River of Skulls Trail

This was the trail we had intended to take when we wound up taking the Hogan Dam equestrian trail back in February.  We went right when we should have gone on the left trail, and while the trip had been fun, it had been rather, well, monotonous in terms of scenery.

The correct trail, ominously (yet needlessly so) named the River of Skulls Trail, was beautifully varied and each different panorama was gorgeous in its own unique way.  Its manicured pathway, bordered by stones on either side, traversed a variety of landscapes; There were wooded glens, wide expanses of pale green grasses dotted with pastel wildflowers, and several stretches that traveled along the river’s edge where the air was crisp and a cool relief from the climbing noon temperatures.

Now why couldn’t we have seen that last time?

We decided to throw caution to the wind and let the dogs off of their leash.  It was such a nice day, with birds singing and the distant creek gurgling, and a light breeze rustling the long blades of grass, it seemed like a cruel punishment to keep the pups from enjoying more than three feet of it.  As they ran ahead, side by side, I could almost hear Harry Nilsson’s “Best Friend” lilting across the field.

You’re singing it in your head now, aren’t you?

…yes you are.

The hike was a quick one, about a mile or so’s worth of walking in all.  All along the way, there were numbered posts, stating that they were “stations” of some sort.  According to The Book, it accompanies an instructional guide that explains river life along the way.  The guides are available at the headquarters building that, admittedly, I don’t know the location of.
Instead of this option, we went straight to the parking lot and took the left trail (after two or three long looks at the book just to be sure).  We crossed the bridge and turned upwards, took the right-hand fork and climbed a small, grassy hill.  At first glance, it seemed to be plain grass, beautiful in its simplicity, but a closer inspection revealed something more.
Small, pale purple flowers were scattered throughout the grass.  I decided that I would get in closer for a nice photo.  It seems that I have begun taking after my grandmother who, although she was very good at photographing wildflowers, was also quite skilled at taking blurry photographs of them as well.

…almost…

She could have filled albums with those photos alone.  And try as I might, I could not take a photo of that flower that was not blurry.

…still not quite right…

Finn decided to help – by stomping the flower and removing temptation I suppose.

Hey! It’s still alive! Let’s try another phot- oh.

 As the sun rose higher and the morning rolled slowly but surely into noontime, the heat became more and more noticeable.  About the time we applauded ourselves for being so smart as to remember sunscreen (this time, at least), our trail became a shady tunnel made of all sorts of trees and shrubbery.  The air didn’t feel much cooler beneath the canopy, but the sun’s rays had been blocked from our backs, and we were grateful.
At about the halfway point was a little hairpin turn that someone had made safer with the addition of wooden beams designed to make a staircase that wound down throughout the curve.  We took a rest and had a snack while sitting on a beam.  We could hear the water flowing in the creek below, and let the dogs run around while we rested.  After one of the dogs became too adventurous and explored down a hill she almost couldn’t climb back up, we set out and left that area behind us.

Mine. It was my dog.  I’m as surprised as you.

The sounds of the creek became louder and louder, and before long we saw through a clearing in a brush that we were walking alongside the riverbank.  It was flowing swiftly, and was certainly very cold, but that didn’t stop the dogs from leaping in.  We threw sticks in for them to catch and bring back, being careful not to throw them out far into the current.  We weren’t interesting in wading out to perform a rescue, no matter how much the sun was shining.  After a few minutes we continued on, following the stream a little farther and then the trail veered away (or did the creek?  I couldn’t tell…) and we were back in the sunshine, walking up and down small slopes of gentle hills.
After walking around another grass-covered hill, the bridge returned to view.  Beyond that, we could see the car and our ticket home to shower and lunch.  We snapped a photo before leaving, and Nora continued her tradition of showing her best side to the camera.

Classy.

It had been a good day, enjoyed by all.  See?

