Saturday, December 13, 2008

San Fransisco Wanderings

I decided to take the family out on a quick day trip and thought it was time to do something in "The City". San Francisco is just across the bay from me, but always seems so far away. The original plan was to head to Golden Gate park and check out the recent changes to the Stienhart Aquarium and the new California Academy of Sciences, but then I found out that the main thoroughfares into Golden Gate Park are closed to cars on Sundays. Not knowing the area very well, I didn't want to mess with the hassle, especially with the family along. After delving into my memory a bit and a little research, I came up with three places for our venture: Land's End, The Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Sutro Baths. The goal for the day really wasn't to do hiking (Hey, I'm allowed!), but to just to get out of the house for a bit.

In my youth (It seems strange to be able to say that), I used to love heading out to Eagles Point (pictured above) at Land's End for its spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge from outside the gate. With the forecast of a beautiful November Day, I thought it would be a perfect place to take the wife and kids. Close by Land's End is the Palace of the Legion of Honor, a spectacular fine art museum focusing on treasures from 14th - 18th Century Europe and also featuring an impressive Rodin exhibit including an original bronze cast of The Thinker (pictured to the right).

A short drive from the Palace of Legion of Honor is the ruins of the Sutro Baths. The baths, built in 1896, was the world's largest indoor swimming complex. It was quite the destination with seven swimming pools, an observation deck that sat thousands and a structure of concrete, steel and 100,000 panes of glass. All that is left now are some concrete walls and remnants of some pools, but it is a fun place to explore.

We hit all three places and had a great time indoors and out (though the kids did get tired of the museum). We still did a little bit of walking, okay, a lot of walking (especially in the museum. I also scoped out a nice hike for the future: The Land's End Trail. This trail goes from Eagle point to the Sutro Baths (pictured to the left) and I am planning on working out a loop hike which I hope to feature soon. I'm not providing a lot of details for this trip, but I won't apologize, I'll let you find your own experiences there. Here's a web site with nice map.

I encourage you to head to "The City" and see some great sites and check these places out. There's quite a bit of variety and you can spend a few hours or the whole day. I've provided some links below for more details on each location. Enjoy!

Land's End - Located on El Camino del Mar St on the Eastern edge of Lincoln Park.
Palace of the Legion of Honor - Located at 34th Ave & Clement St in the center of Lincoln Park.
Sutro Baths - Near the Cliff House on Point Lobos Ave and Merrie Way.

small Rodin sculputre

Great Egret at the baths

Closeup of the Great Egret

Kids playing on the Ruins

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Coyote Hills Bird Watching

I just purchased a new zoom lens, okay, a monster zoom lens (Simga 50-500mm) and decided I had to see what this thing could do. Weighing in at 4 pounds, it is quadruple the weight of my camera. My REI Hiker walking stick provided stabilization, but just barely (I can't wait until Christmas).

I knew the perfect place to go: Coyote Hills in Fremont. The coastal hills and wetlands are a great place to view wildlife, especially birds. Even though we arrived later than I wanted, I was hoping some of the critters were still out and about. We (Ronald and I) parked in the "free" lot and headed into the park. It wasn't looking too good, there was not much action in the sky.

The first bird we came across was a Golden-crowned Sparrow (At least I think it was one). There were a number of them playing in the reeds on the side of the trial and I snapped off a few shots. I soon spotted a number of hawks circling above me, but they were right in the sun and there was no way I could get a shot of them. In fact, the hawks teased me the whole time I was there. Always out of reach even with the monster lens!

A bit further down the trail we came to a small canal with a number of Mallard Ducks bathing. I was hoping for Egrets and Herons, but the ducks would have to do. I hefted the 15" of lens through the reeds and kept the shutter busy. The ducks did not disappoint and I appreciated their cooperation.

We walked a bit further towards Dairy Glen, but it became apparent that we weren't going to see much more. Heading back to the car, a couple of guys on mountain bikes passed us and I heard one of them say to his buddy, "Did you see that lens?". I smiled, stood a bit taller and continued on.

