Dan and Hannah Hike Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, California – March 2011 Archives

Author’s note. I take you back to spring break 2011. I would retire from my position as a prof in the Department of Education at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine two months later. Hannah and I flew into SFO (San Francisco Int’l Airport) to hike the national parks/monuments of the area. Though one now needs reservations to visit Muir Woods, back then we found a parking spot and had the run of the park.

Escaping the city limits of San Francisco by way of the Golden Gate Bridge, Hannah and I take to the four-lane California 101, then exit onto the winding two-lane Pacific Coast Highway with its tight hairpin turns and no shoulders.  

Enter the Redwood Grove

Arriving at the Visitor Center at Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, CA, we take the ranger-recommended hike up Redwood Creek along the Bootjack Trail.  

Redwood Creek among the redwoods of coastal California

Immediately, we are in the midst of the tallest living things on the face of the earth, 250-foot plus redwood trees.  Redwoods!  Oh, they are majestic, certainly magnificent, indeed breathtaking, regal is no overstatement.  You might be thinking, enough already with the inflated adjectives.  Well, my impatient readers, please think again.  As my college roommate Big Steve would say, these trees are stunning.  Feeling like Jack looking for the top of the Beanstalk, we crane our necks skyward unable to see the tops of the redwood canopy.

The redwoods along the boardwalk at Muir Woods National Monument

Absurdly stunning

Through this forest of clustered redwood families is a blacktop or a wooden boardwalk trail, maybe 12-15 feet wide.  Among tourists in sandals and street shoes, we warm up for our hike in this lush rainforest where thick, hairy moss hangs from every branch.  We are within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean. Ferns abound on either side of the boardwalk with the snow fed rushing waters of the Redwood Creek, just an arm’s length away.  With the wet winters and fog off the ocean throughout the rest of the year, this climate is perfect for redwoods.

Redwood Creek

After a mile of humanity, we step straight ahead on the aforementioned Bootjack Trail, which is muddy and sloppy from last night’s drenching rain.  Hiking boots are a must with the trail rocky and crossed by roots as it ascends into the Pacific coastal mountains.  The roaring creek makes it difficult to talk; for the next hour we see no one on the trail to break up the hike or possibly make a brief connection with a kindred spirit.   Arriving an hour or so later at the Van Wyck Meadow, we lunch while sitting on a rock in the sunshine.  

Bootjack Trail

Our lunch time rock at the Van Wyck Meadow

Turning left we hit the Tamalpais Conservation Club Trail for the home stretch which, rather than climbing the canyon wall, cuts into the canyon hundreds of feet above the thundering creek with little elevation change.  Using hands and feet, we do grope through a 12-foot section of the trail washed out by last night’s downpour.   

Though the park information lists this loop hike as plus or minus four hours, we do it under three hours with 15 minutes for lunch.  Fact is, we primarily hike for exercise.   We cruise pretty well and smell fewer roses.  It’s just in our DNA, but it’s one heckuva good workout. 

Oh, there’s one final joy – cell phones don’t work in Muir Woods.  We tried.

Dan and Hannah Hike Pelican Bluffs in Point Area, California

Carpinteria Morning

It can’t be a surprise to the regular readers of this blog that Hannah and I come to California in the winter to be active in the great warm outdoors.  Mornings before breakfast, we walk the beach or bluffs in Carpinteria.  Then it’s often a hike or pickleballing.  After Dan’s nap and Hannah’s post card writing in the sun, we then have a late afternoon bike ride on our one-speed cruisers through the coastal village of Carpinteria. 

Sea Ranch, 150 miles north of San Francisco

Taking advantage of every minute we are in California and not in the cold of winter on the coast of Maine, we plan a road trip 500 miles north of Carpinteria to Gualala to visit our friends, Tree and Scott.  There, too, we will keep up our uber-activeness by walking their neighborhood before breakfast, hiking mid-day at Sea Ranch, and take in the Pelican Bluffs for our late afternoon hike along the Pacific.

Just four miles north of their home in Gualala, the trailhead is smack dab on The 101 north (truly a country road at this point in the lightly populated Mendocino County) to hike its spectacular bluffs. 

The 73-acre preserve is home to the endangered Point Arena Mountain Beaver as well as to a creek that is recovering from tons of crapola from cattle grazing.  Click here for a two-minute video of the park.

