That California Coast

maggie and milly and molly and may
e. e. cummings, 18941962
              10

maggie and milly and molly and may 
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang 
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing 
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone 
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me) 
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

Point Lobos Pelicans

Searching for better words to describe the nearness, accessibility and grandeur of the sea, I browsed through several poems about the ocean in the Academy of American Poets. Neither Hawthorne nor Whitman, for all their literary greatness, could accurately conjure the feeling of standing on the Pacific brink. Where Hawthorne’s Atlantic waves are dark and brooding, the waves that break against the California coast are frothy and inviting.

That’s the thing about California: as grand the Pacific is, as intriguing and varied its coastal terrain, all that would inspire awe and weightiness is undermined by the abundant sunshine. The sun just bakes all your cares away, so sweetly you can’t remember your troubles.

Point Lobos Sea Lion Point

Even sea lions come out to bask in the sun.

Point Lobos Sea Lions

Sunbathing with their pups.

Point Lobos Mars

The terrain, too, feels more fantastical than foreboding. Rather than the grey, weather-beaten rocks of an Atlantic harbor, here the coastline exposes what must have formerly been a submarine ecosystem. Now, it looks like a set from Star Wars.

Point Lobos Mars

Point Lobos

Not that I’m complaining. California is a beautiful place, and as an East Coast transplant I could add a little sunshine to my disposition.All this is just the result of recent musings about the cultural differences between coasts. I do miss the stormy seriousness of a nor’easter, the broodiness that makes Whitman feel in the wet tendrils of a breaking wave the beckoning a lost loved one.

Natural Bridges State Beach

But on the other hand, it’s not such a bad thing that a California Saturday consists of sun, sand and surf.

Natural Bridges State Park

No indeed, not bad at all.

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Big Sur & Point Lobos

Big Sur
Picturesque.

Big Sur

monterey - hike
My fellow fearless adventurers :)
monterey - whale watching
We stood right here for a long time, watching whales occasionally break the surface of the water.
monterey - deer
There was so much wildlife, so close by. It’s truly breathtaking for this city gal to be able to have nature at my fingertips within a few hours’ drive.
Point Lobos
The grey, overcast weather hovering over jagged rocks felt so moody — very reminiscent of the UK. Nostalgia!

Starry, Watery Night

Bioluminescence kayaking 1

Bioluminescence is a magical, magical thing.

Tiny organisms called dinoflagellates emit bioluminescence when stirred in the water. If you give the water a good stir with your paddle, you see little stars light up like a witch’s cauldron. Or, for Harry Potter fans, like the Pensieve when a vial is poured into it.

Since light pollution makes it hard to see bioluminescence, the kayaking trip has to be somewhere dark and environmentally pristine (and have other climate factors too, for the scientifically inclined). We went up to Point Reyes, a nature preserve where we could see the stars and the Milky Way above, while the water lit up all around us. A seal even came and played in the water nearby, though we could hear but not see him (her?) in the dark.

Honestly, this experience ranks in the top 3 travel & nature experiences of my life thus far. And it’s so truly magical that it can’t even be captured by camera; bioluminescence is so ephemeral that even the light sensor on the camera tips itself off.

I apologize. I often say on this blog that pictures are better than words, but in this case, neither is adequate to describe bioluminescence kayaking. It just has to be experienced.

Bioluminescence kayaking 2

Flocks of birds nest on Hog Island (right) and Duck Island (left). We paddled in between the two and it smelled delightfully of guano.

Bioluminescence kayaking 3

Here’s the link to Point Reyes Outdoors. You have to reserve well in advance, but this is so worth it. So, so worth it.

In case you’re wondering? Another travel & nature experience on my top-three list is the Sentiero Azzuro in Cinque Terre. These two stand out above the others in my mind. As for what the third would be… well, apparently I’ve got to keep exploring to find out! Here’s to more adventures :)

Photo credits: Thanks D!

Yosemite

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Yosemite, Google Maps informs, me, is a “go-to destination for outdoor activities.” That tickles me.

It’s amazing that a place of such impressive beauty is just a few hours’ drive away. We drove into the valley late at night, when it was so dark that we could hardly see the next bend in the road. It was a bit of a harrowing drive, but not knowing what lay before us made the following morning all the more glorious.

Yosemite Camp Curry

We stayed at Camp Curry, a village of tent cabins. It was definitely a glamping experience, and they’re also quite strict about not having campfires or food in tents, so it wasn’t quite the feeling of being out in the woods that one might hope for. However, it did mean that we didn’t get woken up in the middle of the night by foraging animals, so that was good.

