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Drinking from a Vial from the Fountain of Youth; or, Climbing an Elephant’s Back

…same thing really.  

Ok, so what am I talking about, anyway?  Well, we took a hike this past Saturday near Carson Pass on Hwy 88.  The trail has no name that I am aware of, so I was free to do what I wished with the title and got artsy.  It makes me happy.
Nora's happy, too.

Nora’s happy, too. 

The fountain of youth bit was part of a conversation we had along the trail – someone mentioned it, and it got us talking about the fact that hiking is pretty darn healthy for us, and we discussed what exactly about it is good for our bodies, as at that moment, we were feeling winded, sore, and a little bit sunburned.  
After getting home, I looked up the health benefits of hiking, knowing there had to be more; and according to the American Hiking Society, there are plenty.
My favorite is the emotional benefit.  Besides releasing feel-good endorphins and gaining knowledge that I just made myself a little healthier, there’s the feeling that I’ve accomplished  something.  
Yep, kinda like this.

Yep, kinda like this.

Most days, I’ll admit, I’m pretty unmotivated.  Which really, if I’m honest, is just a prettied up form of lazy.  I’ve spent more hours than I’d care to admit watching TV, scrolling through online articles and Facebook, and (again with the honesty) playing silly games on my phone.  
But on hiking days?  On hiking days, I come home happy-tired, knowing that I just traveled three to ten miles using nothing but my own power and, oh yeah, took some pretty pictures that I can show my friends.  It really never gets old.  And some days?  Some days you get to climb a mountain named after a giant African mammal.  And get unobstructed 360 degree views of the entire surrounding country, including that of the neighboring state.  
Like so.

Like so.  And seriously, click this bad boy.

Sometimes, you get to hike a portion of a two-and-a-half thousand mile scenic national trail that runs from Canada to Mexico.  The Pacific Crest Trail, so named since due to its relative position at the highest point of the mountain ranges it spans throughout California, Oregon and Washington, crosses over Carson Pass and though I’ve hiked the section of it that lies to the North of the pass a time or two, Saturday’s hike was my first trip on the PCT to the south, the only other section I’ve ever seen with my own eyes.  
Ugh, yes, I did take this.

Ugh, yes, I did take this.

Our hike began at the information station located at the top of the pass, a small parking lot containing a log cabin-style building.  The trail started to the right of the cabin, and sloped gently downward, then up, making a fairly level trek for the first few minutes.  Closed in by hillside and trees, there were no expansive views to enjoy just yet.  
Soon enough, however, the landscape opened and we were treated to a view of a hillside alive with foliage, wildflowers, and humming with bumblebees and butterflies.  Our trail led us through the middle of the picturesque scene until we wound up at the source of the little ecosystem – a mountain spring.  We refilled our bottles and continued on, enjoying the cool clear water as our path became slightly more rocky. sound of any music, though.

…no sound of any music, though.

We wound our way up the side of the hill, and the rocks got larger and larger until we were amongst boulders, climbing over and around them.  There were scattered trees as well, but they were fewer and farther between, having fought for much more limited resources since they arrived there as seeds.  The austere beauty gave way to even more sparse views of distant mountain ranges obscured by a bluish haze in the distance.  Overlapping like torn sheets of paper, they looked more beautiful than real, and it was mind-boggling to imagine their size, looming as they were from their places in the distance.  


At this point, we were at the base of Elephant’s Back, a feature when viewed from the road looks, like, well what you’d expect; an elephant sunk halfway into the mountain.  There, though, it just looked huge.  And rocky.  Not the boulders we had just passed through.  No these were small, baseball sized chunks of volcanic stone, red and brown in color and dotted here and there with small, dry plants tough enough to survive the harshness.  
Going Up

Going Up?

Up we went.  We skirted up the side at an angle, not keen to tire ourselves out by taking a direct approach.  We made it to the top within a half hour, and were more than rewarded for the effort.  To one side, the steep but manageable slope we’d walked up, and to the other, a precipitous drop off sure to make your stomach sink to your knees just thinking about getting too close.  Nora’s leash got significantly shorter.  
Yep, we went up there.

Yep, we went up there.

We had ascended somewhere in the middle of the back, and turned to walk toward the elephant’s tail end, where there was a large solid piece of lava rock overhanging the edge.  I gripped Nora’s leash almost at the snap hook, with the rest of it wrapped around my hand.  My legs might have felt a little like jelly, but Nora was curious as ever, and I’m sure she would have stuck her face over the edge to have a look if I’d have let her.  
It turned out the spot was perfect to relax and snack.  We grabbed our bags of trail mix and apples and cheese and drank more of our spring water.  We took pictures and talked about how pretty it all was.  We walked to the other end of the elephant, and looked out over the pass.  We could see Nevada’s Carson Valley in the distance, or at least the mountains that made up the opposite side of it poking up in the distance.  Closer to us were Hope Valley, Red Lake and directly below us, more of the Pacific Crest Trail that we had split off from before walking up Elephant’s Back.  
And then it was time to go back down.  If the way up had been rough, going down was brutal.  Rocks slipped underneath our heavier footsteps, rolling away at inopportune times and our boots did little to keep out the smaller (but still sharp) pebbles once we slipped up to our ankles in rock.  Nora, too, had had enough and was trying to delicately pick her way from plant to plant, the only feature that offered any relief to her tired paws.  Normally tough and impervious to rough terrain, the pads of her feet were yielding to the harshness of the red rock underneath her. It was time to carry her.  At times, she even looked like she enjoyed it, smiling over Ryan’s shoulder as he put one careful foot in front of the other, making sure to keep his balance despite the near fifty pounds of wriggling dog in his arms.  
Mostly she looked uncomfortable.