With a parking lot for ten, we meet up with Cliff, a neighbor of Scott and Tree’s, who gives us the low down on the two-and-a-half mile hike.  We have choices for a shorter or longer hike.  See the map below. No surprise, we choose longer.

We choose to go straight from the trailhead to the ocean and then turn south.

Cliff makes me wonder why people move to this remote area.  The nearest big city is nearly three hours away. Santa Rosa and Ukiah are two hours for a Target and Costco.  It makes sense that folks want to get away from the congestion and hectic-ness of the cities.  They do have a chance to become an important member of a small community.  It never snows here.  There is outdoor beauty that is a 10 of 10. 

Alas for us, it is Carole King “So far away.”   With family in New England, we will spring, summer, and fall in York, Maine where we have lived for the past 40 years.

From the trailhead through the coastal forest to the fields above the bluffs
Before arriving at the bluffs, we traverse the coastal fields
Ever see a monk from St Joe’s (Maine)? Now you have.

We leave the forest of redwoods and Bishop pines for the fields before we arrive at the bluff trail.

Along the Pelican Trail

Doubling back we take the field trail which is 0.9 of a mile to the trailhead.

Sunset hikes are just the best for picture taking

With the weather unseasonably warm, we could be in southern California. Our Strava app has the final word(s).

Dan and Hannah Meet the KGUA Superstars, Then Hike the Bluff Trail at Sea Ranch, California

Hannah and I have four big draws in Gualala that make us want to drive 500 miles from Carpinteria to this village 150 miles north of San Francisco.  First is Scott and Tree, our friends from York; they knock themselves out to make our time together filled with breakfasts out, hiking, and time to chill each evening.

Staff Photo by Herb Swanson, Sun, Oct 28, 2001: Scott and Tree (Theresa) Mercer run near their home in Cape Neddick Sunday. The couple will run the New York City marathon to raise money for the Firefighters World Trade Center Fund. Theresa’s cousin, John Crisci, was a member of squad 288 died in the WTC attacks.

The other two draws to the area are Mark and Peggy of KGUA radio in Gualala.  Peggy built a public service radio station from the ground up and was open to Mark’s idea to create a regular weekly segment for KGUA writers.  That decision has fueled my creative instincts since the spring of 2020 when Covid shut down my world.

Hannah with Tree at the KGUA studios
Peggy and Mark in their KGUA studio

Over lunch at the KGUA studios, Hannah and I meet our inspirations.  By the way, did you know that Hannah is also a KGUA writer?  While I submit my KGUA free write by a voice memo and later publish it in my blog on Mondays, Hannah has our daughter Molly, with the occasional pinch-hitting by her brother Will, to read her free write onto a voice memo, then send it on to Mark.

Mark, Dan, Hannah, and Peggy at the KGUA studios

Peggy and Mark are as gracious and welcoming as I had imagined. KGUA is a public station which airs news, science, politics, and music. It is a project of the Native Media Resource Center whose mission is to produce educational materials about Native American and Indigenous communities in order to promote harmony and cross-cultural understanding.

After lunch, Hannah and I drive a simple mile south on The 101 from Mendocino County into northern Sonoma County to the Gualala Point Regional Park. There we have access to the bluff trail of the exclusive (and by that I mean uber-pricey) Sea Ranch.

As a community developed in the 1960s as a getaway for city-bound Californians, Sea Ranch, of late, has been a refuge for upscale IT folks who can work remotely. The community includes swimming pools, tennis courts, and, yes, pickleball courts.

On an unseasonably warm (mid-60s) early February afternoon on the northern California coast, Hannah hike four plus miles round trip high above the Pacific Ocean.  Let my pictures take you there.

The bluffs of Sea Ranch
An example of one of the 2000 Sea Ranch domiciles; this one along the bluff trail
The bluffs above the rocky northern California coast
Sea Ranch houses along the bluff trail
Crashing waves
The afternoon sun

Thoroughly satisfied, Hannah and I return to our “Tree and Scott B&B” to rest up and chill with Wordle, the five-letter word game recently bought by the New York Times for $2 million.  Playing Wordle daily, we love the challenge and that the game is not a time suck.  There is only one word game per day.  Try Wordle here and be a part of the Hannah and Dan daily word challenge community.

