A Good Family Hike in Eastern Oklahoma’s Redbud Valley

Redbud ValleyA short drive outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma is the 220-acre Redbud Valley Nature Preserve. This preserve has a great deal of scenery packed into a small space: woodlands, prairie grasses, a creek, springs, small caves, and rugged looking cliffs.

Families will enjoy the main loop trail that takes about an hour and a half to complete. Kids will especially enjoy the many small caves and overhangs in the cliffs area.

As your family explores look for what really makes this place special – many of the plants traditionally found further west on the prairie and much further east in the Ozark Mountains can be found here in this preserve. Think of Redbud Valley as a unique spot, between the prairie and the Ozarks, where these plants live.

A small visitors center is onsite. Flush restroom facilities and picnic tables are located near the parking area. Admission is free. Redbud Valley is open from 8 am to 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday. From Tulsa drive east on Interstate 44 to the Hard Rock Casino on 193rd E (also known as Hwy 167). Go North on 167. Drive 2 miles to Redbud Drive, make a left. Drive roughly 5 miles until you reach the parking area.

For more information about Redbud Valley visit:
http://www.oxleynaturecenter.org/redbud.htm

Six Distractions That Can Trip-up Your Day Trip (Hike) Plans

The day has arrived! After a long work-week, you finally have a free day to venture outside, to have fun and go exploring. That morning, you have the best of intentions to make it out early. But, things keep distracting you. Finally, much later than anticipated you make it out the door. The rest of the day you are in a sour mood. What were some of the distractions? Can they be prevented?

Here are six common distractions that can trip-up your day trip plans:

1. TV. Do you really need to turn on the TV? OK, maybe you need to hear the weather report to help plan your day, but that should be it. Even the smallest amount of channel surfing can suddenly consume an hour. Do you really need to watch that 1960’s sitcom about trekking in space for the 200th time? No. Turn off the TV and boldly go outside!

2. Computer. Do you really need to log in and remotely check your work email? Do you really need to chat with friends or watch a video? Ninety-nine percent of the time the answer will be ‘No’. A computer is a great tool that, if allowed, will distract you with entertaining videos of cats playing the piano or dogs riding a skateboard – don’t turn the computer on. The email, videos, and computer will be around later that evening after you return from the real entertainment – being outside.

3. Telephone. Let the answering machine get it. Without fail a friend or relative will always call about 15 minutes before you plan to leave. This is a huge distraction. Keep your answering machine employed by letting it do its job and answer the call. Call your friends and relatives back after you have returned. Best of all you can tell them about your rockin’ time outside.

4. Bills and Paperwork. Unless the paperwork is absolutely critical it can wait until you return from your refreshing outside. Better yet take care of that stuff the night before.

5. Domestic Life: The laundry, dishes, lawn, garage, trash, groceries, vacuum, broom, mop, duster etc. will be a siren song – distracting you from continuing your outside odyssey. Ignore them. Get out of the house and enjoy your day. Sometimes you just need to step away so you can return to deal with the house.

6. Clutter. Clutter is possibly the greatest and most powerful of all distractions. Clutter is the miscellaneous stuff that ends up in piles on the desk, unsorted things in the corner of the closet, things that have some purpose but you’re not sure what. Do you the own the clutter or does it own you? Go on your hike and think about it. The answer might surprise you.

Six Actions to Help Your Next Day Trip (Hike) be Successful

Day trips are great ways to get away from the rat-race. But, with busy schedules and family life, a quick day trip is not always easy. Frequently the littlest of things can get in the way and become chores, hurtles even headaches. Plan for these little things so they don’t become problems.

Here are six actions you can do to help your next day trip be successful:

1. Gas Up the Car the Day Before
Starting the day with an empty gas tank can set the tone for the rest of the trip. Avoid this headache and gas up the car the day before.

2. Outfit Your Daypack the Day Before
Preparing a daypack the morning you leave can be a chore – especially when young kids are involved. Something small will always be left behind and become a big headache. For example, do you want your three-year-old to realize her Teddy Bear was not packed when you are half-way up the trail? Avoid this situation and outfit your daypack as much as you can the day before.

3. Plan Your Food/Munchies Earlier in the Week
“What are we going to eat today?” Asking this question the day of your trip might lead to a headache – or even an empty tummy. Plan what you want to eat earlier that week. Use the evening before to set out any (non-refrigerated) munchies on the table where you can see everything. If cold items will be used on your day trip place it one location in the refrigerator. The next morning it is easy to grab all of your food and go.

