Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox at Lava Beds & Crater Lake

This was an exploration of two dramatic volcanic landscapes timed with the Autumnal Equinox.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: September 2018 | Duration: 4 days | Participants: 5 | Type: car camping, hiking, and caving

Upon arriving at the forbidding Lava Lands National Monument we made camp and then explored several accessible lava tube caves around the visitor center. We also climbed the conical shaped 5,302-foot tall Schonchin Butte where we enjoyed views 100 miles east to the Warner Mountains, near Nevada, and 50 miles west to Mount Shasta. In the evening, we walked along a dusty trail into the Schonchin Wilderness Area and encountered an entrance to a lava tube that was at least 4 stories tall.

The next morning we hiked from the campground to Skull Cave where a small ice pond can be viewed year round. We also hiked to several pictograph caves and enjoyed our lunch on the trail. As the afternoon warmed we spent our time underground where we explored three caves and partially a fourth. Back at camp, we were surprised to discover that several hundred bugs had descended upon the hood of one of the cars, possibly attracted by the metallic-blue color. They had apparently been engaged in a frenzied mating and exhausting themselves to death. Bugs that fell onto the ground were snapped up by an eager lizard. As the sun set, we hiked into the nearby wilderness and enjoyed a pastel sky.

On the third day, we packed up and drove through the northern section of the monument. Our last stop was to Petroglyph Point where a monolithic wall includes petroglyphs, raptor nests, and evidence of former wave action. Tule Lake was a gigantic, yet shallow inland lake that existed for millennia. The lake was drained in the early 1900s and the exposed land turned into farmland. The existing lake is far to the west and is one-sixth its original size. Future explorations to Lava Beds will include additional sites of the Modoc War and seeing the remnants of an imprisonment camp where Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced to live during WWII. In the afternoon we drove to Crater Lake and made camp. The Mazama Campground was closing for the season and this was its last weekend. Upon our arrival, the sky darkened and it rained for several minutes. After making camp we hiked to the Great Spring and down the picturesque Annie Creek trail loop. In the late afternoon, we made good use of the camp showers then drove the rim to enjoy the views from Discovery Point. At dinnertime, we made our way to the historic Crater Lake Lodge where we raised a glass to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox then enjoyed a meal. Back at the campground, a nearly full moon encouraged multiple parties at neighboring campsites and sleeping was difficult.

On day four we woke to a frosty 28 degrees Fahrenheit. We warmed up though at the local Annie Creek Restaurant with some hot coffee and breakfast. As we drove along the east rim to the Mount Scott trailhead the sky was blue and clear. We hiked for about an hour to this highest point in the park, which stands just less than 9,000 feet. The view of the once massive volcano Mount Mazama, now known as Crater Lake, was superb! We could see about 100 miles in each direction; to the north the Three Sisters, and to the south Mount Shasta. As noon approached we hiked back down the mountain and ended our trip with a late lunch. There was a definite chill in the air, fall had arrived.

Where to Stay in San Francisco on a Budget

Where can a frugal traveler stay in ultra-expensive San Francisco? These are friendly, clean, and safe hostels to help you explore this world-class city while not wrecking your budget.

The Adelaide Hostel
The Adelaide is a few blocks west of the centrally located Union Square. The hostel’s name originates from a former owner’s love of his Australian hometown. This is an older building, but the architecture’s warm color palette and modern facilities only compliment the charm. The kitchen and dining areas are clean and there are nights where the hostel prepares meals for guests. In the morning make sure to grab a bowl of complimentary oatmeal and orange juice. A quiet area on the main floor is a great place to read and work on a laptop. The staff is very knowledgeable about local places to eat and go sightseeing. Expect some street noise if the windows are open, but earplugs will take care of most extraneous sounds.
Website: www.adelaidehostel.com

Fort Mason Hostel (Hosteling International Fisherman’s Wharf)
All of the HI hostels in the bay area great places to stay, but Fort Mason takes the cake just because of its proximity to the Marina District, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. The hostel retains the crispness and presentation of building’s military history.  The kitchen is sizeable and the common area includes a pool table. Nearby is a small coffee shop that offers pastries and cookies. A palatial quiet room on the main floor offers a respite for computer work, reading, or just hanging out.  A grocery store (the Marina Safeway) is about half a mile away if you need to resupply. If you want to explore the city, a Cable Car turnaround is a short walk away. The staff is very friendly and helpful and went the extra distance to answer some of my questions. I really appreciate the hostel’s extra activities, which included area hikes led by knowledgeable locals.
Website: www.sfhostels.org/fishermans-wharf

Pacific Tradewinds Hostel
Don’t let the unassuming street entrance adjacent to a Hunan restaurant fool you, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is clean, modern, and has a friendly staff. Located near Chinatown, this hostel is centrally located to downtown and North Beach clubs. Be aware, this is a social hostel (aka a party hostel!) and is usually frequented by a younger crowd. The hostel’s main room can quickly become busy and an innocent game of Jenga can turn into a (friendly) beer drinking competition. Bring earplugs as street noise at the night can keep you up. The hostel has a small kitchen with all the amenities. The hostel staff leads tours and clubbing excursions throughout the week.
Website: san-francisco-hostel.com

All of the above mentioned hostels run about $50 a night. Make sure to bring a small travel lock to secure any items in a locker, as well as shower shoes and extra soap. To avoid the crowds in San Francisco, the best time for visiting is mid-October through March.

