Tag Archives: hiking

Coyote Hills

Looking west from the Coyote Hills Regional Park

Looking west from the Coyote Hills Regional Park

When Tom and I discussed where we would go the day before, we realized that we hadn’t been to Coyote Hills Regional Park for over five years so it was about time we revisited. It was extremely difficult though to drag myself out of bed the next day, especially when I saw it was a cold and frosty morning.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Coyote Hills Regional Park is not too far away from home for us; just a short drive up 101, across the Dumbarton Bridge to the East Bay, then turn left on Passo Padre Parkway. Look for the brown Coyote Hills sign and turn left again, There is an entrance fee for cars entering the park ($5) but lots of people park outside and walk or cycle in to avoid the fee.

When we got out of the car, the temperature was 39 degrees but the sun made it feel warmer. We have been here several times in the past and have always parked near the Visitors Centre. This time though we turned into the first one we saw, namely the Quarry Staging Area. No other cars were parked there at all. Even before I got out of the car I spotted a bird I didn’t recognize. I thought it might be a wren but then changed my mind. It was a plump, mostly brown bird with a lighter patch on the top of its head.

Lots of birds at Coyote Hills Regional Park

Lots of birds at Coyote Hills Regional Park

There was a trail leading upwards but we took a short cut to a trail off to our right. Patches of water and tall reeds were on on either side of the trail. The frosty grass and the drops of dew on the reeds glistened in the sun. We heard muted bird calls around and at first we could not see any birds. Slowly we spotted them; a few more like the one in the car park flitting from trees to reeds; a couple of Canada Geese motionless out on a small open patch of water and a few ducks bustling around them. Then, out in the distance, I could see hundreds of ducks which appeared to be swimming on grass. When I checked them out through my binoculars I could see that the ‘grass’ turned out to be marsh and there were lots of open patches of water amongst it.

A Northern Harrier at Coyote Hills Regional Park

A Northern Harrier at Coyote Hills Regional Park

Tom spotted two hawk like birds high in the branches of a tree. They were easy to spot because there were no leaves on the tree and the birds were mainly white. At first I thought they were Osprey but when I looked closer I changed my mind. A ranger happened to be passing by and he stopped to chat. We asked him what sort of birds they were but he wasn’t sure either. As soon as I got home and checked all my bird books and the internet I concluded they were Northern Harriers. The ranger told us that there were lots of birds here over-wintering and, in fact, there were about 300 white Pelicans on the other side. I remember last time we came we did see a lot of white Pelicans from the Chochenyo trail.

Continuing on our walk, we came to a cross road. The Meadowlark trail was off to the left but we went straight across and joined the Bayview trail. We started to climb and slowly the Bay came into view with the Dumbarton Bridge off to the south. Closer to land were lots of ponds walled off from the Bay by thin mud levees. Once upon a time these were salt beds but are now being reclaimed and returned to their natural habitat as a wildlife refuge mostly for migrating birds. Shielding our eyes from the sun, we drank in the tranquil view. We continued to follow the trail round several headlands. As soon as we started to round the headlands, the sun disappeared and we were in shadow. Immediately the temperature dropped and it became decidedly chilly.

We didn’t quite have the place to ourselves. Several solo cyclists passed us and now and then joggers ran by. Nearly every single one of them greeted us with a smile and a ‘good morning’. The folks are real friendly here. In the distance, several headlands away, we spotted a bench perched on top of a hill. Ah, I thought, that is what I’m aiming for.

Each time we changed direction, we got a different view – Palo Alto off to the west where we clearly saw the Hoover Tower at Stanford, San Mateo Bridge and Oakland to the north and Moffett Field to the south. Tom even spotted the Sutro Tower in San Francisco, which was barely visible in the far distance. It was a glorious day to be out walking in the sunshine.

View from Coyote Hills Regional Park. A little chilly but quite peaceful.

View from Coyote Hills Regional Park. A little chilly but quite peaceful.

We walked the Bayview trail until we came to the Soaproot trail and there we turned right. This trail leads over the hill but we came across the bench a little way along. It was conveniently placed to view the whole bay from the Dumbarton Bridge up to the SanMateo Bridge. I immediately started to write but it was difficult. This time the trouble was caused by the bench itself and not the sun making the screen impossible to see. Although I have long leg,s I had to sit almost on the edge for my feet to reach the ground. By doing this, it made my thighs slope and the iPad kept slipping down. On top of that, as it was so cold, I had gloves on and it was difficult to type on the keyboard. It would have been impossible to type with gloves on the inbuilt iPad keyboard but I am lucky enough now have a Logitech keyboard. Tom gave me his pack to put my feet on and that did improve the situation for a bit. We would have stayed there longer but the bench was in an exposed position and eventually the cold made us move on.

Onwards and upward we climbed. At the top of the hill we looked down on the marshes and I tried to work out how we could find our way back to where we parked the car. Tom took his time walking down the hill by stopping every now and then to take photos. I strode on. At one point I came to a junction where two trails met and decided to keep on the Soaproot trail as it continued downward. I just hoped that Tom would realize which way I went. At the bottom of the hill I looked and and was glad to see that Tom had indeed taken the same route as I had and he soon joined me. I had began to follow the Bayview trail but Tom pointed out that I was going the wrong way. At first I didn’t believe him but he proved to be right (but then his sense of direction has always been better than mine). Before long I recognized places we had seen on the way out – the ducks swimming in the grass and the tree where the Northern Harrier had been. Back in the car park there were a few more cars parked but it was no where near being full.

It was time to find somewhere to have breakfast. Palo Alto was the nearest place we knew we would be lucky, so that is the direction we took. The car was warm and it felt so nice to be able to feel my fingers again. Coyote Hills has so many trails and we can’t wait to get back again to try a few more of them out.