Coyote Hills is a great place for hiking, biking and wildlife viewing. The terrain varies from plank walkways through the wetlands to trails along the bay. The park connects to Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge to the South and the Alameda Creek Trail to the North. You can check out a nice loop trail at Backpacker.com (I didn't map this one, but it is still a good trek). I've posted a number of photos below. Click on them to see a better resolution pic.










Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fall Spectacular - Tomales Point Trail

At the Northern most edge of Pt. Reyes National Park is Tomales Point, a peninsula situated with Tomales Bay to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West. It is also a spectacular place to hike! I first got the idea to try this trail out after discovering Tom Mangan's blog: Two-Heel Drive. Tom picked up my story on Cloud's Rest and the number of visitors to this site sky rocketed (Thanks Tom!). Tomales Point is listed as one of his top 5 best hikes and since I love Point Reyes and had a Saturday free, I gathered the group of usual suspects (Tim, Tony, Bob and my son Ron) and we headed north.

We could not ask for better weather: no fog, no wind, a clear sunny day! The 4.9-mile hike to the end of the trail took us a lot longer than on the way back. The photographic opportunities were tremendous. Of course, the coastal scenery was great and we gazed at the high cliffs, crashing waves and pristine beaches as we headed to the point. There were parts of the trail where one can see the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean on one side and deep blue waters of Tomales Bay on the other.

I had heard about the wildlife in the area, especially the Tule Elk and we were not disappointed. Right off the bat we were entertained by a little long-tailed weasel (pictured left), popping up and down among the grasses in front of us. It looked like he was teasing us. Besides the elk and weasel, we saw or heard a myriad of wildlife: black-tailed deer, sea lions, pelicans, cormorants, black oystercatchers, seaguls, California red-sided gartersnake, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons.

We continued on and soon had our first siting of the Tule Elk (pictured below). A large bull elk was standing proud on the bluff, reminding me of the Hartford commercials. As we came closer, we saw a dozen or so females mulling about. Apparently the bull wasn't happy with all the attention and he gathered his herd and moved them away. We could see more bulls in the distance so we continued on the trail with cameras in hand.
The group of bulls were next in a series of encounters with the Elk. The most memorable was a National Geographic moment. Two rutting bulls decided to lock horns. Cameras were ready, but apparently, my brain wasn't. I had the wrong settings on my camera and although I captured the perfect moment when they came against each other, a 1/60 shutter speed, fast moving elk and excited hands make for a very bad photo(pictured left)! Picture or not, the memory is in my head and it is one that will last a long time!

I highly recommend this 10-mile hike. I imagine it will be a bit different during "normal" Pt. Reyes weather (windy, foggy, etc.). I would rate this trip as an easy to moderate hike. There is an elevation change of about a 1000 ft over the course of the trip. Most of the trail was well packed but it did get soft and sandy as you neared the point. A rough draft (very rough) trip report and map of this hike and additional photos can be found on TrimbleOutdoors. The polished version will be available soon at BACKPACKER magazine and more photos will be on my Picasa web albums as soon as I can go through them. Thanks for taking the time to read about this trip. Your comments are welcome and appreciated.

After the faceoff

Elk everywhere

Silhouette of Pelicans

Cypress Trees at Pierce Point Ranch

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Clouds Rest - A Heroic Acheivement

This past Saturday (October 18), I headed to Tenaya Lake with a few friends to tackle Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park. We arrived at the Sunrise Trailhead on the South side of Tenaya Lake at about 7:00am. Soon after we got there, a caravan of vehicles pulled up and out poured multitude young energetic souls on a mission. Many were gathered around the back of a pickup truck, unstrapping a contraption and pulling it out. The device appeared to be a cross between a sled, a wheel barrow and a wheel chair (I came to find out later it is called a Trail Rider). It soon became clear that this thing would be headed up the trail and not only that, there would be a person riding in it.

