Dan and Hannah Hike the Tomales Point Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore

Scott and Tree's lighthouse at Point Arena

Scott and Tree’s lighthouse at Point Arena

Over the years, I’ve learned I don’t mess with Father Time or Mother Nature.  I now can add a third – El Nino.  Let me explain.   To celebrate the last days of our January fortnight in California, we plan to meet up with our friends Scott and Tree near Mendocino, CA, some 150 miles north of San Francisco.

Having slept and breakfasted well at the Quality Inn here in Petaluma, we are psyched for our drive north of 100+ miles on the Pacific Coast Highway this Martin Luther King, Jr. Monday morning.

Mendocino County

Mendocino County

Then I get a text from Scott with news that the Pacific Coast Highway, the main coastal artery north of San Francisco, has closed just south of their house due to flooding from the rains of El Nino.  What to do?  Go, delay, stay?  My first instinct is to drive north on the PCH right after breakfast, bluff hike just south of their place in Gualala, and hope the water recedes and the road opens.   We can certainly find a motel if the flooding persists.

tom flooded highway

Thirty minutes later, checking the road conditions online myself , I learn that now, to the north of Tree and
Scott, Route 128, a major access highway to the interior from the coast, is also closed due to flooding.  And with that water over the road our decision is made.

With heavy rain forecasted for tomorrow, it’s just possible that, though we may get to their house, we may get trapped there if the water levels rise again.  Needing to be in San Francisco Wednesday night for our Thursday 7A flight to Boston, we opt to stay put.


Bummed that we don’t get to hang with Scott and Tree, we look to the southwest for our hiking adventure for the day – Point Reyes National Seashore.  Just 23 miles from our motel, the Bear Valley Visitor Center has a ranger who suggests the Tomales Point Trail through the Tule Elk Preserve.

tom 1 sign to trail

With a 17 mile, 30 minute drive north on the Sir Francis Drake Highway, we end up at the Pierce Point Ranch.  Finding the trail hard packed dirt softened by last night’s rain, we easily circumvent the puddles and hike these rolling California hills.

High above the Pacific

High above the Pacific

High above the Pacific Ocean, we see the brilliant white of crashing waves.  The hillside is lush, rich green from the past two months of rain.  It must be what Ireland is like – green without end, overcast from dawn to dusk, and about to rain at any time.  With no desire to visit the Emerald Island, Hannah says, This is as close to Ireland as I need to be.


tom 3 h on trail above ocean

The trail, once an old farm lane, gently rises and falls throughout the hilly landscape.   And soon we see our first elk, males with a full rack.   Looking around and seeing not a tree anywhere, I wonder what we would do if they just decided they didn’t want to share their turf with us.  They have quite the home field advantage.

Tule Elk

Tule Elk

The reintroduction of the Tule Elk is a triumph for park officials.  Hunting during the Gold Rush of the 1850s nearly wiped out the elk.  Eventually protected and supported, 3700 roam the park today.

As it turns out, the elk just check us out and continue to dip down into the grass for lunch or take an afternoon siesta twenty yards from the trail.  The below video gives you an idea how close we are to these majestic animals.

The turn around grove in the distance

Our three mile turn around grove in the distance

Though the trail is 4.7 miles to the end, the National Park Service maintains only the first three miles.  Herds of elk from ten to thirty dot the landscape as we mellow ridge hike between the Pacific Ocean and Tomales Bay.

tom 6 d above ocean

Even at 2P, with sunset at 520P, families and couples keep coming.  It’s joyous on this holiday Monday; we ask others to take our picture and we offer to take theirs.   Nearly two and half hours later after seven miles of hiking, we return to the trailhead at the Pierce Point Ranch in light mist that has rain in its heart.

tom 7 mcclures beach sign

Before we head back to Petaluma for the night, we take the half mile trail to McClures Beach.  Though swimming is not allowed, the sandy beach welcomes families and us New Englanders today.  And then the first of two serendipitous encounters happens.  We meet the delightful world travelers Joan and PJ.

tom pj and joan

PJ and Joan six weeks later in Tucson as we cross paths once more

Learning of their adventures as snow birds in California, Arizona, and New Zealand, we in turn fill them in on our family and our plans to spend a month in California next winter.   I appreciate their interest, which is indeed quite rare on the trail.  Many hikers, it seems, just want to tell their story.  Since they are staying in Tucson for the winter and we are going to Tucson in six weeks, we plan to meet up.