Año Nuevo

Año Nuevo visitor center looking towards the ocean

Looking out towards Año Nuevo from the visitor center

Año Nuevo is our main destination today. This is the best time of the year to see the elephant seals because both the females and the males are in residence. The females came ashore in December to give birth to their pups and the males arrived a bit later to start organizing their harems. Between December 15 and March 1 the only way to view the seals is to go on a guided tour which can be pre-booked online. Tom has visited during this time but I haven’t. We haven’t pre-booked but when we were last at Año Nuevo in November we were told that on most days it is OK to turn up on spec, especially for the early tours, because there are often spaces available due to no-shows. I did check the day before to see if we could book but there were no spaces available. Fingers crossed we can get on a tour!

This is the dawn of a new age because I’m using my new iPad for the first time on our travels. Hopefully it will save a lot of time. Before I used to take a notebook and write with a pen and then enter it into WordPress when I got back home. With the iPad and an app called Blogpress I can just sync it up when I get home and editing will be much quicker.

We left home at 6:30 when it was still dark and immediately I became aware of a couple more advantages of using the iPad. For one thing I can write in the dark because the screen is backlit. The second advantage is that every word is readable. A lot of times I would have trouble deciphering my notes because handwriting in a car suffers with every bump, twist and turn.

A thicket on our first little hike.  The morning light and dew made it sparkle.

A thicket on our first little hike. The morning light and dew made it sparkle.

We could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. As we crested the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains we could see no fog at the coast. Ahead we could clearly see the lights of Monterey clear across Monterey Bay – a rare phenomenon for us.

In Santa Cruz we stopped on Mission for coffee. It was called On a Mission Coffee and is little more than a kiosk but they also have a small range of breakfast items. We already had breakfast before we left home so we just bought liquid refreshment this time. Tom had coffee and I chose hot chocolate. We have bought coffee here before but then there was a huge range of magazines for sale at the side. I asked what happened to the magazines and the young girl told us they stopped because it wasn’t profitable.

We made another stop at Davenport Landing. Here there is a small secluded sandy beach. A couple of early morning surfers were already braving the elements and from where we stood they sounded as though they were having fun. A short walk on the beach, a couple of photos and we were on our way again.

There is nothing to beat an early morning drive along this stretch of road at this time of the morning on a lovely day like today. So many photo ops but unfortunately no time to stop again today.

Año Nuevo Sate Park opens at 8 am and we arrived a couple of minutes before. At the kiosk we paid the $10 entrance fee to the park and were given a standby number. We were the first standbys today so have a good chance to actually get on a tour. All guided walks start at the Visitors Center so from the car park that is where we headed. Along the way we paused to watch a flock of quail scurrying around. The males look particularly plump and handsome at this time of the year.

At the Visitors Center we gave our names and were told we would be called if there were still spaces five minutes before the published time of the start. If there were a lot of standbys and spare docents, they would lay on an extra tour.

We had a look around the Marine Education Center. Lots of interesting displays explaining not only the life cycle of events on the beach but also about the dunes and surrounding environment including the other wildlife which abounds here. While we were waiting a docent told us that we would definitely be on the 9:30 tour, which gave us enough time to have a look around outside.

Just outside the Visitors Center is the start of the New Year Creek Trail which we have never been on. This would is a good opportunity so off we set. The trail turned to the left and towards Cove Beach and Highway 1. At the bottom of a steep flight of wooden steps there was a parting of the ways and I kept straight on heading for Highway 1. I was curious to see where it came out. Pretty soon I was walking over an old concrete bridge which was probably the old Highway 1. After about a quarter of a mile of uphill climbing, I reached the main road. From the highway it is hard to spot the entrance to the trail. I retraced my steps to the concrete bridge and could see Tom down on the beach. When I joined him he told me there were a couple of seals on the beach. One was off to the right on the other side of New Year Creek and the other was our side and just around the edge of the cliff. This was a lone bull. The scarring on his back was very pronounced. At first I thought it was dead but by checking with my binoculars I could see that he was breathing so merely sleeping.

Our first encounter with a young male elephant seal

Striking a pose. Our first encounter with a young male elephant seal.

By 9:15 we were back at the Visitors Center in order to be ready to set off at 9:30. The earlier groups which set out comprised mostly of teenage students. Our tour though was mostly couples and small groups. At the staging post a park ranger laid down a few rules – no food, not even gum (bottled water is allowed); always stay behind the docent and never get closer than 25 feet from any of the seals. We were introduced to our docent Cheryl Wong. Along the way she dispensed lots of information spiced with humor.

Before we reached the sand dunes, Cheryl stopped and gave us a potted history of Año Nuevo, who discovered it (Sebastián Vizcaíno), the rise, fall and subsequent rise again of the elephant seal population over the years and some background of the Ohlone Indians who called this place home before the Europeans arrived and began to ‘civilize’ them. At a later stop Cheryl went into the life cycle of the seals, what they feed on and how they are able to hold their breath for such a long time under water. She circulated a small piece of hide covered in coarse fur and a whisker. The hide felt a bit rough but the whisker was amazing. I was astounded at the thickness of it.

Elephant seal at Año Nuevo

Elephant seal at Año Nuevo. You actually get pretty close to these guys.

Our first close encounter with an elephant seal happened shortly afterward. A young bull had hauled himself out of the water and was stretched out on the path in front of us. Cheryl said he was about four years old and probably too young to breed yet. Even though we were the required 25 feet away he was aware of our presence and raised his head to look at us. Bulls this age can travel very fast and cover 25 feet in 3 seconds so we were very careful not to disturb him too much. When he opened his mouth to yawn we could see he only had a few back molars but this is quite common. Males start breeding when they are 5 years old and live until they are about 12 years old. Females on the other hand live for about 18 years.

At this point we deviated from the normal path and headed towards the beach over the dunes. We passed several other solitary seals who were basking some way from the shore. We were met by a park ranger – Officer Marty – who called herself a traffic cop. She told the docent which paths to take to avoid disturbing seals. There was another bull but much older than the first one we saw, probably nearly 12. All the while we watched him he didn’t appear to move at all and was certainly not aware of our presence.