Curious about what was going on, I discovered that the trip was the brain child of Nick Cunningham, the Director of Generation Fate, a non-profit organization that works with foster children. I asked Nick what inspired this event and he said "I was sitting at the top of an active volcano in Guatemala enjoying the breathtaking view of a sprawling rainforest like I had never seen before. I was in a state of awe and euphoria gazing over the beautiful landscape sure that I was the luckiest man in the world. When suddenly, and to this day I am not sure why, it dawned on me that kids who use wheelchairs could never make it to where I was sitting." He had a vision to change that and the Nobel Heights crew was born.

Riding on the sled would be a special young man, Austin Taylor, a 20 year old paraplegic and "Guinea Pig". Austin was placed in the Trail Rider and supported by a team of volunteers, headed up the challenging trail to the top of Clouds Rest.

My buddies and I left ahead of the group talking about Austin and how special it was to be a witness to this momentous event. As we tackled different parts of the trail, we wondered how the heck anyone would be able to get that sled, let alone carrying someone in it, up the mountain.

In a few hours, we arrived at the top of Clouds Rest. The last part of the trail is a narrow shoulder with steep drops on both sides. Surely they wouldn't make it up there. However, 20 minutes after we arrived, up came the crew. Excitement bristled among everyone at the summit. Here we were almost 10,000 ft in elevation and with us on top of the mountain was Austin, a 20-year old young man "who has used a wheelchair since birth".

Being on top of Clouds Rest was an awesome experience and having the opportunity to see the heroic act of Austin and the entire Nobel Heights Crew made it that much better. I congratulate the whole team for their effort and inspiration.

(Austin looking out towards Half Dome and the Valley)

(On the way down)

note: some photographs were supplied by Nick Cunnigham.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Close To Home - Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge

Along the bay in the shadow of the Dumbarton Bridge lays a Bay Area Gem: Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. The territory for this park encompasses much of the wetlands of the South-East Bay, but the headquarters is in little ol' Newark.

This park is teeming with birds of all sorts from waterfowl to raptors. Over 280 species can be spied at different times of the year. On a brisk Saturday morning, I packed up my new camera and headed out to play with my new zoom lens.
(Hundreds of birds reflecting in the bay waters)

The route I chose for this hike was a short 1.6 mile loop along the Tidelands Trail and then back through the Harrier Spur Trail. It just so happens that one of my first sites at the park was hundreds of birds gliding along the calm waters of the bay. There are trails that go out into the bay along the salt ponds, but many sections are currently under construction and closed. One of the main trails at the park is the Newark Slough, however the preferred method of travel for that route is a kayak!

The Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge is a great place for hiking and wildlife viewing. It is less crowded than its neighbor, Coyote Hills. Plus, parking is free!

You can get more information on this hike at BACKPACKER Magazine.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Yosemite Adventure - Lyell Canyon and Beyond...

I love Yosemite and have always wanted to take a trip to and through Lyell Canyon. Lyell Canyon is connected to Tuolumne Meadows in the High Country of Yosemite. Last week I finally got out there and know why this was one of Ansel Adam's favorite places in Yosemite.

The plan for the week was to arrive in Yosemite Valley on Monday, drop of the car at the Trailhead parking and take a shuttle up to Tuolumne Meadows. The only problem was that the shuttle schedule changed and they only left at 8:00am. Oh well, we went ahead and drove to Tuolumne Meadows and prayed that we would find a way back to the car Friday (Prayers were answered with special thanks to Dale and JoAnne!).

With car issues out of our minds, we (my hiking buddy Tim and I) headed east on the John Muir Trail into Lyell Canyon. The hike into the canyon was easy and mostly flat with a 400 ft elevation gain over 6 miles. The canyon is really a large and long meadow with the Tuolumne River snaking through it. Tall grasses, fallen logs, tall trees, trickling sounds encompassed us along the trail.

