Monday, 30 March 2015

Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve

This Sunday saw us visiting the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve. We had a later start than planned, and reached the place around 11 am. This actually helped us in a way - we were able to find parking quickly because the early visitors had started leaving. Parking is an issue, there are lots of parking lots but the place is also quite crowded on the weekends. One of the reasons we picked this place was because of the Deer Hollow Farm - a working farm with cows, goats, sheep and hens.

We took the shortest route to the farm, and on the way passed scenes like the one below. The trails were lined with California poppies and other flowers, and at one point on the trail you also reach a California Bay tree .. these trees are big!

We also saw wild turkeys running around - not something we had seen before!

The farm itself was quite nice - baby animals in fairly large numbers made for lots of "aww" moments! The farm also sells eggs, but those were sold out when we got there.

The 5 y.o. was understandably very interested in all the farm machinery on display.

Lunch at the farm is in a converted barn - the barn has picnic tables. No trash cans, so prepare to take your trash back with you. After lunch we continued on for a bit on the High Meadow trail but we turned around before reaching the vista points - it was hot and the 5 y.o. started to get quite tired. This part of the trail also went up quite a bit, so we may have been more ambitious than realistic - in hind sight, we should have stuck to the shady, flatter trail by the side of the creek.

We saw a fair amount of creatures on this hike - in addition to the farm animals, we saw turkeys, blue jays, quails, a raptor (this was very close, directly overhead - but I have no knowledge of raptor identification), loads of butterflies, ladybugs, and a few blue tailed skinks. Overall, an excellent 4.5 mile hike - we might come back to this place due to the sheer number of trails available.

Some points for families:
1. There are restrooms at the parking lot closest to the trail head, and a couple of chemical toilets near the farm.
2. There are drinking water fountains near the farm.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Laurelwood Park in Hillsdale

Hike 9 was a subdued affair. The 5 y.o. wanted to go to a play area, so we decided to go to Laurelwood Park - half a mile from the entrance is a play structure. Our plan was to let him run around there for a while, eat lunch, and then hike inwards into the park. Unfortunately, it rained so we didn't hike much - the total distance walked was about 2 miles, including the walk to the play area.

The park looks good though - the walk from the car to the play area was along a small creek which had water. The 5 y.o. and I climbed down to the water and looked for bugs :) The play area is also quite good, with clean rest rooms and plenty of picnic tables. The trails start at the end of the paved bits around the play structure. We had just reached the uphill bits of the trail when we turned around due to rain, but I have been here before on a bicycle (on my own) so I can confirm that the trail is quite nice.

We'll probably go back here - the combination of a hike and play area makes everyone happy! Till then, I have just a couple of photos:

And next time it looks like rain, I'll carry some rain gear - even if this is California :)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Pigeon Point Lighthouse near Pescadero

To make the most of the beautiful spring sunshine we decided to go for a hike on a bluff along the Pacific. So we made our way to the Pigeon Point Light Station State Park, near Pescadero, on California Highway 1.

The 115 foot high Pigeon Point Lighthouse, is one of the tallest in America and has been guiding mariners since 1872. It is still a working lighthouse with an aero beacon, and the lighthouse itself is being restored. The original Fresnel lense, comprised of 1008 prisms mounted on a brass frame stands 16 feet tall, 6 feet in diameter and weighing 8000 pounds can also be seen in the adjoining Fog Signal building. Once the lighthouse restoration is complete, they plan to refurbish the lense and mount it back - won't that be amazing!

There are picnic tables and restrooms as well as 2 trails on either side of the lighthouse, both leading down to the beach. There is also a hostel that offers inexpensive lodging and a hot tub on the cliffs! Behind the lighthouse there is a small boardwalk from which you can see seals on the rocks below and farther out you can see the spouts of humpback and blue whales. We spent a lot of time at this overlook boardwalk, just looking out at the serene ocean, the spouts of the whales and the seals sunning themselves on the rocks below, close to the fishermen who were having a field day. 

We then walked down to the beach to explore the tidal pools along the beach. We could see lots of algae, seaweed and small crabs. The 5 yo immediately got down to playing in the sand too, so this hike was a little bit of tourism - historic lighthouse, little bit of marine life - whale spouts and little bit of beach day. All in all we did walk about 2.5 miles, so not strenuous but still lots of fun.

