted but no, the sun came out, and we borrowed bikes – yes bikes were included in the trip! So we went riding to look for the entrance to the San Pablo Bay Trail entrance and back again. The visitor centre was a place full of Mare Island history including treasures from one of the original residents who grew up on the base and donated her doll and Kanga and Roo from her collection. The other bonus of the visitor centre apart from its massive size is the resident cat Linus, who reminded me so much of my little buddy Macaroni. This guy loved pats and would come up and purr near us, and we happily patted him and gave him love.

The island is full of eucalyptus trees, and after the rain, it smelled of Australia – like I was home. Wild is where nature is at here in this part of the bay with the poppies growing in between the railway tracks. And the kids enjoyed having stick fights with the wild fennel, and that kept them occupied as I wandered the graveyard to see what history this place held. As we were interested in seeing the birds, Myrna loaned us her binoculars so we could watch the baby osprey and the osprey who nests there. This is the view I had through the binoculars to observe the baby birds way up high. We also saw snowy egrets, blue jays, wild turkeys and turkey vultures who call this place home. In the evening we heard the sound of the coyote talking and yipping to each other, lucky we were tucked away in our beds in the Yurt.

 

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The outdoor kitchen setup
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The lovely Linus the cat
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At the visitor centre
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By the campfire

 

We had one last visit to the visitor centre and an evening by the campfire (there are no other places on the island where a campfire is allowed as it dangerous) with Myrna and Eric (another volunteer who shared so much interesting information on photography and nature). We washed the dishes and lay cleaned them and packed them away neatly and off we went to see Linus and the ephemera at the visitor centre. The collection of teacups was beautiful and the evening before Myrna and I shared a pot of rooibos tea in a cup and saucer – very fancy! The fire was perfect for our marshmallows, and we enjoyed learning about the history of Mare Island and its inhabitants.

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Soon it was time to leave, and the preserve was open to the public, we wandered down to check out the bunkers the view and got this great picture of all of us in the massive bunker (built during the mid-1920s to store munition). The bunker we checked out had astroturf on the ground and digital print of the first cave painting from Lascaux, France. A bunch of folks had a caveman dinner in the bunkers which explains the paleo inspiration.

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And there is Dory on the floor – we were so happy to enjoy our couple of nights getaway from it all. If you are keen to check it out and visit Myrna and Nitro the dog, go to Hipcamp where you can find this yurt and the other romantic yurt for two further up the hill. If your camping party is big just camp in the bunker and watch the sun rise, so many options to camp and support the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve.

On our way back the sun was shining I took some pictures of the beautiful chapel with its Tiffany windows – you can visit the church with a guided tour which is $5, the kids were done, but I would have loved to have seen them. On the way home, we opted for a walk just below Mt Diablo in a place called Shell Ridge Open Space Preserve where we found a ranch complete with chickens and a sleepy rooster. It felt we were away from civilisation for longer than two days, now that is what I call a break from it all!

Back to study for me as I have an essay tomorrow and Assessment 2 is just around the corner!

A nature lovers paradise

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All I can say is that I am planning another trip back to the wonderful Washington State. Washington is a nature lover’s paradise, from the tiny little fungi to the massive old growth trees. It was such a perfect way for us all to recharge and revive ourselves at the end of the year. I wanted to capture Whidbey Island in all its glory and our memories of this wonderful getaway.

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Getting used to the island we did some exploring down to the most southern end of the island, Possession Beach which was quite small though full of small wonders including a harbour seal washed up on the shore that had been attacked by birds revealing its skeleton and inside – with the kids it was an anatomy lesson right there on the beach. My favourite is photographing the log sculptures washed up on the beach they are so picturesque and make excellent props in photographs.

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A view from our house was this beauty Mt Rainier sitting at 14,410 above sea level so it is visible from all over Seattle. This snow covered beauty revealed herself the morning we were leaving for Deception Pass, and we finally enjoyed a clear morning to see this glorious mountain and have a beautiful sunny/shady day.

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An hour drive up north was Deception Pass State Park where a Discovery pass is $10 for a day and you can see as many as you can fit in. The best deal is the annual pass for $30 that is if you are planning to spend more time wandering in the woods. If you are prepared for hiking here with a raincoat with a hood you are so set! Across the water, from the car park, we saw the Olympic mountains on the horizon. That particular morning the navy jets were doing their flying training over the mountains and in the second image you can see the black speck above the mountain which is a jet plane.

We did lovely 2-mile return hike up to the Deception Pass bridge via lots of trails to calm beach inlets along the way. Once we finally reached the bridge it was suggested that we walk on the windy bridge then I realised I had a slight fear of heights and quickly turned around! :/

On our way back to the house we stopped by Fort Casey and checked out the lighthouse in all its Christmas glory. In the darkness of an early winters evening, we drove across the 525 (the main freeway) to Coupeville to see this super cute historic town with lots of stores set in historic buildings it is definitely worth a visit, just for its quirkiness.

On Christmas Eve we took a drive over to Port Townsend via the ferry to check out what we could of Olympic National Park. The park is gigantic just like any national park and takes days to explore which is part of the magic. I really want to go to the Hoh Rainforest though in the time allocated it was too much driving which is a 2-hour drive from Port Angeles yes from the Twilight fame. I am already planning our next trip to Forks (again from Twilight) so we can check out the rainforest and explore this incredible park. We travelled past Dungeness National Refuge and went for a hike to the spit which is gigantic at 5.5 miles long and getting bigger year by year with a wild beach with huge waves on one side and a birder’s paradise on the other with the calm waters.