The trail to McClures Beach

The trail to McClures Beach

Not two hundred feet later, I see a man hiking from the beach wearing a Cornell shirt (Cornell is in Ithaca, NY).  As he approaches, I lift my black Maine sweatshirt to reveal my white hiking Ithaca shirt.  Learning of his daughter at Cornell, we mention our son Will’s job at Ithaca College on the next hill there in central New York.  Again, we have an interaction of mutual interest with Craig.  A real conversation, not just a monologue that eventually just causes me to look for an escape route from the verbal onslaught.

McClures Beach

McClures Beach

With good vibes, Craig suggests the Matt Davis Trail at Mount Tamalpais State Park down the road in Stinson Beach.  In two weeks, I’ll report from that trail.

Though the elk are cool (and respectful of our space and we theirs), the back and forth with these three brightens the overcast and reminds us how it’s the good people that shine light on our days in California.

Dan Gets Out of the Wishing Business

Our recent trip to Angel’s Landing got me thinking about parenting.  One might think that taking our preteens to climb a trail with its last half mile hanging on to chains 1500’ above the valley floor was not the greatest example of parenting?  Then again, maybe it was?

MRW picture in pp room

Molly, Robyn, and Will circa 1987

In the past, I was a wisher.  I wished the best and more for our kids, Molly, Robyn, and Will.  Nothing wrong with that, right?

A positive high school experience.  Athletic success.  Meaningful, lasting friendships.  Satisfying jobs.  Excitement.  Adventures.  Enduring relationships.

But now I am out of the wishing business.  Done.  Gone fishing.

Now I am into observing their journey.  Seeing what lies ahead in their lives by the choices they make.  I’m excited to see how the universe unfolds for them based on their decisions.

From the sidelines, I’ll then support them.



Dan and Hannah Get the Weekend Off and Are Blown Away

The Big Bad Dude

The Big Bad Dude

Having successfully hiked each day for the last six along the coast of California while storminess threatened, we have indeed taken a scrumptious bite out of our Maine winter this January.   But our debt to El Nino is coming due.   He wants his pound of flesh and he wants it this weekend.  But he is not why we are blown away.

As we wake this Saturday morning, we meditate and then steal a morning walk through the neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, a town of 60,000 before the rains come.  Spanish for Holy Cross, Santa Cruz has its origins dating back to the 1800s and the Catholic Mission System.

From Santa Cruz to San Francisco

From Santa Cruz to San Francisco

After breakfast at our Comfort Inn here 70 miles south of San Francisco, we drive in light rain on route 17 out of town bracing for one of California’s triumvirate: wine tasting, earthquakes, and today traffic.  None yet, but within 20 minutes we are on I-280’s ten lanes of highway heading to the 19th Avenue stretch of San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Nov Golden GB

In fog, the Golden Gate Bridge is still majestic.  Really, we two country mice from Maine can hardly believe that we are tooling across one of the Seven Wonders of the World!  With 35 miles to our Quality Inn in Petaluma, CA, we have a date with the Chiefs of Kansas City who are coming to New England to play our beloved Patriots.

Nov Patriots

Today with a full complement of players, the Patriots score early and often and have the game in hand so we celebrate in the motel hot tub as light rain falls in Petaluma, the site of American Graffiti (1973).  After hiking the coast of California, our feet and knees appreciate the R and R.

Nov spiritual

The Sunday forecast is steady rain by noon, but we’ve had plans for weeks to attend the service at the Unity in Marin (Novato, CA) spiritual center.  Our “religion” comes from an eclectic mix of pretty regular attendance at Unity on the River 30 miles south of home in Amesbury, MA, reading the Daily Word and Unity Magazine, and living a life of gratitude, forgiveness, and love.  It’s further augmented by seeking out Unity services when we hit the road.

Today we travel 16 miles south from Petaluma, CA for the service at Unity in Marin.  Unity minister’s give “talks,” not sermons.  Today, Rev. Bill Englehart’s talk is entitled WTF…aith about having choices no matter the circumstances.  We each have the power to choose our response to life’s challenges.  Do we see ourselves as victims or do we choose another way.  Instead of asking why me?  Ask why not me?

