A Romp Around in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton CA

One misty morning, I drove to the park from Santa Cruz on windy Highway 9. I turned one of the many blind corners and almost ran over a vagrant walking down the middle of the road (literally the middle of the road) pulling his rolling suitcase. Yikes. Luckily I was driving cautiously through here because when I drove into town the day before I couldn’t help but notice that the pullouts were polluted with groups of what I am going to call “car people” in various states of inebriation and agitation and ankle-deep in their own litter and debris. Yes, that was my off-putting experience with the “Santa Cruz city greeters.”

I thought early morning might be a good time to explore Henry Cowell State Park, avoid those car transients and the crowds in general. I was mostly correct.

The 4,650 acre park is best known for its 40-acre grove of towering old-growth redwood trees, but it also includes 3 other habitats (grasslands, river/riparian and sand hills). The redwoods here are said to have inspired some of California’s earliest redwood preservation efforts. The tallest tree in the park is ~277 feet tall, ~16 feet wide, and estimated to be ~1,500 years old. Some trails run alongside the Sans Lorenzo River and there’s even a swimming hole.

When I arrived, the parking lot was empty as were the trails. I just ran into a couple trail runners and dog walkers.

The .8 Redwood Grove Loop trail is, of course, a must do. I also did the Cowell Highlights Loop to the Observation Deck (the park’s highest point at a meager 805 feet) Overlook Bench, Cathedral Redwoods, and Cable Car Beach about 6 miles.

It was pleasant but I never felt I was away from civilization – one “trail” is a paved road and you can hear people at the campground from different points on the trails. It’s a good place for a quick leg stretch or trail run, family hiking and camping experience. If you’re a hard-core hiker, I’d say if you miss it, you won’t miss that much. If you get it on a clear day, you might be rewarded with spectacular views of Monterrey Bay. I wasn’t, but the Santa Cruz mountains views were certainly pleasant. By the time I finished my hike, the parking lot was full of people crowding onto the trails in hopes that the mist would clear for them. It may have, but I’m glad I got out of there when I did. Go early, if you want to avoid the crowds.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After 2 somewhat disappointing days in Santa Cruz, I headed south for adventures in Carmel and Monterrey. They did not disappoint.

 

Henry Cowell State Park 101 North Big Trees Park Road, Felton CA 831.335.4598

Campground 2951 Graham Hill Road, Scotts Valley, CA  831.438.2396

Sanborn Park, Quickie Nature Immersion Near San Jose

Had I known what my Santa Cruz experience would be like ahead of time, I might have decided to stop and stay awhile at Sanborn Park, instead of just doing a quickie leg stretch here.

I was enjoying driving along CA 9, taking the scenic route from San Jose airport to Santa Cruz. I’d just passed through the quaint hamlet of Saratoga when I started inhaling a fragrant, slightly cooler breeze and enjoying the dense forest shade on both sides of the winding road. That’s when I saw the sign for Sanborn County Park and decided to stop for a little explore.

Nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the park covers 3,449 acres and has over 18  miles of trails amidst mixed evergreen forests of Oak, Tanborn Oak, Madrone, Redwoods and Douglass fir. During the summer, the park features the only outdoor Shakespearean company in Silicon Valley. The day use area has a 1 mile nature trail,  picnic areas and restrooms – perfect for those on a road trip like me.

I read that the upper reaches of the John Nicholas Trail connect Lake Ranch Reservoir with the Skyline Trail and reward hikers with spectacular vistas of the San Francisco peninsula. (This trail that is open to all users – hikers, equestrians & mountain bikers.)  If i’m ever in this area again, I’ll definitely do it. Until then a quick immersion in nature with a glimpse of wildlife was just what I needed.

Things are looking up

Sanborn park residents
Sanborn Park Residents

Most interesting geological feature of the park is the San Andreas Fault which cuts through it diagonally.

Have you been to this park? If so, let us know what trails you did and how you liked it.