Dan and Hannah Hike Fern Canyon near Mendocino, California

North of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway north of Bodega Bay is a cliff hanging, side-of-the-mountain-hugging serpentine thrill ride.  That said, it’s a grind for the driver who can’t take in the breathtaking views as the 72 miles takes nearly two hours.  There’s 15-mph hairpins when the coves meet the mountain canyons. All of this at the end of our 500-mile, twelve hour day from Carpinteria.

Arriving at the home of Tree and Scott, friends from York who have relocated to Gualala on the north coast of California, we have a couple who know how to do happy hour right.  By that I mean Dan and Hannah right with free flowing wine, crackers, and chips and salsa.

Scott, Hannah, and Tree at the primo Rollerville Cafe in Point Arena

The following morning Tree and Scott take us to their favorite local breakfast place, the Rollerville Café in Point Arena just north of their home in Gualala.  The Rollerville delivers!  It’s signature Monkey Omelet with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, avocado, cheese, and sour cream along with hash browns and an amazing grilled biscuit will make a grown man cry, or at least blubber in appreciation. 

St Joe’s College (Maine) comes to California with our friend Tree

Pleasingly fueled, Hannah and I are joined by our lady of the house, Tree, (short for Theresa) for our hike up the Fern Canyon Trail in Van Damme State Park just south of Mendocino.  Seven years ago when we were last here, Hannah and I hiked this very trail of towering redwoods along a rain forest trail paralleling the Fern Canyon Creek.  Today we can do it with new eyes and with our friend Tree.

The trail begins. Notice something by Hannah’s right hiking shoe?
California’s own banana slug. We named it Hannah. Yes, the slug is Hannah Banana!

We have the trail to ourselves as February is the off-season for northern California coastal tourism; the campgrounds are closed and just us retired folks are in the area. 

The trail gets very little sunlight, hence moss reigns on river rocks, shaded trees, and fallen logs.

The canyon is shaded most of the day with 100’ second growth redwoods keeping the area damp with a hint of rain forest.  The trail along the creek rises gently as the moss covers the river rocks and the shade keeps us in pants and light jackets. 

Ten bridges cross the creek as we hike the two and half miles inland with a easy elevation gain.  Let us take you through the redwoods with pictures.

Hannah and Tree lead the way
Redwood glory!
The trail hugs the creek for two miles. Gurgling water is our companion.
The majesty of the redwoods
A cool day in early February 2022
I’m slacking with these two energetic women in the lead
Tree and Hannah

On the 45 minute ride back to Gualala, we pass the Sacred Rocks on the California coast

Sacred Rocks

Dan and Hannah Come to Sausalito just over the Golden Gate Bridge

Hannah and I are heading north from Carpinteria on our first road trip in years. It’s a 500-mile challenge from south to northern California. Sleeping restlessly, we awake early at 415A and figure What the hell? Let’s just get up and go.

Tooling north on The 101 along the Gaviota coast, we soon pass through San Luis Obispo, then on to John Steinbeck country in Salinas.  There, we partake in a Dan and Hannah travel tradition of getting McDonald’s $1 medium coffee to sip with our monster muffins from the Win-Co grocery store in Ventura.

Approaching where Tony Bennett left his heart! If under 60, consider googling him.

Soon we have a decision to make on how to deal with traveling through the Bay Area.  The GPS says go east young man, go east on I-880 through Oakland avoiding the city streets of San Francisco.  Or we could just deal with the San Francisco city traffic and go over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County.

Our buddy Scott says in so many words, Are you crazy!  Go over the GGB.  Our pickleball friend Bill agrees, letting us know that I-880 is the nasty truck route through the bay area. 

The wise choice going over the Golden Gate Bridge
The GGB heading north to Marin County

What clinches the deal is that we can lunch harborside in Sausalito if we go by way of the GGB.

Though 19th Avenue in San Francisco has stop light after stop light, Hannah and I deal with it as we inch our way to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Once there, we sail through as the one-way tolls are collected electronically going south.  Just after noon, we take the Sausalito exit having covered 350 miles of the 500 we will travel to be with our friends, Tree and Scott, in Gualala on the northern California coast. For now, it’s time to chill in Sausalito.

The boardwalk along the marina in Sausalito
Tyho, Tyho, it’s off to work (not) we go!