We walked to the top of a bluff with a view down to the beach. Here we saw lots of seals – males females and pups. Most were stretched out with

Elephant seal at Año Nuevo

They called this guy, 'Mr. Bubbles'.

just the occasional movement of their fins to scoop sand over their backs. This is to protect them from the sun. The pups stayed close to their mothers and we saw several suckling. Only about 25% will survive their first few months. Some become separated from their mothers, some are attacked by coyotes and some are crushed by the huge males. Once they are weaned and take off into the ocean to fend for themselves they are at the mercy of Great White Sharks and Killer Whales which patrol just offshore waiting to snatch them. Only 25% of the pups born this year will survive to return to this beach.

We did not see any of the males  fighting. Cheryl said they were conserving their energy until the females came into season, which happens about a month after the pups have been born. From our vantage place we had a good view of Año Nuevo Island where we could see another colony of seals resting. Many years ago, when the light house was built on the island, it was possible to walk out to the island at low tide.  Now, due to erosion, that is not possible and the public has no access to the island at all.

We could not stay too long at this spot because another group was due to arrive very soon. Our next stop was to observe a lone bull in a small pond half submerged in the water.  Earlier Officer Marty referred to him as Mr Bubbles and we soon saw why. Elephant seals can hold their breath for a long time and when this male raised to head to take a breath and then breathed out he produced a lot of bubbles. He did this several times and it was amusing to watch. Cheryl said they like to practice holding their breath. When they are out at sea they dive very deep and have to hold their breath for about twenty minutes.

Male and female elephant seals at Año Nuevo.

Bull elephant seal courting a female.

Our guided tour was nearly done. Just one more climb to another overlook to see another section of the beach and more seals. This time we saw an abandoned pup that had died lying on the sand. It was distressing but that’s nature. The park rangers only intervene when the problem is man made, for instance if they get caught up in fishing lines. Apart from that they are left very much undisturbed. From start to finish the tours last for two and a half hours. One hour of that is taken up with walking from the Visitors Center to the staging area and back again. For $7 a head it is real good value and today we certainly got our money’s worth due to the fantastic weather. It was a wonderful experience to see the seals at this time of the year.

Our day was not quite over though. We rounded off the day by driving into Pescadero for lunch at Duarte’s where I enjoyed a delicious bowl of artichoke soup and Tom had a cheeseburger with fries and onion rings. Then across the road to Arcangeli Grocery where we bought a loaf of their freshly baked (and still warm) artichoke garlic herb bread. Just one more stop at Harley Farms to buy some of their lavender honey goat cheese before heading home. We took the scenic route along Stage Road to San Gregorio where we turned right onto Highway 84 and headed towards Highway 280. The end of another perfect day.

Skyline Boulevard, Highway 35

Crystal Springs with the fog creeping over the coastal hills.

Crystal Springs with the fog creeping over the coastal hills.

For this trip we decided to take a drive along Skyline Boulevard. This highway starts in San Francisco on Sloat Boulevard and heads towards the ocean and then south all the way to Highway 17. It is called Skyline because it lies along the ridge of the coastal range of mountains between the ocean and Highway 280. It is not a heavily used road. I have only been on sections of it so wanted to explore it a bit more. We did not start at the beginning of the highway but picked it up just north of Crystal Springs by taking the Hayne Road exit off 280.

Instantly we were in a different world as we turned onto Highway 35 going south. To the right was a golf course and a sign pointed left to Sawyer Camp Trail. A finger of fog hovered over the Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir. We turned onto Crystal Springs Road and parked as we wanted to get a closer look at Crystal Springs and to walk along the Sawyer Camp Trail. Highway 280 towered above us on a huge overpass. Many years ago I walked a part of the Sawyer Camp Trail. The trail is part of the Crystal Springs Regional trail which stretches for over 15 miles from San Bruno in the north to Huddart County Park near Woodside in the south. It consists of three sections; the 2.6 mile San Andreas segment in the north, the 6 mile Sawyer Camp segment in the middle and the 6.7 mile Crystal Springs segment to the south. It was 7.30 in the morning and only the serious joggers and a few hikers were around. Crystal Springs is in a really beautiful setting and lies right on the San Andreas Fault. Water from the Hetch Hetch Reservoir in Yosemite is piped to Crystal Springs. On the other side of the reservoir is a wooded ridge. Until recently this area was completely unaccessible to the public but now it is possible to book a guided tour along the Fifield-Cahill Ridge. We walked north, stopping to take photos along the way, for short distance before turning around. Back at the beginning again, we took a side trail to the Crystal Springs Dam. This dam is well over 100 years old and survived both the 1906 and the 1989 earthquakes. It is urgent need of repair and will soon be closed for three months.

Another shot of Crystal Springs Reservoir.

Another shot of Crystal Springs Reservoir. Drinking water for much of the Bay Area.

Back in the car we headed south again, crossing the old dam and heading to the junction with Highway 92, which is the main route into Half Moon Bay. This road is always busy at the weekends as Half Moon Bay is a popular destination. Even at 8.30 the traffic was building up. Skyline Boulevard joins Hw92 for a short distance, crossing over the reservoir. At the top Skyline turns left and heads south away from Hwy 92 with Crystal Springs to our left. It was still a little foggy but the views would be outstanding if visibility were better. We passed the well known Bella Vista restaurant . I’ve heard people talk about it, especially the view of San Francisco it offers, but have never been. I looked back to see if I could see the city at all and there was with nothing but fog in between.  We would have liked to stop and take some photos but there was no suitable place to pull into.

We passed Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space on our right. Purisima has

The 100 year old dam holding it all back.  Crystal Springs lake straddles the San Andreas Fault so when the next big one hits this dam could cause big problems.

The 100 year old dam holding it all back. Crystal Springs lake straddles the San Andreas Fault so when the next big one hits this dam could cause big problems.

towering redwoods with lots of trails. When the first explorers from the west discovered this area, the entire area was covered in enormous redwoods. Of course logging depleted them dramatically. The redwoods that we see today are second or third generation. There is also an entrance to the west on Purisima Creek Road. Tom took me for a hike on the lower section on one of my early visits to California and I vividly remember seeing my first banana slug. To see such a brightly colored slug was a real eye opener.