That’s a happy puppy

P.S.  When I take these hikes, I take LOTS of photos.  Some of them turn out great, some of them turn out great after I edit them, and some of them remain awful no matter how much I crop, edit, tweak or otherwise tinker with.  But the following photo is the first that is a combination of all three.  Take a look – I couldn’t resist.

hehheh

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Spooner Summit (WITM)

 

This story starts a little bit before we arrived at our destination, so you, dear reader, get a bonus.  We had been staying in South Lake Tahoe and were looking for a place to play in the snow.  A quick check on the phones found a snow park on Spooner Summit.  Neither of us had ever been there and we decided we’d have an adventure and check it out.  We drove up according to the directions (again, on the phones), and turned off where we were supposed to.  And before we knew it, we drove right on past it and down the mountain toward Carson City.  Five miles later we had turned around and made it back to the park and found….very little snow.

 

There’s…some.

But we also found a trail head.  We had the dog, who was practically vibrating with pent up energy from being stuck in her crate the whole drive.  We had our walking shoes, since we’d planned to do some snowshoeing that day.  And we had time.  We walked uphill and set out on the trail, which wound around Spooner Lake, which lay to the west of us.

 

However, before we made it to the trail, our path was beset by three menacing enemies.  I managed to capture a photo of them:

 

The evil things sat in wait, right next to the trail. The horror!

Ok, so the threat was, well, nonexistent, but nothing you could tell Nora would convince her that they were anything but the deadliest of creatures bent on destroying her.  She cowered away from them and barked out a warning when we got too close.

 

And then she got over it

The trail was a thin dirt path that meandered through pine, aspen and other assorted trees along the way.  Many of the aspens had been carved with initials of those who had traveled there before us.  It was something to wonder about as we walked – who were they?  Were they from nearby, or all the way across the country? or the world?

There were small patches of snow every so often when we started out, and eventually the small patches became larger and larger stretches.  The pup loved every minute of it, running along and sniffing, bounding when the snow gave way beneath her.  She picked up sticks and pine cones and anything else that she found interesting along the way.

OHHHHYESYES YES! I found a STICK!

I think its safe to say she enjoyed herself immensely.  She gave no thought to anyone else, anyone who had been there before or would be there after she was done.  It was fun to watch her gallop and prance along, enjoying that moment, taking in all it had to offer.  I thought she had the right idea and joined in.  Not so much the galloping and prancing, but definitely enjoying the moment and casting away all my worries about tomorrow.  It was nice to just be somewhere and nowhere else for a while.

Just as we began to wonder if we had taken a wrong turn and that we would never arrive at the lake, it came into view between the trees.

There?

Aha!

There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife along the trail.  A bird or two chattering in the trees, and maybe a stray chipmunk every so often.  While spring was in fact in the air, it hadn’t fully blossomed yet.  The temperatures may have reached comfortable levels (when you were in the sun, at least), but the residents of the area hadn’t decided to make an appearance yet.  I like to sleep in, too, so who am I to judge?

The lake was peaceful and calm, despite the chill of the wind.  The view was beautiful and we decided that a photo of us enjoying the area was a great idea.

We were wrong.

Ah, that’ll work.

As we made our way around the lake we crossed a wooden bridge, the second that we had come across.  It crossed a marshy area covered in golden reeds that had grown rampantly the year before.  Surely once they had been tall and beautiful, but as we passed by, they lay scattered across the swampy expanse.

The last leg of our trek was all uphill.  While we had been bracing ourselves against the chill just a short time before, during the uphill climb back to the car we were peeling off layers and missing the snow that had suddenly gone missing.  Finally, I could take no more and sat for a short rest.  Nora pulled at her leash, eager to keep moving.  I caught my breath and steeled myself for the last push.  In a few moments we were up the hill and past the garbage bag monsters, then safe in the car again.

As we drove back down the road, we enjoyed one last look at Lake Tahoe before we headed back down the hill.

 

P.S. When I decided to slow down and enjoy the world around me, I began to notice a multitude of intriguing sights along the way.  Thanks to my camera and shutterbug ways, I have plenty of photographs to share with all of you.  Enjoy.

(Click the image to see the larger version.)