Lassen’s Phantasmagoric Bumpass Hell

Within Lassen Volcanic National Park, at a chilly 8,000 feet in elevation, is a phantasmagoric location known as Bumpass Hell.

Bumpass Hell is the park’s largest hydrothermal area, but to many visitors, it appears unnatural, like a scene created by the imagination. Just hiking to the location suggests this is an irregular place. First, the pungent odor of rotten eggs rudely greets the nose. Then the landscape changes appearance; friendly greens and browns retreat to display barren, mineral stained soils of tan, orange, and yellow. Finally, looking into the active basin the ground’s surface is reminiscent of another world, it is etched, pocked and corroded; ghostly apparitions of steam hiss into the air while numerous mudpots pop and gurgle, and aquamarine pools roll with superheated water. It is harsh looking and very beautiful.

blog-20120929-img2A wooden boardwalk allows for a more safe exploration of the area. Posted signs stress the importance of staying on designated paths for safety reasons. Bumpass Hell was named after an early visitor who severely burned his leg upon falling through the surface’s thin crust and into boiling water.

Upon leaving, the crude odor of Bumpass Hell diminishes with distance, but it haunts the nose for a long time afterward.

The hydrothermal area is accessible by two trails. The popular three-mile hike begins at the Bumpass Hell parking lot, on Hwy 89, and requires several hours for a round trip. The elevation gain is about 300 feet. Be prepared for a crowded parking area and a busy trail in the summer. If you seek a less explored route the trail leading from the Kings Creek trailhead is very rewarding. This five-mile trail passes through majestic forests, crosses gentle brooks, and meanders through an area of volcanic formations that are layered and twisted. Plan for a hike that covers roughly 800 feet of elevation gain. In the summer, look for retreated snow banks that are hidden in the woods just off the trail.

Learn more about Lassen Lassen Volcanic National Park:
http://www.nps.gov/lavo/index.htm

A Grand Morning at Lassen Volcanic National Park’s Summit Lake

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a great location to start one’s day.

I woke early in the morning. My family slept silently next to me in their warm sleeping bags. I was careful not to wake them as I left the tent. The sky was a mixture of pastel blues, soft pinks and warm yellows as the sun was starting to rise. No one in the campground was awake; if they were they treaded quietly.

The morning was very cool and I was glad to have my jacket as I walked through the campground. The shadows were quietly retreating and shades of gray were slowly being chased away by the morning’s gaining light. The tips of the hundred-foot trees surrounding the campsite were brightly dolloped with sunlight.

Adjacent to the campground was the beautiful Summit Lake. It was spangled with wisps of moisture that danced off the water’s surface into the morning air.

blog-20120922-img3Everything was amazingly still. The only sounds were my soft footsteps on the earthen path that follows the lake’s gentle perimeter. At the lake’s edge, in some places, the water granted peaks into the stillness and you could gaze for many feet along the trunk of a fallen tree.

Breaking the morning’s quiet was a squirrel. It barked at me, while upside-down, from the side of a nearby tree. I had offended his solitary morning. I took leave and walked further down the trail, enjoying the newness of the day.
The sun had crested the trees on the east side of the lake and now fully illuminated the trees on the opposite shore, revealing a curtained wall of greens, browns and tans.

In the distance, the great dome shaped volcano of Mt Lassen commanded the horizon. The impressive scene was mirrored on the still lake before me. A great heavenly painting was being created and I was witnessing the Creator’s casual brush strokes. I felt almost prideful to be only witness of this beauty.

A mother duck and seven babies glided across the majestic natural painting. Their tiny wakes slowly moved across the colorful canvas, blurring the stillness and bending the reflections into a shimmering pallet of colors on the water.

It was a grand morning.

Lassen’s Subway Cave

Subway Cave in northern California is an easy, affordable and fun way to discover the area’s volcanic past.

Subway Cave is a lava tube that lies just under the rough surface of Lassen National Forest. Visitors can easily park and walk a short distance to the cave’s opening where stairs descend about twenty-five feet down into the darkness.