Mostly she looked uncomfortable.

...though she had her moments...

…though she had her moments…

Once we arrived on solid, grassy ground however, she was back to her old self, leaping over trees and running up boulders to get the best views possible.  
Hurry up, guys!

Hurry up, guys!

We strode down the hill towards Winnemucca Lake, one of many bodies of water we had seen from our vantage point a few moments prior.  It was almost crowded with backpackers, with entire families of small children playing at the water’s edge.  Several paths criss-crossed our own, with several campers walking along in front of or behind us.  
After a short lunch break we set off down the last leg of our journey, down hill towards Woods Lake.  We again passed into a wooded area, and welcomed the shade.  The cool mountain breezes had made us forget about the sun’s rays until it was too late – we were beginning to feel the sting of sunburns.  Our relief was soon to come, as our remaining trail was mostly in the shade of the trees and all downhill. 
Ahh, shade

Ahh, shade

We landed just after about five hours in the parking lot of a day use area near the lake, and watched some kids fish as we waited for our ride to take us home.  
Not a bad place to rest after a hike.

Not a bad place to rest after a hike.


Notable Photos:

Elephant's Back, pre-climb

Elephant’s Back, pre-climb

Mountain Spring

Mountain Spring

Looking southward

Looking southward

Wildflower Near Spring

Wildflower Near Spring

Our Group leaving the PCT

Our Group leaving the PCT

From the first hillside

From the first hillside

Seen on the last downhill

Seen on the last downhill

Roots wrapped around boulders

Roots wrapped around boulders

Winnemucca Shore

Winnemucca Shore

Deep in thought.

Deep in thought.




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Jacks Peak County Park

This one is a two-fer!

Which, since you’ve already gotten two posts in two days (what!?) that makes this…a double two-fer? a dream within a dream?  A lot more than you really want to read, so you’ll split it up over a few days, thankyouverymuch?  …should I just get started already?  Ok.
We took a trip to Monterey a few weeks back, and enjoyed sun, sand and warm weather for the first time this year (maybe it was more than a few weeks).  During this trip, we took a drive out to check out Jacks (not Jack’s, as I originally thought) Peak County Park, home to several miles of nature trails on the top of a mountain.  Upon arriving at the pay station, we paid the ranger in the booth and received a map of the park.  It showed the forked road that lay ahead of us, one side leading to the North, the other roughly to the South, the direction in which we decided to venture first.
First Path
The southern side had more trails, and a larger parking lot, and more cars seemed to be turning that direction, surely a sign that this more popular spot was better.  And it was great.  The southern face of the mountain got more of the sunlight, so we got our share of sunshine.  However, we weren’t wanting for shade either.  Trees have grown rapidly in the area, mostly two different types – a type of Oak and rare Monterey Pines.
It seemed appropriate to begin our walk by taking the Jacks Peak Trail.  This trail, which was a pleasant third of a mile, led to, well, Jacks Peak.  However, we were greeted not by a panoramic vista of the open space below, but rather a wall of trees instead.
In addition to trees, we found ourselves at another trail, the Skyline Trail.  This one was a bit longer, and according to the map would take us a little short of a mile’s walk back to the start of our journey in the the parking lot.  This trail also included a self-guided nature walk in the form of numbered posts to which laminated cards were attached.  These cards had information about the area from trees to flowers, animals and insects which inhabit the area.  Instead of simply walking through the area, we became acquainted with the ecosystem, both experiencing the surroundings and learning the names, histories, and life cycles of just about everything we encountered.
Our second hike was on the Northern face of the hillside.  The trees on this side were just as thick, and were also covered in gauzy patches of Spanish moss that hung down from branches large and small.  But the majority of the shade came from the mountain itself, which blocked the sunlight beaming from the south.
The shade, however, didn’t make for a much cooler walk.  With the approach of noon came an increase in temperature.  Despite the shade, we began breathing a bit heavier, and sweat beaded up on our foreheads, despite our supply of water and Gatorade.
As we had read on our previous walk, the flora were much brighter and more vibrant on the Northern side – their way of competing for the attention of the pollinating insects that tend to prefer the sunnier southern side.  Even mother nature needs to employ marketing techniques, it seems.
Spanish Moss
Other people, it seemed, also preferred the sunny side.  We saw only one other person (and dog) on this trail, and there wasn’t a single car in the parking lot.
We set off down the Earl Moser Trail, headed to the Band Tail Point.  The map also showed a short trail leading off of the main path, which led to what was labeled the “Hidden Meadow.”  Intrigued, we decided to take a look.  The map, however, neglected to mention that it was also the smallest meadow – we went around the loop twice before realizing the patch of grass to our left was the meadow.
Yup.  That's it

Yup. That’s it

After snapping a photo of the meadow, we continued to the trail’s end, Band Tail Point.  Again, we were somewhat underwhelmed by the view – trees.  Sure, trees are beautiful, but so are broad vistas, and that’s what the day had been somewhat lacking.  Who knows, maybe someone has taken up a collection for a small observation deck?
Through the Trees
We strolled back, going mostly downhill this time.  We got back in the car and drove off to Santa Cruz to enjoy another sort of hike, this time in the wilds of downtown.  No broad vistas there, either.
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Ellis Road Snow Hike

Last year, we tried to do a snow hike.  However, we learned that if you wait too long, your snow hike becomes, well, a regular hike.  So this year, we got up the hill (a couple months ago) and enjoyed the cold.  