Unity in Marin

Unity in Marin

And then he tells the story of his sister whose 18 year old son, Bill’s nephew, died in car accident when his teenage buddy crashed the car they were both in.  His sister’s son died immediately while the teenage friend driver wearing a seatbelt lived.

What would you do if you were Bill’s sister in her profound grief?  I’m guessing a past me would be crushed by the sorrow and immobilized.  But in time, I hope I’d follow his sister’s lead.

Nov forgiveness

What she did is call the young man to ask him if she could come over and would he be sure to have his parents there?

Once together, she forgave him.  She told him not to lose his life in regret.  She had a choice and she forgave him when he needed her most.  She had a choice and she chose not let the poison of not being able to forgive him ruin her life.  At the lowest low, she forgave him.

In my mind, I don’t think of Bill’s sister as a hero.  I believe the truly heroic are embarrassed by being put on such a pedestal for just doing the right thing.  For me, she is an inspiration and a reminder I have choices, even when they are not this dramatic.

Nov 3 Sign of bay trail

Duly inspired and with only mist in the area a little before 11A, Hannah and I find a neighborhood to walk in before the deluge.  Within minutes we are at the northern reaches of the San Francisco Bay (San Pablo Bay) at the Hamilton Wetlands Preserve.   As we walk on the gravelly trail that winds between the former air base and the bay for nearly three miles, the rain holds off for 70 minutes on this 59F midday.   This is held up as a “disappointing” day in California.  I’ll take such “disappointment.”

Bay Trail

Bay Trail

The pelting rain arrives by 1P and we return to the hot tub at our Quality Inn in Petaluma.  With rain splashing our faces and heads, we thank El Nino for one fine weekend, still blown away by Bill’s sister.

Mother and Son

Twenty-four years ago our son Will and Hannah had a moment, among many moments they’ve had.  It was the summer of his ninth year when we as a family were in the midst of six week cross country camping and hiking trip to the American West.

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing

Arriving at the Visitor Center at Zion National Park looking for a family hiking recommendation, we talked to a young ranger who immediately suggested Angel’s Landing.  What did we know?  We certainly didn’t know that hikers held on to chains on a mountainside 1500’ above the Virgin River Valley.

While our daughter Robyn had enough of the hike, completing 80% of it, Hannah, and I naively continued on along the mountainside with Molly and Will.  Soon our daughter Molly and I were in the lead while Hannah held back with Will.  Angel’s Landing is a daunting climb at any age, and certainly for an eight year old.

AL 3A chains behind us

At that time and in those circumstances, Will was cautious, similar to what I imagine his nephew Owen might be like.  But Will pressed on with Hannah at his side.

Stung by a cactus needle, Will now added pain to his trepidation.  Still Hannah hung with him, fully planning to sacrifice reaching the 25’x25’ perch of Angel’s Landing herself to be with him.  But those of you who know Hannah know that it would be no sacrifice for Hannah to miss the summit.  Her focus was Will and any choices of hers were made in love.

Hannah and Will Ithaca College

Eventually, together Will and Hannah joined Molly and me on that Zion promontory.  But today thinking back to that mountaintop in Utah, I believe Will felt it then and feels it often Hannah’s unspoken commitment to him and faith in him born from many such moments.

Dan and Hannah Hike at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California

bb husband day care center

Hannah and I make it six mornings in a row of meditating; then we are off for a forty minute walk through the neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, California before breakfast at our Comfort Inn.  Along Water Street, I snap this picture from Callahan’s Bar.

bb map of bbrsp

Just 23 miles north of Santa Cruz lies the largest stand of redwoods in America at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Boulder Creek.  Who knew?  Taking Route 17 north to Route 9 before turning on the winding Big Basin Way to the park entrance, we arrive ¾ of an hour later.  Redwoods have lined our drive for much of the way so that very little sun gets to the pavement below.  Hannah is leery of ever living in such a setting.   That said, if our grandsons Owen and Max lived here in Boulder Creek, we’d find a way.

bb 2A h by a big redwood

Paying $9 for seniors to enter the park, we gladly pay California State Parks for their stewardship of these hiking redwoods.  We also have learned previously that the fine for not paying for parking at a state park is $71!  Got to get people’s attention with a big number.