We made it to the Olympic National Park visitors centre in Port Angeles and spoke to the staff about what it would take to explore the vastness of this place. Hurricane Ridge required chains this time of year so we took a wander to the forest behind the visitors centre for a tiny peek into the grandness of this National Park.

On the way back before driving onto the ferry we checked out Port Townsend for some pics and then the trip back on the ferry was magical with the sun setting with many colours painting the clouds. I love this blue house we drove by, complete with a dragon wind compass.

Christmas day came and we really were working up an appetite for our shepherd’s pie, wine and chocolate feast. We walked up the beach on a 3-mile walk to as far as we could go and turned around. It was an excellent beach for dogs off their leash and my favourite was a black pug with a neon pink puffer jacket – styling! The kids loved climbing the trees on the beach and enjoyed us daring them to jump from the log and land on the beach, Missy here got some air but landed right in the water on the shore – oops cold feet!

Our last day on the island was a very windy 3 degrees celsius so we decided to have a picnic in the woods. The kids were super keen to go so we grabbed the opportunity and off we went. This morning after my shower I looked out the window and found this buck out in the garden enjoying his breakfast. Today we went to South Whidbey State Park for a wander through a magical old growth forest! The trees were breathtaking and I was in awe of the nature that exists in this small little forest from the tiny fern leaves en masse to the 500-year-old cedar.

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I am hugging an old growth giant, to take a picture in all this shade and green was quite difficult to get the light right and it is hard for the kids to hold my heavy lens so this is the best I could get including the bag as a prop for size comparison 😀

Everything is covered in green moss or ferns it was such an incredible and soul fulfilling experience sharing space with these trees who have been here for so long. The fungi were everywhere especially where trees had been cut or fallen, I read this interesting article about the future of some of the old growth trees in the campground and why the campground is closed.

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We found the 500-year-old Ancient Cedar and I am giving it a blurry virtual hug as you cannot go near the tree so people do not harm it and the roots. The forest was saved in the 1970s by a group of tree huggers (my people) who literally hugged the tree to save it from logging. My boots are now trashed after all the trail walking over mud, sand and rain and these Tevas really did an awesome job keeping my feet warm on all these hikes!

We’re going to the Zoo zoo zoo…

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Onto the tourist destinations of the Sunshine coast and to step back in time with a visit to the Big Pineapple! In it’s heyday when this highway was the only one to travel we would stop and visit the Big Pineapple take a walk to the top and see the displays, take some classic pics and then enjoy a pineapple sundae – yummo! Now the Big Pineapple is Heritage listed and needs a little bit of work and love. A lot of the us who enjoyed it as a tourist destination when we were kiddos still appreciate it for it’s nostalgia and it’s grandeur.

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On this rainy Monday we also took a wander through the Maroochy Bushland Botanic Garden and was an excellent place to take the kids for a wander through the sculpture garden. For a change they all enjoyed posing with the sculptures especially the sculptures of the animals – the bottom pic is a wombat that they all loved by an artist from South Australia.

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A couple of my favourite sculptures in the garden – Snake made from Black Chillagoe Marble and Man of Nature carved from Sandstone.

Definitely on the tour itinerary this year was a trip to the legendary Australia Zoo! The kids really enjoyed their time at the zoo especially seeing the show of the crocodiles at the Crocoseum. We had lunch at the food court and managed to see a spectacular display of birds flying around the stadium and landing right in the audience as a warm up for the big crocs!

Finally the kids got to touch a kangaroo – the kangas were in their rest area, some were quite confident and hopped right up to the visitors for a pat and the hope of some food. Koalas are always cute and generally always asleep! The croc in the pic above was with the Australia Zoo stars Terri, Bindi and Bob showing us how these crocs in action. Steve Irwin was an Aussie legend and Australia Zoo is a testament to his dedication and care for the conservation of animals especially the crocodile.

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Yikes someone is getting eaten by a dinosaur!

Australia Zoo is huge and requires a bit of planning to navigate to the animals you would like to see. We choose to see the African animals instead of Bindi’s Island with animals inspired by the tropics. The Giraffes are always cool to see and we saw them having their afternoon snack and saw a baby giraffe close by just looking on as he couldn’t reach the food! On our way to Africa we wandered through the Asian animal display and saw the ever popular tigers – you can see what the crowd was like when we went, it was busy with school holiday traffic.

We enjoyed spending the day at the zoo with our friends from Portland walking many trails that day and seeing quite a few animals! Good times at the zoo, how about you?

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NaBloPoMo – Day 14 – Art is all around…

Today was my Arts Focus volunteer hours at school and that takes up the whole morning. It is such a wonderful time with the kids sewing away. Today we were doing embroidery and because of the focus involved the little Kinder kiddos were pretty tired by recess so we switched it out to fleece pillows so they could have a bit of a break but still a lot of the kids were wanting breaks to relax their fine motor skills and of course their focus.

I have an embroidery project that is still unfinished and from that experience I know it is an activity that requires a lot of concentration – this explains why I have not finished it yet! Knitting is a perfect activity that I can do in front of a movie and not think too much – which is why I enjoy it. Though reading a pattern and knitting and chatting can be a bit challenging. Anyway there was art all over the campus at school today and I found this created by our kids in the the 3D class – a nature installation outside.

An Autumn Nature 3D Art Installation created by the kiddos in the Arts Focus class 

After all the arts was over – home for a cup of tea and then out again to visit some friends for another play date at their house and we ended up dancing into the evening with Just Dance on the Wii – the kids came home asking Daddy to turn our TV into a computer game 🙂