The cave walk is only 1,300 feet in distance but is otherworldly compared to the bright surface and hot summertime temperatures. The visibility inside the lava tube quickly becomes zero, so flashlights are required. Also, bring a light jacket, as the temperature inside the cave is an autumn-like 46 degrees. The cave has several chambers to explore and signs are marked to help guide you to the exit.

At the exit notice the large ‘hills’ that rise several hundred feet to the east, these are the edges of ancient lava flows. Also, look for the magnificent Lassen Peak to the south. The walk back to the car is about ten minutes. Subway Cave can easily be explored by family members of all ages.

San Francisco’s Salty Old Waterfront

blog-20120805-img1The visitor center at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park offers visitors a glimpse into a salty past. Most visitors to San Francisco’s northern shore only see a tsunami of stores that sell trinkets and bobbles; however, the curious will find ‘ The Waterfront’ exhibit to offer a rich story.

The Waterfront is not just an exhibit; it is an experience more than 150 years in the making. You can discover a time before European settlement, learn about how the Gold Rush shaped San Francisco, hear voices of sailors in a Barbary Coast saloon, and even see lumber being transported over your head as a ship delivers its cargo. The exhibits also include fishing boats, actual equipment and several hundred artifacts woven throughout the walk. A very realistic looking street fish market impressed my young daughter.

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Afterwards, make a short walk across the street to explore the historic sailing ships of the Hyde Street Pier. Visiting the ships will cost you a little, but it is far more valuable than what is sold in most of the surrounding tourist stores. The queen of all the historic ships on display is the Balclutha, you can get a better look with this video-

Learn more: http://www.nps.gov/safr/index.htm

The Captivating Burney Falls

The 129-foot Burney Falls in northern California is one of the state’s most beautiful waterfalls.

The water does not simply pour over the top, rather the porous volcanic rock in the area encourages a dispersal of the water, resulting is multiple cascades that leap from the rock’s face along the entire height of blue and white waterfall.

The most popular vantage point for viewing is from the base of the falls, but this area can be crowded in the summer as heat-weary visitors find refuge in the coolness.

A short loop trail allows visitors to explore both sides of the creek above and below the falls. However, if you are up for a larger hike try hiking a couple of miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which passes next to the falls.
The campground can be very crowded in the summertime, and the visitors, not the most quiet. If possible, try visiting during a down season or mid-week.

Sutter’s Fort and the Gold Rush

blog-20120903-img1A whitewashed adobe fort sits within the busy, modern center of Sacramento, California. It is known as “Sutter’s Fort’ and is frequented by children learning about California’s pioneering history. But, it is not just for kids; older explorers can discover a thing or two as well.

The fort is named after John Sutter an immigrant from Europe who created a massive agricultural empire in California’s fertile central valley in the 1840’s. For roughly ten years he controlled all business interests and shaped the activities within the region. In a way, he was California’s first business entrepreneur. But, in 1848 that changed when gold was discovered at one of the mills that he owned along the American River; ‘Gold Fever’ was out. Within several years tens of thousands of gold seekers overran his lands, mills, and businesses. Ironically, Sutter became a pauper in the land where he once single-handedly ruled. It is in interesting chapter of the American West.

A reconstruction of his fort remains today. Outside, the fort has thick, adobe walls that are several stories high. Inside, dirt pathways guide folks around fire pits, canvas tents and wagons. All of the rooms are well stocked with artifacts and exhibits that help to tell the story from that time.

Check the calendar for events and special times when visitors can see modern folks who have dressed the part and provide a glimpse into life of the pioneers.
Learn more:
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=485

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Back to 1885 at the Sacramento Hostel

blog-20120902-img1If you want to overnight in a restored Victorian mansion dating to 1885, the Sacramento Hostel is the place. The hostel has worked hard to give visitors a comfortable experience while maintaining the elegance and beauty of this historic building.

The family room we stayed in was very spacious. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking utensils and the facilities were well maintained. My daughter enjoyed exploring the stairs and quickly discovered a foosball table and travel library in the basement. The small breakfast that was offered in the morning was a good way to start the morning. The staff members are very helpful in recommending local places to visit and an activity board listing local attractions and schedules is displayed in the main hallway.

The building itself has a long history and was once nearly destroyed to make room for a modern skyscraper. Fortunately the building was preserved, actually moved several times over its history, to become a unique experience for today’s travelers. Look for a pamphlet on the building’s full story that is located in one of the Victorian style living parlors.

Parking is available on the street, or in a gated area for a small fee. The hostel is located in the heart of downtown and is a good location for exploring Sutter’s Fort and the Railroad Museum.

Learn More:
http://norcalhostels.org/sac/

The Point Reyes Hostel is Great for Families

After a long day of exploring the beaches, forests and grasslands of Point Reyes National Seashore, where does a family stay?