4. Water + Hydration = No Headaches
A lack of water on your day trip isn’t just a figurative headache; not being well hydrated can lead to being a severe literal headache. Reduce the chances for dehydration, or a forgotten water container, by filling up water bottles the evening before you leave. Place them on the table with your other staged items so you can see everything.

5. Lighten Your Load with Ice
Carrying too much stuff in a backpack can be both a headache and a back pain. Lighten the amount of stuff your carry by seeing what can be used for multiple purposes. A favorite of my family is to freeze small bottles of water a day before the trip. The next day it is packed into the backpack with the food. The food stays cool while the ice slowly turns back to liquid. Later in the day, the cool water is good to drink.

6. Involve the Kids with Planning the Day Trip
Even parents who communicate at a stellar level with their children can still hear their kids say the morning of a trip, “We are going where? Today!” Avoid these gnarly headaches by involving the kids as much as possible before you leave. Get the ‘buy-in’ from all family members and have everyone help plan and prepare what is needed for the day trip.

Sequoia’s Tokopah Falls

Everything in Sequoia National Park is on an immense scale and Tokopah Falls is no different.

Tokopah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park. Visitors can see it descend along a series of whitewater cascades, falling 1,200 feet (365 meters) in just about one mile of distance (1.6 km)!

Imagine standing in a glacial-formed valley surrounded by tall walls of granite. Before you is the beginning of the valley – a steep headwall that rises a quarter-mile to the skyline. At the skyline, a white ribbon of water plummets from a large notch in the mountain. The water rushes down the steep cliff wall, darting and jumping, twisting and turning around jumbles of boulders. Such rocks might look petite from a distance, but they are the size of houses and cars. Quickly the ribbon appears larger and has a defined movement, the cascades grow larger and closer. At the base of the waterfall, a torrent of water tumbles over a cliff – it crashes into a deep pool of rolling and exploding white. This is Tokopah Falls.

Late spring offers the most dramatic views as snowmelt swells the river; though in the summer, as the snow disappears from the mountains, it is possible for the falls to appear almost dry. Regardless of the water level, this is a beautiful area.

Getting to Tokopah Falls is an enjoyable walk through forests and meadows next to the picturesque Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. The trail is 1.7 miles (2.7 km) one-way with just 500 feet (152 meters) of elevation gain – making it a good trip for families. The trailhead is located within the Lodgepole Campground on the north side of the easy-to-see stone bridge. The bridge area has easy access to the river and on hot days visitors take full advantage of the cool water. The park’s shuttle bus makes a stop at the campground just a few steps from the trailhead.

As you walk up the trail look for an impressive stone feature called the Watchtower on the south side of the valley. It dominates the skyline, rising 1,200 feet over the valley, so it is not hard to miss. The Watchtower is so big that it is a constant companion on the way to the waterfall.

On this trail, my family has seen a variety of animals including mule deer and a black bear with two cubs. During summer the trail is used by a lot of visitors; if you want to avoid crowds travel in the early morning or late afternoon.

The Largest Tree in the World

The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest tree in the world!

How big is it? An interpretive display near the tree gives some perspective about the size of this giant, “Looking up at the General Sherman Tree for a six-foot-tall human is about the equivalent of a mouse looking up at the six-foot-tall human.”

In our video, we provide a ‘sense of scale’ with a visit to a stone inlay ‘footprint’ found along the trail. This footprint represents the size of the tree at its base. Stand in the middle of this footprint and turn slowly around to better appreciate the size. The tree at its base is 103 feet in circumference (31 meters), and 36.5 feet (11 meters) in diameter.

The General Sherman Tree is approximately 2,200 years old. It is not the oldest or the tallest – it is the biggest in terms of volume. How big? Back to the interpretive display, “If the Sherman Tree’s trunk could be filled with water it would provide enough water for 9,844 baths. That’s one bath every day for 27 years.”

If you want to see the tree even closer continue down the trail. The trail has lots of opportunities to see more, learn about and better appreciate this magnificent wonder of nature.