We took our time making our way to the snow park, arriving at about one or two o’clock.  The place was bustling with three or four families tobogganing, building snowmen, or having snowball fights.  The road leading off the main highway was completely obscured by snow, recognizable only by road markers and a sign or two.  We followed the road beyond the families and found our own little hill and got to work inflating our tubes.  
Or, trying to.  Our battery powered pump seemed to be working, but nothing was happening.  We couldn’t find any tears or leaks, but finally we gave it up for lost anyway.  After better luck on the second one, we were ready to go.  My first run down the hill, I veered to the right and almost hit a tree.  So, pretty much the usual.  My second run was more successful, and I made it to the bottom of the hill without incident.  
Nora was intrigued by all this activity, after she was done trying to eat pinecones, that is.  When we would whoosh past her at the bottom of our slide, she would run toward us barking, probably telling us in her own way that she thought we were crazy.  Then, as we trekked back up the hill, she was hot on our heels, racing to the top. [and with four legs vs two, she won every time]
It was then that we decided she should share in the experience, and took her on a run.  Nothing can accurately describe the experience of trying to hold on to a flailing dog while careening down a snowbank, then hurtling toward a tree because said dog has vastly thrown off your trajectory.  There wasn’t time enough for my life to flash before my eyes as I scrabbled and clawed at the snow, which had suddenly transformed from soft and powdery to something resembling frozen sandpaper on stone.
At the last minute, another of Nora’s thrashing jerks turned us around and flung my feet (instead of my face) toward the tree and I kicked my boot out at just the right time, thrusting Nora, myself, and the tube back down the correct route on the hill.  
Except…we were backward.  But as I stared back up the hill I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing there was nothing behind me but flat ground and an eventual stopping point. 
When we tried to convince her to give it another go, she made her feelings known:
However, she didn’t count on my sneaking up on her.  She took another wild ride down the hill, with better results this time.  
 …kind of
Another few runs and we were done.  Nora went back to chewing on the few pinecones that had somehow escaped her wrath the first time around, and then we started our walk.  
The park, if park it can truly be called, consisted of a handful of picnic tables and a brick outhouse off to the side of the side road.  Most of the snow lay untouched around the picnic tables and underneath the trees.  We set out to do a smallish loop and plodded through the snow, leaving our unmistakable mark as we went.  Despite the cold, and the fact that she was knee-deep in snow, Nora was thoroughly enjoying herself.  She zigged and zagged, bounded and bounced every which way.  Once in a while she would look back, giving us a big doggy grin.  
As we wound down our walk, Nora did, too.  Her stride slowed.  She lifted her paws a little lower with each step.  Once we were back in the car, it was no trouble at all to get her to lay down and take a rest.  
We drove off into the sunset, content in the glow of another hike well done.  
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River Bend – Majestic Oaks Loop Trail

So its been a while since we went hiking.  (Yes, I did just post a new hike the other day, but we did the actual hiking way back in November.)  We found ourselves a bit rusty; we expected to be.  In anticipation of that fact, we chose a light, easy walk not too far from home, made sure to wear comfy clothes, and left plenty of time to get home before I had to be at work later that day.

Turned out our legs held up just fine.  It was our preparation skills that were lacking.  Well, mine were.  We arrived at the parking lot, just like the book described, and I began to feel the familiar coldness, shaky hands, frantic thoughts and general weakness that permeated my body.  My blood sugar was dropping.  I’d remembered to bring my tester, but sadly, the information it provided was no use.  I had forgotten my sugar tablets.
The glucose tabs are pretty standard fare for me, always in a small tube in my purse, pocket, car, or desk.  Unfortunately I’d finished the tube in my car and hadn’t gotten around to replacing it, and since my backpack had seen such little use in the last few months, there was nothing there, either.  I stood at the trailhead wondering what to do – frozen by indecision.  Should we keep going?  Sometimes my symptoms appeared and then I rebound, just a quick dip. But then, what if it didn’t?  It usually doesn’t go away on its own, especially if I’m doing physical activity.  But the thought of turning around and going home didn’t feel like an option either.  We’d picked a place close to home, but it was still almost an hour’s drive home again.  It would be such a waste not to take the hike.
Sitting sounded like the best idea, really

Sitting sounded like the best idea, really

I was just deciding to throw caution to the wind and just start walking when Ryan decided to check the car for anything that might help.  I stayed where I was, my mind still somewhat foggy and dense.  I held Nora’s leash as she wandered around taking in all the smells around her.  There was a thick layer of fallen leaves and it surely held an intriguing mixture of olfactory sensations, judging by the fact that her nose never left the ground.  I decided I could at least enjoy the view and began taking some pictures.
...I probably won't pass out.