We pulled into a scenic turnout where a large number of cyclists gathered, whether at the start of a ride or merely taking a short break we didn’t know. The area is called Skeggs Point, named after Colonel John Hunt Skeggs who was a Caltrans engineer. We thought it was a vista point but the only view was was of the far side of the bay through a small gap in the trees. I expect when it was built there would have been a view but since then trees have grown to block it. A Coast and Geodetic Survey Benchmark of 2,315 ft  has been placed there. I’m sure when Skeggs Point was created it looked very attractive but now it is a bit run down and dilapidated.

It was time to think about breakfast. Fortunately Alice’s Restaurant is very conveniently located on Skyline. Our last visit was in January this year and it was much the same as before. This time we sat on the covered patio at the side. One thing missing was the quote written on the restroom wall.

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Looking down on the fog covered Bay Area.

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. Looking down on the fog covered Bay Area.

After breakfast we continued our drive south on Skyline but just a short way along we stopped at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. This preserve is on the left hand side with views towards the bay. I stopped to study the large map near the entrance to decide which trail to walk and chose the Spring Ridge Trail. It was still foggy in the valley but we could see Mount Diablo on the east side of the bay. On the trail we were above the fog and the sun was shining. Windy Hill normally lives up to its name and is a good place to fly kites but that day there wasn’t very much wind at all. We didn’t walk the whole length of the trail – we could have walked all the way to Portola Road and Alpine Road – because we still have some way to go.

Soon after leaving Windy Hill we left the redwoods behind us and the countryside became more open. We had views on both sides of the road. The San Mateo and the Dumbarton Bridges were not visible but San Bruno Mountain could be seen.

I have only mentioned a couple of the open spaces and preserves we passed but here is a list of all the ones we passed with parking easily accessible from Skyline:

Phleger Estate

Huddart Country Park

El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve

Coal Creek Regional Open Space

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve

Skyline Regional Open Space

Upper Stevens Creek Country Park

Long Ridge and Saratoga Gap Regional Open Space

Castle Rock State Park

Sanborn Skyline Country Park

There are plenty more very close to Skyline – Burleigh Murray Ranch State Park, Wunderlich Country Park, La Honda Creek Regional Open Space, Foothills Park, Los Trancos Regional Open Space, Monte Bello Regional Open Space and Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve. The whole length of Skyline Boulevard is a hiker’s paradise.

We cheated by not driving to the end of Skyline. Instead we took Black Road, which was a short cut to Highway 17. It was a single track road and extremely twisty but a very interesting drive. Before long we were passing houses and were back into civilization. We enjoyed our day out, not only the drive but the couple of trails we tried out.  Lots more to do on another day.

Pinnacles National Monument

On the way to Pinnacles National Monument

On the way to Pinnacles National Monument

It has been some time since we had the chance to write about our travels. We have had two sets of visitors from the UK and though we have been out and about, I didn’t take my notebook. One of the visitors was our granddaughter, Lissie, who is just four years old. We had a lot of fun taking her to places which we never been to before – San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum, Mystery Spot, Happy Hollow Park and Zoo. Of course we took a couple of trips to the beaches of Santa Cruz and Capitola as well.

Now we are back to the  old routine and on the road again in the early hours of a Saturday morning on our way to Pinnacles National Monument. Our last visit to Pinnacles was in March 2008 when we saw the condors for the first time. That time we entered on the west side. This time we went to the east side, which is south of Hollister.

Over the last few weeks the weather has been very hot. This last week it has cooled down to a pleasant temperature. It was a bit foggy over towards the coast as we traveled south on 101 but it promises to be a nice day at Pinnacles.

South of Gilroy we turned onto Highway 25 and drove between newly plowed fields of dark brown soil. Some crops were still being grown. There was one field of a dark leaved crop which looked like lettuce. Highway 25 is a two lane highway which is heavily used during commute hours and has a solid concrete barrier down the center for most of the way into Hollister. There had been some nasty head on crashes before the barrier went up.

After breakfast at the Cozy Cup Cafe in Hollister we continued on our merry way, driving first through the center of Hollister. It is a very pleasant town. Groups of children were busy with brooms and cleaning equipment. We deduced it was some sort of sponsored clean up. Once we made our way back to Highway 25 we were again on the road to Pinnacles. We drove through Tres Pinos and the 19th Hole where we had lunch back in August. No bikers around yet.

We drove past the San Benito Fairgrounds outside Tres Pinos and the scenery changed from farms and golf courses to low hills with cattle and horses grazing. The hills became higher until we reached Paicines. Here the land became flatter for a while and once more we drove between fields and a couple of vineyards. Tom stopped to take a photo of some trailers lined up in a field. I spoke too soon about the bikers – a whole convoy passed us driving south while we were stopped.

At first the road ahead was long and straight but soon we started to climb and the road became more twisty. Just after 9.oo o’clock we turned onto Highway 146 which dead ends at Pinnacles National Monument.

At the East Entrance Station we paid the $5 day use fee and drove to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area. We looked at the map to work out which trail

The white droppings mark the Condor nests. That's a condor soaring above.

The white droppings mark the Condor nests. That's a condor soaring above. Click the photo for a larger version.

we would take. The first time we came to the east side we hiked on the High Peaks Trail. Last time we walked to the Bear Gulch Reservoir on Bear Gulch Cave Trail. This time we decided to do the Condor Gulch Trail. A group of scouts were assembling to take the very same trail so we waited for them to get going before we set off.

At the start of the trail we crossed a little wooden bridge and then we started to climb. It was not a difficult climb to begin with but before too long it became steeper.