Our loop trail

Our loop trail

After telling the ranger we’d like to hike for 2 ½ to 3 hours, she gives us a park trail map and suggests the Skyline to the Sea Trail with its 700’ of elevation gain through some of the largest red groves in the park.  On a Martin Luther King, Jr. Friday, we have larceny in our hearts.  You see, we are stealing a blue sky hiking day, with El Nino just off shore promising an entire washout weekend of rain and high winds.

On the Skline to Sea Trail (check out the "gloves"

On the Skline to the Sea Trail (check out the “gloves”

Having climbed nearly 1000’ from Santa Cruz, we are greeted by 47F here at the park.  Thinking it would be warmer for the hike, Hannah forgets her hiking gloves.   Ever her Lancelot, I offer my wool blend socks (still unused and clean I might add) for her hands.  Look carefully at the pictures in this blog and you will see a fine pair of grey/blue socks on her hands.

bb 1A towering redwood

The Skyline to the Sea Trail goes from the Pacific Ocean well into the mountains.   We pick it up near the Ranger Station heading inland along Opal Creek.  The ranger tells us that this river bed has been dry for the last few years.   Though coast redwoods can be 300’ tall and 50’ around, they have no taproot.  They rely on a network of far reaching roots six feet beneath the surface for nourishment and sustenance.

A bomber among the redwoods

A bomber among the redwoods

Wet and sloppy in places from rain over the last week, the trail is hard packed dirt which makes it easy on our feet for what is scheduled to be a six mile hike.  The redwoods are “stunning” to quote my college roommate, Big Steve.  We can’t see the tops and I find it difficult to capture their majesty on my iPhone.  But I’ll try.

On Meteor Trail

On Meteor Trail

Paralleling the creek we rise and fall along the trail with only a slight rise in elevation.  Soon we leave the Skyline to the Sea Trail for the Meteor Trail heading to the Middle Ridge Fire Road.  With redwoods to our right, left, and center we begin the climb to nearly 1700’ at the Ocean View summit.

Meteor Trail

Meteor Trail


Once the Meteor Trail meets the Middle Ridge Road we have a 16′ wide fire road down the mountain.  The summit at Ocean View offers more views of trees and mountains but no ocean today.  Maybe the sea haze keeps us from seeing the Pacific.

bb 4E h on trail

Hannah and I are no fans of fire roads through the forest.  They lack the undulations of terrain and the winding trails of surprise through the forest.   With a mile of blah, we soon turn for the Dool Trail and the trailhead at the Ranger Station, looking for someone to take our picture in front of some sweet redwoods.

bb 4C more redwoods

Given the chance to add another mile to the six we have planned, we take the serpentine Creeping Forest Trail.  For the first 90 minutes today, we have seen no one else on the trail.  Hoping to find someone who will take our picture, we let two college girls pass us by since there isn’t the right redwood for this photo opp.


Minutes later we meet up with Christine and her son Jared out for a hike.  Both immediately beam and agree to take our picture.  Just finishing college, Jared says that we’ve got to find the right redwood.  I love his spirit.  And then he and his mom both say there’s a great stand of redwoods that they have just passed.  Immediately we all back track and they lead us maybe 300 yards to get the right picture.

bb 6C d and h redwood 3

Soon we are in a grove of old growth redwoods and Jared jumps into action, suggesting many shots against the redwood, and then fifteen more with the afternoon sun streaming through the trees.

Amazing how energizing it is meeting upbeat and engaging folks.  No longer tired from seven miles of hiking, we smile to each other knowing how lucky we all are to have the redwoods to ourselves when rain and more rain will fall from Big Bad El Nino this weekend.

bb 6E d at redwood on cf trail

Having had six days in a row along the California coast from the Goleta bluffs near Santa Barbara to Big Sur’s mountains, we now cede the weekend to El Hombre and his minions.

Tomorrow, we’ll drive north through San Francisco to Petaluma to spend the afternoon watching Tom Brady and America’s Team, the New England Patriots, rip the heart out of the Kansas City Chiefs from the, what else, Heartland of America.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Pfeiffer Falls in Big Sur, California

PFB big sur map 2

Leaving the bluff trail of William R. Hearst State Park near San Simeon, CA on this Thursday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend, we turn north on the the Pacific Coast Highway (California 1) thrill ride for Big Sur country.  Though Big Sur is also a small hamlet 20 miles south of Carmel, Big Sur typically refers to the area north of Cambria along the coast to Monterrey in all its roller coaster glory.

