Rainy Day Finds

Blue houndstongue (i think)
Blue houndstongue (i think)

California newts with their bright orange underbellies and greenish yellow eyes, blue houndstongue and springtime poison oak with its shiny leaves of three, all of these were seen yesterday at Augustin Bernal Park in Pleasanton.

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Rainy day hikes are great for birdsong too. At the end of my hike I encountered three wild turkey walking across the staging area in the park. I wonder what the purpose of that long snood hanging down in front of the bird is.

Photo credit: Charlie Elk

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Wilderness Training, Part II

How We Sleep at Night
How We Sleep at Night (Four to five of us will be sleeping under this tarp, sleeping bag next to sleeping bag.)

Day Two, Henry Coe State Park:

Michael and I are leading today’s hike. Our first stop will be China Hole which is about five miles from our current camp site, Manzanita Point. I’m not liking the title of this stop: It sounds very politically incorrect to me. I wonder what meaning lies behind the name?

Manzanita Point to China Hole will be a strenuous hike with an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet. Michael takes the lead for the first part of the hike; I will lead after the China Hole stop.

Here Michael and I are conferring about the route we will be taking. This is after Michael missed the first turn. Luckily, the sweep (me) was paying attention and so, saved us extra time and miles! Oh Alicia, maybe you oughtn’t to be so glib. Do you trust us to get you to tonight’s camp site after that first wrong turn?

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From left to right: me, Michael and Alicia
China Hole at last! This is a popular swimming spot at the bottom of a large canyon. This means we are going to have to climb out of that canyon and head uphill for a seriously steep climb. Oy vey!

A little out of the canyon, heading up towards Lost Spring, newts and banana slugs crossed our path. This guy was curled up, probably trying to get warm. I wonder what kind of snake it was and was it harmless? Unwilling to test our luck, we gave him/her a wide berth. Ben, our designated photographer, stopped to take a photograph while most of us kept on hiking. The terrain here was rough, rocky and steep.

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***           ***          ***

It is now lunchtime. We have stopped at a junction near Lost Springs, tonight’s camp site. The land has leveled out here. I hope there are no more hills to climb before we get to camp.

8 -2014-02-02 03.39.57About twenty minutes after leaving our lunch spot, we find water in what looks to be a cow trough. We fill our empty bottles, add a few drops of iodine to each, burp all our bottles and pack them away.

Back on the trail we go, water bottles jostling about in our packs. The iodine has begun the process of purifying the water. In about thirty minutes it will be ready for drinking. But this isn’t all the water we carry. We are also carrying three full water “bladders” that hold the water we will use for cooking and for cleaning our hands and pots. No need to purify these as the water, once boiled, will become germ free.

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Ten minutes after filling our water bottles, we realize we are lost. This camp site, Lost Spring, is aptly named: We cannot find it!

Here are Michael and I, checking our map to see if we can find the place, but no, it doesn’t seem to exist. Now we give the orders — We send two people to the left and two to the right, to scout. No sense all of us getting even more lost and tired. Leading is not all it’s cracked up to be. When you are in charge, everyone depends on you to find the wretched camp site that refuses to reveal itself.

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Ben, one of the four scouts, comes back with a photograph of an out of order outhouse. The rest of us joke that maybe we will have to sleep in it tonight.

11 -2014-02-02 06.23.25We eventually find the site which we blithely walked past earlier — It looked nothing like we expected it to. Now it’s time to set up our living areas, kitchen, sleeping, hand washing station, etc. Our regular routine is that two different people cook dinner each night. Tonight we’re having red quinona.

12 -2014-02-02 07.55.33It has gotten very dark. Here is Cordelia cooking by the light of her head lamp:

16 -2014-02-02 52- 07.54.58While the cooks cook, the rest of us pitch the tarps under which we will sleep. Each tarp sleeps four to five people.

13 -2014-02-02 10.08.57Next morning’s lesson, by Jason, is about risk management.