In the heart of this 70,000-acre parkland, is the Point Reyes Hostel. The main hostel is located in a converted ranch house, but recently there is a new addition, the “green building.” The green building was constructed to LEED Silver standards so it maximizes water savings, is energy efficient and constructed with materials that support human and environmental health.

I found the new facilities to be clean, roomy and most of all quiet. Our family room had two bunk beds and a larger twin bed on the lower level, but what everyone liked most was the window, which could be opened to allow copious amounts of fresh coastal air inside. The communal kitchen was well stocked with cooking items and the shared bath facilities were well maintained.

Adjacent to the kitchen area is a sizable balcony for sitting outside and having a meal. If you sit outside the entertainment can include a covey of quail running below, or even a deer munching some grass nearby.

Depending on the time of year you can expect sun or rain, but there is always some amount of overcast that rolls in from the ocean. The seashore is located about an hour north of San Francisco, California.

To learn more about the Point Reyes Hostel visit:
http://norcalhostels.org/reyes/

A Family Overnight at the Marin Headlands Hostel

If your family is visiting San Francisco, California, consider overnighting on a decommissioned military base.

The base is now part of an immense national recreation area known as the Marin Headlands where visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, and beach combing. After a long day, when it is time to bed down, the Marin Headlands Hostel is a good choice for families. The hostel has taken great care to restore these historic military buildings, which date to 1907.

Families who stay here get a treat, the opportunity to stay in a solidly built two-story building that served as Officer’s quarters. Inside the house an impressive staircase greets visitors and a cozy living room is stocked with books and games. A broad porch welcomes parents who wish to sit, rest, and watch sunsets or catch glimpses of deer grazing in a field. As part of the hosteling experience be prepared to bring your own food and make use of the common kitchen.

The hostel is a good value for the money, especially considering the high cost of accommodation in the bay area. I would suggest earplugs to guard against any possible late night noise.

What I found most memorable during my stay was hearing an owl hooting in the stillness of the night in this immense and open green space of the Marin Headlands, and knowing that just a few miles away, live several million people.

A Discovery of 55 Banana Slugs in 70 feet at Point Reyes

blog-20120827-img1Banana Slugs are really cool. They can be up to 9 inches in length and are recognizable by their bright yellow color. The slugs help to turn old leaves and plants into soil; they are “good-guys” in the forest. It is possible to see several on a day hike, but on this hike in the Point Reyes National Seashore, located in California, my family encountered 55 individuals in just seventy feet of trail! What a rare treat!

Our hike began at the Point Reyes Hostel and continued down a gentle trail to the coast. In a low section, moisture was being funneled off the hill and over the trail into a marshy area. This is when we saw a banana slug, then another and then one about every foot and a half. The slugs were everywhere. Some were fully-grown; others were just a couple of inches in length. Two-thirds of the slugs were pointed basically the same direction, to the moist area just over the trail.

I am not sure if this grouping was because of the water, or a food source, but it was a very unusual sight to come across.

That afternoon, while returning from the beach, I passed the same area. Now, just a handful of slugs could be seen, the rest has disappeared into the undergrowth.

All Aboard at the California State Railroad Museum

Unleash your inner train-loving kid at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento, California.

I could easily spend another afternoon exploring over 20 restored locomotives and railroad cars, but this is more than just a place about railroads, it tells the story of how trains transformed America.

blog-20120804-img2After purchasing tickets you enter a large room with an impressive exhibit about the Transcontinental Railroad. This is an immersive, life-sized diorama that literally pulls the visitor inside to reflect on the arduous task of building a railroad over the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains. At the center of the experience is a beautiful locomotive. In front of the engine is a tunnel – a masterwork of art – that plays on the eye and appears to continue into the snowy and cold mountains.

After this exhibit is a second immense room filled with trains and cars – all restored. Woven between these great machines are smaller exhibits that give glimpses and perspectives of how trains influenced a growing free-society in the United States. The exhibits also look at the daily life of train workmen.

blog-20120804-img3My daughter enjoyed a restored sleeper car, featured as part of the “Golden Age” of rail travel. Inside, the car was darkened, it rocked and swayed, complete with rail noise and passing light signals through the windows. It really did feel like being in a passenger car at night.

The roadhouse is filled with monster-sized locomotives and railcars. Don’t miss out on the postal car, where you can see the organization involved with delivering mail to remote communities along the rail line.

Upstairs is a children’s play area, and a sizable model train layout complete with bridges, tunnels and lots of trains for those who want to be eight year’s old again. Make sure to explore the adjoining area, where you walk over a train trestle and get a bird’s eye view of the entire museum.
blog-20120804-img4Learn more:
http://www.csrmf.org

A Quick Explore of the Tule Elk Reserve at Point Reyes

The Point Reyes National Seashore in northern California is a dramatic landscape sculpted by powerful tectonic forces, fierce winds, and the constant bombardment of ocean waves. It is also a gentle place with rolling hills, drifting fog and tranquil bays. This is a great geography for families to explore and enjoy a weekend away from the hustle and bustle. It is also a great place to discover a success story, the return of the majestic tule elk.