Points to note:

1) April is Whale Watch month at the pigeon Point Light Station State Historic - and there are docent led tours every Thursday through Monday in April from 10:00 am to 4:00pm, where female grey whales and their calves, dolphins, harbour seals and sea otters.

2) There is a parking lot close by and steps to the beach below about 100 yards away.

3) There are a couple of restrooms, not too clean.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Elkhorn Slough in Monterey

Last weekend we decided to venture a little further than we usually do and headed south to Monterey county. This time though we planned to go a little off the beaten track and try and visit the beautiful Elkhorn Slough. This is the largest tract (1700 acres), of tidal salt marsh outside of the SF Bay in California and provides the habitat for many species of plants, animals and birds. 

So off we went on 101 South and turned off at Prundale, and into the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. There is a visitor center which has interesting artifacts ( animal skeletons, bird feathers etc.) that you can touch, information to plan your visit and reserve specialists to help answer any questions. There is a $4.12 charge per person, kids below 16 are free, and this charge can only be paid by a VISA card. Also the reserve is open only Wed through Sunday from 9 to 5. They will offer to lend you binoculars (free, but they take your DL as security) - which you should take up as the binoculars are good and there is lots to see. Dogs and bicycles are not allowed on the trails - we saw a lady being escorted out for taking her dog on the trail.  This is mainly to prevent contamination - they also asked us to scrape seeds off our shoes using brushes outside the visitor center. There are clean restrooms and lots of picnic benches near the visitor center, so we had a picnic brunch while we haggled over which trail to take.

We agreed on the 2.2 mile South Marsh Loop trail with a small diversion to Hummingbird island. On the way to the levee we passed 2 barns including the old Elkhorn farm barn. The view is just amazing - with green rolling hills, the water, the little island in the distance and birds. We spotted our first bird here - a majestic Harrier Hawk. The walk itself was fun, though we didn't get to see any bat rays or lemon sharks - they are supposedly in the waters around the bridge, but can't be seen because the water is about 12 feet deep and muddy. 

The small diversion to Hummingbird island was fun - there were no hummingbirds, but the island itself was fun to wander around (it is quite tiny). And getting there means crossing an unmanned railway crossing - you can see the track run in a straight line for quite a long distance on both sides. This was a longer hike than usual, and the 5 y.o. was game but we gave him a ride on our shoulders for short stretches - helps to keep the hike fun and not super tiring. 

We stopped at a Burger King in Prunedale for a coffee on the way back, and this BK had a play area - quite a nice play structure involving nets and pipes and a slide. The 5 y.o. had a blast here, and also made a friend - a little girl who gave him half her toy to remember her by :) The local people in Prunedale were quite warm and even suggested we might like the Sierra Azul nursery in Watsonville, CA. Maybe .. 

Fun trip, and we didn't regret the long ride in at all!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Cowell Ranch Beach near Half Moon Bay

The first of March, and a lovely sunny day here in the SF Bay area. We drove to the Cowell Ranch Beach in San Mateo for the Sunday hike - just a little south of Half Moon Bay. The beach access point has a small parking lot with no parking fees. The beach is a half mile hike from the parking lot, down a wooden staircase at the trail head. This was our first stop of the day - we spent an hour or so on the beach eating our picnic and watching the waves. The 5 year old had a lot of fun running around, though we didn't let him get near the water - the waves made it seem like there was a big dip in the ground where the waves were breaking. After a while we climbed back up and walked for a while along the Purisima-Cowell trail, a nice easy trail along the bluff. We also saw some seals on the rocks below the trail, always a happy sight. The trail was lined with cheerful yellow flowers - Spring is here!

At the parking lot:

Walking from the parking lot to the beach:

Cowell Ranch beach:

Seals from the bluff trail:

We'd thought this would be a two hour trip - one hour of driving and one hour of walking. We ended up spending four and a half hours :)

For families with kids: This is a really easy trail. You can stop at the beach, or continue on the trail for a longer walk. There are restrooms at the parking lot and at the top of the stairs leading down to the beach - none after you reach the bottom.