14 -2014-02-02 22.29.14Having cleaned up our camp site, we are ready to begin another day’s hike. Today we’re off to Coit Lake. And if you are wondering, nope, we are not responsible for the remnants of that fire in the photograph. Whoever made that fire is crazy. There has been a “no burn” policy in California for months now, because of the severe drought. We have only used our very controlled, “whisper stoves.”

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Ten of us are in the photo. The eleventh member of our group is taking the photograph. I am third from the right, in a red jacket and navy and red hat.

(You can read “Wilderness Training,” Part One, here.)

Except for the China Hole photograph, all photos, credit of Ben Njau.

To the Wilderness We Go!

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Getting ready for evening circle: We arrived at our campsite around twilight and will sleep in the area behind the trees.

I’ve been away on wilderness training for the past two weeks. It is a necessary step as I move into the field of experiential — and away from classroom — education. Ours was a party of eleven, nine trainees, of which I’m one, and two seasoned Outward Bound outdoor education leaders.

The goal here in the United States as far as wild, open spaces go, is to try to bring these places back to the way they were in the days of the First Peoples. But even the First Peoples practiced land management of some sort. They deliberately set fire to the fields, for example, to regenerate seeds that they later harvested for food. If you want to learn more about their relationship to the land here in the Northern California/Bay Area region, a good book to read is Malcolm Margolin’s, The Ohlone Way. It provides a lens into the untamed wilderness that never really was. The idea of “wilderness” as we understand it today, is purely a concoction of European minds. We are meddlesome creatures. Once we arrive and become involved with the land, the wilderness ceases to exist.

This training allows staff/educators to experience what their students will experience during a backpacking trip. The goal is to better understand and relate to them; most, perhaps all of the students we will be working with have never been camping, backpacking or out enjoying the backwoods, the wilds.

Life at Henry Coe State Park

On the first day of our trip it was nice and sunny. The next day, snow! Then the two days after that, rain, rain and more rain, followed by days of sunshine. Our final day at Henry Coe? Rain and lots of it. But we didn’t complain for it meant the drought was most likely over. We pitched our tarps and slept 4-5 people per tarp, fully dressed in our wet gear and damp sleeping bags, just as our students most likely will in the fall, winter and spring.

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Photo credit: Benson Njau, 2014

Crazy Weekend at Ano Nuevo

Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo (photo credit: Tom Mangan)

Oh boy! This weekend at Ano Nuevo State Park was super crazy. Yesterday I led two hikes and today I led two more. Each hike is four miles round trip. I hiked 16 miles over mostly sand and dunes. That is normal for me — I lead hikes (as a volunteer naturalist) at the park. This is Ano Nuevo’s busiest season: The adult elephant seals are ashore birthing, breeding and mating.

Who’s in Charge?

The elephant seals delighted us with their antics as they moved around, inadvertently penning us in. One group of hikers got trapped for a while atop what we call High Willow, a prime elephant seal viewing area. Oh, don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. The park rangers gave the go ahead for the group before mine to enter the High Willow viewing area. Then when I arrived with my group about 15-minutes later, the elephant seals had blocked the path. Federal law mandates that we not be within 25 feet of the animals. I couldn’t, therefore, take my group up to High Willow and the group that was already there couldn’t get back down. The seals were in charge.25 feet back warning

Equal Access Boardwalk
Then there was the business with the equal access boardwalk that some of us slaved over this summer as we got it ready for this current season. Yesterday I was able to lead hikes out to that viewing spot. But today? Not at all. The rangers had to close off entry to the boardwalk because the animals had taken it over! I guess they’re saying to themselves, “Silly humans! It’s accessible to us but not to you!” I am sure happy to see the seals doing so well and taking charge of their habitat. Too bad though, that the wheelchair visitors couldn’t really get to see much of the seals’ carrying-ons.