Our six mile journey took longer than usual as I attempted to drain the batteries on my camera. We finally arrived at our destination, just past the trail junction that heads to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. After setting up our trail camp, I went to work on the camera batteries again, took a break to eat dinner and then headed back to the river. While pumping water, I encountered a White Tailed Deer across the river and watched her for a while.

It was a full moon that night and I was excited to try my hand at some night time photography. The moon crested over the eastern ridge of the canyon and lit up the whole valley. It was a clear night and the stars shown brightly even with the the bright orb in the sky. The photo to the right shows the big dipper above Lyell Canyon. This was a perfect ending to a perfect day!

BACKPACKER magazine's writeup for the entire 5-day trip is now on-line. Check it out here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Emigrant Wilderness - Chewing Gum Lake

I just finished my second trip to Chewing Gum Lake (8700ft) in Emigrant Wilderness. Six weeks earlier, I enjoyed the abundant wildflowers of Emigrant Wilderness, the reflective waters of Chewing Gum Lake and the voracious blood thirsty mosquitoes. Now that September is here, most of the wildflowers are gone but so are the mosquitoes. The skies were clear for the weekend, but a steady wind met us at the lake Saturday evening and blew harder on Sunday. One advantage of all that wind is it provided incredibly clear skies and the best stargazing I have ever experienced in the back country. The photo below is an eleven minute exposure taken Saturday evening before the wind started to blow. The tree was briefly highlighted by my son's headlamp.

(click on image for a larger view)

Why hike to Chewing Gum Lake? At 4.5 miles, this destination is perfect for those who would prefer a leisurely hike (700ft elevation gain, 600ft elevation loss) as opposed to a death march! Hiking in early to mid summer will surround you in the wildflowers (vibrant Mule Ears pictured left) of Emigrant Wilderness. Even though the lake is a popular destination spot, it is a big enough lake that you can find isolation even on a busy holiday weekend.

Trailhead: HWY 108 East towards Pinecrest. R on Pinecrest Lake Rd. R on Dodge Ridge Rd. R on forest road 4N26 toward Aspen Meadows. Turn L at the signed junction for Gianelli Cabin and Crabtree Trailheads. Continue on dirt road approximately 2.5 miles to Trailhead. Note: Free Wilderness Permit must be obtained at Summit Ranger Station (Corner of Hwy 108 & Pinecrest Lake Rd) for any overnight stays. Also, there are no services at the trailhead, water or toilets. Plan accordingly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Way Beyond...

My goal at Bay Area Outdoors is to focus on activities in the Bay Area and Northern California; however, last week I took the family to Alaska on a cruise and had to share it. I will skip all of the usual cruise fare: over eating, over-indulgent, etc and focus one of the ports we visited: Juneau, Alaska.

I knew ahead of time that my son Ronald, friend Tim and I were going to do a "Guide's Choice" Adventure hike in Juneau. Guide's Choice meant I had no clue where we were going to hike. Not too comforting for an obsessive planner like me; however, I knew that no matter where we ended up, I was going to map it for Backpacker Magazine. They even sent me the new Garmin Oregon 400t to test out. Sweet!

We met our guide at the pier and he advised us we were going up the Perseverance Trail along side Gold Creek (pictured left) in the area where gold was first found in Alaska. It was a short drive to the trail head and we found ourselves in a canyon between Mt. Juneau and Mt. Roberts. There was a light drizzle as we began our gentle ascent up the trail. Our guide talked about the trail explaining that it was one of the original roads in Juneau and used by Miners in the Alaskan Gold Rush. We passed by an opening into the mountain, an old mineshaft. A chilly breeze hit us from the entryway as we passed it by.