When Tom was busy taking photos I found a convenient rock to sit on until he caught up. It was a beautiful day though still a bit hazy on the hill hills. We still had not seen the distinctive Pinnacles skyline but hoped that would change before too long. The sun felt very pleasant where I was sitting and I listened to birdsong all around and the sound of a woodpecker at work in the distance. As the sun gradually became hotter the haze disappeared and at last we saw the towering spires of Pinnacles.

The trail did indeed become steeper and it was some time before I found another perching rock. Tom had spotted some big birds gliding the thermals and we surmised they were condors. Then he spotted something else. High upon the side of a craggy peak he saw white splashes on the rocks. I checked them out through the binoculars. We are almost certain there were condor nests up there and the streaks were caused by bird excretion, or to be exact, guano.



We did not go as far as we had hoped. Unfortunately I did not feel too good and besides the flies were becoming a pest. So we turned around and walked back down.

The ride home was interesting. On Highway 25 a convoy of sporty corvettes, passed us beading south. Not long after that, going in the same direction, a dozen or so beautiful customized cars streamed by. Tom spotted a Camero, a ’57 Chevy station wagon, a Rolls Royce, old Fords from the 1930’s and 1940’s and a couple of hot rods. I wonder where they were going? They could not have been going to Pinnacles as the car parks were already full. Then, as we approached Tres Pinos, I spotted what I thought was a hanglider, then another and another, until there were five altogether. They turned out to be parachutists, each with tw0 people attached. We found a convenient parking spot and watched them all land in the field in front of us. It was an amazing sight.

After an eventful day we arrived home at 1:00. We will have to return to Pinnacles to complete that hike another day.

Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

Couple of kayakers and an egret at Palo Alto Baylands

Couple of kayakers and an egret at Palo Alto Baylands

After our breakfast at Bill’s, we made our way to Palo Alto. As it was the rush hour, we took a circuitous route. Our destination was The Baylands Nature Preserve to the east of 101 next to Palo Alto Airport and just north of Shoreline and Moffett Field. We parked in the Byxbee Park car park. There were several other cars there but mostly they were dropping off children for a day camp.  As we unloaded our bikes and got our bearings, the children were being gathered together before they set off on their hike. One of the organizers was explaining to the children all the wildlife which co-exist within the preserve, including the Burrowing Owl.

Part of the site had previously been a landfill but has now been covered in clay and topsoil and turned into park, which has incorporated art into the design. There was a trail uphill which passed a lot of the outdoor sculpture but we headed towards the bay on the Adobe Creek Loop Trail. To our right was Mayfield Slough. The tide was in and at first we did not see a lot of birds. We spotted a lone white pelican on the water.

At first we did not see any other cyclists. There were a few joggers, one with his dog running alongside. It was a chilly morning and a slight breeze ruffled my hair. The sound of birds could be heard. Overhead small planes were coming in to land at the nearby airport. Along the first part of the trail there were quite a few benches. Further on, when I needed to sit down and write, there were no benches.

We crossed a bridge where the slough entered from the bay. Out on the bay a couple of kayakers were heading for shore. A hungry tern performed a marvelous diving demonstration and he kept us captivated for some time.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

White Pelicans at Palo Alto Baylands

White Pelicans at Palo Alto Baylands

A little further on we began to see a lot more birds. A mother duck was busily trying to keep control of five ducklings. Both Snowy and Greater Egrets were concentrating of finding breakfast. I spotted a Black Crowned Night Heron standing patiently on the far side of the slough. A couple of Black Phoebes were darting around snatching insects on the wing. Slowly a group of eight white pelicans swam into view. Normally the only pelicans I see are the brown pelicans which stay close to the ocean. White pelicans I have only seen frequenting wetlands and they are more striking than their brown counterparts.

What started out to be a chilly day turned into a really sunny one. We stopped so Tom could take some photos. In front of us now were hundreds of white pelicans in scattered groups on a couple of large islands in the slough.  There were other birds as well on the islands. It was an amazing site, all those white birds against a green background. I took the opportunity to park my bike as well and sat down on the pickleweed. I was moaning about there not being any benches around but, quite frankly, that pickleweed made a very comfortable seat. I took my helmet and gloves off and leaned back to admire the view. I could see cars in the distance on 101 but not hear them. What an extremely pleasant way to while away the time.

More and more people were out enjoying the walk on the loop trail. Groups of friends taking a leisurely walk and talking animatedly; mothers with their young children; older couples walking hand in hand and serious joggers. There were quite a few cyclists as well and one couple stopped to talk to us. They said this was one of their favorite places to ride their bikes and come here often. During the conversation they asked if we had seen the flamingo. What, were they kidding us? But no, there was one. At first I couldn’t see it but eventually located it way out to the west. It’s long thin legs were difficult to spot but when it lowered it’s distinctive long neck into the water, it was easier to identify. The only place you are likely to see flamingos in the US are in Florida. This one had obviously escaped from captivity. Normally they are bright pink but, as far as I could see, the one frequenting Baylands is not pink at all. It has been at Baylands for a couple of months now. You just never know what you are going to see!

Whole bunch of White Peicans at Palo Alto Baylands

Whole bunch of White Pelicans at Palo Alto Baylands

From my vantage point on the pickleweed I could see the distinctive roof over the Shoreline Amphitheatre. I watched the airship rise into the air from Moffat Field and glide gracefully westward. A company called Airship Ventures provides tours of Silicon Valley and even up to San Francisco. Wouldn’t that be an adventure?

We resumed our bike ride seeing more and more birds. Up ahead we could see a whole colony of white pelicans. Overhead another half a dozen flew in to join them. When I looked back I saw several more groups flying in. Obviously it was time for all the white pelicans in the vicinity to gather and catch up on the news of the day.

Our original plan was to cycle round the complete loop but the couple we were talking to said the final part is on roads and is not very interesting, so we decided to turn round and go back the way we had come. The sun was blazing down and the light was no longer any good to take photographs. Besides, the number of people now on the trail made negotiating round them a bit of a chore.

The Baylands is a really great place to get out and take a walk and to enjoy the birds. Lets make the most of our wetlands before they completely disappear.  We shall certainly be back, so look out for us.