If you are interested in learning more about the elephant seal hikes, click this link for a short overview: Ano Nuevo by Every Trail. I do not agree with the writer that the seals “aren’t pretty.” I say, I say, they are just as gorgeous as my sea cows that roamed the sea on the south coast of Jamaica. Soooo cute!

***** ***** *****

Some previous posts on elephant seals and Ano Nuevo State Park are listed below:



Winter in Augustin Bernal Park

2 -toyon
Toyon berries (also known as Christmas berries), along Golden Eagle Trail

Wednesday, 12/18/2013 — I am off to find the Sinbad Creek Trail again. (See my first try here.) It’s 2:10 p.m. and I’m just starting out. Too late to complete the 14-mile trip out and back but I can at least travel along sections of the creek. I haven’t done that before.

Today’s hike begins in Augustin Bernal Park, not Pleasanton Regional Park like the last time. Although both parks are open to the public, access to the former is controlled. Non-Pleasanton residents must obtain entry permits from the Pleasanton Community Services office to enter via the main gate to Golden Eagle Farms, a gated residential community.

  • Hike type: moderate to strenuous
  • Distance: about 8 miles round trip (exact distance to be determined at a future date).
  • Time to complete: 4 hours round trip
  • Trails: Take (1) Golden Eagle to (2) Chaparral to (3) Valley View to (4) Ridgeline to (5) Bayleaf to (6) Sinbad Creek. Reverse order to return.


  1. From the trailhead by the parking lot/staging area, go uphill along Golden Eagle Trail. Moderate trail. (5-10 minutes)
  2. Make first LEFT onto Chaparral Trail. This trail is steep. (5-6 minutes)

    Soap plant (aka California soaproot), along Chaparral Trail
  3. Make LEFT onto Valley View Trail. (45 minutes-1 hour)
  4. Continue straight on Valley View Trail, past the wooden bench and Blue Oak Trail (both on the right).
    Coyote brush in bloom
    Coyote brush in bloom, along Valley View Trail

    In about 2-minutes you will come to a pond, down to the LEFT, off the trail. This is a good place to bird watch and enjoy the reflections in the water. As I sat by the pond, the scent of California Bay drifted down to greet me.

  5. Head back up onto the Ridgeline Trail, go past the water trough and faucet on your left. A copse of oak trees stands at attention before you. You are now nearing the border between Augustin Bernal and Pleasanton Regional Park.

    9 -oaks
    Oak trees along Ridgeline Trail lead into Pleasanton Regional Park
  6. Continue straight on Ridgeline Trail, past the second Blue Oak Knoll Trail junction on your right. (1/2 minute)
  7. You are now at the connector gate to Pleasanton Regional Park.

*****          *****          *****


As you enter Pleasanton Regional Park you will begin seeing directional markers. I have listed the ones on my route.

  1. A little past the gate, inside Pleasanton Regional Park, is Marker 21. Continue on straight ahead, going down and around an enormous green water tank on your left. (8-10 minutes)
  2. At Marker 22 there are small trails leading hither and yon. I chose to stay on the trail I had been following, the largest one (Ridgeline Trail, i.e.). From my map it seems that you can also take the smaller trail to your left to get to Sinbad Creek Trail. (Since I haven’t tried it yet, I don’t know for sure.)
  3. In about 2 minutes you’ll come to the Brett Whitelow memorial bench. Here you get a lovely overview of the valley below and the town of Pleasanton.

    View from Whitlow memorial bench, overlooking the valley and town of Pleasanton
    View from Brett Whitelow memorial bench, overlooking the valley and town of Pleasanton
  4. Continue straight, on Ridgeline Trail. (5-6 minutes)
  5. Now you are at Marker 26. Continue straight ahead; ignore the trail on your right. Although not indicated on the marker, Ridgeline Trail has now become the Bayleaf Trail. My only way of knowing this is (a) the pervasive smell of the bay trees that surround me and (b) the steep drop below that is Sinbad Creek and Kilkare Canyon. (5-6 minutes)
  6. Wallah! Here is Marker 25 announcing the beginning of the Sinbad Creek Trail. It is now 4:11 p.m. I scan the skies. It is already starting to get dark. Even if I quicken my pace and get back to the trailhead in under two hours, it will still be totally dark when I get there. Sure hope no mountain lions or bobcats are prowling about tonight. The Chaparral Trail looks like a good place for them to be!