It’s an early February Tuesday with few tourists and we find it easy enough to avoid the $3 per hour metered parking along Bridgeway Street, which parallels the harbor. We find a sweet spot on a side street. 

The concrete sea wall walkway to the Sausalito sea lion
Sausalito’s harbor sea lion

Wondering how we are going to get our 10,000 steps on a 500-mile travel day, Hannah and I immediately lace up our hiking shoes to walk the boardwalk by the marina and then onto the crumbling 19th century concrete walkway at the harbor’s edge to the Sausalito sea lion. 

Returning to the harborside Dunphy Park, we have a picnic table for our feast of Subway subs (tuna for me, Black Forest Ham for Hannah), barbecue chips, and a fine IPA over ice.  We have Belvedere in Marin County across the bay with Tiburon behind the coastal mountain.

After seven hours in the car, our two hours walking and lunching in Sausalito refuels us for the challenge of the cliffhanging, serpentine Pacific Coast Highway we have ahead to Gualala. In addition to being the home of Tree and Scott, Gualala is the home to KGUA radio, which has been my writing lifeline since the spring of 2020 when Covid brought us all to our knees.

We are ready for the PCH.  And yes, we got our 10K steps on this travel day!

Dan Goes 0 for 10, Then Hits Gold (Well $20!)

There is no way to sugar coat it.  0 for 10 is pretty bad.   Let me explain.

20 larry stewart

Inspired by Larry Stewart, I had a plan for my 70th Birthday Road Trip to California National Parks to give $20 away every day.  Larry made a purposeful life by giving small amounts of cash away on a regular basis.  It all began in a diner when Larry, down on his luck, was given a free meal.  Years later in 1979, he saw a carhop, in need, and gave her a $20 tip when 50 cents was a big deal.  Click here for his full story.

Alas, Dan is not Larry, and that’s a good thing.  Dan is Dan and Larry was Larry (He died at the age 58 in 2007).  But Dan has his moments.  On this road trip, I just haven’t made giving $20 away a frontal lobe priority; I got caught up in our traveling, driving, hiking, pickleballing, new towns, and new people.  Blah, blah, blah.  What I now realize is that I needed to create a “to do” list each day with giving $20 away in bold letters.  But it’s a vacation; who makes out a “to-do” list on their vacation?

20 subway

On our third night in Three Rivers, California at the gateway to Sequoia National Park, Hannah and I did something cool.  After hiking to the Marble Falls (Click here for the link to that hiking blog.), we chatted up Patty, the manager at the Subway in Three Rivers late in the afternoon.  Her story touched us, including her upcoming marriage to the love of her life.  Once home, we sent her some wedding dollars.  That’s certainly a positive, but that was not technically part of my plan.  Ten days into our road trip, I still had not given one single Jackson away.

20 fortuna barn

Hannah in red playing pickleball at the roller skating rink in Fortuna, California

Waking in Eureka and then morning pickleballing in Fortuna, CA, 20 miles to the south, on our last full day in California, Hannah and I head south on The 101 towards the Good Nite Inn in Rohnert Park, just five miles south of Santa Rosa, California.  The same Santa Rosa that ten days later was devastated by wild fires wiping out whole communities and killing some 250 people.

20 mendocino map

Eureka is to the north in Humboldt County and Santa Rosa is to the south in Sonoma County


As Hannah drives south on this section of The 101, often referred to as the Redwood Highway, from Humboldt County through Mendocino County, we make a pitstop in Laytonville.

As Hannah pulls our rented Hyundai Accent into a shaded parking spot, she doesn’t see a man with dirty-blond, shoulder length hair sitting on the curb, cooling his jets on this 93F late September Wednesday.

Seated on the passenger side, I clearly see the man with a sweatshirt that says Bamboozled, a week’s growth of beard, ragged jeans, and perhaps his worldly possessions in a bag to his side; all the time with a dog as sidekick.

Opening my passenger side door, I say, Sorry for getting so close.  He smiles disarmingly and nods that’s not a problem.

Once in the Chevron Quick Mart, I realize that I can raise my .000 batting average of giving to .091 with a little timely generosity.

20 $20

Grabbing a $20 bill from my wallet, I return to the car before Hannah does, wondering what to say to the man, maybe my age, to maintain his dignity.

