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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Phoenix Lake

Springtime Phoenix Lake
Tucked in the heart of Marin County, California near San Francisco is Phoenix Lake.  This small gem feels remote on the outskirts of Ross, a wealthy bedroom community.  Parking may be difficult: only twenty stalls are provided and street parking is not allowed.  Eight spots a mile out next to the Lagunitas Country Club allow parking Monday through Thursday but it is closed weekends.  This space offers the best starting point.

Wellness Wellspring

The path to the lake meanders through redwoods, trickling creeks, and aromatic California bay trees. A graciously provided rustic drinking fountain at the trail head foreshadows great things to come and fortifies body and spirit with a sense of wellness. Drink and enter.

Redwood Refuge

Along the way, remnants of early logging linger and old sawed-off redwood stumps wide and welcoming in their decay signal shelter: redwood refuge for forest fauna.

Beyond, a mile up the moderate trail sits placid Phoenix Lake in its humble wooded basin. Springtime flowers colors the lake yellow and bright green framing views of Mount Tamalpais.

Lush Lake
Abundant foliage grows thick and lush reflections glimmer brightly on the water with illusions of undisturbed wilderness.

Root Wrapped Rock

Veering left and hiking entirely around the lake is easy to moderate to wonderful, proving that travelling a good path is as rewarding as the destination. Wander off and discover nooks and brooks secreted away. Giant roots hold steep wooded banks gripping large rocks in their sinuous search for water. Spring-time runoffs nourish moss, which thriving brilliantly round out jagged rocks a soft velvety green.

Black Spring Moss

The hike is not altogether wild and steps have been taken to ensure some safety while safeguarding against erosion. Woodland stairs lead up and down roller coaster hills past forest undergrowth.

Woodland Stairs

Near the water, where shallow coves serve soggy soils Giant Horsetail - Equisetum Telmateia - thrive, their fertile stems holding up large cones laden with spores later to explode in the summer heat.

Giant Horsetail
Hike around to the North shore and Forget Me Not flowers appear trail-side splashing blue accents on sienna paths and verdant hillsides.

Forget Me Not

The round trip is roughly five miles and is relatively easy. More challenging trails lead from the lake up Mt. Tam or to four more lakes in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed making up the Marin Municipal Water District. The possibilities are vast. All are open to the public.  Enjoy.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Rising Mist
Guggenheim's Bilbao Museum is an exquisite display of contemporary Architecture. Formally designed to showcase art, the building morphs seamlessly into a sculptural case of Architecture-as-Art. Frank Gehry's masterpiece transcends style labels like deconstructivism while standing on its own sublime aesthetics. The building owes its design to maritime references characteristic of port cities like Bilbao. Ship-like, it floats on a moat as rising mist envelops it in a fantastic hourly show of engineering prowess.

Ode to Fish
Fundamentally, the building is an ode to fish, Bilbao's historical sustenance from the bay of Biscay. The Guggenheim's titanium panels evoking scales glimmer in the shifting light and shine like shimmering glimpses of gigantic fish in the surrounding water.

Tall Tree & The Eye
It's shape-shifting, mercurial nature makes this museum a good player when teamed up with installation art as, for example, the way Anish Kapoor's sculpture Tall Tree & The Eye is embraced by the building, each complementing the other.

Another case of art partnering well with it's host building is the interplay between Koon's reflective and colorful Tulips with the atrium's glass and the surrounding metal panels.

Half-heart Silhouette
Walking around such a rich and intricate building take the opportunity to discover and enjoy infinite possible abstractions. Half-heart shaped negative spaces formed by limestone nooks appear overhead.

Abstract Odyssey

Space-like metal and glass abstract compositions reminiscent of science fiction movies like 2001 A Space Odyssey can be seen when the lighting is right. There's eye candy everywhere.

Architecturally, the massing is impressive. No wimpy building, this. Each cluster is massive, accentuated by light glass and shiny metal.

Entry Sequence
The entry sequence is clear and though large, respectful of the human scale. Walking toward the entrance is almost processional with a welcoming finale.

Atrium Tower
The interior circulation is organized around a central atrium tower, as anticipated: the large glass expanse previously visible from the exterior now opens up to views outward, making a relatively small and crowded central core appear spacious.

Undulating Atrium
Galleries radiating out and elevators climbing up and down add orderly dynamism and excitement to the undulating atrium that's been likened to a flower.