Visitors to the park can easily travel to the tree via the park’s shuttle. The shuttle is a free service offered to park visitors in the summer. An added benefit is that after walking half a mile downhill from the main shuttle stop you can easily jump on another shuttle and continue to see the sights of the park. Walking half a mile is not that far for some, but if you have an elderly relative who is not used to the altitude they will thank you for not having to climb back uphill.

Car parking is available at the main parking lot, but finding space can be a pain in the summer. Take the shuttle to avoid these headaches.

A Great Family Hike at Zumwalt Meadow

Zumwalt MeadowA visit to Zumwalt Meadow is a great hike for families in Kings Canyon National Park. Everyone will enjoy an easy walk next to a river, through open forest and along the perimeter of a beautiful mountain meadow.

The trail leads downstream a short distance to a rugged looking suspension bridge. It is a great place to snap some pictures. On the other side of the bridge, several kids were splashing in a shallow pool. Dad was nearby about knee deep in the water keeping an eye on them. An older man about fifty feet away (possibly their Grandfather) was fishing.

The trail continued through an open forest for several minutes to an area strewn with massive boulders, this is the result of an avalanche. We walked along the trail between and over the debris left by the avalanche. The trail rose about 50 feet over the meadow and offered some fantastic views of the valley below. After about 15 minutes the trail leveled out and we found ourselves once again surrounded by trees. A large flat boulder sat next to the meadow and provided us with an excellent table for enjoying our lunch.

We walked down the trail and came to a junction. A sign pointed to the Roads End area and to Muir Rock, but we continued with our Zumwalt Meadow walk. The trail meandered through the upper section of the meadow. The shade from nearby trees kept us cool in the afternoon sun.

The river was just ahead. The cold blue and turquoise waters rolled past, in some areas the trail had been eaten away by the river and we had to step to one side to avoid falling in. Around us, the walls of Kings Canyon jutted far into the sky. Some of the peaks loomed almost a mile overhead! In some areas, the afternoon sun was blocked by their presence. The views were just amazing!

A wooden walkway now replaced the trail; it provided a transition between the meadow and the water without getting our feet wet. The views from the walkway were some of the most spectacular of the entire visit. Eventually, the walkway ended and we found ourselves in the open forest and on the trail near where we started. We had completed a loop. The suspension bridge was just a short distance away.

The trail is about 1.5 miles and can take up to an hour to complete, though our trip around the meadow took about 3 hours because of our numerous stops to enjoy this place and just to play. Bears have been known to enjoy this meadow just as much as humans – keep the camera handy.

Visiting the Buck Rock Fire Lookout is a Combination of Adventure and Play

Buck Rock a great day trip for those visiting the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park and the Lodgepole area of Sequoia National Park.

A visit to the Buck Rock fire lookout in Sequoia National Forest is a combination of adventure and play. Just getting there from the main road is exciting: you drive up a dirt road through forest lands, then climb a rugged staircase up to the side of a granite wall to a fire lookout on top of a massive rock dome.

Most people who see Buck Rock will view it from Kings Canyon Overlook along the General’s Highway. The General’s Highway is the primary road between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. From this often crowded car turnout folks who look east will see a small, and remote looking fire lookout about 2 miles in the distance.

We wanted to go exploring and take a closer look.

Our trip started from the General’s Highway at the Big Meadows Road turnoff. We drove east on this paved road for about 3 miles through beautiful forest service lands to a Horse Camp. Here we turned north onto a dirt road and continued for roughly another 2 miles. The dirt road became a little rocky in some areas and was a little intimidating. We were glad to have a car with some higher clearance. [Note: later that day we did notice a mini-van and a small sedan that had made the drive.]

The parking area was essentially a pull-over along the side of the dirt road. A sign directed us to walk the last quarter-mile. As we rounded a bend in the trail and saw the impressive looking Buck Rock (shown); a chain of stairs rose from the base of great stone and directed people to the fire lookout at the top.

blog_20100814_img2At the bottom of the stairs were several friendly volunteers from the Buck Rock Foundation, the nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the tradition of fire lookouts and other historic facilities. The volunteers gladly answered questions and told us more about the history of the fire lookout.