Point Reyes, Limantour Trail

View of lower part of Tamales Bay

View of lower part of Tamales Bay

We had a nice early start with a stop at Peet’s on Geary in the city for our wake-up beverage.  North of the Golden Gate Bridge, we took Sir Francis Drake Blvd towards Point Reyes.  The views after driving through Fairfax were really pretty, especially with the sun just starting to lighten the sky.  Along the sides of the road wildflowers were beginning to appear.  The hills are still winter green and everything looks fresh.

(Click on the images for larger versions)

Just before San Geronimo, I noticed some hand painted signs on my left.  Some were advertising a country dance, which was held last night.  One said ‘Fiddle music makes you smile’.  How charming.  There were other signs inter mingled with those and I got the message that someone is not too happy about a tank tearing up the ridge.  The last one said ‘Thanks, but not no tank’.  Hey, this is Marin County so it goes with the territory.

At Olema, we turned right on Highway 1 and then left onto Bear Creek Road.  We drove past the Visitors Center and then turned left again onto Limantour Road.  Neither Tom nor I have been here before, so this will be a new experience for us.

There is nobody else around at all.  We have the road to ourselves.  And what a drive.  Quail were abundant and darted across the road, with their necks outstretched and their fussy little steps.  We stop at a lay-by with a view down to the south end of Tomales Bay.

We passed Sky Trailhead and there were some cars already parked. A little further on we had a spectacular view to the south.  On the ridge we

Margaret writing.  We were the only folks there.

Margaret writing. We were the only folks there.

could see some of the damage caused by the Inverness Ridge Fire 14 years ago but the forest is regenerating.  Next we caught sight of Drakes Bay to the north.

The road dead ends in a large car park.  There was just one other car there.  As we got out of the car, we felt the bite of the wind but we had come prepared with our fleeces.

At the start of the trail, there is a noticeboard with information about the Coastal Watershed Restoration Project.  Before the Point Reyes National Seashore was established. Limantour beach was privately owned and there were 20 homes there.  Now it is being restored to its natural estuarine habitat and endangered species, like the California red legged frog, will be protected.

We follow the trail towards the beach, walking over a fairly new bridge.  The trail then bears right but we decided to investigate the beach before heading down the trail.  The path was sandy and crested a low rise range of sand dunes and then we were on the beach.  And what a splendid beach – long, sandy and clean.  The wind was a little fresh but the sun was shining.  We were the only people on the beach and the only footsteps were ours.  It was so peaceful to sit on a convenient driftwood log and write, with the soothing sounds of the gentle breaking surf.

Limantour Beach and the cliffs that reminded Sir Francis Drake of the White Cliffs of Dover.

Limantour Beach and the cliffs that reminded Sir Francis Drake of the White Cliffs of Dover.

Away to our right the pseudo white cliffs of Dover marched towards the lighthouse, which we couldn’t see because it was around the corner.  No wonder Sir Francis Drake was reminded of England when he saw the cliffs.  This is definitely the place to bring the kids but, be warned, there are no fast food restaurants or ice cream stands for miles and miles.

Back on the trail, we were on the look out for wildflower but we were almost out of luck.  There were some wild iris’s but they were past their best and the lupine bushes were on the verge of blooming.

The trail is along the Limantour Spit.  To the right is a marsh with a host of sea and shore birds.  To our left are the dunes.  The ocean can also be seen but not the beach.

A hawk suddenly flew over my head but I did not have time to identify it through my binoculars before it dipped out of view again.  Tom was not able to get a shot of it either.

The trail became narrow and the marsh grass was partially covering the path.  The fresh wind whipped the grass against my legs.  I could feel the

The Marsh Hawk we saw several times that day

The Marsh Hawk we saw several times that day

sting of it through my my thin pants.  I thought it was just me but Tom commented on it too.

The trail peters out though I am sure it is possible to get right to the end.  We did detour down towards the marsh on what I think was an unofficial rail but did not venture too far in case it became boggy.

We turned to go back and gloried in the absolute solitude of the place.  Far from the sound of traffic with not even the vapor trail of a passing aircraft to mar the blue sky.  Then we spotted the hawk again and Tom took some photos – hope they come out OK.  I identified it as a Marsh Hawk.

After our bracing walk and all that fresh air, we were ready for breakfast.

Elkhorn Slough

Solitary surfer at Moss Landing State Beach

Solitary surfer at Moss Landing State Beach

It was just after 8 a.m. when we hit Highway 1 heading south from Santa Cruz.  We were later than normal but it made a change for me because I saw more of the scenery coming over the Santa Cruz Mountains.

This section of Highway 1 is not so pretty as driving north from Santa Cruz and there are certainly more cars on the road.  You don’t catch sight of the ocean until just before the junction with Buena Vista Drive and then it is only a far off glimpse.  There are several interesting places to visit along the way, Capitola and the cement ship at Rio del Mar being two of them.

(Click on the images for larger versions)

Around Watsonville – the strawberry capital of the world – the landscape is flatter.  At the moment there is field after field of young strawberry plants just poking their heads out of plastic sheeting.

South of Watsonville there is a major blot on the landscape – the Moss Landing Power Plant. The two tall chimneys are the first sign of the monstrosity that soon dominates the scenery.   These two chimneys are visible a long way out to sea as I can testify from the couple of whale sighting trips I took from Monterey.

We stopped off at Moss Landing State Beach just because we have never been there before.  The parking for it is mostly on the road and the vehicles we saw were obviously owned by surfers as license plates, stickers and spare surfboards both inside and on roof tops proclaimed.  To get to the beach, there is a sandy rise over the dunes before the ocean came into sight.  The day was chilly but not cold and the only people we saw were the black blobs on surf boards.  The beach is spectacularly uninteresting with bird feathers, bits of dried seaweed and the odd seagull or two to detract from the view of the long sandy beach.  It is obviously a favorite haunt of surfers though.  We stood and watched the surfers for a bit but there was not a lot of action.  I overheard one surfer say that it conditions should improve later on.

