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 barely in existence. 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

 

Take a Walk on The Wild Side. Getaway Tips: Catalina’s West End

A few people have asked me what I’d recommend for a couples’ 2 to 3 night camping trip in Catalina. For nature lover’s with limited time, I suggest you skip touristy (though charming) Avalon and head straight for Catalina’s “Wildland” gems.  Most Catalina aficionados concur that the 2 most beautiful spots on the island (not that you can really go wrong anywhere) are Little Harbor Campground and Parson’s Landing Campground. I’ll focus this post on them.

If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love those 2 spots.

 

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Heading down to picturesque Parson’s Landing

MAP 

How you plan your getaway comes down to your preferred balance of activity to relaxation.

If you want to see both Little Harbor and Parson’s Landing, the easiest way to do it is to take the San Pedro ferry direct to Two Harbors. Once there, you are equidistant to Parson’s Landing and Little Harbor – this gives you the most flexibility and the most relaxation and recreation options. You can grab a bite and set out for either destination as a day hike / bike or an overnight at one or both of them. You can also catch a shuttle one or both ways.

When you visit Two Harbors,  enjoy a meal at Doug’s Harbor Sands – the only restaurant / bar in town. I recommend the Mahe and a Buffalo Milk or two for dessert. Buffalo Milk is a delicious libation named after the island’s iconic buffalo (think alcoholic chocolate milkshake). I’d post a picture of one, but I drank them so fast I forgot to take one.

Otherwise, you could stay over in Little Harbor night 1 and then work your way West to Two Harbors and Parson’s Landing. On a quickie? Perhaps you take the Safari Bus back to Two Harbors or Avalon. (Arrange in advance.)

Staying Overnight in Two Harbors

Two Harbors Campground (42 tent sites & 3 Group sites) about a 1/4 from “town” on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Outdoor cold water showers & portapotties.

In “town”, the Camping Cabins  offer simple comforts on a budget ($50-70 a night) They are available November through March only.

Note: There are coin operated hot water showers in Two Harbors.

After roughing it for a day or two, I always like to throw in a little luxury. See why the rustic Banning House Lodge in Two Harbors is my Top Pick .

Two Harbors Things to Do:  Diving, snorkeling, swimming, stand-up-paddling, kayaking, fishing, exploring and relaxing. So yes, you can have tons of fun just hanging in gorgeous Two Harbors. Did I mention the Buffalo Milk? (Yeah, I did.)

Two Harbors Visitors Services 310-510-4205

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Parson’s Landing 

 Head from Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing (via West End Road – easy fire road ~7 miles & or the Trans Catalina Trail – hard single track ~11 miles) and camp out there. Note there is no running water at this campsite.  You can hike from here to Starlight Beach (the Western most point of the island), but be prepared for 20 miles round trip as Starlight Beach is day use only.

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DISTANCES

Avalon to the airport ~10 miles

Avalon to Little Harbor ~15 miles

Avalon to Two Harbors ~23 miles (MTB route – ~3,284 elevation gain)

Little Harbor to Two Harbors ~7 miles by fire road or shorter by single track, expect a fair amount of climbing in either direction

Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing ~7 easy miles West End Road or ~11 via a challenging portion of the Trans Catalina Trail (hikers only) Note: Parson’s Landing Campgraound has no running water.

Two Harbors to Starlight Beach  ~17 to ~21 miles depending on your route (see above)

Two Harbors to the airport ~13 Miles

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Logistics – Getting to Two Harbors

Catch the Catalina Express from San Pedro to go direct to Two Harbors ~$75 ea round trip.

Or treat yourself to a Helicopter ride, starting at ~$135 one way depending upon your departure point. It’s a quick way to spend $135, but it is a dazzling ~15+ minutes. (One way is enough, unless you’re in a hurry and have $ to burn.)

If you have a boat, you’ve got it made to explore your way.

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Hiking permits are free and you can get them online.

Mountain biking? Get the scoop on the $35 pass and bike rentals.

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Long Haul Options From Avalon

If you start in Avalon, you can take the island’s Safari Bus to Little Harbor,  Two Harbors, or Parson’s Landing,  but you are limited by their schedule. Mountain biking or hiking is possible too, but only if you’re up for ~23 somewhat tortuous miles (especially if you’re going to be carrying a pack) see my Catalina mtb. adventure post 1 & 3). There is a new Catalina Back Country Concierge that offers gear haul and other services, but they may not be open on weekdays in the off season – – at least they weren’t when we called them.

Another option is to stay in Little Harbor the first night and save the final 7 miles to Two Harbors for Day 2…

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Caution

So many fantastic options, so little time. Be safe and have a blast!

I’ve been all over the island, the terrain can be challenging and most of it is completely exposed. (Carry plenty of water and sunscreen.) Keep ~150 yards from Buffalo. (They don’t like bikers.) Stay on designated trails and fire roads. Taking that short cut through brush may be tempting, but my brother will tell you, it’s not worth it. He got bitten by a rattlesnake there doing just that and had to be airlifted off the island. He’s fine now, but it was a bit sketchy during his two weeks in ICU…And no, I wasn’t on that trip.

Let me know if you have questions and do tell me what you did on your Catalina getaway!

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?

Free Flowing in Fallbrook: Santa Margarita River Trail

The Santa Margarita River, aka Temecula Creek / Temecula River, is one of the last free-flowing rivers in Southern California.

The park is said to contain 1400 acres with 14 miles of trails that loop and crisscross the river. Not sure about that, but I do know that the main trail is about 5.5 total out and back. There are a number of offshoot trails, but it’s hard to imagine that they add up to 3x as much distance…

The main trail is a pleasant meander along the river under a canopy of trees.

There are a couple of swimming holes within the first mile or so if you care to take a dip. Before too long you’ll encounter your first of a half dozen creek crossings. Since the terrain is mostly smooth path or sandy, you might consider Tevas, instead of running shoes or hikers as you’ll be taking them on & off frequently. (That being said, if you don’t mind getting your running shoes wet, it’s not a bad spot for a little trail trot.) There are also a couple of lovely little oases along the way.

Apparently, this river corridor is known for raptor sightings and home to deer and other large mammals. We saw one shy turtle basking on rocks and a little fishey who seemed to be guarding her eggs – see video below.

Certainly a great spot to spend an afternoon, have a picnic or take a dip. (I wouldn’t drive too far for it, but if you’re in the area by all means.)

Note: It gets super hot in Fallbrook in the summer, be prepared and bring water.

BEWARE: Abundant poison oak &  quick sand???

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Distance: ~5.5 out & back

Difficulty: Easy – family friendly

Location: Fallbrook near De Luz Road & Sandia Creek Dr intersection, right on Sandia Creek Dr. then the parking area and trailhead are 1.2 miles ahead on the right.

Happy trails!