California was once home to large populations of elk, but after the 1849 Gold Rush these populations were decimated and within ten years the elk had disappeared from the land. Fortunately, a very small population (possibly fewer than 10 individuals at the lowest level) survived in a remote area of central California. Eventually, a rancher in the area protected the elk with a refuge on his ranch and later land management groups relocated small bands of elk to other areas of the state, but with limited success. In 1978 a handful of elk were relocated to the Tomales Point region of the Point Reyes National Seashore. Today, the elk at Point Reyes number over 400 and enjoy over 2,600 acres of land to roam.

During my family’s visit, we started on a weekend day in January. The temperature was a chilly 48 degrees and the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean was heralding a storm that would roll in that night. We wore multiple layers of clothing and some heavy knit hats to cover our ears to shield us from the cool air. Some might be uncomfortable here; but the experience of breathing clean air, seeing the open sea and the expansive land uncluttered by structures provided ample warmth for something deep and primal within our souls.

We walked up the great peninsula; along with a trail that is roughly 5 miles from our starting point to lands end. Tomales Point is surrounded by the mighty Pacific Ocean to the north and west while the tranquil Tomales Bay is visible to the east. It is a curious geography formed by the San Andreas Fault. Here we were witness to the results of two gigantic tectonic plates of the earth grinding together; the peninsula where we walked was part of the Pacific plate while across the mile-wide bay lay the plate of North America.

After thirty minutes we saw them, a small band of elk. Several sentinels watched us while the majority munched upon shoots of grass. Further beyond we saw more elk and over the next rise even more. On our return walk we saw another band, but this time we saw the bulls with their noticeable and very intimidating antlers. As with all the elk, we gave them plenty of room. For the rest of the day, we spotted the elk along various rises on the trail or as dots on the sides of the hills.

We were glad to have seen these creatures upon such an inspiring marriage of land and sea. We are wealthier because of the experience. As we left we said a ‘thank you’ to the people who over the decades worked hard so others could enjoy such a majestic sight and appreciate a success story.

To explore more:
http://www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm
http://www.nps.gov/pore/naturescience/tule_elk.htm

Camping at Little Basin Cabins and Campground

The Little Basin Cabins and Campground is a hidden location and perfect for escaping from the busy rush of Silicon Valley.

This former Hewlett Packard employee retreat is now part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California and can be enjoyed by the public.

Our car pulled into the campsite where dappled light dotted an open space underneath massive redwood trees. A Jay stood like a sentry on the picnic table. We unloaded our supplies and scouted out two spaces for our tents. The Jay hopped into a tree and watched us closely. Our daughter explored the immediate area and found lost treasures of stick forts hidden among fallen redwoods. We pitched our tents, stored our gear and explored the larger campground.

Little BasinLittle Basin offers 12 cabins and 38 well-spaced campsites among the redwoods for families who need some time to camp, play and explore. The park offers trails, and more developed facilities such as a children’s playground, group mess hall and sports field. Each campsite includes a fire-ring and picnic table. Shower facilities are also available in the rest rooms. Ice and wood is available at the camp office.

As the sun lowered on the horizon we prepared our fire. My ten-year old daughter is granted the privilege of being the keeper of the fire, a responsibility she takes great pride in. Soon a bed of coals was ready to cook our dinner and we placed our foil pockets with veggies and meat in the coals.

As the sun lowered further the last lances of light shot between the great trees creating well defined walls between shadows and light. The sun disappeared, it was dark on the forest floor but overhead the clouds were colored with pink, red and purple.

We tore into our cooked pockets and enjoyed a cornucopia of flavors, it was a simple meal, but we relished it greatly.

Little BasinIn the evening the temperature lowered and we donned our jackets. The light from the fire illuminated our faces and the trees immediately around us. We talked some, but mostly just stared into the flames and let our thoughts wander. It was very relaxing.

Everyone was tired and we felt that it was very late. Someone announced the time, it was only 10:00 P.M. The TV show that we might have watched at home was not missed.

At night we heard some chattering of raccoons outside, they were checking to see if we left some food out, we did not, and they left empty handed. Later, something stepped through the leaves, carefully and deliberate, it was a deer. In the early morning soft rain pelted the outside of our tents and at one point it rained heavy for about ten minutes.

As morning broke we woke and enjoyed the quiet before others started their day. It was a few minutes of precious, even sacred time in the cool and stillness.

The fire was restarted and the camp stove turned on to heat some water in our old, beat-up, blue enamel pot. Soon we had water for coffee. We stood around the small fire drinking coffee and chased off any chill that might have been in the air.