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Mercer Caverns…a New Sort of Hike

I have been a busy little bee lately!  But despite being too busy to blog, I have managed to escape the daily grind (and the weather) for a little excursion in the Mother Lode.  A few weeks ago, my friend and I ran away for the day and explored on a new kind of hike – underground, at Mercer’s Caverns in Murphy’s.

Can't really miss the sign

Mercer Caverns is accessible via forty five minute tour, which costs about $15 per person.  On the tour, we learned about the discovery, history and geology of the caves.  While we listened, we descended, and then climbed back up, a maze of staircases that tilt and turn in all manner of angles and directions.  The reason for the precariousness of their positioning is to skirt around the intriguing and imposing formations.

Escher-esque

Most folks tend to explore he caverns when the summer heat drives them away from the great (hot) outdoors in search of cooler temperatures.  Mercer’s Caverns stays in the comfortable sixty-degree range year round, which makes it perfect for summer.  Unless you are crowded in a cramped space with twenty other hot, sweaty tourists, all trying to look at the same miniscule formations.

No, instead of facing swarming crowds and eager shutterbugs, we had the caves all to ourselves.  In the wintertime, those sixty degrees feel toasty and it is a nice, dry place away from the soggy earth above.  We were treated to a face to face encounter.  Instead of just listening to our surly tour guide ramble through her maybe too well-rehearsed (although interesting) spiel, we were able to ask questions and be insulted directly.

Mercer would sit here with his guests and tell them fairy tales, thus earning this spot the title of "The Fairies' Grotto."

The cavern was made up of several chambers and smaller caves, though the tour takes you through only a fraction of what’s there.  However, what you are able to see is amazing enough.  You pass places with such impressive names as the Gothic Chamber (the largest in the cavern’s networks) and the Cathedral Room.  Throughout the tour you are treated to formations of stalactites and stalagmites (take the tour to learn what the difference is between the two…), as well as some more unique features such as cave bacon.  The cave also has a large wall that is covered with the rare mineral formation Aragonite, which won an award at the Paris World Faire in 1900.

Mr. Mercer, the man who “discovered” the cave in the late 1800’s, named many of the formations based on their appearance: there are the Cave Twins, the Angel Wings, the Beehive, and the Bridal Veil and more.

The Beehive

The Angel's Wings are very fragile, and very well protected.

Cave Popcorn

Cave Bacon

As we toured, our guide told us (in her own charming way) about the Cavern’s not-so-recent history.  The cavern formed over millennia, with each formation growing about one cubic centimeter every five hundred years.  More recently, the cavern was discovered by William Mercer in the late 1800s.  He not only preserved it against damage but began providing guided tours within weeks after the discovery.

Cave-building in ACTION!

He and those he guided used candles affixed to wooden boards to illuminate their exploration.  While climbing (which was most of the time) they held their lights in their mouths.  They carried open flames, inches in front of their faces, while their hands were occupied and unavailable in the event of something going horribly wrong.  Let that sink in for a bit, I’ll wait here.

Think of the angel's wings, again!

After the climbers perfected the art of not burning their faces off, they also had to make sure that they didn’t drop them, as the meager candles were their only sources of light.  The group would be left in absolute darkness until someone managed to scrounge up their spare.

During the tour, we were treated to this latter experience of complete cave darkness.  At one point, our guide lit a board that held four candles and turned off the electric lights that are now used as the standard illumination throughout.  The difference was startling.  We were unable to see much more than a few yards away, and when she blew out all but one, we could see only a few feet in any direction.

But all of that was bright compared to what came next.  Our guide unceremoniously blew out the last candle, plunging us into utter, pitch black.  Waving a hand in front of our faces was useless, we found.  As we tried anyway, our guide told us that the human eye tries incessantly to focus in total darkness and will eventually burn itself out, rendering the person it belongs to completely blind.  She then told us of miners and cave explorers who had gotten lost in caves for too long.  By the time they were found, they had been driven mad and stricken blind.  We gave the obligatory (and honestly, irrepressible) shiver.

