2 Short Hikes, 1 Bear Encounter, Mammoth Lakes, CA

Lake George

Framed by the iconic Crystal Crag and the wall of Mammoth Crest, Lake George is lovely spot for a quick nature immersion and possible wildlife sighting. It’s just a short drive out of town, and the highest road-accessible lake at 9,250 foot elevation.

Features: Hiking, fishing, camping, rustic cabins, boat rentals, a tackle and snack shop (seasonal), bear proof food storage, and bear sightings

Lake George
Lake George’s Clear Waters
Lake George Light Lingering on the Granite

Winter access to Lake George is by ski or snowshoe only

Crystal Lake Trail at Lake George

Distance: ~2.7 miles

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on your fitness level & altitude acclimation

Highlights: Panoramic views of the Mammoth Lakes Basin, captivating Crystal Lake

Panoramic Views From the Trail: Lake George and Lake Mary
Granite Rocks and Mountain Vistas
Crystal Lake
Crystal Lake
Along the Crystal Lake Trail

Bartlett Lake & TJ Lakes

Distance: ~1.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Big views for little effort. The trail crosses a stream then meanders up through lodgepole pines, hemlocks, western white pines to the shore of Barrett Lake.

It was along this trail on the edge of Lake St. George that we encountered a large brown bear. I was coming around the corner fast (trying to get as much hiking in before sunset as possible) when I heard a fisherman standing in the lake say in a low voice “Bear there.”

Fisherman on the left. Shadow of the bear center bottom.

I stopped in my tracks. The bruin was blocking the trail and had its broad back to me. It was busy foraging in the fisherman’s backpack and appeared not to notice us. We quietly retreated up to a high spot off the trail. At one point, the bear looked up, I think he must have detected our scent. That’s when I snapped the shot. After taking another bear detour above the trail, we completed the TJ Lake loop, first passing Barrett Lake, Very picturesque and the light was perfect for reflection shots.

A Charming Section of the TJ Loop Trail Pic Doesn’t Do It Justice
I Couldn’t Get Enough of These Vistas


More Eye Candy On the TJ Lake Loop
Barrett Lake Reflection
Barrett Lake Reflection
Barrett Lake Reflection

In all my years of hiking, this was my first bear encounter. (Well, I think there was one outside of my tent one night on top of  San Jacinto, but I didn’t go out to greet it- just made loud noises to deter it.) What makes me sad is that this wild bear’s days are likely numbered due to it’s habituation to people.

More Mammoth Hikes

If you have more time than I did this trip, check out some of my favorite, longer hikes in the area :

Duck Lake Trail

Sherwin Creek

Lundy Lake Trail

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

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Charming, Secluded Coves

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The Carmelite Monastery of the cloistered Sisters by The Sea, a heavenly spot to cultivate spirituality.

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Sea Blues by Monastery Beach

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Wildflowers and Wild Views

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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,

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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.

A Catalina Fox Tale: Overcoming Near Extinction

The Catalina Island Fox is found on Catalina Island and nowhere else in the world. Thanks to the work of the Catalina Island Conservancy and the Institute for Wildlife Studies, the Catalina Fox is making a comeback after a devasting outbreak of the distemper virus in 1999. The fox population plummeted from ~1,300 to a mere 100. (The cause of this outbreak was traced to a stowaway racoon.)

The Catalina Island Fox Recovery Plan involved relocation, vaccinations (including distemper), captive breeding and release, and population monitoring. And it was a total success. By 2004, the same year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Catalina Island Fox as a federally endangered species, the population had increased to 300 so captive breeding was discontinued.

Monitoring continues today with ~ 60 foxes equipped with telemetry collars and regular air tracking. Once a year, foxes are trapped,  counted and given a physical.

The Catalina Island Foxes, especially the older ones ,are prone to ear cancer. The number one cause of fox mortality on the island, surprisingly since there aren’t that many vehicles there, is being hit by cars and trucks. As of 2016,  there are ~1,400 foxes on Catalina. Now that’s a happy ending to a fox tale.

Friendly Fox
This gorgeous collared fox was a bit too friendly, clearly looking for handouts at the Harbor Sands Restaurant and Bar.

