Thursday, October 2, 2008

Getting Lost @ DrawBridge

Somehow I thought it would be a good idea to go out and shoot some pictures in the Ghost Town of Drawbridge.

Here is the lowdown of the mostly forgotten town of Drawbridge from my new favorite resource information site Wikipedia:

Drawbridge is an abandoned railroad station located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay on Station Island, in an unincorporated portion of Alameda County, California, United States. Formerly used as a hunting village, it has been a ghost town since 1979 and is slowly sinking into the marshlands.

Drawbridge was created by the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad on Station Island in 1876 and consisted of one small cabin for the operator of the railroad's two drawbridges crossing Mud Creek Slough and Coyote Creek Slough to connect Newark with Alviso and San Jose. At one time 10 passenger trains stopped there per day, five going north and five going south. The drawbridges were removed long ago. The only path leading into Drawbridge is the Southern Pacific Railroad track.

For years after the turn bridge drawbridges were removed and most of the residents had left, the San Jose Mercury News had incorrectly reported that the town was a ghost town and that the residents left valuables behind. As a result, the people still living there had their homes vandalized. The town's last resident is said to have left in 1979. Drawbridge is now part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and is no longer open to the public due to restoration efforts.

Below in the red circle is the location of Drawbridge. The blue colored shapes are the salt flats full of bay water slowly evaporating until eventually leaving just the salt for harvesting.

A closer view of some of the structures still standing at Drawbridge

I tried to arrange a time where the schedules of one of my photo buddies Jon Sheffield and myself would line up for a photo adventure that ended taking us to places I would of have never expected.

From the info I read online and from some small talk with April, I had an approximate idea where it was located and how to get there. Since there are no roads to the town and it is positioned in the middle of the bay salt flats, the only way was to walk along the Amtrak rail line which runs right through the town.

What I did not know was exactly how long the walk was going to be and I really did not expect the train tracks to fork half way to the town. When we got to the fork in the tracks, we made our best educational guess and went with it. After a half an hour or so, we were starting to get a little worried we were unable to see any signs of the buildings in the town.

The Train tracks are still very active.

Out of no where, an older woman dressed in worn out dirty but warm looking garb riding an old beat-up bike along the tracks came toward us. Jon and I looked at each other wondering where in the heck did she come from. Before she passed us, we yelled at her if she knew where Drawbridge was. She didn't stop but she did yell back at us that we had another 1 to 2 miles to go. It was one of those out of the world weird moments that just does not sit well in your stomach. Jon and I teased each other about how she was a ghost from Drawbridge guiding us to our demise. Guys are cruel sometimes. I felt like a 10 year old trying to scare my buddy with ghost stories. Whoever gave the most outrages, horrifying, graphic story wins but in the end we end up both scared.

The time went by quickly and it was getting late. Our light was becoming low which is a problem since we both did not bring a tripod. By the time we finally saw some of the dilapidated structures, the light was almost too low to shot hand held. I managed to take only a couple of shots but nothing that I had previously envisioned. But what the heck, I finally at least know how to get here and how long it takes.

Here are some of the few pictures I did take.

Jon and I started to make our way back when we realized after staring at the sun set to take a few shots that there is no light out where we were. I mean NO light. It was a moonless night and the city lights did not reach where we were. The walk back was all done by feel after a mile or so since we could barely see our feet.

My only color picture of the day. I could never pass up a beautiful sunset. Of course we were going to pay for this picture very soon.

At one point the trail separated into multiple directions and we were unable to tell which way we came from. Since we did not want to chance walking the tracks with trains still running every 15 minutes or so, we decided to walk on the shores of the salt flats. BIG MISTAKE. Not having any reference points close to us, we could not tell which path to take during all the switch backs of the salt flats. We only had the lights of the city to at least keep us knowing which direction to go. Finding a shore line on the salt flats that went in that direction was a whole other issue.

Salt Flat shoreline

After a few hours, we finally managed to stumble upon a shore line that brought us back to the parking lot where our car was located. We laughed about our exploits and kidded ourselves about being lost right in the middle of the overly crowded metropolitan bay area. This was until we found out there was a gate to the parking lot that gets locked at sundown. Un-freaking-believable, what else could go wrong.

We both noticed a camper parked across the parking lot with some lights on. Jon decided it was my turn to be daring and go see if someone in the camper could help us. After rapping on the camper door a couple of times, I heard some scurrying, groaning and eventually a loud call out saying,"Whaaatt???". I explained we got lost in the salt flats and now we are unable to get our car out of the parking lot. A grumpy old guy slammed the door open of the camper and explained in a little less than nice manner that the only reason why he didn't tow the freaking car was because he saw the three baby car seats and thought that maybe parents with young children might be out in the salt flats somewhere. I just replied by stating how sorry I was to bother him and if he could please open the gate for us. He begrudgingly nodded his head and rode an old beat-up rusted moped to the gate to unlock it for us.

When Jon and I got passed the gates we just sat in quit and didn't say a word until we almost got home. The first words out of my mouth were, "wow, that was interesting. So when do you want to go back and get those pictures we didn't get?". Jon just laughed and said,"Next week looks good to me".

The moral of this story; all photographers no matter what have to get those darn shots that just sit in the back of their heads eating away at you until they are finally captured.


-april said...

Crazy! Crazy! Crazy! And Ghost! Next time, borrow my camping head lamp! But that photo of the sunset -- winner!

Daniel Thorp said...

hahaha, no kidding. Next I will definitely bring a flash light.