Back in the car we took another small detour into Moss Landing itself.  We drove past marinas and boat supply outlets before driving through the main street.  There was nothing there to tempt us to get out and investigate.

To get to Elkhorn Slough we turned off Highway 1 onto Dolan Road, driving past the power plant.  After four miles we

A lonely Lesser Yellowlegs (we think)

A lonely Lesser Yellowlegs (we think)

turned left on Elkhorn Road.  The entrance to Elkhorn Slough is a drive of another four miles or so.  We almost passed the entrance but spotted it just in time.  It is open Wednesdays to Sundays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m but is closed the first and third Fridays of each month.  There is a day use charge of $2.50 per person.

There were just a few cars in the car park.  First stop Visitors Center, where we paid the entrance fee.  When I signed the guest log, I noticed that we were the first visitors who had signed in for two days.  It is a really nice, informative Visitors Center where they also loan out binoculars.  The lady, who we paid the entrance fee to, told us about the docent led early morning bird walking tour on the first Saturday of each month.  We asked and were given a trail map which we found extremely helpful.  Before you go onto the trail, you have to brush your boots and step into a tray containing disinfectant.  They’re trying to protect the Oak trees from a spreading fungus.

We decided to take the South Marsh Loop, taking a detour along the way to Hummingbird Island.  The first part of the trail was paved and suitable for wheelchairs.  Just after the overlook, the trail descends and becomes rougher.  It was an interesting walk, skirting the southern end of South Marsh, though very little seemed to be going on.  There were a few birds around, more heard than seen and, apart from a few early wildflowers, there was not much color.  The eucalyptus trees were sporting their fluffy white flowers and strange looking seed pods or ‘gumnuts’.

Margaret just off Hummingbird Island

Margaret just off Hummingbird Island

The detour to Hummingbird Island took us over the railroad tracks.  We were told to be cautious of trains but everything was clear.  Later we did see a train go by so the warning was necessary.  The trail took us up a short flight of wooden steps and then we came to a strange sight – a wire cage round a tree stump.  We couldn’t work out whether the cage served a useful purpose or if it was an art form and we still don’t know the answer.  Up on a slight rise was an unusual water feature.  It looked like a small, arched bridge made out of lumps of black lava and oyster shells.  The small pond in front contained some straggly pond plants.  I couldn’t see any fishes in it, even though I tried very hard.  We wandered along a small spit of land with water on either side, trying very hard not to disturb an egret waiting patiently for his lunch.  We also saw in the distance another couple walking around the island.

Having completely exhausted the sights on Hummingbird Island, we made our way back across the tracks and continued around the top of South Marsh.  Along the way, there was an old barn with a sign over the doorway which proclaimed it to be Elkhorn Farm.  Back, I think, in the 1920’s, the marsh was drained and dikes built to provide pasture for the Elkhorn Farm dairy.  Then in 1983, when the dairy no longer existed, the dikes were removed and the marsh became tidal again.  Now, 20 years later, the barn is the only remaining building of the dairy.  It is a large barn with open sides.  There are signs outside asking visitors to be quiet so as not to disturb nesting birds.  Inside, high up, were two wooden boxes where barn owls raise their young, though at this time of the year there was no activity.  There were a few hay bales in the middle of the barn, so we sat a while and soaked in the quietness and solitude of the surroundings.  The view through the open sided side was extensive, the only unwelcome sight of course, being the power plant to the west.

Soon we were back at the Visitors Center and time to drive back home.  This time we took the scenic route, turning left out of Elkhorn Slough and heading north towards Watsonville along Elkhorn Road.  Driving through Pajero brought back memories of the Strawberry Fields Forever charity bike ride we took part in last year.  We have signed up again this year but unfortunately we may not be doing it as I have booked a trip to England without checking my calendar.  Silly me!!  From Watsonville we made our way to Highway 1 north and home.

Edgewood County Park and Preserve, Redwood City

After eating all those calories in Bucks Cafe, it is time to walk them off.Edgewood County Park

We arrive at the Old Stage Picnic Area and Trail Head car park on Edgewood Road just after 9 and already it is full. We managed to grab one of the two remaining spaces. As soon as I open the door I hear a woodpecker tapping away but I cannot see it, no matter how hard I try.

Edgewood is managed by San Mateo Parks Department and is a jewel hidden away above Redwood City. It is only 467 acres with five trails, the longest of which is nearly 2 miles long, so it is not a huge park. On one side it is bordered by houses and on another by Highway 280. But it is a great place to for a hike, especially in the Spring when the wildflowers are blooming.

We head off clockwise on the Sylvan Trail, which is a 2.5 mile exercise loop and is only for walkers and joggers. Horses are allowed on some trails but no bikes or dogs are allowed in the park at all. The start of the Sylvan Trail goes alongside houses but they are well hidden by trees. You see the occasional roof, a corner of a deck or you hear the sound of childrens’ voices but they are the only indications that we are that close to them. The predominant sound here is birdsong. Those little critters are busy building nests and raising their young at this time of the year.

The Sylvan Loop is quite narrow and very popular with joggers but there is room for all. Most of this trail is well wooded, mostly oak, but occasionally in the lower part an open vista with await you around a corner. The higher you climb on the zig zag path the better the view becomes. As you approach the Serpentine Loop, the San Francisco Bay, Foster City and the San Mateo Bridge can be seen. Oakland can also be seen.

We start round Serpentine Loop Trail anticlockwise and then anticlockwise round the Ridgeview Loop before joining up with the Sylvan Loop Trail again. Today we see no wildlife but in the past we have been lucky to encounter deer. No two visits here are the same and the place never ceases to amaze me. On one hike several years ago we spotted an orange mushroom about 10 feet off the trail and we speculated what species it might be. I checked with my binoculars to see if I could see more detail and was embarrassed to discover it was a plastic marker of some sort!