Meanwhile, here's a lovely photo of our experience.

Our guide then turned on the lights as we breathed a sigh of relief.  She then told us that the only lights that had been turned off were the ones in the immediate area.  The lights that were down the staircase from us had been on the entire time.

Cave Cathedral

There are several differences between a “regular” hike and a cave hike.  Some are quite obvious, such as the fact that it takes place under the ground – that is a bit hard to miss.  But one thought that may not immediately present itself until it is too late is this:  on your typical hike, after you reach the halfway point, most times the rest is all downhill.  In a cave, well, the last leg is always going to be up.

In this case, its way up, and quick.  We climbed and huffed and puffed our way back up one of the steepest staircases I have ever seen, making sure to avoid the many low-hanging rocks along the way.  Not only would we have to deal with the worst headache imaginable, but we would also face fines of more than $1000 due to caverns being protected by state law.  The ultimate addition of insult to injury.

More!?

Before long, the counterfeit light of the electric bulbs gave way to the cool natural light filtering through the clouds and the exit looming ahead.  We climbed with renewed strength and the stairs transformed from wood to concrete.  And then we were back on the surface.  The rain had let up since we had been inside the cavern, so we strode quickly to the car before it could start pouring again.

Made it!

Ok, now run!

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Back to the Book: Cosumnes River Preserve Trail

It has been too long since we took a hike that was actually out of the book that started this whole thing.  Between taking (much needed) vacations and taking wrong turns (whoops!), we have been all over the place.  But now we’re back on track, so take a look at our trip out to the Cosumnes River Preserve Trail!

 

The weather report said rain but when we got there the only clouds were white and fluffy and completely non-threatening.  We hopped out and, after taking a good long look at the map (and another one for good measure), we started up the path.  Turns out we didn’t need to be so careful this time.  The trail started out as a wooden boardwalk leading away from the visitor’s center.

Pictured: Nature...?

So with the thunk, thunk, thunk of our footsteps keeping us company (and likely all the wildlife alert to our approach), we crossed the bridge over the swampy water that the sign assured us was full of spawning salmon.

Not exactly teeming with life, is it?

A little ways after crossing the bridge, however, our path became…concrete.  Hmm.  We shrugged and supposed that was one way to preserve nature – not allow anyone to even touch it.

Oh, look! More ... nature.

The trail notwithstanding though, we were treated to pretty scenery and an abundance of wildlife.  Ducks abounded, and there were other birds around as well.  The surrounding brush and plants were almost constantly shaking and moving with the scurrying little creatures within.  After we crossed the road we came to a sign that told of the shrinking wetlands in California.  It was some pretty interesting information.

We quickly crossed the road again and wound up back where we had started.

We meet again.

This time when we crossed the bridge, instead of taking the concrete pathway we turned to the right and strode down the dirt trail.  I think I heard my hiking boots sigh with relief.  We walked for another hour or so on this half of the trail, once or twice running into a group of birders. 

Would that be considered a flock?

Twisting through giant oak trees and around small streams was relaxing enough and after we slowed up a bit to let the bird watchers pass it was absolutely peaceful. 

The light filtered through the gnarled branches and fell lightly on our shoulders as we walked in quiet contentedness.  Maps were posted at nearly every point of intersection on the trail, and we continued to consult it as we passed by. 

The trail wound its way underneath a concrete train trestle and continued through a dry grassy field until it reached the river side. 

And a mammoth oak tree.

After taking a second look we noticed that its limbs had grown so long and heavy that they had begun to grow downward into the ground and were large enough to be trees on their own. 

We sat and rested a minute or two and enjoyed the view (and the rest.  Let’s be honest, we haven’t done many long hikes lately).  After taking advantage of a photo op with the tree, we turned back to finish our hike. 

Smile

As we walked back under the train trestle I mused about how interesting it would be to stand there while a train passed.  Coming out from under the other side, we looked down the track and what do you know, there was a train coming.  We ran back under the trestle just as the train passed overhead.  It wasn’t as loud as expected, but we could see the concrete rumbling as the cars passed over top of us.  After the train passed, we journeyed on. 

