Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015, looking back.

This is my last post for 2015 (and the other posts today haven't been in chronological order), but I want to take some time to reflect on what we've done this year.

We started the year with a resolution to do one hike every weekend - we didn't quite make that, but we did do 36 trips this year - this number includes hikes, day trips and overnighters. We've always traveled a lot, but this year has been special - instead of driving to places and gawking at sights, we have hiked over soft sand, steep trails and mucky, wet paths. We have seen whales, sea lions, harbor seals, elephant seals, sea otters, vultures, hawks, woodpeckers, quails, turkeys, bluejays, scrubjays, garter snakes, banana slugs, deer and elk - all "living free, and in the wild".

To a large extent, this was possible entirely because of my wife - she inspired us to get up and walk. The 5 y.o. (soon to be 6!) has become a really good walker, and we've started carrying binoculars on our hikes (and we recognize much more flora and fauna than we used to!).

Every hike rejuvenates us - every hike is a mini vacation. I'm looking forward to many more hikes in 2016! I'll end this year with a couple of quotes:

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity" - John Muir

"I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees" - Henry David Thoreau

Happy New Year!

Milagra Ridge in Pacifica

We visited Milagra Ridge in Pacifica after a busy and stressful week, hoping to unwind with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. What we got instead was thick fog! And despite that, or rather, because of that, we had one of the most peaceful hikes of the year. There is something incredibly relaxing about walking in fog - you cannot see far, all sound is deadened and you walk in your own little world. We saw snails:

and spider burrows (no spiders though, and we didn't dig):

This photo should give you some idea of how thick the fog was:

And with that, I believe I have finished blogging about all the places we've visited this year. Time to ring in the new!

Natural Bridges State Beach at Santa Cruz

I've been to the Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz twice this year - once with the 5 y.o. and once with the whole family and some friends. The second trip was a bit of a frost - we saw very few Monarch butterflies and the trails were closed, so this post is about our first trip only. We went at the beginning of November - the day started foggy but quickly cleared up. I parked outside the beach and the 5 y.o. and I walked in. There is plenty of parking outside, so unless you have older or smaller members, there is no reason to pay the $10 parking fee. Besides, if you drive all the way in, the walk is really small - it can no longer be called a hike :)

We started at the visitor center:

and made our way to the grove, where we saw hundreds of butterflies.

We then hiked around the park, through a marshy bit on the way to the beach. We saw a garter snake:

and lots of other wildlife:

We were pretty unlucky w.r.t Monarchs on our hike there a couple of days ago, so if you can, go in November, not December. If you do go in December, go late - let the day warm up a bit.

Sunol Regional Wilderness

This one is about another East Bay hike - Sunol Regional Wilderness. Our hike started extremely well, we were greeted in the parking lot by many acorn woodpeckers. The sound of these birds pecking holes in the trees stayed with us through the hike (at least, the wooded part of the hike). 

We hiked along the fire road till Little Yosemite, at which point we headed up the mountain to a narrow, high but beautiful trail that looped back to the parking lot.

We saw evidence of horses, but no horses on the trail. An empty horse trough next to a dry creek bed made for an interesting picture:

Walking single file with the 5 y.o. in the middle - he's quite good about hiking and stays on the trail, instead of jumping about as is the norm otherwise.

You can just about see the parking lot from here.

In addition to the birds, we saw a lot of cows and calves. These were wary around humans, and walked off when they saw us approach. Chalk this hike to another one we want to repeat in spring, when the grass will be greener.

Del Valle Regional Park near Livermore

We haven't been hiking much in the East Bay, so I decided Del Valle near Livermore was to be our next hike. From reports, this place is pretty crowded in summer but there were very few people around in winter. Add to that a sunny day, and this was a really beautiful hike. We stuck to the fire road/trail going along the lake (which clearly had less water)

We also got to see three turkey vultures flying close overhead, which was quite cool (and a trifle creepy, since these are vultures after all).

We didn't see any fish, though we hung around the shoreline for a while - guess they were deeper in. On an additional positive note, Del Valle looks like a good place to rent kayaks, so we might go back for that.

Montara Mountain Trail in Pacifica

The Montara Mountain Trail in Pacifica was one of my favourites this year. The trail is fairly steep, but it has breathtaking views. The parking lot and picnic area set the tone - a peaceful, lovely trail. We didn't make it all the way to the top of the mountain - when you hike up, you reach a spot (quite a way up) where the vegetation ends. The straight path ahead goes to the top of the mountain, while the split heads off left and down the mountain. We took this split (I no longer remember the name) and came down the mountain - coming down was a lot of fun too, with a narrow trail and lots of scrambling.

If I remember correctly, we turned around at this point:

The 5 y.o. was keen to reach the top of the mountain, so we might return here to complete the hike.

