Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, St. George, UT

First stop on the Utah road trip after 6 hours cooped up in the car, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve rolled out their welcome trails. Not a bad stop to stretch the legs for hike or a mountain bike cruise. This picturesque reserve with expansive views out to the snow capped mountain range is right next to town and boasts 200 miles of non-motorized trails. (Yes, that’s 200 miles so you can stretch those legs of yours to your hearts content.)

wildflowers Red Cliffswildflower close up red cliffsmtn vistas red cliffs

The reserve was established in 1996 to protect critical desert tortoise habitat form being destroyed by development. It worked. You’ll notice tortoise scat on the rocks everywhere. And if you’re lucky, you might see one.

desert tortouise 2

I only hiked a couple miles here, but look forward to coming back to explore more. Perhaps on 2-wheels next time…

Note: the trails can be hard to follow in this terrain so bring a good map or GPS if you venture out very far, and plenty of water, of course, as it’s all exposed.

Stay tuned for more Utah adventures: Scenic delights near St. George Part I: Gunlock State Park and Ivins’ Reservoir

 

Short Peak Scramble, Flinn Springs County Park, San Diego

On the way back from 3 Sisters Falls, we decided to add on a roadside, quickie hike in Flinn Springs County Park. The hike begins at the back of the park.

This small 40-acre park near Lakeside has 1 short trail that takes you up a consistent, steep incline to a great vista above Escondido and Lake Jennings.

Once you reach the saddle you can go east to reach a short peak or west to climb Silverdome Peak or south for Flynn’s Peak. I’m not sure which one we scrambled up, but it was definitely a scramble.

views from flinn

It’s rated as moderate, but if you are less than moderately fit, it’s likely you will suffer. (Especially if it’s a hot day as the trail is completely exposed.) That being said, it’s a good, short workout and “bun burner”.

 

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A little trail eye candy

I wouldn’t go out of my way for this one, but if you’re driving by and want a leg stretcher / burnergo for it.

There’s picnic tables and a lovely wood pavilion too.

Flinn Pavilion

Total distance ~<4.3 miles RT

Elevation Gain: 1,443 FT

Parking Fee: $3

Address: 14787 Old Highway 80, El Cajon, CA 92021

For views that rock you like a hurricane, visit Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park is so named because a prospector back in 1897 stood up there on a very windy day (100 mile an hour winds) and declared that it must be a hurricane. (It wasn’t, but the name stuck.) I lucked out with lovely weather the day I visited.

Hurricane Ridge is about 17 miles from Port Angeles and it’s a direct route to fun times. If you’re in the vicinity, it’s a must do.Whether you are just taking in the fantastic views, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, or perhaps biking up. Yes, I said “biking up”. And yes, it’s a thing, if you’re into that kind of thing that is. With a challenging 5,242 ft ascent over 17 miles, the ride is known as one of Washington’s toughest and most scenic bike routes and what many say is one of the top cycling climbs in the U.S.. The climb averages a 5.3% grade with the steepest ½ mile at a 9.4% grade. Any takers?

It does sound intriguing though doesn’t it? I’d like to give it a go one day if my knees allow. It’s the downhill that really gives me the heebie-jeebies… I’d feel more secure on a mountain bile than road bike.  A car shuttle might be an option…

In any case, whatever your activity pleasure, you’ll find the Olympic National Park a perfect playground. Get more scoop at Visitor Center at mile one and pay to play when you reach the park’s toll booth at mile 6.

ONP fees

I pulled off at the first opportunity for a hike and did a pleasant out and back on the Switchback Trail. As the sign indicates, there are a few options available to string together longer hikes.

sign on hurricain ridgeswitchback trail scoop

switchback trailswitchback trail looking backL on the switchback trail

hurricaine road and beyond

I’m keeping my escapades short so I can cover more ground on my “PNW adventure sampler” tour. After driving up to the ridge to enjoy the panoramic views, I headed back down to plot my next excursion.

Evidence of “The Inconvenient Truth” – pictures are worth a thousand words…

L on Hurricaine ridge

 

Dipping my toes into the Aspen Creek Trail #48, Prescott, AZ

aspen creek trail sign

It’s a pleasant hike along the miniature creek under the shade of Ponderosa pines and Juniper and Manzanita trees. Some say it’s one of the prettiest trails in Prescott. Keep a lookout for the rock formations. If you’re lucky, and look carefully enough, you might see the “secret waterfall” hidden there. (No water was running when I went.) After a mellow climb, you’ll reach a crest that yields expansive views of the surrounding ranges— the Sierra Prietas, the Bradshaws, and the San Francisco peaks. Here you can retrace your steps or continue on trail 48 to the southwest or explore trail 94115 to the north east. I read some reports that there’s an 11-mile hike that takes you to Thumb Butte. (Sounds like a car shuttle might be in order for that one unless you’re mountain biking or up for a marathon hike.)

Prescott’s dedication to their extensive trail system is admirable. Over my 3 days here, I’ve had the pleasure of exploring a sampler of them by foot and wheel (Thumb Butte, Spruce Mountain, Granite BasinGoldwater Lake, Petroglyph Trail, Constellation Trails, and the Peavine/ Iron King Trails .) Just beware that the disparate systems, naming conventions and maps can be confusing. People mistakenly refer to trails by the wrong numbers. Different city and national forest websites may provide conflicting information on hike mileage and other details. I couldn’t figure out what the mileage was for this one. Oh and it’s another double misnomer hike – there are no Aspen trees on this trail despite the name and the creek is only a dribble. Perhaps it’s more of a creek in the spring?