...not as loud as expected, but still cool.

During the last few turns on our dirt trail, we saw a sea otter, swimming away through a section of the river. 

We passed by the other side of the little pond we had seen in the beginning of our walk and it seemed that the ducks had multiplied (and apparently organized) in our absence. 

ok, guys, let's line up and REALLY give those birders something to talk about!

We passed over the bridge for a third time and before long we were back in the parking lot and ready to head for home. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also discovered my camera’s macro function that day. 

Enjoy.

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WITM: Valley Of Fire and Mouse’s Tank

Last month, we took a vacation.  We went to Las Vegas, a place neither of us had been in our entire adult lives.  We were anxious to arrive and when we did we saw that it was a bunch of big buildings and everything was shiny and…that was pretty much it.  We were a bit underwhelmed, to be honest.  

Sometimes it can be quite a blur

And although we did enjoy exploring the strip a couple of nights, we welcomed the chance to go explore some rocks and hills.  

Thankfully, there are plenty of both to be found off the strip.  

On the second day of our vacation, we took a drive outside of town to visit the Valley of Fire State Park.  In the park are myriad red rock formations to be seen.  The road was constructed in such a way so as to take visitors by some of the interesting monoliths.  

They are a type of sandstone, worn into unique shapes by the desert winds.  In addition to stunning roadside observations, there are several hikes to be taken that are easily accessible to those driving in.  

We chose to take the short Mouse’s Tank hike, which was only about a half mile round trip.  The hike is so named because of a natural well that is located at the end of the trail.  It had been used as a lifesaving water source by a Native American called Mouse at the turn of the last century. 

As we walked along the trail we were surrounded on all sides by walls of red rock, and under our feet was a powdery covering of fine red sand.  In several places along the way we could see etchings in the dark red rock face, revealing the bright reds underneath.  These drawings had been created throughout the years by Native American tribes that lived in the area.  

Throughout the hike it was hard not to think of the history of the place, at how many people had walked in the same places that we were walking, seeing the same things we had seen.  And how much it had changed throughout the years.  Wind is constantly altering the landscape, wearing a bit here, some more there, sculpting a new masterpiece a little every day.  

What had they seen ten years ago?  Twenty, forty, one hundred?  A thousand.  

How about ten thousand?  The stripes in the rock, however small, are reminders of how much time and nature combine to change the world.  It is strange to think that those stripes, those layers of colored rock, had all once been sand, just like the kind we were crunching under our boots.  

A humbling experience to say the least.  

The weather was mild and the high rocks surrounding us broke the wind perfectly, so we took our time walking and looking.  We were rewarded for our patience by small, interesting details that were not immediately apparent. 

Plants thriving in bare rock

Ducks, a type of trail marker. Sort of unnecessary as this trail was pretty clear, but interesting nonetheless.

A man made of stone sitting on top of the wall, surveying all the hikers.

When we got to the tank, we leaned over to take a look.  The water was low and it looked like quite a fall if we were to tip over into it.  So we leaned ourselves right back.  

Long way down

On our return trip, we noticed a section of rock that the wind had worn so thoroughly that it had created a hole that a grown person could fit through.  

We tested it to be sure. And once more for good measure.

We continued to walk back out, wondering all the while how and why those who had lived so many years before had taken the time (and in some cases the risk) to climb up and carve the little pictures.  Must have been important. 

Why else would there have been so much of it?

Soon we were done and as we hopped back in the car for a long drive back to town.

Seems that is how all drives are in that area.

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Unintentional Writing In The Margins: Hogan Lake Trail

 
 
Today’s blog post is about amazing trailblazing skills and the discovery of new and exciting wildlife creatures.  


 

Ok, maybe I built that up a little too much.  We took the wrong trail and the exciting new discovery wasn’t even ours.  We took the pup out for her first hike, and she discovered horses.  