Inspired at the last minute, I walk over to him and say, Could you find a good use for $20?

He said he could, smiled, and the moment was over that quickly.  Soon, Hannah returns and we are heading south on The 101 towards our overnight just north of San Francisco.

20 wayne dyer 1

Hitting a robust .091, I am not in line for the Hall of Fame of Giving.   But I’ll give the final word to a man who likely is – Wayne Dyer.  Click here for his full four-paragraph blog on giving.  (Thank you Mitch Sakofs for reintroducing him into my life back in 2002).

Reduce what’s in excess in your life and then offer it where it can be utilized.  Begin with your stuff: clothing, furniture, tools, equipment, radios, cameras, or anything that you have too much of.  Don’t sell it; rather, give it away (if you can afford to).  Don’t ask for recognition for charitable acts—simply behave in harmony with the Tao by reducing your surplus.

Look for opportunities to fill the empty spaces in other people’s lives with money; things; or loving energy in the form of kindness, compassion, joy, and forgiveness. 


Dan and Hannah Hit the Pickleball Hotspots in Northern California

HC 1A group picture

Reno Pickleballers

Though hiking five National Parks (Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite, Lassen, and Redwood) in California is a dream quintet, Hannah and I do love us some pickleball, too.  A week into our national parks road trip for my 70th birthday (in December 2017), we found quality pickleball in Reno, Nevada, a town that was not even on our original schedule.

After a weekend in northern California hiking at Lassen Volcanic and Redwood National Parks, we are ready for a day off from the trail; pickleball to the rescue.  Fact is, we are fried.  After nine hikes in seven days in the Sierras, we need this Monday for chilling; and pickleball is our chilling of choice.

PB map 3

Lassen is 60 miles east of Redding and Redwoods are 40 miles north of Eureka

Turns out this day in Eureka, we scored an $89 promotional rate room to the classy Clarion Hotel by Humboldt Bay.  Treated like royalty, we find the breakfast elite.  Sit yourself down and prepare to have your mouth watered.  For the first time on a road trip, there are flaky biscuits, and gravy for Hannah.  Add freshly-made oatmeal in a cauldron as well as eggs that are not left on an island, but are accompanied by crispy home fries and crispier bacon.  Heaven at Seven (AM that is!)

PB Arcata five

Arcata Pickleball

Our day away from the trail begins with morning pickleball at the Community Center in Arcata, minutes from the Pacific Ocean.  Ambassador Jan organizes a few drills; since there are only eight of us, we play non-stop for more than two hours.  Two other visitors, Rick and Eric, raise the level of competition and quality pickleball is had by one and all.

PB HSU sign

HSU has an on campus redwood trail that we hiked!

A day of chilling is followed by an afternoon walk through the campus of Humboldt State University in the aforementioned Arcata.  I do have one plea for HSU.  Both the men’s and women’s athletic teams are called Lumberjacks!  WTF!   Humboldt State could learn a thing or two from Northern Arizona University, where the men’s teams are the Lumberjacks and the women’s teams are the Lumberjills!

With temperatures going to the low 90s three hours to the south in Santa Rosa (an hour north of SF) this week, Hannah and I decide to spend an extra night in Eureka (Its summer temps are often in the 60s, winter in the 50s.)  And yes, that is the same Santa Rosa that ten days later was devastated by wild fires.

So pickleball in Eureka it is.  We know the gold standard of ambassadors in Laurie Lee of the Yonah Pickleball Club in northern Georgia and Roger Huppe in Springvale, Maine.  Well, my communication with the Humboldt Bay Pickleball ambassador Colleen Foster has been nothing short of supportive and attentive.  Her prompt and detailed emails kept us informed of the play in Eureka as well as play in the nearby towns of Arcata, McKinleyville, and Fortuna.

Eureka PB H serving

Hannah ready to serve at the Adorni Rec Center in Eureka

After two games with Hannah and two women on the Eureka courts, I step aside and wait to play with the guys on the last court, who look tough.  They slam, they bang, and they dink (soft shots strategically placed just over the net) at a high level; I’m pushing it to play with them, but I think, what the hey.

Watching from the sidelines for a while, I see they are going to switch partners and continue playing as a foursome.  Having more confidence than I ever did in high school, I approach them and ask to play.  They welcome me in, as Luis, a thirty something, gives me his spot; I play with Javier against two accomplished 4.0/4.5 rated players.