Hours: 8AM-Sunset

Day Use Entry Fee: $6

Mountain Biking: Allowed on park roads and designated trails only.

Camping: RV (year-round) & Tent (April through October)

Getting there: The main park entrance is on Sanborn Road, about 1.75 miles from Saratoga via CA 9.

 

 

Cruise on by Santa Cruz – one solo woman traveler’s candid perspective

I’ve never been to Santa Cruz, but it’s always held a certain allure for me. I was expecting a fun, charming surf town and had planned on spending some time getting to know the area. I took the scenic route (9) in from San Jose. It was a lovely ride through the mountains with redwood forests on either side. It was lovely, that is, until I got within a couple miles of Santa Cruz city limits. Here, the pullouts were crowded with disheveled people hanging out, drinking, smoking, erratically crossing the street, their stuffed cars overflowing, litter and debris everywhere. Are these the official town greeters of Santa Cruz? Yikes. I had intended to camp in the state park here, but made a quick decision that camping by myself anywhere near Santa Cruz would be ill advised.

Don’t get me wrong, not all of Santa Cruz is like that, but there’s enough of this element to make many areas downright unpleasant and uncomfortable. Of course, I don’t go in for the amusement park scene either and Santa Cruz has a big seaside amusement park and boardwalk. The entire area gets inundated with people, especially on a summer weekend. So inundated, in fact, that my map program told me it would take 30 minutes to drive 1 mile. Yikes again. Since I’d been in transit all day, I wanted to take a nice walk. Not knowing where to go, I headed for the beach and ended up by the squalor of the boardwalk. My stroll took me through neighborhoods with boarded up and ramshackle homes and through other undesirable areas where street people were lurking under bridges along the river trail. Second impression was as bad as the first. Wouldn’t recommend walking alone at night around here at all. To top it all off, my Airbnb had a port-a-potty and an abandoned couch out in front of it. I paid $115 for the dubious privilege of spending the night in a dingy, dirty, dimly lit dump. Everything was sold out so I was out of luck and I was too exhausted to drive any further. Luckily, the sheets and towels were clean.

The next morning, I discovered one of the most beautiful areas of Santa Cruz, scenic West Cliff Drive, with its gorgeous homes, famous surf spot, “Steamer’s Lane” and Natural Bridge State Beach. If you’re looking for a coastal stroll in Santa Cruz, this is the area to take one. Third impression of Santa Cruz, much better.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I took a yoga class on the beach at Natural Bridges State Beach – spectacular setting, lame instructor. I’m all smiles before the class.

Despite posting extensive credentials, the instructor didn’t seem to know yoga flow, was too chatty and stunk of body odor. (Was he sleeping in his car too? Had I been scammed?) He had 29 reviews and they were all good???  What? When I’m on vacation time, my time is precious and I don’t want to waste it. If someone is advertising yoga and hyping their credentials, I have certain expectations. Definitely wouldn’t sign up for his class again and I am officially responsible for the 1 negative review currently posted. (Guess the class would be fine for beginners – maybe?) Santa Cruz disappointments kept racking up so I decided to leave town for a scenic drive up the coast to Half Moon Bay.

The scenery did not disappoint. The central coast is ravishingly beautiful and gives a sense of a pristine California before people invaded.

20180714_14270120180714_141134

Five miles south of Pescadero, you’ll find Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Built in 1871, at 115 feet high, this is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. It is still an active navigation aid for the Coast Guard. The light house has a cool hostel with a jacuzzi you can rent out at night. Looks like you’d have your pick of secluded beach coves too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Warning: Soap Box

But I spoke too soon, much to my dismay, every spot I stopped in a pullout, there was litter strewn about. In one spot, I filled a paper bag within a 2-feet radius of my car. Humans really disgust me sometimes, especially Americans and others who trash their environments. We are a 1st world country that acts like a 3rd world country in many respects. It really disturbs me. Any of you old enough to remember that American Indian PSA commercial about littering? The one with teh Indian Brave who has a tear rolling down his noble cheek when he observes a littered area? Cliché, I know, but that’s how I felt – it’s heart breaking to see nature ruined. I stopped to find a spot to have a picnic and saw filthy underwear, antifreeze containers, all kinds of grotesque detritus of car transients etc -all within 25 feet of the ocean.