Little BasinThe day began again and life was again renewed. A Jay, possibly the same one we saw the day before, sat like a sentry on a nearby branch and watched us closely.

Little Basin is a new addition to Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Boulder Creek, California. In this time of recession, Little Basin, is an experiment of sorts by the State of California and conservation organizations to allow Little Basin to support itself by being self-sustaining as a revenue generator while providing outdoor education opportunities to the public.

To learn more about Little Basin visit –
http://littlebasin.org/camp/little-basin
To learn more about Big Basin Redwoods State Park visit-
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=540

A Day Exploring the Waterfalls of Big Basin Redwoods State Park

blog_20101230_img6Winter can be a wonderful time to visit Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California.

We arrived at 10 a.m. (December 29th) and parked across from the old log building known as Big Basin Headquarters. The temperature outside was 44 degrees and the damp air was crisp. The morning clouds had dissipated and sunlight streaked through the forest canopy onto the ground below.

Surrounding the headquarters were goliaths – redwood trees that were 4, 5, and 6 feet across. One tree appeared to be 8 or 9 feet at the base. Even though I have visited here many times I am always impressed by the size and grandeur of these magnificent trees. But, today my family was here to see other sights – three magnificent waterfalls: Berry Creek Falls, Silver Falls, and Golden Cascade.

We made sure our water bottles were full before crossing over Waddell Creek and onto the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail that would lead us to the waterfalls. The winter rains had made the forest green with color. The forest was quiet, peaceful and restorative.

After an hour or so of walking through the redwoods, the sounds of rushing water could be heard. The creek next to us, Kelly Creek, was alive with water and small cascades. Everything around was green and moist. The redwoods towered above us. The only sounds we heard were our breathing and our footsteps on the ground made gentle gushing noises as we walked on the damp trail. The cleanliness of the air was a joy to breathe! Something small at the side of the trail moved ahead of us, it was a newt that was slowly traversing the fallen logs and fern fronds.

blog_20101230_img5At the Timms Creek trail junction, a fallen redwood had created a natural bridge (shown). Big Basin Redwoods State ParkWe rested and played here for a few minutes then continued on. Soon, a rock overlook along the trail let us peer down onto Kelly Creek – a myriad of small white cascades dotted the creek, large brown boulders sat among ferns and broad-leafed plants and a color chart of green moss dotted the sides of trees.

The trail descended and crossed over a small footbridge. In a few minutes, we rounded a corner – ahead of us were the Berry Creek Falls.

These 65-foot falls drop vertically – plunging abruptly into a valley of redwoods and moss. To say this is ‘picturesque’ is an understatement.

We enjoyed the view then continued to a viewing platform about three-quarters the height of the falls for a direct look (shown is the view from the platform). For ten minutes we had this view all to ourselves. Then several other hikers arrived, they deserved the same tranquility we just enjoyed, so we moved on.

Big Basin Redwoods State ParkThe trail continued upstream for about twenty minutes. Small cascades danced in the creek and gurgles of water made curious sounds as pools emptied over steep rocks. Here we saw a huge, bright yellow, banana slug about seven inches in length next to the trail. We had seen several banana slugs on the trail but this was by far the largest. The sound of falling water was coming from just up the trail.

Silver Falls began to appear through the redwoods. These falls were slightly hidden by the mass of trees, blog_20101230_img4but it was easy to see the white and frothy ‘silvery’ water as it poured over the top and dropped a wonderful 60 feet or so into a pool below. A series of stairs on the trail wound up the side of the valley to the top of the falls. At the top was a single cable handrail (shown in the photo). The trail was a little slick so we proceeded with caution.

In just seconds we were at the Golden Cascade. These were actually two cascades; at the base was a vertical fall of about 15 feet, just above it was a much more impressive drop. I am not sure about the height, but for perspective notice the blog_20101230_img3person in the photo (top right, wearing a red vest).

We enjoyed a well-deserved snack in this tranquil place then continued on our hike back to the car. Although it was an hour before sunset it was close to dark when we arrived at the parking area. These are some deep valleys and the trees are very, very tall. It can become dark quickly in the redwood forest.

I like to visit between rainstorms when the weather grants a two to three-day rest between showers allowing the trails to harden up a little. Seeing these waterfalls in the winter (and spring) are spectacular. The summer is a great time to visit too, but the streams have less water and sometimes can become just a trickle of water as fall approaches.

On our wintertime day hike, we passed only 14 people on the trail! The loop took us about 6 hours to complete and required roughly 11 miles of hiking – it is strenuous. This is a hike for families with older kids.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park was established in 1902 and was California’s first state park.

Big Basin is located a one hour drive from Saratoga, California and roughly half an hour from the town of Boulder Creek. The entrance fee is $10.