There are very few places to sit and admire the view but the very best bench with a marvelous view is on the Sylvan Trail. It has a dedication on it which reads:


I guess George loved coming to the park and this was his favorite spot. From here on a clear day, and today is remarkably clear, you can see the AT&T tower in Redwood City, the office building monstrosity in downtown Palo Alto, Moffet Field and San Jose’s skyline.

We did see a few wildflowers but I understand the full show will not be for another couple of weeks. If you plan to visit the end of the month and early April are the best times.

After our hike up the mountain in Pinnacles last week I suffered with aching muscles in my legs for most of the week. This has been a very easy hike so hopefully I will be lucky.

Pinnacles National Monument

Pinnacles National MonumentLast night the clocks ‘sprang’ forward so we had an hour less in bed. We were up though soon after 5 and set off at 6. It was still dark and we were expecting less traffic on the road. After all it is Sunday and how many people are as daft as we are? Well, we were surprised at how many cars there were around. Maybe they put their clocks backward and not forward!

We took 101 south towards Gilroy, where we stopped for breakfast at the Black Bear Diner. No blog entry for it this time because we did one just six months ago. We were the only customers though.

It was getting light as we resumed our journey. Approaching Salinas we encountered fog. Now this was not expected. All the forecasts said it was going to be a nice sunny day but we have learnt that we should take nothing for granted and are always prepared for whatever weather is thrown at us.

South of Salinas there was no more fog. The sun was shining brightly on our left hand side as we drove through the fertile Salinas Valley. We passed neat rows of newly planted crops on both sides. Some plants were beginning to show above the soil and we had fun trying to work out what they were. Salinas Valley is called the Salad Bowl of California. They grow a lot of lettuce, celery, tomatoes, asparagus, etc., here. The valley is flat with the Sierra de Salinas range off to the right and the Gabilon Range to our left.

We are headed to the western sided of the Pinnacles National Monument. To get to the eastern side you have to drive through Hollister. No road connects the two sides though there are a couple of trails. Pinnacles is a very unusual place. It is the remains of a volcano. Well, it is only part of a volcano. The other part is 195 miles to the south due to the shifting of tectonic plates.

There are several interesting trails here. Today we will take take the Juniper Canyon trail from the Chaparral car park to where it joins the the High Peaks trail. There are 13 condors flying free over Pinnacles. They have been released here since 2003 and we hope to catch sight of them.

At Soledad we take Route 146 for 11 miles. We drive through the center of Soldad but there were very few people around. Ahead of us now are the mountains and the sun is just hight enough to make driving difficult. Salad crops have given way to grapes and we pass several wineries.

Well folks, it is a beautiful sunny day though the temperature outside is only 45 degrees. I just know it is going to get a whole lot warmer before long., after all it is only 8.30 in the morning.

The road narrows with many twists and turns for the next 9 miles. Route 146 ends and we cross a cattle grid and enter the park. Soon the distinctive, red jagged peaks of Pinnacles hove into view.

The Ranger Station was closed so we filled in the form, part our $5 in the envelope and posted it. There were only three other cars in the car park.

We set off on the Juniper Canyon trail and it was cold, there was frost on the fence posts. Tom did not have a sweat shirt but we will soon get warm when we start to climb. The trail rises gradually and we follow the course of a small stream, crossing and recrossing it several times. The higher we climb, the steeper the trail becomes and the views get better. At one point we look down onto the car park and it looks a long way away.

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Mount Tamalpais Revisited

After our abortive visit last Saturday, we made our second attempt today.

Once again we stopped at Peet’s on Geary but this time I remembered to take my bag with me and we didn’t get a parking ticket.

The weather today is not so good as last Saturday. No wonderful views of the city or the ocean but lots of fog. The higher we got the less we saw but we did rise above the fog and the sun was brilliant. We had several scary moments along the way. The sun was blinding in places and Tom found it difficult to see where we were going. The edge of the road was just inches away and beyond that a steep drop, so it was a white knuckle ride.

Once again not many people around that that’s not surprising as it is jut 8 am. We head to East Ridge and park next to the Visitor Center. There is a parking fee of $6 which you place in an envelope and post in the green pipe, leaving the stub on your dash.

On a clear day the views are spectacular up here. Today it is surreal. We are way above the fog and we look down on a sea of fog. No buildings are poking through. In fact the only points of reference we have is Mt Diablo to the east and a few hill tops scattered to the south.

We climb to the top via the Plank Walk. A 0.3 mile trail to the peak. There is a fire look out at the top. The trail starts off as wooden planks and rises steadily but soon it become more and more of a rock climb.

As I approached the top I could hear voices. I rounded the top and saw a group of about a dozen young men all chattering in a foreign tongue. I noticed a smell but could not work out what it was but then spotted a bread roll with half a dozen sticks of smoldering incense stuck into it. I’d found the source of the aroma.

I sat below them on a rock in the sunshine writing my journal and waited for Tom to join me. He had stopped further down to take some photographs. As I sat there soaking in the sunlight and writing, I occasionally gazed towards the city. I noticed the top of the Sutro Tower sticking up above the fog.

More young men joined the group above and my curosity got the better of me. I climbed a little higher to see what they were doing and was met by a curious sight. Most of them were merrily chatting together but several were further down holding small silver bowls in one hand and a silver spoon in the other. The bowls contained a white liquid and they were scattering it over nearby rocks and bushes. Obviously a celebration of some kind, but what? Eventually I caught the eye of one young man and asked. He was pleased to explain to me and Tom (who had now joined me) that they wre from Mongolia and were celebrating their New Year, which this year was one day after the Chinese New Year. The liquid was milk and they were communing with the spirits. We were fascinated.

Of course this is a very spiritual area. The Native Americans who were here way before the Spaniards arrived, regarded this as a holy place.

We waited, Tom at his camera and me sitting on a rock, for some time. The fog was slowly lifting. As we watched, one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge appeared. Tom was waiting for the Bank of America tower or the top of the Trans American pyramid to appear. We waited in vain though and just after 10 decided that it was time to find somewhere for breakfast.

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