The first part of the trial is basically a narrow road winding up the hill. Our guide, Dirk, a native Alaskan and local school teacher, explained that the trail had just been worked on and much of the vegetation on parts of the trail had been cut down, but not to worry, we would soon be in the heart of the rain forest. We soon turned a corner to a vista of "Snowslide Gulch" where, true to it's name, snow slides down from Mt. Roberts into Gold Creek. Just after the vista we got our first glimpse of Ebner Falls (pictured right), a picturesque 40ft drop into an aqua pool. If only it wasn't raining!

It was at this point we started encountering a lot of vegetation. Wild berries and wild flowers along with numerous other plants lined the trail. Salmon berries, watermelon berries, blue berries, eldeberry trees, monkshood, wild geranium(pictured below left), yarrow, cow parsnip, devils club, alder, Sitka spruce and Alaskan hemlock are just some of the fauna we ventured past.

We turned off the Perseverance trail onto the Red Mill Trail to get view from the Mt. Roberts side of the canyon. This made for a nice loop and a viewing of a few Mountain Goats dotted around the peaks. Dotted is the right term since all you really could see is a small white dot (if you were lucky). That was pretty much it for the fauna we saw. Yes I was expecting more wildlife, but not disappointed with where we were and the experience of hiking in Alaska.

Finishing up the Red Mill Trail, we returned to the Perseverance Trail were greeted with a snow capped view of Clark Peak. The trail soon entered a snow field and presented a magnificent view of Alaska Chief Falls (pictured below). This was the final feature destination of the hike. The falls cascade down the mountain about 300ft. We hiked a short distance to a vista of the falls where Dirk talked about the history of the place and the mines, minors and natives of the area. Alas, that was as far as the trail would take us. It was time to head back. We had a cruise ship waiting for us!


View more photos from this trip and other places visited in Alaska here.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Where to go, What to do...

For the past three years I have been recording a number of hikes and trips for BACKPACKER magazine. I've traveled all over the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California exploring various parks and trails and have been wanting to catalog these hikes in one location. Finally, that list is a reality! Below is the list of hikes I've done for the magazine. Additional information for each hike can be found by clicking the link and reading the write up on BACKPACKER Magazine's web site. Venturing to these places has been a great experience and I hope that you will enjoy them as much as I have.

Bay Area
Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge - Newark, CA: Tidelands Loop
Mission Peak RP - Fremont, CA: Mission Peak - Ohlone Trailhead
Dry Creek Regional Park - Hayward, CA: Tolman Peak Loop
Rancho San Antonio - Los Altos, CA: Upper Wildcat Canyon Loop
Portola Redwoods State Park - La Honda, CA - : Pescadero Creek Loop
Garin Park - Hayward, CA: High Ridge Loop Trail
Sunol Regional Wilderness - Sunol, CA: Indian Joe Trail Loop
Henry Cowell Redwoods SP - Felton, CA: Cowell Redwoods Loop
Mission Peak RP - Fremont: Mission Peak via Hidden Valley Trail
Big Basin State Park- Boulder Creek, CA: Berry Creek Falls Loop
Pleasanton Ridge RP- Pleasanton, CA: Pleasanton Ridgeline Loop
Point Reyes NS - Inverness, CA: Point Reyes Glen Camp Loop
Big Basin SP- Boulder Creek, CA: Sequoia Loop to Sempevirens Falls

Beyond
Emigrant Wilderness - Pinecrest, CA: Chewing Gum Lake
Emigrant Wilderness - Pinecrest, CA: Camp Lake/Bear Lake
El Dorado NF - Loon Lake Reservoir, CA: Loon Lake to Spider Lake
King Range NCA - Shelter Cove, CA: Lost Coast Trail
Las Vegas, NV: The Strip (seriously, kinda)
Yosemite National Park: Dewey Point Snowshoe Hike
Yosemite National Park: Mist Trail
Yosemite National Park: Panorama Trail
Yosemite National Park: Sentinel Dome Loop
Yosemite National Park: Nevada Falls Loop
Yosemtie National Park: Lyell Canyon to Yosemite Valley
Yosemtie National Park: Mariposa Grove Loop
Yosemtie National Park: Clouds Rest
Legend
NP - National Park; NS - National Seashore; NF - National Forest;
NCA - National Conservation Area; SP - State Park; RP - Regional Park

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

African Safari in the Bay Area?

