Steep Ravine

“I began to wonder what it was that made us all feel, the minute we went over the brow of that hill, a certain sense of – not peace, particularly, or enjoyment – freedom. Then, I thought, I could do a real sequence, a series of photographs on the subject of freedom, of which the cabin would be the device.” – Dorothea Lange, from the KQED film Dorothea Lange, Part I: Under the Trees, 1965 Those lucky enough to secure a spot in the campground will understand this feeling; as the heavy steel gate swings open and you proceed down what is little more than a single lane, tar-sealed goat path clinging to the steep hillside, down to the campground just below at Steep Ravine, you feel the human spirit. As you come around the bend and try not to drive off the road, you are greeted by 180 degrees of wild Pacific coastline and hillsides that remain lushly covered in native vegetation. Just one hour north of San Francisco at the western edge of Mt. Tamalpais State Park lies a living example of California heritage.  In the early 1940’s, 14 cabins were built by a Marin landowner who leased them to Bay Area families seeking seasonal respites from the hustle and bustle of city life.  In 1960, the state acquired the land and they became the focal point of controversy between leaseholders and the state. Their future unresolved, the structures fell into a sorry state and were threatened with destruction until the park restored them in 1980.  There are 10 cabin’s still maintained today and, apart from a wood burning stove and wooden table with bench seating, the cabins are bare and rustic – a blank canvas for a family camping adventure. Dorothea Lange and her husband had leased a cabin at Steep Ravine in the 1950’s which was used for frequent visits to the coast with their children and grandchildren from their home in Berkley.  A collection of Lange’s photos from this period in her life have been exhibited as part of a show, A Life Surrounding a Cabin .   I’ve seldom come across an image of Lange’s that didn’t move me in some way so it’s pretty cool to imagine her vacationing with her family 50 years ago (in possibly the same cabin we were staying in) playing board-games, barbecuing under the stars, tripping over rocks, and quickly composing her Rolleiflex so that her children, and their children, and their children’s-children would always have a photographic record of their visits to Steep Ravine year after year. Not all images are of Steep Ravine, some are from Stinson Beach, the nearest town just over a mile north and some are from a side-trip we took to the Point Reyes National Seashore where we spent a few hours kayaking in Tomales Bay looking for wildlife and exploring the defunct, once-home of local legend and renaissance man, Clayton Lewis. How lucky we are, to call California home. Stinson Beach, looking south to San Francisco Pt. Reyes National Seashore Alex and his foil ball One of my happiest moments of the trip – Alex and dad steal away to watch the sunset.  

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