I spoke to a Park ranger and she said, “We just can’t keep up with it.” I hate to think of what this coast will look like in another 5 years if things don’t turn around. Where is the respect for nature? Where is the personal responsibility to clean up after yourself? Animals behave better.

Wind surfing and kite boarding =jpg

Watching the “uplifting” wind surfing and kite surfing on the way back helped lift my mood a little as I contemplated my next move. Stay tuned for my Carmel / Monterey experience – it did NOT disappoint. Highlights include Point Lobos, two epic bike rides and more to come.

 

Exploring California Parks’ Crown Jewel: Magnificent Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

A crown jewel indeed. Point Lobos is absolutely breathtaking. The pristine natural beauty here is brimming with life. A small park from a hiking trail mileage perspective  – about 6 miles total – this park delivers big with stunning, spectacular vistas. Here, you’ll encounter plant communities, archeological sites, geological formations, and the incredibly rich flora and fauna of the rugged turf and rolling surf. There’s also a whaling museum on site.

 

Blue Heron Mediataion
20180716_140310
Charming, Secluded Coves
20180716_141243
The Carmelite Monastery of the cloistered Sisters by The Sea, a heavenly spot to cultivate spirituality.

20180716_141254

20180716_141730
Sea Blues by Monastery Beach
20180716_144659
Wildflowers and Wild Views
20180716_150344
Point Lobos is home to 3 species of trees: the Monterey Pine, the Coast Live Oak, and the Monterey Cypress.  The Allan Memorial Grove in Point Lobos is a native stand for the Monterey Cypress, which is listed  as a Category 1 rare and endangered species,

20180716_152235

This is an absolute must do if you’re in the area. The trails are all quite accessible and you don’t have to go far to feel like you in the midst of the coastal wild. If you’re like me, you won’t want to leave. It’s a mesmerizing, magical place. (It’s like California before man.) We are so fortunate to have this area preserved. So grateful to the Point Lobos Foundation for protecting this natural wonder and national treasure. A great destination for nature lovers, painters, photographers, poets and all artists and pantheists alike. (The foundation actually puts on a poetry walk / Haiku hike- how cool is that???!)

This is my bliss. Soaking in the natural beauty as I channel Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Kayaking & Stand-Up Paddling

Given that Point Lobos State Marine Reserve is one of California’s richest marine habitats, it is a scuba diver’s, snorkeler’s, kayaker’s, stand-up paddler’s paradise with 70 foot kelp forests  brimming with lingcod, rockfish, harbor seals and sea otters.

Diving is allowed only at Whalers and Bluefish Coves. Proof of certification is required.  Reservations are recommended for the weekdays and are a must for weekends and holidays.

Stand-up-paddle and kayaking are also allowed in the Reserve. (There’s a $10 fee to launch from Whaler’s Cove. You can also launch from Monastery Beach, 1/4 mile north of the park.) This would be an exceptional way to explore the captivating coves and coastal. Surprised I didn’t see anyone kayaking or stand-up paddling here; it was a perfect day with glassy calm water. Next time, I’m going for a SUP tour of my own. And yes, there will be a next time, because once you visited, all you can think about is going back.

Notes:

Poison oak flourishes here and is everywhere. While the park does its best to keep the trails clear and rope off areas, they can’t keep up with the robust growth. Pants and long sleeves are recommended. Keep an eye on young children with wandering hands…

No pets allowed in the reserve or left in parked cars.

Keep a minimum 50 feet away from marine mammals.

Dangerous conditions, including rip currents occur – be ocean-wise and safe.

Hours: 8AM-7PM

Address: 62 California 1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Fees: You can park and enter for free via Coast Highway (their small parking lot is often full), otherwise it’s $10 to park, $5 for Seniors & Disabled.