SF Fleet Week

This is the next of many posts for the 31st of December - I'm trying to clear up the backlog so we can start afresh in 2016 - and I don't want to miss blogging about any of the hikes/day trips. This post is about the SF Fleet Week - we went to see the Blue Angels. We took the Caltrain in anticipating a lot of road traffic, and boy, did that turn out to be a good decision. MUNI was running a tram from the Caltrain station so we got to Pier 39 really easily, found a spot to stand with a good view of the aerial acrobatics, and settled down to watch. There was quite a crowd!

The sea lions at Pier 39 were really upset when the Blue Angels began their show - most jumped into the water when the planes flew overhead!

The trip back was interesting - we took a slow bus from some inside street to the Caltrain station, caught the train just in time and made it back home. Took us about 1.5 hours for the whole thing - we met a friend at Pier 39, he had driven in from Fremont. Took him 3 hours to get home.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable day, but I doubt we'll repeat this outing. Ending this post with a couple of picture of the show:

Wild Kratts and C.A.L.M at Bakersfield

Trip 25 was a driving one. We went to Bakersfield CA for the Wild Kratts show - a chance for a young Wild Kratts kid to see his friends on stage and in person. The show was fun, with a VERY enthusiastic and loud audience. The Kratt brothers enacted their tv shows in person, getting and using their creature powers (even ending up miniaturized :)) - all the kids left happy.

The next day we drove out to C.A.L.M. - which was much more interesting than I expected it to be. One of the reasons was that the California Living Museum focuses on California flora and fauna, and you don't get to see the creatures you read about so easily in the wild. E.g., a mountain lion:

and a Saguro cactus:

Fun trip, even if the drive to Bakersfield is on I-5.

Mercer Caverns - Murphys, CA

On the way to Sacramento, (ok, so it's not ON the way- we took a detour :) ..) we decided to stop by Murphys and visit the Mercer caverns. Caverns are so mysterious and awesome, but I don't want to explore one on our own, so we opted for the tour of Mercer Caverns. The drive on Highway 4 to Mercer Caverns is beautiful, with fall colors showing and lots of old stagecoaches dotting the way.

The tours are offered hourly, and the tickets cost $15.50 for adults for adults and $8.75 for children 12 and under. 

The cavern is narrow and steep, but not too difficult - the 5 y.o. did it with ease. The enthusiastic tour guide did a fair job of explaining the history of the cavern and keeping the group together. There are many different types of limestone formations to see here, and in a nice, family friendly setting.

On the drive out we discovered that there are more caverns in the area, maybe a visit for another day!

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve

Christmas was yesterday, and we listened to the weather forecasts predicting rain and stayed at home. We definitely didn't want to spend the day indoors today, so after a late brunch we started off - the target was Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve in Marin County. We started pretty late thanks to some last minute hiccups from yours truly, and reached our destination by 2 pm. As reported on, parking is very limited at the trail head. There is no parking lot, and you have to park along the sides in the very narrow lane. We were lucky, and found a parking space close to the trail head - another family was leaving as we came in.

The start of our hike was exciting, if a little mucky - a puddle near the entrance had a thin film of ice over it. A couple of other kids were in the middle of it, finding slivers of ice so the 5 year old went right in to fish ice sheets from the puddle. Kids have no temperature control!

After prying the 5 year old away from the ditch, we continued on the Cascade Falls trail. There are no maps (there is a QR code at the entrance that links to a map, but there is no phone signal in the reserve) but we followed the trail along the creek. It was quite pleasant to walk along with the sound of running water - you never realize you miss something till you hear it again.

The trees on the way in have a lot of moss - this area clearly gets a lot of water.

Our destination was the waterfall, which had quite a lot of water. We were glad to show the 5 year old the waterfall - growing up in California he sees more water fountains than waterfalls and often gets confused between the two! Hopefully, he will now remember which is which :)

After reaching the waterfall we turned around - no animals or birds on today's hike, but a fun one nevertheless. The ice and waterfall made up for the wildlife we didn't see :)

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Global Winter Wonderland - Cal Expo, Sacramento

What to do on a cold winter evening while visiting Sacramento - go the Winter Wonderland at Cal Expo, of course :).

So off we went, dressed in our polar best - layers, gloves, boots, scarfs - to see the lights. It was beautiful - there were lit displays of castles, peacocks, an octopus, a train full of toys. There was a train of displays of monuments from around the world - Europe with Big Ben, Eiffel Tower, Americas with the Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge, Aisa - Taj Mahal etc.

While the picture speak for  themselves - the best part was the Circus of Light show - acrobatic acts on ice. This was just amazing with all the jump ropes, spinning plates,juggling hats with some laughs thrown in - all the while while ice skating.

After that we did wander around food stalls etc, but those were not very interesting and we were too cold to try the rides, which also looked very standard, so we opted for a drive around the city to see the Capitol and called it a night.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

California State Railroad Museum - Sacramento

This thanksgiving we decided to spend some time in Sacramento and visit a family favourite - the California State Railroad Museum. Trains are a family favorite and this museum has 83 beautiful engines in great condition, together with their history and anecdotes that make it come alive.The museum opens at 10am, is in Old Sacramento and there is a $10 entrance fee for adults and none for kids 5 and under.