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We spent the day hiking around the valley — here at Mirror Lake. We just went for a weekend, Friday night through Sunday afternoon, so there wasn’t as much time to get off the beaten path. There’s nothing wrong with the beaten path — it’s actually quite beautiful — but crowded, too tamed in a way. I definitely look forward to going back soon and doing more trails!

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We didn’t hike Half Dome, either, which I’d definitely like to do sometime. Basically, I consider this to have been a scouting trip for how to plan the next one :)

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Where we stopped for lunch — the best seat in the house

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On Sunday morning, we opted to drive out early to beat the traffic out of the valley. We stopped to see waterfalls and gorgeous views of the valley, and stopped by Merced Grove just at the western edge of the park to see the Sequoias. There are more Sequoias in Mariposa Grove, but it was about an hour’s drive out of the way, which wouldn’t really have done much for us in terms of beating traffic!

I loved Merced Grove though — it was more brambly, with fewer people. Just the kind of peace and quiet I’d been hoping for.

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Three Sequoia trees.

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The short story is, a two-day trip does little justice to this gorgeous national park. and neither do my photos! Just gotta get back there as often as possible.

Woods, Water, Wildflowers

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

The Coastal Trail to Alamere Falls is the most gorgeous hike I’ve done in the Bay area yet. The 8-mile loop is beautifully maintained, with constant changes in terrain, elevation, and plant life. There are bodies of water (lakes! waterfalls! the Pacific Ocean!); woods, lovely dark and deep; narrow, brambly passages on the trail; climbing down a rocky cliff face; a waterfall flowing onto the beach — interesting, interactive, and just plain gorgeous. This ranked up there with Cinque Terre as one of my favorite hikes — and to think! It’s just an hour drive away from the city.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

It’s really incredible how diverse the terrain and vegetation is along this trail. From one vantage point, you have a classic Pacific coastal view.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Lake

Turn a corner, and you could be in upstate New York.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Point Reyes - Coastal Trail to Alamere Falls

So lush & green! It hardly seems like California.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Tree

This tree fell in the perfect place to mark a gateway from one landscape to the next. Once you pass under it, the scenery changes from grassy greenery to a tall forest lined with ferns.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Ferns

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls Trail

This sign invites you to branch off the Coastal Trail into a brambly section that in parts is hedged so tightly that you can’t even pass someone going in the opposite direction. At one point, having gone about halfway deep into a narrow passageway, we had to back up when we met hikers coming towards us.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

It was quite romantic, in an Anne of Green Gables way.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Once we came out of the bramble to the open ocean views, we scrambled down rocks to get to the falls.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

See where that lady is coming down (upper-right)? Here’s what it looks like:

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

This view was pretty and all, but then we were like:

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

So, how do we get down there?

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Picnicking and “hanging out” at the cliff’s edge.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Cliff

We scrambled down the cliff to get to the beach. As you can see from the ginormous pile of shards at the bottom, the rock face is quite loose, and pieces of it came right off when I tried to get a handhold. It’s doable, but better with hiking boots for sure!

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Beach

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Beach

Dipping your toes in the ocean never felt so good.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Absolutely gorgeous. This was sheer happiness. I’m really getting spoiled living out here!

Plus: the fact that wildflowers were everywhere made this daytrip absolutely perfect. Because I love wildflowers.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls

Learning about wildflowers When I visited the Lake District in England, I took photographs of pages and pages out of our host’s book on wildflowers because I wanted to learn the names. Some Google searching helped me identify some of the flowers I saw yesterday, but on the whole these databases are overwhelming. A fairly helpful photo gallery of wildflowers in Northern California. A National Park Service PDF on flowers you can find in Point Reyes. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. And other searchable-by-name databases on California flora. But I think I’ll buy a book and be done with it. There really is such a thing as too much information!

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Morning Glories
Convolvulaceae / morning glory
Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls
Orobanchaceae / which has the very unfortunate alternate name of broom-rape

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Wildflowers

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Berries

We saw lots of too-bright berries along the trail that screamed “Eat me and DIE!”

Side note: there is also lots of poison oak along the trail, so beware! Long sleeves and long pants recommended.

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Flowers

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Flowers

Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Flowers
Fabaceae / legume family on the left (I think?), and Polypod on the right
Point Reyes Coastal Trail - Alamere Falls - Wildflowers
Thistle
Ice Plant / carpobrotus edulis
Ice Plant / carpobrotus edulis

Scrambling up Berkeley Hills

Berkeley Hills

“C’s Trailhead” started with an uphill scramble up, while grabbing roots and rocks to avoid slipping backward.

Yep, this hike was described as “moderate” too. C went to Berkeley for undergrad and used to come up this way after class. What an amazing getaway! To literally be above it all, civilization and all its cares lying below you. You know you have to go back down soon enough, but for just a sweet little while, the only thing on your mind is the greenery, the wildflowers, the sunshine, the uphill trek.