To continue your own explorations of Big Basin Redwoods State Park visit:
http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=540

Finding Solace and Fun at Asilomar – a Refuge by the Sea

Asilomar State Beach and Conference GroundsFamilies can find solace and fun along the rocky shoreline, living dunes and restful lodging at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California.

The word Asilomar means ‘refuge by the sea’ and this beautiful place represents its name well.

The State Beach area offers many sandy coves to explore, fascinating tidepools and rock bluffs. The two-lane Sunset Drive provides a number of car turn-outs for those wishing a quick look. However, to maximize the experience take the entire family out to explore the one-mile trail that hugs the shoreline. Do not be surprised to see the head of a sea lion or harbor seal popping to the surface looking inquisitively back at curious humans.

Asilomar State Beach and Conference GroundsAt the southern end of the trail visit a beautiful beach area, or cross the road to enjoy a half-mile meandering boardwalk through picturesque dunes. Immediately a visitor recognizes the dunes look different from other coastal areas; it does because only native plants grow in this protected area. Once the native plants that grew here were almost lost, but through many years of replanting and stewardship the dunes today are an ecological masterpiece of native plant restoration.

A forest of beautiful Monterey pine trees greets visitors as they exit the boardwalk. Here sits the conference center and grounds with: a lecture hall, meeting rooms, overnight lodging rooms, and dining Asilomar State Beach and Conference Groundsfacilities. These structures fit nicely into the landscape and are dotted throughout the trees. Many of the buildings were designed by the famed architect Julia Morgan; she embraced an architectural style “to bring people back in touch with nature, and thus restore balance, health, harmony and happiness.”

Deer are a common sight along the side paths at the conference center.

Brochures about the Coast Trail, the Living Dunes, and Julia Morgan’s Architecture can be obtained at the Front Desk of the conference center.

Sunset Drive can be very busy with sightseers during the summer and on weekends. The morning and sunset hours can be especially beautiful along the beach.

Reference: Julia Morgan’s Architecture Brochure

To learn more about Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds visit these web addresses:
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=566
http://www.visitasilomar.com/

A Look Inside the Oldest Continuously Operating Lighthouse on the West Coast

blog_20101224_img1At the southern end of Monterey Bay in California is the picturesque Point Pinos Lighthouse. Since 1855 it has helped those at sea find their way. Families are welcome to explore Point Pinos, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the west coast.

The lighthouse consists of a small, two-story house. Rising above the roof is the multi-prism Fresnel lens (pronounced fray-nell) that projects the light many miles out to sea. Unlike many lighthouses that sit at the water’s edge, Point Pinos is located a several minutes walk inland.

During my family’s visit we rounded the front of the building and were reminded of the rainstorm that was approaching from the Pacific Ocean. A strong and cool wind was blowing and dots of horizontal rain patched our clothes.

A man with a white beard welcomed all of us into the warm and cozy building. He was a volunteer docent, but was dressed as though working at a lighthouse was his profession. He could easily have walked out of the late 1800’s.

As he closed the door the blustery outside wind immediately ceased. The house was noticeably solid and well built. The walls were roughly a foot thick and had been constructed with a granite core; the building’s outside had been covered with wood and was whitewashed.

The main floor included three rooms and an old-time bathroom with a gravity feed water closet. A living room was refurnished with furniture and décor.

Moving to the second level we ascended a steep spiraling staircase. Here were two rooms: first was a refurbished bedroom of the lightkeeper, the second bedroom offered a glimpse into the history of the area during World War II when soldiers were stationed here to help protect the coast from possible enemy attacks.

A visit to the third level, with the Fresnel lens, was unfortunately off limits to visitors and we could only peek up the spiraling stairs … very curious about the lens we could not see.

Returning to the main floor we explored some side stairs that led to the basement. The basement was made with the same rock as the house; it was obvious this entire building was stoutly constructed and looked as though this place would survive any calamity. As we stepped into this cozy underground space another docent greeted us as. She was very eager to share her knowledge and gladly answered our questions.

The ClockworksA well-machined series of gears, levers and weights sat inside a Plexiglas display. This curious looking machine was an original ‘clockworks’ timing mechanism that allowed a shade to move around the light, giving the light a characteristic ‘light signature.’ The docent picked up a large wrench, inserted it into the machine and gave it a good turn. Immediately the weight raised and the gears began to rotate. Above the machinery a large polished metal shield quietly turned briefly blocking the light from our view.

A display about the Fresnel lens showed how the use of simple glass prisms can help a small light be seen very, very far away. The light bulb used in the lighthouse is about the size of an adult’s thumb, yet the Fresnel lens allows this light to be seen 17 miles (27 km) out to sea!