I suggest you start with the movie, followed by the guided tour - about 1 hour in all. The movie is  about how the trains came to America and the early changes they brought, then the screen lifts and you follow a  guide into the museum to see the rest. The gold rush, foreign labor, land acquisition, in migration, time zones - all of this and more woven into the railway story. After that you can continue and walk through many of the coaches and engines from the earliest trains to the ultra modern Velaro coach. I found the private coaches very enchanting - complete with monogram linens and crockery - what a romantic way to travel.

On the 2nd floor there is a play place - full of toy trains to see and to play with. Next door to the museum is the original Huntington store - where you can walk through and see what was on offer at the time of the Gold rush.

There is also a train ride - its starts from a block away in Old Sacramento and travels about a mile and back along the American River and back. They also have special theme rides like the Polar Express ride - which sell out well in advance - so book early if you're interested.

Monday, 12 October 2015

San Andreas Trail & Tule Elk Reserve

We wandered north to Point Reyes for hike #24 to hike on the San Andreas Fault Trail near the visitor center. As hikes go, this one is certainly very tame - nicely asphalted and stroller friendly. But along the way there are many signs explaining seismic activity, in terms that kids can understand. So the small walk became a longer one, since we stopped at each sign. Along the way, we passed the fence that jumped 21 feet and other interesting bits. The visitor center is quite elaborate, with a large number of stuffed animals and birds. A bit macabre I think, but fortunately little children are made of sterner stuff (I mean, think of the children's stories you heard of as a child!)

After the hike, we went to the Tule Elk Reserve, but the 5 y.o. was sleeping in the car so we just stopped by the road side to take some photos of the elk:
We wound up the trip by going to Drake's beach - there was a sand sculpture contest there on the day and it was fun to see all the castles.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Hike 23 was scrambling around rocks at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. We saw the usual - anemones, crabs and seals.

You can walk on the bluff seen here, makes for a lovely walk.
Giant Green Sea Anemone (or so we think anyway):

Lands End & Sutro Baths, San Francisco

This blog hasn't been updated in a while - the 5 y.o. has started kindergarten and our weekends have just exploded. We are still hiking, but we haven't had time to update the blog much. I'll try and catch up on some of the hikes with photos and brief descriptions, and then get back to the regularly scheduled program :)

Hike 22 was a relatively easy one - we went back to Land's End near Ocean Beach. We had aging grandparents with us, and we didn't want steep climbs. The 5 y.o. led us on the way up from the ruins of Sutro Baths, much to the amazement (and amusement) of the grandparents.

After the hike we spent the rest of the day in San Francisco, doing touristy things like Pier 39 and Chinatown.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Riding the Thomas train at Roaring Camp Railroads, Felton CA

 Ok so you all know we have an active 5yo. And just as we are getting ready for school, an enterprising friend asked us to a playdate to ride the Thomas train at Roaring Camp Railroads :).  You have to book the tickets online at and they are delivered or can be picked up at the venue.We planned for an afternoon train, leaving us plenty of time to get there. Even so it was quite crowded when we did get there and it took some time to park, so planning to arrive extra 30 minutes before your train would be a good idea.

Once there find your carriage number and get into your carriage. A note here, you can book a covered carriage or not, while the open one is fun, we had reserved a covered one that did help keep us kool, as though the ride is through mostly shaded forests, it was a hot day. It also help if you are ahead in the que to choose a good spot - try and choose one that is along the side you enter as it is the one with the better view along the forest as well. The ride itself , roundtrip is about an hour,  through the Redwood forest to the summit of bear mountain and back The train itself is steam powered and on a narrow gauge track, a fun old world feeling. The route passes over some of the fall creek trails and of course we immediately noted that for a future hike/post - best part there was water in the creek and lots of people /kids splashing about in it. Btw the engine is not Thomas the Tank engine, but one of the train cars. After the ride there is photo opportunity with the Thomas the tank car, and you can ask the camp photographers to take a picture or you can take one of your own. 

Once the ride is over there is still plenty to do - the campgrounds are full of children's activities, from meeting Sir Topham Hat, so visiting the schoolhouse to hear a Thomas story, Mr. Miraculous's magic and juggling show, tattoos, face painting, bubbles, a play construction site, thomas train tables and many more such.  Picnic tables and restrooms are aplenty and reasonably clean, and there are some snacks on sale. Also on sale in the gift shops are Thomas knick knacks and toys, we got a great wooden train whistle for around $8.

While primarily kid oriented, this train ride is also a great way to take visitors, who can/will not hike to see the beauty and majesty of the Bay area's redwood forests. All in all a good way to spend a summer afternoon, surrounded by kids enjoying their holidays.