1 Day. 2 Epic Bike Rides: Monterey Bay’s Coastal Recreational Trail & Pebble Beach’s 17-Miler

I’m crushing big on Monterey right now. Got back last night from a magnificent adventure, which included cycling two of Monterey’s top 10 rides – the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail and Pebble Beach’s famous 17 Mile Drive. (In 1 day.) I did both routes in one day because I was running out of days. Wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, because these views are made for savoring, stopping, having lunch and general leisure enjoyment. But if you’re into distance and running out of vaca time, just do it. If you only have time for one, take the 17 Mile Drive / Ride.

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail (paved bike path) runs from Pacific Grove to Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world, following the route of the old Southern Pacific Railway. Except for a few minor exceptions in Marina –it’s nearly 100% car free, which means absolutely carefree cycling with spectacular dunes and coastline views along the way. And, when you head north to Castroville, you practically have it all to yourself.  Biker’s bliss for sure. (Except for the couple mile section between Marina & Castrovile where you share a frontage road with some 18-wheelers…) Easy to cut out this section, but then you’ll miss out on the “Choke Coach” – see below.

Length: 18 miles, 1 way  (36 miles total) – or any distance you like (many just do the a short ride 2.8 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey to Lovers Point, Pacific Grove).

Difficulty: This is a beginner to intermediate ride – mostly due to length. It’s flat for the most part, rolling for the other part with really only 1 “hill” of note.

20180717_111341
Looking up the Coast Near Sand City

 

 

 

20180717_135524_001
Never let them see you sweat? No, lol, windy day, holding my hair out of my face.
20180717_133024
Old Fort Ord, Firing Range
20180717_133744
Views of Monterey From the Highest Point on the Bike Path

 

20180717_130412
Rolling Farmland, Near Marina
20180717_121017
River View in Marina

20180717_122506

20180717_123524
Artichoke Food Truck in Castroville  – good spot for a bite at the 18 mile turn around. I passed it up in the interest of getting both rides done.

 

 

 

 

20180717_142840
Start or end point in Pacific Grove, unless you’re doing 17 Mile Drive too

 

Pebble Beach’s 17 Mile Drive

It’s just a couple miles to get to the start of the 17 Mile Drive  from Lover’s Cove in Pacific Grove. You’ll cruise through beautiful Asilomar State Beach and follow the signs to stunning 17-Mile Drive – view spectacular seascapes and mansions, along one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. By Cypress point, the bike lane ends so you have to share the road for a bit. The driver’s here are very respectful of bikers. How refreshing!

Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate ride – mostly due to length. It’s mostly flat with a couple climbs.

20180717_154740
Pebble Beach’s Iconic Lone Cypress
20180717_152431
Still smiling despite going up a hill I didn’t need to at mile 50ish.

(I didn’t have my Garmin with me so I’m guessing my day’s total was between 60-70 miles, counting taking the local “bike route” up to Spyglass Hill and back down instead of staying on the 17 mile drive bike lane. I was getting a little giddy at that point. The bad news is, I ran out of battery on my phone so my pictures are limited. The good news is you get to discover it for yourself.

I worked up quite an appetite and thirst on my back-to-back bike adventure, which I sated at Domenicos on the Wharf. I was a little skeptical of heading into the tourist zone here, but it proved to be the right call and the perfect finale to my day. Great happy hour, service and food. I slurped down a refreshing margie and devoured a splendid house salad (best I’ve seen) and grilled artichoke – all of which were wonderful. Cheers to a beautiful day in Monterey. (No pics because my phone was charging.)

Bike Rental: Adventures by the Sea

Hybrid bikes are $25 half day, $35 whole day. Road bikes, $35 half day, $65 whole day.  (If you’re going further than 20 miles, I’d recommend going with the road bike.) They also have kayak rentals and SUP for more fun in the sun.