We started our ascent on some very rugged and sturdy looking stairs with equally solid side-rails. The wind was a little strong so we tightened down our hats and continued on. The stairs included 172 steps – each with a breathtaking view. Finally, we reached the top of Buck Rock (shown) and entered the 14 x 14 foot, well-maintained fire lookout staffed by Ranger Kathryn. She is on duty 5 days a week during the fire season. Volunteers and other staff help maintain the station during her days off. This tiny station, located at 8,500 feet in elevation, commands some fantastic views!

blog_20100814_img3In the corner of this tiny space was a small, but comfortable looking bed. In another corner was a tiny refrigerator and cooking stove, next to it was a miniature wood stove. All of the food, water, and firewood must be carried up the same 172 steps. One wall included a desk and work area. In the middle of the lookout was an Osborne Fire Finder device, an instrument that allows Rangers to sight a fire and determine the directional bearing (shown). The Ranger demonstrated how it worked by using two sighting apertures on the side of a large circular map. A fire was actually burning in the distance and from this high vantage point, we could easily sight it. The fire was burning 8 miles away! The sides of the lookout had large and roomy windows that made this small space feel spacious. I was surprised at how organized, comfortable and non-claustrophobic this tiny place was.

Outside, the building had a small walkway around the perimeter of the structure. Looking over the edge you felt as though you were suspended over open air. On the roof, hanging from one corner was a Hummingbird Feeder. During our visit, several times a Hummingbird (Anna’s or Rufus) zipped up and drank from the feeder.

We thanked everybody for a great visit and slowly walked back down the 172 stairs enjoying amazing views with each step.

For her adventurous spirit and climbing Buck Rock our youngest family member (age 9) earned an “I Climbed the 172 Steps to the Top of Buck Rock Fire Lookout” certificate. All kids who make the ascent can earn this certificate.

Continue your own explorations of Buck Rock:
Buck Rock Foundation

Buck Rock

Roaring River Falls in Kings Canyon National Park

Every member of the family can enjoy a quick visit to the Roaring River Falls in Kings Canyon National Park.

The falls are beautiful, picturesque and a short distance (.4 miles/.6 Kilometers) from the parking area adjacent to Highway 180, the major road in the canyon. The paved trail leads to an overlook making this a convenient destination for all ages.

Visitors can see about 80 feet of the falls as water tumbles through a gorge and unleashes a loud roar of water and spray into a turquoise pool below. Surprisingly, this visible section is only the lower third of the falls. The rest of the falls remains hidden – except to the imagination. The trail ends at the overlook because of the steep and rugged topography.

The easy accessibility of visiting Roaring River Falls can make the trail crowded and parking hard to find on weekends and during afternoons. If possible, visit the falls in the morning or evening when your family might just be the only people witnessing the sights and sounds of this inspiring place.

Enjoy the Majesty of the General Grant Tree of Kings Canyon National Park

If you and your family have the opportunity to visit the General Grant Tree of Kings Canyon National Park you are in for a treat.

Parents can walk among and appreciate the majesty of these ancient and immense Giant Sequoia Redwood trees. Kids will enjoy being outside, playing in an old cabin and walking through the Fallen Monarch, a cave-like giant redwood that is so big that it once stabled 32 U.S. Cavalry horses.

The General Grant Tree is important because it is the world’s third-largest living thing (by volume). The General Grant is 268 feet (81.6 meters) in height and has a circumference of 107.5 feet (32.7 meters)! It is not just big, but ancient; although the exact age of The General Grant is not known the National Park Service’s web site estimates the tree to between 1800 and 2700 years old.

When visiting this tree spend a few minutes contemplating about the civilizations and people who lived about 2,000 years ago – then consider, the General Grant was likely an old tree when those people walked the earth. Wow.

Some ‘fun facts’ displayed on a placard near the General Grant Tree help visitors better understand more about this immense redwood.

  • If the trunk of the General Grant Tree was a gas tank on a car that got 25 miles per gallon, you could drive around the earth 350 times without refueling.
  • The General Grant Tree is so wide it would take about twenty people holding hands to make a complete circle around the base.
  • If the General Grant Tree’s trunk could be filled with sports equipment, it could hold 159,000 basketballs or more than 37 million ping-pong balls.
  • President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the General Grant Tree to be the Nation’s Christmas Tree in 1926. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower designated it as a National Shrine, a living memorial to those who have given their lives for their country.

Many of the Giant Redwood trees in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were named just after the American Civil War. It was at this time the General Grant Tree was named after Ulysses S. Grant the final leader of the Union forces. A short distance away from the Grant Tree is the Robert E. Lee Tree, named for the leader of the Confederate forces. The Lee tree is the 12th largest tree on the planet.