On my Catalina MTB adventure (Part I, II, III), I was lucky enough to see 3 foxes (one on the way in the middle of Catalina’s “wildlands”, one while sitting on the patio enjoying happy hour, and one hanging out in the Harbor Sands Bar.  Unluckily, I was not able to capture the picture myself for various reasons. Fortunately, my new friend, Julie Harland, was much luckier than I was so the 2 fox photos I’m sharing are hers.) Note: The last 2 fox sightings are not good signs – most likely an indication that people are feeding them. They’re irresistible, but you have to remember that a habituated fox that depends on human food is a unhealthy, at-risk animal.

Vixen FAQs

How did the foxes arrive at Catalina Island? The theories are that the foxes either hitched a ride on floating debris or were brought there by the island’s first inhabitants.

How long have the foxes been residents of Catalina? ~5,400 years. Genetically speaking, they are descendants of the gray fox.

What do the foxes eat? Mice, lizards, birds, berries, insects and cactus fruit.

How big are they? Adults weigh 4-6 lbs, which makes them smaller than your average house cat.

What are their habits? Foxes are diurnal, active during the day, foraging primarily at dawn or dusk. They are monogamous and are seen in pairs during the breeding season of January through March.

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How can you help?

If you visit Catalina:

  1. Keep dogs on leashes at all times.
  2. Pick up and dispose of your pet’s waste.
  3. Keep your pet’s vaccination up to date.
  4. NEVER feed wildlife. A healthy fox is a one that is on a wild diet.
  5. Don’t leave your or your pet’s food and water outside. Feed pets indoors.
  6. Drive slowly and be alert – especially at dawn & dusk (maximum speed 25 mph).
  7. Donate to the Catalina Island Fox Program.

On the Trail of the Elusive Borrego (Bighorn Sheep): Borrego Palm Canyon Hike, Anza Borrego State Park, CA

Anza Borrego State Park is named after the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista deAnza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.

The park covers 600,000 acres and is the largest state park in California and, the second largest in the contiguous United States. It contains 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 designated wilderness areas, and 110 miles of hiking trails.

The endangered peninsular bighorn sheep, often called desert bighorn sheep, make their home here. It’s said that visitors and residents seldom get to see them as they avoid human contact.

We arrived at the park about 45 minutes before sunset (golden critter hour) and decided to go for a quick run up the scenic and pleasant Borrego Palm Canyon Trail (3.25 miles) before dark.

 

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We looked up the steep rock studded canyon walls at precarious boulders, wondering if they ever dislodged…We walked part of the way back hoping to see some wildlife.  I told Ken to keep his eyes open. I have terrible eyesight and the stone and sunset shadows are perfect camouflage for anything that wants to evade notice. Then I heard something that sounded like a boulder crashing down…and Ken saw something in the distance…The head bangers in action! A group of 5, the one sitting on the rock officiating looked frail, perhaps an elder. I felt like I was in a National Geographic show. It was amazing!

The next morning we had breakfast at the local coffee shop. While we were there, we struck up  a conversation with a ranger and local at the next table. We shared our adventure and the video on my phone. There was an elderly couple standing nearby, watching me with annoyed faces and their arms  crossed. (Was I talking too loudly or did I steal their table?) Nope, the woman finally broke her silent glaring and told us in an exasperated voice that they had been hiking the canyon nearly ever day for years and had never had a big horn sheep sighting – not even 1. That’s how lucky we were.

Turns out one of the fellows that we were chatting with was the co-creator of the Desert Bighorn Sheep Book that I was browsing through. How cool is that?

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And yes, this gorgeous book is available at AMAZON  and the Anza Borrego Visitor Center.

And if all that wasn’t magical enough, on our drive out of the park, this healthy coyote couple appeared to see us off.

Coyotes Close up A B

What are your most memorable wildlife sightings?