PB ratings

In pickleball, beginners are rated 1.0 to 2.0.  3.0’s play more consistently and are beginning to learn that pickleball is more than just slamming the ball as hard as possible.  3.5’s play the finesse game.  I think of myself as a 3.5 who, when on fire, approaches 4.0.  4.5’s and 5.0’s have it all.  I’d have to practice eight days a week to even sniff those ratings; call me soft, but I am just not motivated to reach that rung.  Being a three-days-a-week recreational pickleball player is just my cup of tea.

Playing with Javier, I see that our opponents have all the shots.  I can play with these guys but for the first time in a long time it is clear that Javier and our opponents are stronger players than I am.

For a little background, when I play on the road, I am often one of the strongest players, and, on occasion, the best one on the court.  At our home court in Saco on the coast of Maine, I am not Norm, the top player, but I hold my own.

PB humble pie

Dan has seconds

Today is different as I am on the “competitive” court and these guys make me pay by smashing any shot of mine that was just a little too high above the net.  I play four games with different high-quality players and never win once.  There’s no denying it, I am the weak link.  Once when my partner and I are up 10-7 in a game to eleven, our opponents talk strategy at the baseline, then drill me with their slams.  It works; they win 12-10.  Make mine a slice of humble pie!

Today, I take the long view and am so appreciative of the chance to sharpen my skills with these excellent players.

Eureka PB gang 1
Rockin’ Eureka Pickleballers

And it all began because of Pickleball Ambassador, Colleen Foster, who made Hannah and me feel that we had a home away from home on the Pacific Coast in Eureka, California.

Thank you, Colleen.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Matt Davis Trail at Mount Tamalpais

Serendipity.  We were supposed to be 175 miles north of San Francisco today hanging out with our friends Tree and Scott, but El Nino flooded the Pacific Coast Highway blocking our way north two days ago.  Since most of life is Plan B anyway, we instead hiked at Point Reyes National Seashore two days ago where we met Craig.

tam stinson beach map

Telling us of a shuttle that takes hikers from Stinson Beach up the Panoramic Highway to the Matt Davis Trail, he mentioned climbing through the forest of waterfalls at Mount Tamalpais State Park.  We are all in!tam 2a d closer up at waterfall

Leaving Petaluma today, CA, we head south on the Pacific Coast Highway to the lagoon by Stinson Beach.  About a 35-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, Stinson Beach is below the Muir Woods National Monument and Mount Tam.

Stinson Beach, like Point Reyes Station, its sister town fifteen miles to the north on Route One, has a tiny downtown catering to all those wanting to escape suburban Marin County and urban San Francisco.  Never finding the Shuttle that Craig spoke of, we instead drive up the switchbacks of Mount Tam looking to find the Matt Davis Trail or any trail to hike before we head to San Francisco for the night.

tam 1c parking signs

Arriving at the Pantoll Ranger Station Park Headquarters, lo and behold we see a sign for the Matt Davis Trail across from the parking lot.  Though there is no ranger on duty, we self-register and pay the $7 for seniors for parking.  Having been told by rangers that the fine for not purchasing the parking pass is $71, we see a sign here suggesting it might be even more.

tam mt tam map

Looking at the trail map, surprisingly we see that most of the hiking we did in previous years at the Muir Woods National Monument was, in fact, here in the Mount Tamalpais State Park.  Pronounced tam-al-pie-us, Tamalpais roughly translates to “bay mountain.”

tam 1A h at md trail sign

Across the Panoramic Highway, we take stone steps leading to the Matt Davis Trail.  Rather than taking the Matt Davis all the way down the mountain to Stinson Beach, we opt to take it 1.7 miles to the Bolinas Ridge Trail, a part of the Pacific Coastal Trail.