…I probably won’t pass out.

Anything that wasn’t paved was covered in trees, vines, and shrubs.  Most of those were also covered in a moist green moss that made the place feel lush and alive all over.  In front of me stood a sign that described the Native American tribes that had lived in the area over a hundred years ago, about how they lived off the land.  I bet they would be able to find something out here that would fix this low, I thought.  Instead, with my luck, I’d pick the poison oak.  Hope Ryan finds something in there. leaves have any carbs?

…do leaves have any carbs?

Just then he walked back up and held out two smushed Starburst candies and a small cellophane wrapper containing three Gobstoppers.
“This gonna be enough?”  He asked.  I nodded and ate both Starbursts without stopping for breath.  Then I opened the Gobstoppers and popped one out of the cellophane and began to eat it.  I reminded myself not to chew just in the nick of time.  I put the other two in my pocket and turned toward the trail once again.
“You sure?”  He looked at me with raised eyebrows.  Low blood sugars tend to have an impact on my appearance, drawing my features into weak expressions, making my complexion stark and pale, giving the impression that I am about to keel over at any time, so this wasn’t an unreasonable question by any means.  I reassured him that I really was feeling better already, and that the sugar would continue to work its way through my system, ensuring that I would be fine for the walk.
“Okay.  But how about we cut across and make one of the smaller loops instead of doing the whole thing?  Just in case that wasn’t enough, I don’t want to carry you out.”  I smiled and nodded.  I didn’t want that either.
Nora can just drag me home.

Nora can just drag me home.

The entire walk was shaded by large oak trees, just as the name had promised.  The carpet of dead leaves ensured that Nora thoroughly enjoyed herself, as well.  When we came to the first turn, we took it and began to loop back to the beginning.  To our left was a large orchard, the neat organization of the smaller trees stood out in sharp contrast to the wild tangle that had surrounded us up until then.






We walked at least a mile, crossing a small bridge and walking through a couple of muddy patches.  But the sun was bright and warmed us against the January chill.  It was really a good day.




As we took our last turn, I felt another twinge, and finished off the last of the Gobstoppers.  Then the car came in sight, and I heard Ryan begin to speak.
“What do you think about stopping for lunch on the way home?”  I thought he was genius.
I also thought that next time, I’d make sure to have plenty of candy to spare.
And clean the boots

And clean the boots

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Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf Hike

One thing I love about travel, even if it is only a few hours away from home, is that I get to see things that I usually can’t see anywhere else.  New experiences, new sights, sounds, people.  But unfortunately, more and more it seems that isn’t the case.  We traveled to Monterey in early November, and after we checked in to our motel, we decided it would be fun to grab some food and drive around to see what there was to see.
We saw a Starbucks, Jack in the Box, and a Kinko’s.
Ahh, familiarity

Ahh, familiarity

The only thing that we saw that was completely unique was the restaurant where we ate, a fun little place that had a heated patio where we could sit with Nora.  After that, though, it felt like we hadn’t really left our hometown, just rearranged the positions of the stores we already knew inside and out.


But that is why I love going on a hike when we travel.  Because nature is variety.  She replicates herself in so many various ways that no two places are exactly alike.  She doesn’t make the trees all look the same so that her customers will feel a sense of familiarity and choose her store instead of someone else’s.
Vacations in Tahoe can feel much like vacations in Monterey sometimes, all including quick coffee stops and shopping at the same stores for the same groceries.  But the hikes?  The hikes are like finally stepping out of the hustle and bustle, finally getting away from it all at last.  Hikes in Tahoe are a completely different world than hiking in Monterey, which are a completely different world than hiking in the foothills.  Its amazing.
Our hike the next day was just that.  We drove to Fisherman’s Wharf, another location that was unique, boasting one-of-a-kind restaurants and funny little novelty shops that, well, aren’t exactly one of a kind, but aren’t a dime a dozen, either.  We saw a bike path that wound along a large stretch of beach.  Nora was curious about her new surroundings, intrigued by the kayaks that several people were carrying across the walkway, and a little scared of the people on bikes zipping past us every now and then.
Not Tahoe.

Not Tahoe.

Finally we came to an opening in the shrubbery that blocked our access to the beach, and saw a sign that told us dogs were allowed, so long as they remained on-leash.  We looked at one another, wondering just what Nora would think of the sand and the surf.  Then, we turned onto the sand and continued to hike.  We moved closer and closer to the water, wondering when Nora would slow down and shy away from the water like usual.
...she's...not stopping.

…she’s…not stopping.

Weren’t we surprised when she didn’t!  No, instead, she walked in as far as we would let her, as far as we could without getting ourselves wet (we were still wearing jeans and regular shoes, after all).  She pulled at the leash when she reached the end of it, anxious to go farther.
Lemme go, guys, lemme please!

Lemme go, guys, lemme please!

We walked along the beach for a while, occasionally meeting other dog walkers with the same idea.  But to our surprise, Nora was still darting in and out of the small waves, barely giving more than a passing glance at her fellow canines, regardless of their interest in her.
Seriously, have you guys noticed how awesome this stuff is?

Seriously, have you guys noticed how awesome this stuff is?