A little slice of something nice: Annie’s Canyon, San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

If you live in the San Diego area or have visited, you’ve no doubt driven by picturesque San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve countless times via the coast road or the freeway. Perhaps you’ve ventured on trails as well. I have, dozens of times for a run or stroll and I thought I knew all the trails there. (Pretty, but mostly flat and easy fare.) I hadn’t heard about Annie’s Canyon until someone asked me about it. Of course I had to investigate…

But first a couple words about these coastal wetlands. The reserve spans 1000 acres with a total of 7 miles of trails that connect the varied habitats from salt marsh to freshwater marsh areas to coastal sage and chaparral. Wedged between the freeway and the coast highway and surrounded on all sides by Solana Beach, Cardiff and Rancho Santa Fe, the lagoon remains home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals – many endangered. Despite all the encroachment, it’s still a nice spot to savor nature and take in lagoon and ocean views.

Now for the unexpected delight of Annie’s Canyon. After a short, easy, less than mile hike to the canyon (look for signs), you’ll find yourself transported to a miniature canyon-land experience. Sure doesn’t feel like Southern California anymore, more like the slot canyons of Utah or Arizona. While it’s narrow, footing is fairly easy and there’s a steel ladder at the very top. Nothing treacherous here – just fun. It’s a super quickie (5 minutes), but super cool. What a great place to take young kids for a mini adventure with a little supervision and assistance. I know this kid at heart had some fun.

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The view from the top. And no, it’s not a nudist colony, my hottie BF is wearing pants. ; )

 

Notes

Dog friendly in the lagoon – not so much for the canyon unless, they are trick pups trained to go up narrow steel ladders

No bikes

There’s a bunch of construction underway as part of the highway and rail improvements program in the North Coast Corridor. Click here for trail closure updates before you go.

Apparently this spot was previously vandalized and closed and has only recently reopened, which explains why I didn’t know about it. Please enjoy, respect and protect the nature around you.

Location

There are a number of entrances to the lagoon. Here’s ine

Solana Hills trail head address is 450 Solana Hills Drive, Solana Beach. From I-5, take the Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit (exit 37) West. At 0.2 mile  turn right onto Solana Hills Drive for 0.3 mile. Park along the dead end street. There’s also a great nature center on the Cardiff-by-the-Sea side, which is quite nice and you can rent it for private events.

Railay Rocks!

Spectacular scenery, iconic limestone crags of monolithic proportions rising out of the Andaman Sea – that’s Railay.

 

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When I arrived by longtail boat, I checked into my hotel and took a walkabout to stretch my legs after the taxi (half hour), ferry (2hr), bus (2 hr) minivan (half hour with1 hr delay) and longtail boat ride (20 minute) – phew!

Actually, it wasn’t bad at all. It’s extremely easy to get around in Thailand. My full day of travel was coordinated by 1 agency for $33. Travel agencies are almost as ubiquitous as 7-Eleven’s here. Tip: It can be worthwhile to check with different agencies if you are looking for a specific itinerary and time. Some offer more choices than others.

I’ve been touring up and down Thailand for 3 weeks and the only wild things I’ve seen so far are some unruly Americans and Australians, feral cats, bats and myna birds. Accessible only by water, this tiny peninsula is literally crawling with wild things. And I’m not just talking about the rock climbers who flock here from around the world. Here there are macaques running amok, water monitors skulking about, squirrels flying overhead, and apparently some dusky langors in hiding too. You just follow the boardwalk from the pier in East Railay and head for West Railay Beach. When you make that right, you are in what I call monkey alley.

 

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Tip: Pay close attention to your belongings (monkey’s steal) and keep an eye out for movement on the rocks. Monitor lizards blend in well, but you can detect them with a keen eye. They are a bit noisy going over brush, tree limbs or leaves so keep your ears open too.

Awesome, right? I know! And all within the first 20 minutes of my arrival. Next to a conspicuous “Danger” sign was a rope climb / hike to a vista point that beckoned to me. I’m a wee bit leery of heights and hence not the biggest fan of rock climbing though I’ve done it before. This looked a bit sketchy…To be continued…

 

Nature Meditation: Bird Song, Anza Borrego State Park

Sharing the bird’s song and vista that greeted me on my morning hike up Alcoholic Pass in Anza Borrego last weekend. (Stay tuned for my superbloom post.) My best guess is that it is a wren of some type (Catcus, Bewick, Rock)? If you’re up on your ornithology,  tell us what you think it is. And if you’d like to learn more about the birds of Anza Borrego, click here.