Matt Davis Trail

Matt Davis Trail

Immediately, we enter the forest of oaks hiking on packed moist dirt softened by the rain of the previous week.  Water pools on the trail, but nothing that we can’t easily step around them.  Within minutes we are calling this our favorite trail of the ten we’ve hiked this January 2016 in California.  We are known to jump to conclusions, but this conclusion was right on.

tam 3c h at waterfall

Winding by mossy logs and trees to one waterfall after another, we have mountain streams crossing the trail where stones have been placed by trail makers to let us step easily across.

tam 4 h on bolinas ridge trail

Every so often we come out into a field of grass above and below us on the mountainside that would cause Julie Andrews of the Sound of Music to break out in song how the hills are alive.   Though the trails in the forest are not steep, these hillsides have grassy meadows that would have us sliding hundreds of feet if we misstep.  It never feels dangerous, but I think it will be a few years before we take our grandsons Owen and Max on this hike.

tam 4f h on hillside

Forty minutes into our hike we take the Bolinas Ridge Trail along the mountainside while the Matt Davis Trail descends to the ocean below.  The exposed trail remains easy on the feet with hard packed dirt now dried by the sun.  Below, the fog shrouds the bay and works its way up the mountain to us.

tam 5 h with wrecked car

Hiking above the Pacific, we come across a rusted, overturned truck blocking the trail.  Looking up the mountain some 100 yards above us on, we see a car driving on to the Fire Lookout at the top of the mountain.  Having driven four miles on the Panoramic Highway to the Matt Davis Trailhead ourselves, we know that the shoulders of the mountain roads are often non-existent.  Putting two and two together, we can gather what might have happened to the wreck on our trail.

tam 4b d on bolinas

Comfortable in a tee shirt on this mid-January day, we have a mellow ridge vibe for what will be eight miles of hiking.  The video below shows part of the Matt Davis Trail as we approach one of the many waterfalls.

tam mt tam map

Three hours later we return to the trailhead to desock and deboot and head for the airport.  Still deep in the Mount Tamalpais State Park, we have ten miles of switchbacks on the Panoramic Highway before we hit Route 101, the main artery to San Francisco.  At the top of the mountain we approach a seasoned cyclist going 30 miles an hour in descent.   With no shoulder for him to move over to, we follow him for three miles down the hill; thirty mph is plenty fast enough on this road for cars and bikes alike going down these hairpin turns.

Rather than take the redeye home tonight to Boston, we opt for a night at Quality Inn at the San Francisco International Airport to toast our fortnight on the trail.  Red-eying flights turn me into Zombie Dan.  Sleeping on planes, that’s for the gifted like Hannah, not for the poor sleepers among us.

Though we rise at 4A for our 7A flight to Logan International Airport, that is all a small sacrifice in exchange for living our California Dreamin’ adventure on the trails of the Pacific.

Dan and Hannah Hike in Van Damme State Park on the Mendocino coast, California


We wake to our first cloudy day of fifteen that we’ve been here in sunny California. Our neighbors on Chases Pond Road are waking to a storm that began overnight and will ravage New England for the next 24 hours. Parts of Seacoast Maine are under siege with blizzard snows of 30 inches. For us, twelve inches of snow is a big storm. In the 33 years that we’ve lived on the coast of southern Maine, we’ve never had such snow.

Nolan, Will’s best man, will plow our driveway, twice.   Our neighbors, Marco and Jane, have cleared the path to our propane exhaust and cared for our cat Sadie during the snowy onslaught.

VD map of snowstormThe snow is predicted to end sometime Wednesday; our twice cancelled red-eye to Boston has us now flying out of San Francisco International Airport Wednesday night to arrive Thursday morning.   We are feeling pretty good about finally getting back to New England, but we have no way of knowing how iffy things will really be.  Thursday morning there will be only one runway open at Logan Airport.

VD1B  D at Fern Canyon signNourished by oatmeal with Scott and Tree before they head for whale counting, we have another bonus day in Mendocino County. Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway 25 miles to the north, we set our sights on Van Damme State Park. Feeling like locals after days driving the PCH, we turn into the parking lot at Van Damme Beach.  The son of Belgian settlers, Charles Van Damme made his money as a businessman in San Francisco. Having bought 40 acres of redwood forest in the Mendocino area, upon his death in the 1930s, he left it to the State of California.

Little River along the Fern Canyon Trail

Little River along the Fern Canyon Trail

We love us some redwoods, but we are intrigued that the Fern Canyon Trail leads to a pygmy forest.  Since we are before camping season on the northern California coast, there is no one about as we take to a paved road with campsites on either side. As it was yesterday in Russian Gulch State Park, the campsites, the road, the trails are sopping wet from recent storms and the moist coastal climate here 150 miles north of San Francisco.