Tucked away in the North Bay is a gem of a place called Safari West. Safari West is a wildlife preserve nestled in Santa Rosa, CA on a 400 acre ranch. The mammals at Safari West are native to Africa. There are cheetahs, giraffes, lemurs, antelope, ..., you get the picture. There are also a wide variety of exotic birds from all over the world.

Tours at Safari West require reservations and ours was scheduled for 1:00pm. I didn't know what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised by what we experienced. We started the 2 1/2 hour tour with a walk through their aviary where we saw a number of spectacular exotic birds close up. My favorite was the Scarlet Ibis (pictured left). I had never seen a bird that color in my life. There must have been 20 different species of birds in there, all with their own unique flair.

Leaving the aviary behind, we ventured towards the cheetahs. On our way there, we stopped to look at some antelope in a nearby field. This was very close to a zoo setting and I was a bit surprised to not see these creatures running around the expansive 400 acres of the rest of the park. They did have a newborn with them and little guy sure was cute. Of course, the cheetah area was right next to them and for some reason, one of the cheetahs decided to make its presence known and the antelope instinctively started running. They were safe, if not a bit shook up. It must be tough on the cheetahs though. We moved on to the cheetah area. There are four cheetahs in the park, but they are kept separate.
It was amazing being up close to the sleek beast. We moved on to a few more exhibits, all of which were very similar to a zoo experience. Not what I was expecting, but I knew there was more to come. We saw lemurs, howler monkeys, foxes and several more exotic birds (Sarus Crane pictured on the left).

We finished up the walking portion of the tour and then our guide, Robert, pointed to one of the safari vehicles and motioned for us to get in. There were four seats at the very top and everyone wanted up there. The four young boys went first, one of which was my son Ronald. I can tell you he won't forget that seat for a long time! The first animals we encountered were the giraffes. I had heard they had a new born calf that was just three weeks old. We circled around the giraffes area and came up to a gate. Robert got out, opened the gate and took us through. Now we were really starting our adventure! We didn't go too far before the jeep stopped right next to a small herd of giraffes. There was still a fence separating us from them, but that didn't prevent us from having a very close encounter. One of the giraffes, a male, made straight for the boys sitting on the top of the jeep. Another, a female with spittle dripping from its mouth made straight for my wife! There were howls of shock and glee as these magnificent beasts came towards us. Fortunately, my wife was protected by the roof of the vehicle and managed to stay mostly dry. That was not the case for my son. The big guy decided to make his presence known and chew a little on my son's seatbelt. Robert offered to photograph this event for me since we were not allowed out of the jeep. Robert got some great shots and it was the perfect start to the safari portion of the trip.

The jeep continued on and we passed through four other areas. Each with a variety of animal, too many to list but I will try. We saw magnificent Impalas and stunning East African Crowned Cranes, Springbok Antelopes, White Rhinos, Gazelles, Impalas, zebras, Bongos, Cape Buffalo (very dangerous, just search YouTube), Wildebeest and a rare sighting of a Gemsbok (pictured to the left). Our guide commented to me that our group was able to see a good percentage of the animals out there.

One of my personal favorites was my own close encounter with an Ostrich. They are not the brightest, nor prettiest, but I was fascinated as one approached me. It kept coming closer and closer right towards me. It finally stopped within just a few inches of my camera lens. I think this was making our guide a bit nervous and he decided it was time to move on.

I truly enjoyed our time at Safari West and know I will be back there in the future. I was surprised at how "up close and personal" we were able to get to these awesome creatures. For more information about Safari West, checkout their web site: www.safariwest.com (I am in no way affiliated with Safari West, just a very satisfied customer!)

See more photos from this trip here.