Trail details: The first mile of the trail is part of the Prescott Circle Trail – it takes you up to a junction for trail 48 to the southwest or trail 94115 to the northeast. I’d rate it as easy. The Prescott Circle Trail is a network of city and Prescott National Forest trails that combine to make a 54-mile loop around Prescott. I’ll have to investigate more of these trails next time I’m in the area.

Getting there: 20 minutes from downtown Prescott. The Aspen Creek trailhead is on Copper Basin Road ~ 2 miles after it changes from blacktop to dirt. Parking is on the right and the trail head is on the left.

Notes: Mountain bikes & leashed dogs allowed

Thumbs up for the Thumb Butte Loop Trail #33, Prescott, AZ

The iconic, natural landmark of Prescott, Thumb Butte hosts a short trail (#33). It’s quick and pleasant and a great way to start your day while it’s glowing in the dawn’s light. Unfortunately, the trail doesn’t take you to the top of the Thumb, but your hike to the ridgeline will reward you with panoramic views of the Prescott area, Bradshaw Mountains, Sierra Prieta Mountains, Granite Mountain, Mingus Mountain and out to the San Francisco Peaks.

Thumb Views

With ~ 3k visitors leaving their footprints every month, Thumb Butte is the most heavily used trail in the Prescott National Forest. Go early and you’ll only run into a few locals taking their morning constitutional walk or runs.

Trail Notes:You ascend either the paved eastern section of the trail or the unpaved eastern section of the loop trail to reach a ridge just below the rocky crest of Thumb Butte. The eastern paved section is very uneven / “lumpy”, requiring careful footing, especially if you’re descending. paved trail and thumb shadow

The western side is a double-wide trail. A dozen interpretive signs dot the route, identifying various vegetation and explaining forest ecology.

thumb hike scenery

 

thumb from the backside
Backside Views

Distance:  <2 Miles RT

Elevation: The Thumb’s elevation is 6,514 ft. The trail has a~688 gain/ loss – it’s runnable if you’re into hills and ok with uneven footing.

Use: Hikers only, Dogs ok on leashes

Fee: $5, Wednesday are free

Getting there: From Prescott take Gurley Street West (it becomes Thumb Butte Road) for 3.4 miles to the Thumb Butte Picnic area and parking lot on the right. Trail begins across the street.

Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.

Hiking:

Granite Basin

Constellation Trails

Spruce Mountain

Mountain Biking: Prescott Valley to Prescott via the Iron King & Peavine Trails

Goldwater Lake

Restaurants: The Barley Hound Gastropub

Farm Provisions

 

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.

Cowles “Mountain” Hike & Lake Murray Stroll

Cowles Mountain  (1,593-foot summit) is the highest point in the city of San Diego. It’s part of Mission Trails Regional Park, a 5,800-acre open space preserve that is the 7th-largest open space urban park in the United States. It contains sixty miles of hiking, mountain bike and equestrian trails.

To call Cowles a mountain is to be very liberal with the word. I should note that the park has a 5 “peak” challenge if your hiking peeps want a minor challenge and want to document your feats – here’s the scoop. Cowles is the highest peak. This might be fun for kids, but apparently lots of adults do it for bragging rights too. I will say that on a clear day, the stunning views span 360 degrees from Lake Murray, downtown San Diego, Point Loma, La Jolla, and Mexico and out across the glimmering Pacific to the San Carlos Islands. See feature picture above. (Unfortunately, I dropped my camera on a rock so I have limited pics.)

fireroad route up Cowles

Distance: 2.9  miles up & back

It’s a very popular trail so expect lots of humans and their canines…There are a couple of different ways to reach the top from various starting points and parking lots. The hike itself is moderate (with some steeper sections that will get those calves & glutes burning). It’s decent workout, especially if you run it. There are single track trails and some fire road. It’s short from any direction so I explored up and down on a couple of trails and was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more to see. You can’t really get lost so do as much or as little as you like.

Getting there:

The main trailhead is in the San Carlos neighborhood on the corner of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road

Lovely Lake Murray

Since I didn’t quite get enough enough of a workout  / nature fix, I decided to check out alluring Lake Murray  Reservoir, also part of the Mission Trails Regional Park. I strolled the paved road that navigates around most of the lake stopping short of the dam (no access). It’s another popular spot – walkers, runners, bladders, and even road bikers aplenty (the latter seems silly to me, because the path / road is only 3.2 mi long and there are many children and dogs on it).

Lake Murray is a great spot for birdwatchers with abundant ducks, geese, and herons abound and about 149 bird species to observe. It’s a pleasant spot for a picnic too.

Go Fish

Lake Murray is open for shore fishing and private boats, kayaks, and float tubes seven days a week from 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Permits can be purchased onsite at the iron ranger boxes. The lake is stocked with Florida-strain largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, black crappie, and trout. Minimum size limit for bass is 12 inches.

Fish limits: 5 trout, 5 bass (min. 12 inches), 5 catfish, 25 crappie and bluegill total,  no other species limits

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Lake Murray 2
That’s Cowles Mountain in the distance