Finally, we returned to the bike path, ready to get lunch and get headed back to the car.
Posing with Mother Nature

Posing with Mother Nature

So, when can we go back to the water?

So, when can we go back to the water?

We stopped for a couple photos, but our weekend was quickly coming to a close.  As we neared the parking lot, we could see a group of kids taking surfing lessons in the water by  the pier.  I smiled and thought won’t see that at home.
Ooh, hey!  What was that?

Ooh, hey! What was that?

Thank goodness for mother nature.

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Border Ruffian Trail

You could see for mile after unbelievable mile.  As soon as one ridge ended, there was yet another rising behind it.  But what could not be seen was any sign of modern life.  No roads, no cars, and no buildings save for what had once been a simple cabin or shelter, and even that was minimal.  Just a few rough logs in a reasonably flat patch of woods held together by rusted square nails was all that was left.

There were few hills here, just mountain after mountain, one transitioning seamlessly into the other so high up that traversing them almost felt like climbing hills instead of mountains.  The fact that we were in reality ascending mountaintops was made evident by the thin air, a sure sign of high altitude.  My breathing was a bit more labored than usual.
The first ascent was up the side of a rocky slope covered in clumps of mountain grasses, mule’s ear and sage brush.  Gravel littered our path and large boulders dotted the wide landscape, evidence of ancient glacial activity.  They couldn’t possibly have arrived there any other way.  Beyond the hill we were climbing we could see another peak, a rocky, bald thing with steep, jagged sides and nothing much else.  It would not be on our agenda today, that was certain.
Instead, we turned to our left and started downward.  We marveled at the view in all directions.  We could see peaks forever, turning bluer the farther away they were.  The nearest ones, revealing more detail in their proximity, were covered in a variety of surfaces, from dark brown to white to green and gray.  Some had large cliff faces jutting out at strange angles, while others were covered with carpets of trees and brush.  Still others seemed to be draped in chocolate brown blankets, which in reality were simply the earth roping over itself, falling in so many large chunks that from our distance looked small and uniform, like sand being poured into a pile.  Below us lay a large patch of willows with a small clearing at the far side from us.  That was our goal.

Waaay over there.

As the sun crept higher, we crept downward into a valley between two peaks and soon were under the cover of trees.  The trail changed from rock-strewn to springy, covered in soft dirt and what at one time had been vegetation.  It was dry, however, and our way was fairly flat.  It made for easy walking.
Walking past one tree I saw something I hadn’t expected.  Wrapped around the trunk several feet above my head were the remains of an old wire.  Upon closer examination we could see that it was an old telephone wire – years ago it had been there to connect the old cabin to civilization.
The walk was relaxing, and as we walked we talked.  Past explorations of the area, current goings-on, and the antics of the two dogs (running off-leash) were our main topics of conversation.  Before I knew it, we had reached our little clearing in the willows.  While we rested for a lunch of apples, cheese and crackers (the best hiking lunch), Nora had fun running and playing in the little creek that ran at the edge of the clearing.

Wait, what?

You read that right.  Nora.  In the water.  On her own.  And she was having a ball doing it – running, barking, jumping, and sometimes just laying down and soaking it all up.  The only time that she left the water was when I offered her a little bit of apple for her to snack on.

Then she was off again.

Finally we were ready to head back to camp.  We went back up the path through the willows, both pups still running wild and free.  Suddenly there was a rustling in the willows to our left and before I realized what was happening, Nora was off like a shot, running after a pair of deer that had been walking by.  With a variety of frightening thoughts racing through my head, I too began running into the brush, trying to find her.  I called out to her, chastised and cajoled, tried to determine which direction her barking was coming from.  I stumbled out of a thick group of bushes and was becoming a bit frantic when, as suddenly as she jumped in, she jumped out of the willows in front of me.  Needless to say, it was back on the leash for her for a while.  She wasn’t too thrilled about that, however.  But after a few groans and protests, we were on our way again.
The walk back in the afternoon was much hotter than the walk there had been that morning.  The ground was hot and the heat rose in waves all around us.  Where the walk in had been easy and unbroken, the walk back included several breaks for shade and water, both for people and dogs.


 Finally we made the last ascent and then it was all down hill from there.  For me, though, there was one more little challenge:

Nora was done hiking before the rest of us, it seemed.

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The Second Meadow

There are some places that are special.  There are places where you go and they make you feel refreshed and whole.  There are places that make you, well… you again.  These places are what they are because we create them.  We may not hammer a single nail or lay a single brick, but we create the place just the same.

And maybe that is why they are so hard to share sometimes.  Because what makes them magical is that we love them so much that we leave little bits of ourselves behind; things that we forget once we leave the place, and remember as soon as we arrive again.

The place that feels the most like home to me is a little valley with a simple campground and a jeep trail leading out of its terminal end.  It may not seem like much, often filled with flies and mosquitoes and always with endless amounts of powdery dust that springs up into the air at the slightest disturbance and forms a delicate, indelible film of dirt onto every surface.  Not even the power of prayer stands a chance against it, and it can take weeks until it decides to relinquish its hold on a person’s skin.  But to me, it is perfect.  Besides, the outward impression of pesky bugs and grubbiness keeps the overcrowding down.