The General Grant Tree and other Giant Sequoias are located in Kings Canyon National Park and the adjacent Sequoia National Park. Visitors to the Grant Tree can enjoy a self-guided trail that is half a mile (.8 kilometers) in length. The trail from the parking area is paved so wheelchairs and strollers are welcome. The location of the Grant Tree is roughly a 1.5 hours drive east of Fresno, California.

Let’s Go Exploring! High Peaks Loop – Pinnacles National Monument

The High Peaks Trail takes you through the heart of the Pinnacles rock formations.

The hike can be strenuous and is not recommended for children. Start at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and walk up the Condor Gulch Trail. This part of the hike offers some great views of the Pinnacles. Stop at the Overlook for some water but also drink in the views.

The trail continues to climb but loops back allowing hikers to see the Bear Gulch area below. In the distance are rolling hills and beautiful views. The trail moves through chaparral and to a sparse, yet beautiful area before joining the High Peaks Trail.

Walking along the High Peaks trail a large monolith rises to the north of the canyon. This is Machete Ridge, below it is the Balconies Cave – but that is another hike. This trail winds through strange finger-shaped Pinnacles rock formations. A sign tells you the trail will become steep and narrow. After a few minutes hikers are rewarded with a vista of the High Peaks.

Continuing down the trail the path becomes steep, then appears to stop. Here the trail becomes footholds carved into the rock; well-worn handrails beckons hikers higher.

At the top of the Pinnacles, stop. Enjoy the view.

As the trail descends keep an eye out for Condors gliding overhead.

The High Peaks trail drops sharply then levels out revealing even more bizarre rock formations that hint at the monument’s volcanic past.

Enjoying Condors at Pinnacles National Monument

California Condor

I saw a young California condor. It was 40 days old – it was also the first condor to be hatched in Pinnacles National Monument in over 100 years!

During a recent hike at Pinnacles National Monument, my family and I were blessed to see, just forty feet above us, a California condor with roughly a nine-foot wingspan glide over our heads. Whoa! It was over in several seconds but we were able to snap a picture (shown).

A few minutes later down the trail, we approached a trail junction. At the junction were spotting scopes pointed at an impressive rock wall about half a mile in the distance. Manning the scopes were biologists and interpretive volunteers helping visitors to see a young condor.

Looking through the scope I could see a light grey, fuzzy looking young bird resting in the crevice of a ledge. According to the interpreters, this youngster was about the size of a duck.

What is impressive about seeing these condors is that it highlights the work that has taken decades to accomplish.

After years of overhunting, Lead and Strychnine poisoning and habitat loss the condor population plummeted. In the mid 1980s, only 22 condors remained. The last condors were captured and placed in a captive breeding program to increase their numbers. In the mid 1990s releases began in California and have now expanded into Arizona and in Mexico. As of today, the total condor population is about 500 individuals; roughly 350 are in the wild while another 150 remain in the breeding program. Slowly the condors are returning to their historic territories, including Pinnacles.

We inquired about the condor that flew over our heads a few minutes earlier. According to the scientist, this was the hatchling’s Dad.

To learn more about the Pinnacles Condor Program visit:
http://www.nps.gov/pinn/naturescience/condors.htm

Let’s Go Exploring! Balconies Cave and Cliffs – Pinnacles National Monument

Note: This was produced several years before Pinnacles National Monument was renamed Pinnacles National Park. The references within the article and videos still use the term Monument.

The Balconies Cave and Cliffs loop is a great family hike at Pinnacles National Monument.

Start at the Chaparral Ranger Station at the West Entrance of Pinnacles National Monument to walk this easy to moderate 2.4-mile loop trail. The trail passes house-sized boulders and follows a small creek, gradually the trail funnels into a small canyon and the entrance of the Balconies Cave.

Balconies Cave is generally dry, but in the winter and spring wading might be required as you duck under boulders and scramble through tight squeezes. A flashlight is required. It is easy to imagine that this hidden trail takes you to a lost-world on the other side.

Just past the cave is the Balconies Cliffs Trail junction. Walk up the trail while keeping an eye open for a possible Condor or Turkey Vulture. At the top of the trail take a break and enjoy the breathtaking views of the surrounding area; in the background are the towering Machete Ridge and the immense Balconies Cliffs.