4:59 p.m. Sun is setting over the Pleasanton ridge.

Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, and the best of the season for now and the coming new year. See you in two weeks.

Art Spaces and City Parks

A view of the rear of three hangar buildings, looking out on the grassy Crissy Field and Angel Island in the bay at sunset (credit: The Presidio Trust)

This three minute video by the Presidio
Trust of San Francisco is a great homage to cities all across the United States. Here you see former industrialized places transformed into unconventional art spaces and parks. Gems from New York City, Chicago, North Adams (MA), and San Francisco are all showcased here. Every city in the world ought to have at least one space like this:


The Natives Are Here!

spying columbus moth_DxOFPNovember in the Bay Area means there will be California oak moths in the woodlands. There are a lot more of them this year than last year. This is good news for the birds and spiders that eat them. Silvery grey, about the size of a nickel, they are noticeable only when they flutter about. (They are camouflaged by the now silvery colored oak leaves.)

Where to See Oak Moths

If you are in the Monterey Bay area, the Elkhorn Slough Reserve is a good place to see California oak moths. The trails along the Long Valley, South Marsh and Five Fingers loops are home to oak woodland and forests. Wherever the woodlands are, you are sure to find oak moths. If you hike the South Marsh trail, stop by Hummingbird Island. It is a great place to see hummingbirds and sometimes, otters as well. Closer to the San Francisco peninsula, you will find oak moths in the Palo Alto Foothills and in the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.

Moth photograph, credit Elkhorn Slough Reserve

Destination: Sinbad Creek

janeEast Bay Parks

Here are some things I’m starting to realize as I navigate the East Bay parks:

  • many of their trails branch off in two, even three directions
  • these branches are usually unmarked and so, you end up losing your bearings (Lacking trail markers you wonder, “Do I go right? Do I go left? Do I go downhill? Do I go uphill?”)
  • often, there are no portable maps at the trailhead and since the details on the Internet are sketchy, you end up navigating by trial and error)
  • perhaps as much as ninety percent of these parks lack forest canopy and so, for most of your hike, you are at the mercy of the sun
  • the sound of traffic intrudes from nearby highways.

These are not necessarily complaints, merely observations. Each park is an adventure. You never know what you will find.

Sinbad Creek and Kilkare Canyon

I am planning to do two fourteen mile hikes through Kilkare Canyon, along Sinbad Creek, onto the top of Pleasanton Ridge and along Thermalito Trail (the same trail where I saw a mountain lion a few weeks ago). The first hike will be before the rainy season begins and the second will be during the rainy season, when the hills are once again green. These hikes will begin at Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park instead of at Augustin Bernal Park. (Both parks are in Pleasanton).

A Short Trial Run Hike

Knowing what I now know about the East Bay Parks, I attempted a short trial run of the Sinbad Creek hike yesterday. I started at 11:30 a.m. This is a late start and so, I only planned to complete four or five miles. The goal here was to get my bearings so I’d be on the right trail(s) for the actual hikes.

I started out at the trailhead (that is, at the parking lot called Foothill Staging Area) and headed uphill along Oak Trail. This trail winds steeply along an exposed hillside, past many oak trees, and lots of poison oak and coyote brush. About a quarter mile later, I arrived at the junction of Oak and Woodland Trail. Taking Woodland (it’s on the left as you head up Oak) I climbed an even steeper grade with a few switchbacks. Here there are more oak trees, the ever present poison oak and gratefully, a canopy of forest cover to protect me from the sun.