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Taking the wheel to plunge and climb along the Pacific Coast Highway, I appreciate that we are on the inside lane nearest to the mountain itself, farthest from the nearly vertical cliffs to the ocean below.  Normally Hannah sleeps when I drive, but not today.  With stretches of hairpin turns, I putter along at 20 mph as if I’m 68 years old.  To quote Popeye, I yam what I yam.  Driving over the 65 miles to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in the next two hours, three times we will stop dead, waiting for the south bound traffic to pass when only one lane is open.

Coast redwoods

Coast redwoods

Now a veteran of driving this stretch with experiences over the last two years, I no longer find the drive stressful or anxiety producing.  What I would say is that the drive demands my full attention.  On some of the steep slopes to our right, there are heavy metal nets to corral falling rocks.  A few times I pass over a sharply angled rock, something I never would have seen if I were driving at night;  clearly the rock would have blown a tire.

PFB 1 PBS sign

Driving through sloping-to-the-ocean forests and pasture land, we pass the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (see the California category to the left of the blog for hikes there) on our way through the tiny burg of Big Sur.  Pulling into Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, we pony up $9 for senior admission and $2 for a trail map, ready for a hiking adventure at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

From the parking lot to the Valley Vista Trail

From the parking lot to the Valley Vista Trail

Asking the ranger for the signature hike at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, she tells us of Pfeiffer Falls, a popular two mile round trip trail.  After the intense driving of the Pacific Coast Highway for the last two hours, this short, mellow hike sounds perfect.

PFB 1A deer on river path

Taking the river path through the shaded forest, we spot three deer within ten feet, nonchalantly eating their fill of green leaves and grass.  They aren’t bothered by us in the least.

Valley Vista Trail to the Pfeiffer Falls

Valley Vista Trail to the Pfeiffer Falls

The trail gently climbs into the foothills above the Big Sur Lodge.  Hiking on hard packed dirt and inconsequential rocks beneath our feet on the Valley View Trail, we have redwoods to our right and left.   The coast redwoods have survived since the time of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble (i.e., the Mesozoic era of dinosaurs).

PFB 5A redwoods again

Due to climate change, coast redwoods are now only found within thirty miles of the shoreline, from the Oregon border 500 miles south to Big Sur.  Conducive to redwoods flourishing, weather in Big Sur Country is cool and moist year round with an annual rainfall of 30-50,” almost all of it falling from October to April.

Mom takes our picture on the Valley Vista Trail

Mom takes our picture on the Valley Vista Trail

As we approach Pfeiffer Falls we see a young mother and father with their seven month old son pressed against dad’s chest in a Baby Bjorn.  Once we speak up and ask if they would do us a favor to take our picture (and it is clear we are not axe murderers), mom relaxes (possibly a mother bear reflex) and smiles; she goes from leery to attractive.  Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.” Thich Nhat Hanh.

Nearly a mile in, the Valley View Trail veers right and we take the switchbacks down to the base of the Pfeiffer Falls.  Hoping someone is there to take our waterfalls picture, we come upon two guys who we learn are from Denmark.

We find that travelers from other countries often pass us without making eye contact, unsure of their English; or once we do get in conversation, they apologize for their “poor” English.  In this case, the Danes apologize and we respond by noticing that their English is most understandable and note how few of us Americans speak a second language.

PFB 4B H at trail sign

With only 30 minutes of hiking in the books, we opt for a side trail, the Valley View Vista Point, a half mile from the base of the falls.  On the way we meet the Danes again.  One tells us that Americans actively engage them regularly in conversation on the trail, something that is less likely to happen across the Pond.

From the Valley View Vista Point

From the Valley View Vista Point

The view up the Valley to the Ocean shows the green that has come with this year’s El Nino.  A lot more rain needs to fall to end this five year drought.  At some point in the not too distant future, will water replace oil as what wars are fought over?

PFB 5 redwoods

Still a two hours away from our overnight in Santa Cruz beyond Carmel and Monterrey, we drive along the steep ledges of the Pacific Coast Highway amusement park.  Hardly a burden, for my goodness, we are in California!