 

There are upsides to taking the wrong route, however.  The hike we planned was supposed to be only about a mile, and therefore easier on our somewhat out-of-shape bodies (it’s winter, okay?).  Instead we wound up going about three miles.  So we found out that we were in better shape than we thought.  Good news, since we plan on increasing the amount of hikes we take.  When spring gets here.  When it really gets here, I mean.
 


 

I seem to be going in all sorts of wrong directions lately.  To get back on track, the hike we took led us around one of Hogan Reservoir’s day use areas.  We left off from the parking lot on one of the two trailheads at the end of the parking lot, just like the directions in the book said.  They also said to take the left trailhead, but we neglected to read that part.  
 
Ohh.  THAT trail.  Whoops.


Our trail wound around the low hills, through rocky paths and old gnarled oak trees.  Nora, the pup, was going crazy over the plethora of smells and sights.  She didn’t know what to do with herself and wound up doing everything, only for a very short time.  First she tried to eat the unfamiliar plants, then she sniffed something, and next she looked at the scenery. Finally, she started it all over again.  
 
This.  Is.  AWESOME.  -Nora


We enjoyed ourselves, too.  It was nice to get a little sun for a change, because despite the relatively mild winter we have been staying indoors quite a bit.  

After a while, the trail turned up another little hill, and the dam came into view.  Behind us we could see some buildings, homes in Valley Springs that we had driven past on the way there.  We continued on past the dam, and then turned.  The trail took us up a steep hill, and when we reached the top, we could see the reservoir.  We turned toward the water and as we kept going, we realized we had gone more than a mile and that we must have taken the wrong trail.  Again.
 
 
Are we…supposed to go…AROUND the lake?



Nope.




So we turned back.  After going back down the steep hill and around the turn, we heard a group approaching behind us.  Since Nora had gotten herself tangled around a signpost, it seemed like a good idea for us to let them pass.  The idea began to seem even better when we saw that “they” were a group of two people on horseback with three dogs trotting alongside.



Hehehe.  What?



As the group came into view from behind a tree, Nora lost it.  She pulled on her leash for all she was worth and tried her hardest to run to what she surely thought were two big soon-to-be best friends.  The group passed by but Nora had forgotten all of her new surroundings, her attention captured by these new giants.  
 
Racing ahead.  Well, trying to at least.

 

We set out down the trail again, but it was not the leisurely walk that we had been on just moments before.  Instead it was a battle between man and beast, as one pulled the other, one trying to speed up, the other trying to slow down.  Instead of listening to the sounds of nature, the wind blowing the grasses, birds chirping and gravel crunching under our feet, we heard Nora whining as she charged ahead toward her discovery.  
 

 

She pressed her nose to the ground to be sure that she was still on the right track, and sat only briefly when commanded so as to be ready to move again when we were ready to continue.  Soon enough, we were back to the parking lot, where her new friends were being loaded into a trailer and heading for home.  However, her pursuit wasn’t entirely in vain.  As we entered the parking lot, another hiker had just arrived to start her excursion, and she had a dog.  So we let them play a bit before we, too, headed for home.

 

And a nap.  



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Old Sacramento

I have been a bit of an overachiever this week and have taken two hikes, quite the change of pace from these last several months where one hike a month is more the norm.  I will be making an effort to make the time to make this trend last.  Okay, I admit that two hikes a week will likely not be a common occurrence, but it is my goal to make one-hike months just as rare. 
Old Time Photos
Carriage Rides