The jeep trail that I mentioned earlier leads to a number of trails, each one sure to be a feature of mine at some point. But today, it was just the walk up the jeep trail until we reached the second gate, and the end of the valley’s second _ and largest – meadow.  This was the hike that I took on almost a yearly basis growing up, once each summer until I was eighteen.  Whether the camping trip lasted one day or one week made little difference, there was always time for at least one trip up “to the second meadow.”
Large groups, solitary journeys, each year held a different sort of hike, and I loved them all.  Walking and talking with family members (also fellow campers), people who knew the land’s features far better than I did, offered a different sort of perspective.  As they were telling me about this tree or that rock, I began to know the place, to take it in and make it my own, stories and sights rolling into one and creating a narrative that was like my own secret.  When I finally discovered that those stories had been largely fabricated, due to my family’s propensity for exaggeration and humor, it really didn’t matter much – they were a part of my stories now and therefore inseparable from my narrative.
We arrived in the afternoon for an overnight visit, not even twenty-four hours in total.  But just as always there was time for the second meadow.  Although I had brought my boots, I decided to forgo them in favor of my flip flops.  I was already wearing them and time was  of the essence, after all.  I knew the road and besides, I was pretty sure I had done it barefoot at least once before.
The air was warm and rose before us in little wisps that smelled like dirt, but in a good way.  As we left the campground behind, the jeep trail became suddenly rocky and tilted upward toward a barbed wire gate.  It climbed gradually and the ground morphed from rockiness to soft dirt with a blanket of pine needles to dried, hard mud and back to rock and gravel.  Trees, both large and small but all some form of pine, bordered and mostly kept us shaded.
Then as if an invisible hand had opened a curtain of trees before us, the meadow appeared, bright green and flourishing.  There were willows in the distance, skunk cabbage plants growing close by, and tall grasses waving in the breeze everywhere.  A few stumps jutted above the greenery, a reminder of the somewhat recent history of logging in the area.  The entire panorama lay behind a barbed wire fence that followed the road perfectly, and though there weren’t any in sight, I knew from my childhood it was there to keep cattle in their grazing grounds.  Happy cows indeed lived here.
The meadow is long, stretching for at least a mile before ending in another wire gate, and the beginning of the longer trails I mentioned earlier.  When we arrived we were met with three honest-to-goodness cowboys, sitting around a campfire and kept company by their horses.  Nora’s history with horses being what it is, we turned around and headed back to camp.
We took a last look at the meadow, walked back past the rock and gravel, the hard mud, soft dirt with pine needles, and the rocky road.  We arrived back in camp and promptly took a nap.  It was a good day.
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Wilder Ranch Bluffs Trail

Well, its my birthday yet again.  That means that its been one year since I decided to share my adventures with everyone and start this blog. Hope you’ve had fun, because I have.

NO, no resting! Get back to writing, already!

To celebrate my birthday, we went and took a trip to Santa Cruz and, of course, took a hike.  While it isn’t a hike that is mentioned in the book that started it all, it was still pretty awesome.
Honestly, we didn’t know where we would go hiking until we left that day.  Would it be tide pools and sand between our toes?  Or would it be redwoods and wildflowers?  The magic of smartphones gave us the answer; Wilder Ranch State Park.  Soon, we were on our way.
An hour later, we were still on our way.  Did I mention the magic of smartphones?  Hah, well it doesn’t always extend to their GPS capability.  With no less than five phones in the car at once, all searching, in turn, for our trailhead, we got lost.  And we were almost out of gas.
After running back into town for a quick fill’er-up, we were on the road again.  With the phones cooperating once again, we found what we were looking for.  A few dollars in park fees later and we were on the trail.  There are several trails in the park to choose from but we wanted a little bit of everything.  According to the guide on the phone (the app is from, check it out – you can find and create trails with it) the bluff trail had just that.  We checked out the signpost and picked the one that sounded the most spot-on; the Ohlone Bluff Trail.  So off we went.

This may be the first time anyone’s been excited to find a dirt road.

The trail was wide and well-kept, and also well-used.  We were by no means secluded on our journey.  Before covering even a mile, we had been passed by a family of mountain bikers, crossed paths with another couple of bicycles, and seen a handful of others along the trail enjoying the day just as we were.
Wildflowers of all shapes, sizes and colors adorned each side of the trail, and with every step the panorama changed.  Thistles to snapdragon-like flowers to tall weeds to short succulents, everything was right there.  More than once I had to hustle to catch up after a lengthy photo session.

Eh, they’re not too far away yet…

Click, click…


Hey! where’d everyone go – ooh! a ladybug!

Before long, we rounded a wide curve in the trail and were treated to the first of many gorgeous views of a beach.  Dark, jagged cliffs surrounded a light tan, crescent-shaped sandy shore.  Bright blue waters ran back and forth across it, and dark patches of seaweed lolled about under the waves like gigantic jellyfish.  A perfectly placed observation deck, complete with a bench waited for us to sit down and enjoy it all for a while.  The sound of the wind and the waves was almost hypnotic, so before we relaxed too much, we carried ourselves on down the path.

If you hold it to your ear….

The neat thing about the trail system in the park is that they interweave, allowing hikers to make up their trip as they go along.  Shortly after we left the first beach, the trail forked, going level off to the right, but downward to our left. The downward path pointed toward the water, and what else had we driven to the beach for but that, so down we went.  As we climbed down, we were surrounded on both sides by a lush garden of all sorts, filled with wildflowers, more succulents, and, well, probably weeds, but they were pretty too.