Walking down the path the scenery becomes greener. Enjoy the occasional wildflowers and great views. The Balconies Cliff Trail trail soon reconnects with the Balconies Trail and will return hikers to the parking area. Keep a watchful eye for the small waterfall on the left side of the trail during your return trip.

Let’s Go Exploring! Bear Gulch Cave – Pinnacles National Park

This is a great family hike at Pinnacles National Park.

Visitors can start at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and hike up a moderately inclined trail to the entrance of Bear Gulch Cave. The hike to the reservoir is a short hike of 1.3 miles (one way), but it is action-packed.

The trail pleasantly meanders past a creek, between the rocks and through the trees. In about twenty minutes we arrive at the entrance of Bear Gulch Cave.

Inside the cave, we hear water trickling and light can be seen streaming down onto the trail in several sections. As we move into some dark passages the sound of rushing water becomes louder. Then the cave opens up into a large room. A waterfall rushes next to us as we climb steps that take us further into the cave.

Depending on the season the upper section of the cave might be closed to help protect a sensitive species of bat and their young. In our video this section of the cave is open to explorers – here a flashlight is required. We sometimes have to squat down and duck walk through several narrow sections while wading in ankle-deep water. For an eight-year-old (and adults too) this is a lot of fun.

Soon we emerge from the darkness and walk below house-sized boulders that are jammed into the canyon above us. Then we see a staircase chiseled from the rock itself. We walk up and are greeted by a small reservoir. Walking around the reservoir we look back at the dam and several amazing rock features that rise into the sky.

Coyote is Still Teaching – Lessons from the Trail

coyote is still teaching

It was springtime in California’s Henry Coe State Park. The hillsides were sprouting green and rugged looking oaks dotted the hillsides.

My family enjoyed a day of just being outside. My six-year old daughter enjoyed hiking but would sometimes be so engrossed with her surroundings that she would not see sticks or rocks on the trail. After a near tumble she was heard to comment, “I don’t need to be aware of where I’m going.” That same day my wife had asked me to ‘check the camera’ and I was heard to say, “I don’t need to check my camera.” After all it was ‘my’ camera and when I last used ‘my’ camera there were plenty of pictures, though I had noticed the picture count did seem higher than it should be.

I don’t need to be aware of where I’m going.

I don’t need to check my camera.

We were hiking back to the car when my wife noticed a coyote several hundred feet in front of us on the trail. We were downwind, so the coyote (apparently) had not noticed us. The coyote had rich colorful fur. She was looking at something in the grass. I could count on two hands the number of times during my life I seen a coyote in the mid-day sun. Possibly this was a mother coyote with a litter of pups and she was gathering food.

Seeing the coyote reminded me that some people fear and even demonize these animals because they might venture into suburbs to scavenge for food. Coyotes are sometimes lumped together with dark creatures that few appreciate like bats, snakes and rats. On the contrary coyotes are interesting animals. In some Native American oral traditions, the coyote is a creature of power and influence; the coyote could choose to teach valuable lessons to people, and sometimes those lessons were taught through trickery.

After a short time the coyote lost interest with the something in the grass and looked unconcerned over her shoulder at us. She moved down the trail and rounded the bend. We also continued on the trail making sure to keep a distance between us. Just before every curve in the trail she would turn and pose in the sun. I would carefully take a picture but she always moved out of sight. I felt as though I was being teased.

This ‘teasing’ continued for twenty minutes until the coyote became very distant on the trail and then disappeared. My young daughter was so intent on looking for the coyote that she did not see a trail hazard, a very fresh pile of poo. After stepping in it the awkward grimace on her face spoke volumes – that from that day on she would be more aware of where was going.

My young daughter was so intent on looking for the coyote that she did not see a trail hazard, a very fresh pile of poo.

At that moment the coyote appeared, up the hillside from us some thirty feet away. She looked at us then gracefully turned and stood sideways along a rock outcrop. Her head was slightly raised as she sniffed the air. It was a picture perfect moment: the green grass surrounding the rock, gray rock underfoot and the deep blue-sky overhead accentuated the tan and golden brown of her fur, the late afternoon sunlight was soft and offered no harsh shadows.

I could not believe this opportunity for a photograph. I slowly raised the camera and pressed the shutter button…it was to be to be my best photo of the year! The camera made an annoying electronic peep-peep noise. I raced to look at the camera screen, it read, “Memory Card Full”

“What?!” I was shocked, angry and confused. I glanced at the coyote; she was still posing but she was looking at me and ‘my’ camera. She appeared to grin at my situation.