 

 

Stunning Stonewall Peak Hike, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego

Cuyamaca Peak‘s little sister, Stonewall Peak, (5,730 feet) outshines her big sister with her stunning granite crown, haunting tree skeletons (remnants of the Cedar Fire) and lovely vistas of Cuyamaca State Park and out to Anza  Borrego. Before I moved to North County and started exploring the area, I had no idea that all this wonderful natural beauty is an easy drive from greater San Diego.

20180526_123510
Gradual ascent on a friendly trail

20180526_123853

20180526_123918
Expansive views
20180526_1327051
Interesting rock formations along the way
20180526_131650
Stairway to heavenly vistas

 

20180526_132305
Something about these beautiful trees and boulders
20180526_131807
A bit crowded at the actual peak – silly people looking down at their phones
20180526_133310
Lovely Lake Cuyamaca views on the way down
20180526_141756
A sprinkling of dazzling wildflowers

20180526_140149

Planning your Cuyamaca adventure

You can make it a day or a weekend adventure and do as much or as little hiking as you like. Ambitious, fit hikers can take on both peaks (Cuyamaca & Stonewall)  in a day. For the less ambitious, there are plenty of opportunities to add on easy short strolls by the lake and up to Stonewall Mine. Lots of wildlife viewing with trails for the whole family. Stay tuned for my next post. Happy trails!

The historic gold mining town of Julian is a mile or two away with its quaint shops, B&Bs, restaurants and famous pies.

Notes: This is the most popular hike in the park so go early to avoid the crowds. After you reach the Stonewall Peak spur trail and make a right, there’s a really short scramble over some rocks before you hit the last rocky stairway.  Keep your eyes open for the metal handrails.  On the way back, I recommend taking a right at the junction for a different route down ton what becomes a pleasant single track trail d. At about 3.7 miles, you come to a trail intersection. Make the left onto Vern Whitaker Trail. Shortly after that (around 3.9 miles) there’s another junction, continue to stay left. At 4.2 miles or so,you’ll encounter another side trail; stay your course to the left again.

Miles: ~<4 miles rt if you just go up and down the main trail.  My scenic route adds about a mile & a half for ~5.5 miles rt.

Elevation gain: 1,050 feet

Terrain: Mostly sweet, clear terrain (as in trail runnable). It’s gets a bit rocky and pesky for a while near the top so watch your footing. .The single track down was mostly friendly.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Depends on your fitness level and the route you take.

Trailhead: Across the street from the Paso Picacho campground, Cuyamaca State Park

Parking: $10 State Park Fee

Dogs: Only allowed on paved roads and must be leashed.

Camping: Paso Picacho campground has family campsites with tables, firepits, running water and bathrooms.

Takaragaike Park and scenes from another Kyoto walkabout

Takaragaike Park features a small, man-made lake with lovely trails that are laced with cherry blossoms in the spring. Though not a destination in and of itself, it’s great for a quick, refreshing nature fix or run if you’re staying at the Grand Prince Hotel Kyoto (made my top pick list) or attending a meeting at the Kyoto International Conference Center.

20160405_063727

20160405_070009_001

20160405_064530_004

20160404_173904
Convention center grounds

One of the more unusual sights I saw was a woman mediating in the park with a goose at her side. If you look closely in the top featured picture you can see them in the bottom left corner. The convention center is the large building in the background.

20160405_064356

Apparently, there’s an iris garden here that I somehow managed to miss despite the obvious sign.

20160405_063404

Some photos from my Kyoto walkabout – such a picturesque place!

20160406_153144_001-1

20160404_163214_001-1-1
Bike paths and healthy lifestyles!

Temples and shrines

 

Kyoto life…

 

A day spent strolling anywhere around Kyoto is a day well spent. Beauty abounds and it’s all so wonderfully clean everywhere.

Getting to the park, convention center or Grand Prince: Kokusaikaikan Subway Station, on the Kyoto City Karasuma subway line, which is located right outside the north entrance to the park. It is also about 10 – 15 minutes north on foot from Matsugasaki station on the same subway line.