A Matter of Time
Adjacent the atrium is the largest gallery space currently housing the magnificent installation "The Matter of Time" by Richard Serra, the cast-iron labyrinth channels on-lookers into an interactive stroll: it's a "matter of time" getting through it, depending on personal viewing styles.

Gallery Cube
Other spaces reveal that representational, two-dimensional art is almost inconsequential to the Architecture. The best art pieces offer new ways of contemplating reality and are nurtured by the museum's modernity. Galleries flow in and out of circulation. One singular form of caramel-colored sandstone celebrates the unique piece crowning each exhibit; a masonry gallery cube, visible from the vestibule, high up the atrium, is tantalizing and intriguing to explore.  Discovering the treasure within is the reward, larger than the prize of the artwork itself and it is this process of exploration that Frank Gehry proves himself as the master of anticipation.

Approaching the Guggenheim, Bibao

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Matterhorn - Monte Cervino

Materhorn - Monte Cervino

Spectacular Switzerland! This alpine country in central Europe is stunningly beautiful. Sheer cliffs and deep gorges define the landscape while meticulous attention to detail define the character of its people and Swiss society. It's a clean and orderly place, a pleasure to enjoy.

Among the many mountains that make up the Alps, majestic Matterhorn is a national landmark and an international icon. It is also known as Monte Cervino and Mont Cervin. Kudos to the Swiss for keeping it pristine while accessible. The secret to the area's unspoiled appearance is that cars are off limit for miles around. The best way to experience the peak's stark glory is to drive to Taesch from which only rail is available to the next town. The train from Taesch to Zermatt is modern but from Zermatt to the last stop in Gornergrat the train is vintage open air cogwheel rail.  All trains are electric, clean, and quiet.

Breakfast At Gornergrat
Once in Gornergrat the view, if not clouded over, is spellbinding. This is the final destination for most everyone. The vast majority board the train back to Zermat after enjoying the restaurant at the top of the world, or simply taking in the fantastic view.

Matterhorn Zen Duckies
At this elevation glaciers flow at their geological speed undisturbed by rumors of global warming while man-made duckies are erected and torn down at the relative speed of lightning. Like in a giant Japanese garden with sculptures witnessing the passage of time these zen duckies partake in the ebb and flow of the ages.

Alpine Cross

Wandering further afield away from this small outpost of civilization reveals a rugged, untamed terrain. The occasional sign of man seems like a futile imposition on a cold, foreign world. A lonely alpine cross, for example, looks more like a forlorn attempt than a symbol of redemption, its incongruous setting a surreal expression of humanity.

It's not an entirely hostile environment and in spite of the thin air and cold rock life has a foothold here, however precarious.

Alpine Flower
Yellow alpine flowers bloom impossibly out of the crushed granite.

Blue Flowers of Matterhorn
Blue flower accents punctuate the alpine landscape against exhilarating backdrops while snow blankets distant mountains with pure white clouds floating around in a piercing blue sky.

Matterhorn Ruin

Traces of failed attempts at domesticating this otherwise pristine environment crop up along the trail down to the next train station. On a fine day some may meander station to station ever mindful that the weather may change in an instant. Hiking is moderately hard and an abandoned stone structure, now partially standing in ruins, attests to a difficult land with one rock wall still holding a window into the alps.

Window Into the Alps

Those brave and optimistic souls who know the area venture to fish the few glacial lakes that pool along the way, if not for catching fish, then for experiencing a quiet, peaceful afternoon.

Fishing Lake Matterhorn

It is these lakes gracing monumental mountains with their soft reflection and reassurance of life that make hiking the Alps an inclusive, hospitable experience. The next train stop, though far, is a welcome bittersweet gateway from wilderness back to civilization.

Lakeside Matterhorn

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sagrada Familia Cathedral

Cathedral Spires

La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain is Antoni Gaudi's masterpiece and it is still being built. It is unique among cathedrals. On the outside the style is hard to categorize, seemingly in disarray because of the continuous construction, but what is immediately apparent is that traditional cathedral expressions can't describe it properly. At first glance it might look ugly. Further scrutiny reveals a flow reminiscent of sand castles dreamed by a precocious child and poured from buckets of wet sand into fantastical shapes. 