I quickly looked at the pictures in the camera’s memory. My family had used the camera to take photos of a school event, the pet guinea pig, and some relatives. “AAArrggh!” Within my mind I heard my carefree comment, “I don’t need to check my camera”. …I should have checked the camera!

“AAArrggh!” Within my mind I heard my carefree comment, “I don’t need to check my camera”.

I glanced again the coyote – now she seemed to raise her eyes as though mocking me.

I fumbled with the camera and erased a guinea pig photo. The coyote was shifting her weight as though readying to walk – she was turning. Quickly I raised the camera and snapped the photo…the coyote was gone. I checked the photo in the camera’s memory – it was a well-focused, perfectly visible picture of the coyote’s posterior. The messaging was not lost.

My daughter and I looked at each other, we both felt tricked, we both felt like posteriors. Neither of us talked much while returning home.

During dinner we talked about what had happened on the trail. At first we blamed the coyote for our own shortcomings, then we correctly blamed ourselves. Although we had made mistakes those mistakes would not happen again; my daughter would watch the trail better, and I would check my equipment before another trip.

Perhaps the stories about coyotes playing tricks are true – the encounter on the trail provided us with several valuable lessons.

Family Time at Bear Gulch Cave – Pinnacles National Monument

Family Time at Bear Gulch Cave’ was published in the June 2008 issue of ‘Bay Area Parent Silicon Valley’.

Pinnacles National MonumentMy seven-year-old daughter Anna was first out of the car upon arriving at Pinnacles National Monument, “Come on slowpokes, let’s go!” We walked up a meandering canyon trail to the entrance of the Bear Gulch Cave.

Pinnacles National Monument is a two hours drive south of San Jose. This natural playground includes bizarre rock formations, house-sized boulders, and my daughter’s favorite, Bear Gulch Cave.

We felt a cool breeze from the cave’s mouth. Anna instructed us, “Mama, Papa, don’t forget your flashlights.” My wife, Christiane and I smiled and followed our young adventurer.

At first, the cave was dark then our eyes adjusted to the low light. We appeared silhouetted against shafts of light that pierced the ceiling. Small rocks crunched nosily under our feet as we walked. A bat darted overhead. Being mindful of the bat’s home we walked more quietly and lowered the beams from our flashlights. In the distance, we heard a low rushing noise from a waterfall. Several minutes later we stood next to a gushing spray of water. Our lights illuminated the waterfall that disappeared twenty feet below.

Pinnacles National MonumentFurther in the cave the trail dove underneath enormous boulders that were interlocked between the walls of the canyon. “These are as big as the house!” exclaimed Anna. The trail snaked between boulders to reveal a narrow staircase carved into the canyon wall. We climbed the stairs and out of the cave. We were greeted by a small reservoir surrounded by amazing and awkward shaped rocks. My daughter spotted our favorite picnic area across the water.

We enjoyed lunch in a shaded area. Overhead a vulture, or a condor, glided on thermals. In the distance rock climbers carefully made their ascent up a stone monolith. A hummingbird zipped in close, startling us, then quickly sped off. The rest of the afternoon we continued to explore the many trails of this natural playground.

Finally, the sun became low on the horizon and signaled the end of our day. We returned to the cave and back to the parking area.

As the family car turned onto the highway I asked, “So Anna, what was best about today?” No reply. Our young adventurer was asleep.

To continue your own explorations of Pinnacles National Monument visit: http://www.nps.gov/pinn

Exploring the Mysterious Rock Art of Little Petroglyph Canyon

Hidden in the northern Mojave Desert and within the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, near Ridgecrest California, is a half-mile wash with over 20,000 images. It is considered the largest known concentration of petroglyphs in the western hemisphere. More information about visiting this remote area can be found at maturango.org.

The canyon starts as an unassuming wash. It quickly impresses. This is a mysterious place and is to be respected. The natural history guide will ask you not to touch the glyphs as the oils from our hands can destroy the rock art over time.

Some of the images are sixty feet above the floor of the canyon.
Impressive. The temperatures at the top of the canyon were well into the 90s’ on the day we visited, however, in the canyon they were in the 70s.

The largest glyph is possibly the most recognizable of all the images in the canyon.