The Cow Gate

view from Oak Trail
View from Woodland Trail looking towards Sunol

About a mile later, still on Woodland Trail, I came across a cow gate at a junction by a meadow. I veered to the right, sidestepping the gate. That was a mistake: I was supposed to go through the gate. So instead of heading towards the Sunol side of the park, I found myself squarely in Pleasanton, at the junction of Oak and Sycamore Grove Trails. A marker by that cow gate would have pointed me in the right direction. Now I was clearly off the Sinbad Creek Trail loop.

Try Again

The next time I hike Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park, I will be attempting the complete fourteen mile trip. I will most likely start at sunrise when the park opens. I’ll let you know how that turns out. That will be before the rains start. After that, I will attempt a second hike (probably before Christmas), when, thanks to the rains, the hills will be green once again. For details of the entire fourteen mile hike, I’ve posted the map below.

Map Trail
Map credit, Regional Parks Foundation

Heaven Loop

2 sunlit bridge
Whitehouse Bridge (over Whitehouse Creek). Light and bridge come together here to form a beautiful pattern.

Costonoa is a great place for hiking and camping. It is just down the coast from Pigeon Point and not too far from the Pie Ranch and Ano Nuevo State Park. I last hiked here during the first week of October and although it was over eighty degrees, I still needed a long-sleeved shirt. (This was only for the portion of the hike that was open to the coastal breezes.)

3 heaven loop
The trails here are well marked

I wonder which word once preceded the trail titled, “Heaven Loop”? What has been erased?

1 -cabin in the woods
Seen on my way into the woods, one of Costonoa Lodge’s cabins.
4 chairs looking out to sea
Empty chairs look out onto the Pacific and Highway One from Ohlone Ridge
5 darkened copse
A darkened copse, mid-hike. Lots of birdsong was to be heard here.

Regional/Historical Notes

Ohlone/Costonoa is a collective name for the First Peoples who once lived in Central California and along the Northern California coast. Many of their legends are centered around coyote, eagle and humming bird, all of which can be found in this part of California.

  • In the 1770s, there was an estimated 10,000-20,000 First Peoples in the region.
  • By 1800, they numbered only 3,000. The Spanish Missions and later, America’s Wild Wild West, took their toll on them.
  • Around the time of the Gold Rush, in 1849, it was estimated that there was only 850-1000 First Peoples here.
  • By 2000, they numbered about 1,500-2,000 people. The numbers are probably around the same today.

Here is a map of Costonoan languages and major villages. (The black dots and corresponding lines indicate current day place names.)

Map from: A Gathering of Voices: The Native Peoples From the Central California Coast

pre-Hike: Long Ridge Open Space Preserve

poppy up close
last of the summer blooms (California poppy)

If you are going to lead a good hike, it’s best to scope out the terrain a little before the actual hike. Today I did just that, in preparation for an upcoming group hike, and noted the following:

Construction going on along Peters Creek Trail. It should end tomorrow. The creek is nearly one hundred percent dry. In the air, there is the pervasive smell of coyote bush and bay trees.

Some things seen and heard:

  • red berries hanging from vines (photo attached)
  • fall leaves, colors of yellow and red
  • I didn’t see any apples on trees (too early???)
  • lots of bird calls/songs
  • healthy ferns but moss on trees all dried up, and like the creek, in need of water
  • fish (gold??) and turtles in Jikoji’s pond
  • lots of freshly dropped acorns on ground
  • about four rather large deer grazing under huge oak tree, a little before Stegner’s bench (photo of oak attached — how big is this?!!!)
  • around mile four, I finally saw some flowers (a total of about 3 lilac colored ones) and one lone golden California poppy in the grass in front of Stegner’s bench
  • trails are all dusty, but no tracks except for those of dirt bikes and horses
  • no newts or salamanders seen (because creek is mostly dry — hope they migrated to the pond)
  • wild rose bushes, yellow in color (is this their fall clothes?) but nary a rose! (not the time of year for flowers?? (Photo of roseless rose bushes attached).

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