As we left the lighthouse the damp wind blowing off the Pacific greeted our faces. Looking across the ocean swells of 12 to 15 feet (12.6 -13.5 m) were rolling into the shore less than a quarter of a mile away. Even from this distance it was easy to see spray jumping into the sky as the waves pummeled the rocks. Dark clouds were on the horizon and a gray ribbon of rain was falling in the distance. If I had to be on a ship, I would want nothing more than to make it safely home – and would be comforted to see this beacon of light from the Point Pinos Lighthouse.

For more information visit:
http://www.ci.pg.ca.us/lighthouse/default.htm

The suggested donation is $2 per adult and $1 per child. Donations are for helping to repair the lighthouse.

A Park with an Arch, a Beach, and Lots of Butterflies

blog_20101115_img2Along California’s central coast is a wonderful family destination called Natural Bridges State Beach.

The park derives its name from naturally formed arches that were carved from the sand and mudstone cliffs. In the early 1900’s three arches were visible, but over the years wave action undercut the formations causing two of them to fall. The third, and last remaining arch is visible today (shown).

Most people think of summer as being the best time to visit the coast, but November can offer clear skies, warm sunshine, very comfortable temperatures, and beaches generally free of crowds – even on weekends. At noon on this weekend day only two-dozen people were visiting this 65 acre park.

But the park was being visited by hundreds of non-human visitors.

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In just a quick five-minute walk inland were hundreds of monarch butterflies! A stroller accessible boardwalk near the visitors center leads to a monarch preserve hidden in a grove of eucalyptus trees. Here monarchs flit overhead and offer great opportunities for humans to see and photograph these beautiful butterflies. In the side photo is a winsome looking monarch that flitted down and landed near the boardwalk. An interpreter at the preserve said that an estimated fifteen hundred monarchs were currently visiting.

Every autumn, generally mid-October, the monarchs begin arriving at Natural Bridges State Beach. This is just one of several hundred locations along California’s coast where the monarchs stay for the winter. The coast offers them shelter from the cold inland temperatures of winter.

Especially fascinating is the monarchs arrive at the coast after traveling hundreds, even thousands of miles.

North America is home to two-distinct populations of monarchs. The continental divide along the Rocky Mountains provides a natural barrier that the monarchs rarely cross. The monarchs from southeastern Canada and the eastern United States migrate to their wintering home in Mexico while the monarchs in the southwestern Canada and the western U.S. migrate to areas along California’s coast. When they arrive they bunch together on branches sometimes forming large clusters. In the spring, as the weather warms, the monarchs begin traveling north looking for milkweed. The milkweed plant is the food source for monarch butterflies.

This year at Natural Bridges the monarch population is low compared to previous years when an estimated ten thousand would arrive. When I first saw these monarchs twenty years ago the branches were weighted down by massive clumps of monarchs. Although the number the monarchs are less this year they are still an impressive sight.

To learn more about the park visit the Natural Bridges State Beach website.

Here are some interesting Monarch mini-facts found on an interpretive display in the park’s visitor center:

• If a human baby grew as fast and as large as a monarch caterpillar, it would be about the size of a school bus and 2 ½ weeks old!

• A monarch tagged in eastern Canada was recovered in central Mexico after traveling a distance of nearly 3,000 miles.

• Monarch butterflies have been introduced to every continent in the world except for Antarctica. Only in their native North America do they engage in mass migrations.

Seeing Bears Along Lake Tahoe’s Taylor Creek

blog_20101020_img1Autumn at Lake Tahoe offers beautiful vistas, vibrant colors and the rare opportunity to see Black Bears along a creek catching spawning Kokanee Salmon.

Recently some relatives, visiting from overseas, made a trip to California and included a side trip to beautiful Lake Tahoe. We suggested they see the Lake’s sights in October during a tourist ‘down time’ when the weather is still warm and the summer crowds have disappeared.

The relatives were not disappointed by their visit. One trip in particular amazed everyone in the family from age 3 to 67.

blog_20101020_img2Walking next to Taylor Creek, at the southern shore of the lake, they saw vibrant red colors moving in the clear and cold water. These were spawning Kokanee Salmon. Then hearing some nearby splashing in the creek they looked up and saw a mother black bear and a young cub wading in the water. They were surprisingly close so everyone backed-off a little to allow the bears their space. The bears were catching fish to build up their fat reserves for the coming winter. Several good pictures were snapped including the picture of this young bear devouring a just caught salmon.

blog_20101020_img3Taylor Creek is a picturesque mountain stream that flows into the southern waters of Lake Tahoe. The nearby U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center at Taylor Creek is a great starting point to learn about the Kokanee Salmon and this wonderful area. The Rainbow Trail is a short hike and very good for families with young children. Make sure to visit the underground Stream Profile Chamber for an up-close and fish-eye view of Taylor Creek.

To continue your own explorations by car drive past the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe drive three miles north on Highway 89 to the USFS Visitor Center. To learn more about this area online, and an annual Kokanee Salmon Festival held at the area, visit the USFS website.