Lady Adams Bldg, oldest building in Sacramento



Yesterday I took a drive up to visit Old Sacramento.  This is a place that is both familiar and favored by me for many reasons.  Growing up, it was always a treat to make the drive and spend the day exploring the shops (especially the many candy shops scattered around) and pretending to be living in “olden times.”  While in school, there were countless field trips to the area, each one seen through new eyes.  And during my time attending Sac State, I worked in a small art gallery and gift shop that, by the way, is still open now (yes, I did stop in for a visit).  All of my memories of Old Sacramento are good ones.  Including the one I just made. 
While I have made many trips to and around Old Sacramento, this was the first one I took alone.  It is a different feeling to sightsee on one’s own.  What you lose in companionship you gain in independence.  People watching and exploration take center stage and you become surprised at what you find hiding in plain sight.  I saw things that I never saw until today; at least not from the same perspective with which I’ve always looked before.
 I saw the railroad museum, an imposing brick structure on the north side of Old Sacramento.  Instead of giving it a passing glance as I walked by, I stopped and watched as little families bustled in and out, the parents frazzled but happy, the kids excited and amazed.  I meandered past and walked by the Sacramento History Museum, which I had forgotten even existed.



I’m not even sure what this is, but it was fun to photograph.



I turned up Front Street and walked along the railroad tracks that are still strewn with fallen leaves.  To my right was the river, and as the sun began to set over the water a beautiful panorama appeared.  As I walked I snapped photos, and before I knew it I had arrived at Sacramento’s most unique hotel, an old paddleboat.  It is docked and has a lounge, restaurant and even a theater where performances are held regularly. 
By this time, however, the sun had sunk lower and the wind blowing off the water was becoming too chilly for me, so I turned and headed back to my car.  I crossed the cobbled street and returned to the wooden boardwalk that borders all the buildings and shops.  I noticed as I hustled along that the crowds hadn’t thinned very much.  It seems that Old Sacramento is just as bustling and busy as when, once upon a time, it was New Sacramento. 

___________________________________________________________________
Ok, I know I’ve never seen this in Old Sacramento before.
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Natural Bridges State Park

A few months ago I would have pictured my first hike in the New Year as being cold, windy, and requiring snow boots and mittens.  Instead, I spent the day walking in rolled up jeans, sloshing through puddles of a different sort while we explored tide pools and watched the waves roll in at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz. 
We had plans to go snowboarding this weekend, but when the snow never fell, we decided to make lemonade and changed directions and went west toward the Pacific Ocean for the day.  We spent time in Capitola, where we stretched our legs walking along the wharf and amongst the shops.  Then we stopped for pizza and made our way to the beach. 
Heading out on to the wharf
After paying the ten dollar fee to enter the park we stopped the car, changed our shoes, and began our walk.  A short stroll across the sand later we reached the rocks and the tide pools.  The tide wasn’t quite out yet (or was it coming in?) so our space in which to explore was a little limited.  But we barely noticed with all the interesting things there were to see already.  Staring at sea anemones, snails, barnacles, mussels, and one lone starfish, we were more than entertained.



I see something…





Hah! Got it.



In addition to looking downward at beauty, we were treated to it all around us.  It was in the waves crashing on the rocks, homes of grand stature looming above us, the sun shining across the water, and in the handful of people walking all around us, laughing, joking, and taking in the fresh air.  It seemed that everyone was enjoying the unseasonably temperate weather. 
This hike didn’t take us over much ground, but we still spent a good hour and a half checking things out and taking it all in (and taking pictures).  All in all, quite a good way to start out the year. 
Taking it all in

As an aside, we also ran across the slowest waterfall, just a single drop at a time falling from an overhang in the cliff face.  Thought I would share those pictures as well. 

Splash!
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Calaveras Big Trees State Park

The day after Thanksgiving is commonly thought of as a stress-filled, hustle-bustle full of discounts, deals and fights over this year’s biggest, shiniest new toy.  The kickoff to the holiday season is often filled with anything but cheer and goodwill towards fellow man.  Not my ideal way to spend any day, let alone that one.



We decided to escape the hordes of shoppers and take a hike.  We drove up to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, only to find that not only we unable to find solitude (and honestly, we didn’t expect to, not at Big Trees), but they were having a sale, too, at the gift shop.  But like the insightful ranger who welcomed us to the park so perfectly put it, we hadn’t come up there for the shopping.  Not hardly.  I started getting a little nervous.  My peaceful day was appearing to evaporate before me. 