Berkeley Hills

Berkeley Hills

Berkeley Hills - Rock Altar

Lawrence Hall of Science

I can’t tell you which way we walked; most of it was uphill, and some of it was along bendy roadsides with little visibility for cars coming round the bend. (Read: scary!) We stopped by the Lawrence Hall of Science on our way down, and from there followed the road back down to campus.

I think we trekked about 7-8 miles total. Springtime in the Bay area means hikes every weekend! It’s the only thing helping me maintain my sanity right now, with how crazy the work weeks have been…

Mt. Diablo Grand Loop Trail

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We’d been hoping to make this hike happen ever since December, but it was worth the wait. With the rains and the wildflowers bursting in season, the trails were gorgeous and the views so green! N, our fearless leader, researched the Grand Loop Trail, a recommended hike for pretty views and lots of wildflowers.

I have to say that when I skimmed the description, I knew we were in trouble. Out here in the Bay area, trails described as “moderately strenuous” are very strenuous in my book. I don’t know what a “very strenuous” hike is to a Bay area native, but it probably involves scaling rock with your bare hands. Or, I don’t know, jungle trails where you have to carve your own path with a machete.

But I digress. I think we spent about 5.5 hours on this hike, which included a picnic and museum visit at the summit, elevation 3,849 feet. It was chillier than I expected up the mountain, especially as the day started out foggy.

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I stopped to admire this tree, which I called “The Lord of the Rings tree.” I knew I was in good company when someone in the group referenced the very scene in the movie that I was thinking of! Can you guess?

The path started off on this lovely, gentle downward slope. We walked downhill for quite a while.

By the time we started the uphill climb, we could barely even see the summit we needed to get to! The uphill stretches were very steep, with lots of loose rock and not much respite. Pretty darn strenuous, if you ask me!

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Wildflowers along the trail.

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This was my favorite flower sighting of the day. I’m not sure what it’s called, but I loved the flower-upon-flower. Vivid blue buds grow within the maroon flower, and one bulb grows on top of another. The museum at the summit didn’t display this one specifically, but said that there are several wildflower species that only grow on Mt. Diablo because of its unique elevation + climate.

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The Summit Trail, which claims to be “a trail through time” or something like that. I’m not sure what that means, but it sure was pretty!

Here, N is petting a mossy tree. But beware – there’s lots of poison oak along the trail!

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At the top.

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Gorgeous views! You can see a quarry off in the distance.

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It happened to be the 150th anniversary celebration of California State Parks (first established in 1864!), so there were free cookies, brownies, hikes and such happening that weekend. Also worth mentioning that the drive up to our starting point was absolutely gorgeous. Glad we postponed this trip after all — definitely recommend going in springtime, after the rains bring the greenery to life! (But not too much rain, or scrambling up muddy rocky trails would actually be very strenuous!!)

A Perfect Picnic at Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Grilled oysters

I organized a Saturday outing to shuck fresh oysters at Tomales Bay Oyster Company in Point Reyes. Absolutely gorgeous day, delicious fresh oysters, basically a big picnic party right by the bay. (A friend commented that when it gets crowded, it feels like spring break!)

Yep, pretty much looks like spring break.

Lessons learned:

  • They are not nearly as strict as they sound on the website about group size per table (though it does get crowded) and making the payment 10 days in advance for the table. Whew! Cuz that was totally stressing me out while wrangling who/how many were planning to come.
  • Don’t forget utensils for cooking (ladles, paring knives) and grilling (tongs). Also things for eating and drinking (plastic utensils, plates, cups). I forgot the former but luckily remembered the latter just in the nick of time, or we would have been drinking stew out of a communal pot and eating off the picnic table!!! As it was, we were using the knife to stir the stew. #RookieMistake.
  • It was chillier than I expected — the breeze is cold, despite the glorious sunshine!
  • Two words: lighter fluid. Getting those coals going was not easy! We were lucky to have gracious neighbors who let us borrow their lighter fluid. And we were at least a little less savvy than a later group who came over to us asking to borrow our matches. Ha!
  • Once the table’s reserved, cars are organized, and things to bring are divvied up — the day itself is a breeze! You just walk down to the counter and buy some of the freshest, most delicious oysters you’ll ever eat. The organizing part was a little stressful, not gonna lie, but I feel much better prepped to plan this a second time and know what to bring. I definitely recommend this experience!
How to shuck an oyster

After a perfectly satiating–but not overly food coma-inducing–lunch, we drove over to Limantour Beach in Point Reyes to walk off some of the calories. Point Reyes is a beautiful area with lots of hike options just a short drive away from Tomales Bay.

Love that vista.
Walking the dunes
Enjoys long walks on the beach.
A great egret, I believe?