Just a little steep

We made it down to a rocky ledge that had a split running across it that was so deep we could see the waves crashing below where we stood.  Of course, that meant that we needed to take the opportunity to look closer and take a few pictures.  (Turns out we overstayed our welcome)


Ohhh, time to go

We climbed back up again and soon found ourselves standing on top of a bare cliff, covered only with rocks and sand.  Again, we sat for a moment, taking in the sea and salt air.  The wind was fierce; It whipped our hair (and hats) all around, and blew sand into our faces.  But most of all, it was a force we fought while we walked into it, making a mile seem like two instead.

Oh, found her!

The cliffs stretched on, changing in scenery if not in structure.  While one was covered in bare rock, another was covered in the same lush garden as the downhill stretch from a half-mile before.  One section was purple, the next yellow.  I began to wonder if there wasn’t some park gardener who had planned the flowers’ layout.
Finally, on one of the last cliffs, the views of the flora were joined by views of fauna.  Sea birds began congregating on the lower rocks, cawing and squawking in a chorus that was unmistakable.


As we looked over the side of one section of cliff, we were greeted by a seagull dutifully guarding his nest only about three feet down.  He looked back up as if to dare us to come any closer.


We didn’t.
Our trail turned inland once again shortly after we left our feathered friend, and as we walked along our last beach –  different from our first in many ways: it had a fern-filled cave and crumbled cliffs in place of a flat expanse of sand – we began looking for the way back.

Is that…a house?

It seemed that our trail would lead us through private property.  A barn, small house, and several work trucks sat alongside our trail, which had widened into a flat dirt road.  We picked up the pace and hurried through, though we never once saw an occupant.
Soon after passing the home, we once again passed the railroad track and were quickly within view of the parking lot.  We hurried as fast as we could (which, considering the wind was at our backs, was pretty quick) and before long we were back on the road on the way back to town (and lunch!).


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Hardrock Trail

While most of my hikes focus on the beauty of nature and the enjoyment of the great outdoors in all its untouched splendor, the hike through the Hardrock trail does not.  There was beauty, and mother nature did put on a spectacular show.   But evidence of man’s ingenuity was equally on display, and in some ways stole the show.

Nature did alright for herself, I’d say.

The trail is located inside the Empire Mine State Historical Park.  Circling the old Empire Mine as well as various other abandoned mines, the trail is named for the method these mines employed.  Though no longer in operation, the mines were part of a mind-bogglingly huge network of tunnels spanning 367 miles that weave about underground to this day.  The fact that they have mostly filled with water and are unreachable does not diminish their being impressive in the least, and absolutely doesn’t prevent one from trying to imagine traveling that far under the earth.

…that doesn’t mean you should necessarily go in there, though.

Our trail began in a small parking lot filled with horse trailers and well, not much else.  We checked the book two or three times to be sure that we had started out in the right place, crossed our fingers and set out.

Almost immediately we saw some odd concrete buildings, about the size of boxcars. We still aren’t sure what they were used for, but here’s a picture anyway.

For the most part, the trail was a wide, well-kept gravel lane, vegetation growing up to the edge of the path.  In some places, the trail was bordered by a fence to preserve the foliage from more adventurous “off-road” hikers.

It might be for the best, however.

…see look, there some right th- Nooo! Nora, don’t eat that!

As the midday sun crept higher and temperatures rose, we enjoyed a mostly shaded walk under a canopy of tall pines and some scattered broad-leafed trees.  The leaves layered on top of one another and created a stained glass-like creation above our heads.  It was beautiful and unlike anything I had seen before.

Stop. Click. Look.

No, really. Go take a look, I’ll be right here when you get back.

We knew our trail was supposed to take us by the visitor center and museum.  However, after we had walked a while, we began to worry that we had once again taken a wrong turn (or two).  As we began to wonder, first quietly and then out loud if we were on another wild goose chase, we turned a corner and saw it.

…two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I…played eenie meenie miney moe.

Lookatthat!  Oh don’t look at me like that.  Its a big deal, alright?

After the reassurance of the trail marker, and a brief and completely graceful victory dance, we were able to relax a little more and enjoy the trail.  When we came across some old mining equipment, we took our time meandering through and checking out the old stuff.  Old mine carts, and tracks, foundations to things that we could only imagine lay baking in the sun as we walked amongst the ruins.  We pondered what it would have been like to see them all in action.  It would have been impressive to say the least.




Between the scattered remnants of old sites, we continued to meander through a beautiful landscape of greenery.  Once or twice we came across some drainage pipes running underneath our trail, but didn’t really see any water flowing anywhere.

Not a drop

That is until we came around a turn and spotted a creek wide enough to require four drainage pipes to make its way underneath the trail.  It was a bit of a surprise, though we hadn’t really been looking for water.  No, the big surprise came moments later when we reached the creek.

She got in.  …the water.  On her own!

Nora, the dog who is scared of the bathtub and the sprinklers, who only jumps in the creek if her buddy Finn does it first (and has a toy she wants to steal), marched straight into that creek without a moment’s hesitation.
I was so proud.