New Testament scenes dot the facade like three dimensional dioramas: 

Angel Gabriel Appears to Mary
Angel Gabriel's annunciation to Mary, 

Killing Innocents
the Killing of Innocents, 

Jesus - The Last Day
Jesus bound, and 

Jesus is Crucified
the Crucifixion, to name a few.

Spiral Staircase Descending

One of the spires is accessible via an elevator and descending down the spiral stair case reveals


Barcelona is heavily guarded by gargoyles.
The cathedral's organic nature is inviting and it's interior inspiring. A kaleidoscope of colors illuminates all and a hushed sense of awe permeates the space:

Blue Stained-glass Window
stained-glass windows cast filtered light onto new sandstone and the immensity of the space modulates 

Organ Pipes
quiet expressions of worship. 

Layered Balconies

Platonic shapes and simple geometries help to create an understandable, user-friendly place conducive to childlike wonder.

Nave and Apse

The Nave and Apse is a promenade of otherworldly columns evoking images of space, both alien and familiar. The colonnade leading to the altar seemingly expands and grows in magnitude halfway there with four columns taking up the bulk of the ornate ceiling. Yet each column is impossibly thin looking more like palm trees than stone. 

Gospel Supported Ceiling

The four columns representing each of the Gospels are discretely named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while the ceiling hints of a heavenly host and a multitude of chambers.

The Ascension
The Altar represents the Ascension. Gaudi re-imagined the iconography of the Crucifixion as a vehicle for Heavenly Ascension with Christ appearing to use the Cross while rising to the light above, focusing on a destination, real and divine; slender columns culminate in a brilliant apex on high: on Earth, as it is in Heaven. If a work of Art is to transcend the profane and usher in the sacred, this accomplishes it, however briefly.

Jesus Rising

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Muir Woods National Monument

Reaching Skyward
Clustered in a small canyon at the base of Mount Tamalpais, North of San Francisco is a group of old-growth Coastal Redwoods known as Muir Woods; officially in Mill Valley, California; it is a world apart. This small forest makes up for its limited area by reaching skyward to unbelievable heights.  Some resident trees boast incredible altitudes, the tallest of which is 280 feet and though most are 500 to 800 years old, the oldest is 1,200 years old.

Getting to Muir Woods is as easy as crossing the Golden Gate from the South, or travelling down Highway 101 through Marin County from the North.  Once there, however, it can be difficult parking since spaces are limited and it may be a hike to the entrance. Admission costs $7.00 and once in, the first portion is wheelchair accessible.  Boardwalks, and paved paths encourage a pleasant stroll.

Knobby Wood

The trees are magnificent with awe inspiring canopies the same way a cathedral vault is grandiose, allowing ephemeral glimpses of half-perceived secrets.

Burly Growth Face

Each tree is in itself a monument if for no other reason than sheer size.  Some trees have massive knobby wood growths near the top, while other feature face-like burls on their trunks as if forced to put on a face for the curious onlookers.

Redwood Grove

Some of the most splendid trees are found here imperceptibly sipping from Redwood Creek, which winds down the slope collecting into small pools and spreading out into tiny arteries. A palpable life force extends from the stream to the trees, out their needles, and into the air; unmistakably flowing even on dryer days.

Hollowed Redwoods

Redwoods group into natural groves, sometimes bunching together invisibly bolstering each other on the long climb up to the sun.  Their bases form porous walls making temporary shelters and wild fires have hollowed redwood trunks for fauna seeking more substantial protection.

50 Shades of Green

Dappled sunlight filters it's way from above, highlighting over fifty shades of green: from verdant mosses to reddish olive to leafy emeralds.

Mystic Log
Dead stumps give new life to symbiotic growths taking on a mystic, furry quality in the shimmering light.

Fairy Forest

Dancing sun rays transform trees and ferns a fairy forest.

Hiking further afield; taking the Ben Johnson trail up from the visitor center, leads to the Pantol ranger station and campsite, which can also be reached by car.  With the forest below and the rest of Mount Tam above, comes the realization that parking at the station and hiking down an excellent option.  Up, or down, the trail is not easy but it is manageable and the exertion is full of nature's rewards.

Taking the Redwood Creek trail in the opposite direction away from the visitor center leads out of the forest, through meadows and gentle foothills down to Muir Beach where the creek empties itself in the sand and joins the Pacific Ocean.

Muir Beach