That’s plenty of people for me…

However, we were already there so we took off for the trail, mixing up a little hot chocolate from a thermos we had packed before setting out.  It was pretty well-populated in the parking lot – in fact, we were hard pressed to find a parking space – but soon after we started down the trail, the crowds began to thin out.  

Our first stop was at the Discovery Tree, which is a big dance floor – er, tree stump.  This gigantic tree was felled in the late eighteen hundreds and the remaining stump had been used as a dance floor.  The park maintains a stairway to allow visitors to climb to the top and walk along the dance floor.  Of course, we had to climb up as well, and stop someone and ask them to take our picture.  

The park offers an accompanying guide in the form of a pamphlet that they sell for fifty cents at a kiosk along the trail.  The guide is numbered and matches up with numbered signs that dot the path from beginning to end.  

Reading the guide and walking slowly along the trail made for a relaxing afternoon away – for the most part – from mobs of people.  True, we were in no way the only folks on the path, but we felt neither rushed nor crowded at any time.  Generally every group minded their own business, politely crossing paths as we all marveled in a collective silence at the impressive feats of nature that stood before us. 
Branches of the yew tree – The park is
the only place these trees and
the giant sequoias grow together.
The pamphlet offered loads of interesting information, including the general age of the trees (in the thousands of years), their relative size (they have the largest mass of any living thing on earth) and some surprising oddities (the trees’ bark can be three feet thick and is nearly fireproof).  Sure, a simple online search will tell you the same thing, but there’s something different about hearing it while standing face to face with something so impressive.  It felt like staring into the past, knowing these trees had grown during so many human events.  They have stood in the same place through crusades, world explorations, industrial revolutions and, possibly most dangerous of all, tourism.  To say I felt small is an understatement. 
Perspective

We wound our way through about three miles of trail while dodging mud puddles, snow and ice in some places.  The trail is maintained, with wooden “curbs” on either side, but with so many people traipsing through the park that day, it was bound to be a little squishy in some spots.  For the most part, however, the park is pretty accessible and therefore a good fit for just about anyone who would like to venture out and get some great outdoors experience, no matter their level of expertise.  

The park holds many surprises and “novelty” trees, such as the fallen tree that is now hollow and part of the trail runs its length.  There is also a tree, barely hanging on to life, that has a hole cut in its base large enough to drive a small car through.  The biggest victim of exhibitionism, however, is the Mother of the Forest, a tree that at one time dwarfed other trees in the grove and was over three hundred feet tall.  The bark was stripped from the trunk and shown as a tourist attraction along th east coast for those curious about the trees.  However, when a fire swept through the forest, the Mother of the Forest, without her protective bark, was lost.  It still stands as an austere, blackened trunk alongside the trail, now only rising to a height of about one hundred feet. 
Many of the trees were so impressive to early pioneer settlers that they were given names. 
Meet Abe Lincoln

It was a pretty nice day – we traded in the long lines for the occasional passersby and the fluorescent glow of shopping malls for bright sunlight.  I think we may have stumbled on to a new tradition.  
Even the drive home was beautiful.

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Housekeeping

  

Due to newfound work and time restrictions I have found myself faced with lately, hikes have been few and far between – meaning I haven’t hiked at all. 
   
However, I’ve come to the realization that just because I can’t hike doesn’t mean I can’t write. Until I find myself with more time and opportunity to get out and about, I will be doing a little bookshelf maintenance. I’ve been working on a few other pages where you can find all sorts of goodies like books and hiking odds and ends (that I actually use), and some workouts to help get in shape, both to get started hiking and to prep for big ol’ hikes, like half-dome or the John Muir trail (both on my hiking bucket list – ok, that may become another page unto itself)

These installations will be permanent editions that you will always be able to find with a quick click, and not blog posts sorted by date and becoming increasingly buried by more and more entries.  In addition, they will be “living pages,” in that I will keep adding to and tinkering with them as new ideas or information surfaces.


So keep a lookout the next few days, because new goodies are coming…and maybe another excursion to add some icing onto that cake…hmmm?

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