And then.

Then, as I sat beside the creek taking pictures of her crossing the small trickle of water, she stopped.  She didn’t seem scared or upset, she just stopped moving forward.  I urged her onward, and the others tried to coax her as well, but she just sort of, well, stood there.
Turns out she was waiting for me.  As soon as I walked to the far side of the creek and called her, she began to move again and we were on our merry way once more.

Haah hah suckers. You just gave me a bath, like, two days ago.

Not long after Nora’s aquatic adventure, we came upon the fabled visitor center.  It crept up on us; first we saw a spot that used to house an emergency generator, and then an a frame used for lifting heavy equipment.  Next was a peek over a fence into a large yard full of old mining equipment of all shapes and sizes.  Finally we entered the parking lot and made our way to the entrance.  We hadn’t come all that way without going in!  And Nora was allowed in, too!  (on a leash of course.)

A core sample from who knows how many miles underground. Neat.

The gate at the visitor’s center. The entrance is just a little farther ahead, to the right in this photo.

We spent about an hour exploring inside the visitor center, checking out the blacksmith’s shop, the old office buildings inside and out, and walked up to the house (mansion – seriously, it’s beautiful) and the gardens.  The most impressive thing we saw?  The entrance to the main shaft of the Empire Mine.  It was mind boggling to imagine plummeting down into the earth at six hundred feet per minute (with no cushion or shock absorbers whatsoever).  To help us imagine it better, we climbed into the mine car and stared downward.  It was helpful that the cart was bolted in place and, for good measure, there was a sturdy metal grate blocking the entrance below.
When we finally left the visitor center, our walk back to the car was short and pretty.  It was a little unnerving, as it was right on the edge of the road, but we managed to make it just fine.  We climbed in the car and headed for home, thankful with every thump and bump that we weren’t riding in the mine car.
Categories: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, easy, foothills | 2 Comments

Sweetwater Trail

Not all hikes are completely successful.  Sometimes, hikes turn out to be less recreation, and more…well, cautionary tale.

This is one of those hikes.

What do you mean you can’t see the ominous cloud of doom hanging over their heads?  It’s right there

After a seemingly cheerful beginning, several things fell just all apart.  My phone’s GPS wouldn’t work right, so I was unable to create a map of where we were walking.  We wound up taking the wrong trail for about a mile and a half (which then totaled about three miles altogether).  Once we DID find the right trail and started walking it, Nora decided she’d had enough and turned right around and walked back the way we came, refusing to continue on.  Oh, and we found no less than four ticks on poor Nora by the time we made it home.

What did you expect clouds of doom to look like?

But you know what?  It was still a good day.
It was still a hike.
We started out where – it seemed – the book had said to.  Near the pit toilets, we found a trail leading off into the foliage.  “Looks right,”  we reasoned, and began our trek.  The trail was a pretty reddish color, and the richness of the rock seemed to flow into the flora that engulfed us on either side.
Plants I had seen a million times before were intermingled with new and exciting creations of mother nature, creating a symphony of plant life that had me all but hypnotized.


Ok, I can’t even type that with a straight face.  But it was almost like that.  I’m not sure who was enjoying the plant life more, Nora or myself.  As I gazed at each new visual treat, Nora was checking out a new flower or shrub.
And then trying to eat it.
She finally gave up on that activity after attempting to eat a thistle.


It didn’t dampen her spirits, though.  After a small (too small in my estimation, but she couldn’t be persuaded) drink of water, she happily pranced back the way we had come.
Yes, back.  Because I had just realized my mistake.
The change in direction seemed to make no difference to her.  She bounced along, just as happy to see these plants again from a new angle.  And honestly, she probably thought that they were new plants; her attention span leaves something to be desired.



Oh, that’s new!

Another new experience this hike had to offer us was the exhilarating rush of leaping out of the way of mountain bikes.  And then there was the scramble to make sure Nora jumped the same way that we did so we wouldn’t create a tripwire perfect for clotheslining a bike tire.

Oh, no.

And we got to experience that adrenaline burst of excitement about six times.
Oh, it was thrilling.
When we eventually made it back and found the correct trail, we were pretty tired.  We wondered aloud just how far we would make it, but continued on anyway.  The trail was a bit rockier, more sparse vegetation, but the view of the lake was amazing and more than made up for it.

…well, maybe it JUST made up for it.

We ran across one more mountain biker.  It wasn’t so much of a flying leap out of the way this time as it was a groaning lurch.  The bright, promising morning had turned out to be quite toasty.
Nora discovered a new trick of walking much, much slower when she was in the shade.  In fact, she altogether stopped a few times, and had to be coaxed into returning to the sun.  When offered water, however, she would sniff at it daintily and turn away as per her usual routine.
Finally, she let us know she had just plain had enough of our nonsense.  She turned right around and began walking back the way we came.  Nothing and no one could turn her around this time.  It was time to throw in the towel, and to be honest, neither of us were sorry about that fact.

“Come on, let’s go just a little further.”

“Hey, that-a-girl, good job…”

Haha, NO. -Nora

We trekked back what turned out to be about a half a mile, making our entire trip about four miles in total, about what we had planned to cover to begin with.
So even though it didn’t work out, it actually kind of did.
Except for the ticks.  The ticks just suck.
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