Blowdown across the trail

Blowdown across the trail

A month ago, blowdowns crossed this trail from a fierce December storm. But state crews have cleared the trail for us today. Our trail is amiably paved with deteriorating asphalt and covered with wet leaves as we step around large puddles and sogginess everywhere. Following the Little River into the mountains, we pass under a forest of redwoods and pines. Artfully constructed redwood bridges have replaced the onetime stone bridges built with care, I gather, by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. This was a time when the federal government put men and women to work when the world-wide Depression was at its worst.

Redwoods at Van Damme

Redwoods at Van Damme

Wrapping our sweatshirts around our waists, we gently climb along the river bed. Veering right we climb and leave our beloved redwoods behind. Once at the Old Logging Fire Road after 2.5 miles of hiking, we take a spur to the aforementioned pygmy forest.

Even a VCU Ram is not impressed

Even a VCU Ram is not impressed

We couldn’t be more disappointed. I am not sure what we expected. Walking on a carefully constructed boardwalk nature trail among dwarf trees in a swampy bog, we feel nothing.  The cypress, rhododendrons, and pine trees stand six inches to eight feet tall;  big whup!  Due to poor soil, the marshy ecosystem has stunted trees everywhere we look. Once under the Pacific Ocean, this area never reached the majesty of the soaring redwoods of coastal northern California by a long shot.

Heading back to trailhead under redwood canopy

Heading back to trailhead under redwood canopy

Most appreciative of this bonus day among the redwoods though, we return by way of the Old Logging Fire Road and eventually climb back down into the Little River valley.  Our day of hiking takes nearly three hours over nine miles.

One of many bridges across the Little River

One of many redwood bridges across the Little River

Driving the two miles north to the city of Mendocino for one last chance at relaxing among the funkiness and sun, we are met by afternoon Pacific sea breezes that have a different plan for us. The fog rolls in; the temperature drops to 50 degrees, and we close up shop and head for home to Scott and Tree.

Today we have the rainforest; New England has its blizzard. Glued to the Weather Channel once more, we see Jim Cantore and Mike Seidel report from the worst of the storm. It’s going to be a doozy, but that’s manana. Today we’ll lay back in the hot tub and think of how sweet it has been for us to take a two week bite out of winter.

Dan and Hannah Hike at Russian Gulch State Park, California


As we wake this Monday in late January, the forecast from New England has bumped up to 18 to 24 inches of snow starting Tuesday morning. Though we have a rescheduled Tuesday night red-eye, the planets and the Weather Channel are aligning so that this monstrous storm may mean even one more day here in paradise.

Flashy interior of our Virgin America carrier

Flashy interior of our Virgin America carrier

Again, Virgin Atlantic Airlines has been terrific. After waiting on hold for 23 minutes (I had been alerted that it could be 25-40 minutes – they so get “under promise and over deliver”), I had a helpful agent get us on a Wednesday night red-eye.

RG Virgin Atlantic at SFOStaying in California these extra days is an unexpected bonanza. What I don’t want to do is get to the San Francisco Airport, have the flight cancelled, and sleep on the airport furniture.  Just too old and too soft.  That’s me, not the furniture.  I’d rather get an overpriced San Francisco city hotel room than be marooned for days at the SFO airport.

RG fox rent a carFox Rent-A-Car people are not so understanding. A deal is a deal seems to be the company line. Despite the airline cancelling our flight, they are going to penalize us $40 for a second extra day after docking us $29 for the first. Park, Ride, and Fly where we stowed our car outside of Logan Airport in Boston gets that this is an epic storm and flexibility is needed. They never charge us for the extra two days of sheltering our car and there is certainly no penalty for doing so.

You want snow?  We got snow for you!

You want snow? We got snow!

With open arms, our friends Tree and Scott welcome us for a fourth and then a fifth night at their place.  Nolan, Will’s best man and high school buddy, is set to plow our driveway (eventually he plows it twice because there is so much snow). Our new neighbors Marco and Jane have got Sadie’s back and are clearing out a path to our propane exhaust. Our ping pong friend George calls to see if he can be of help. It takes a village to take care of Dan and Hannah when they are on the road.

The deer in Tree and Scott's backyard

The deer in Tree and Scott’s backyard

Since the snow gods have given us a second bonus day in California, there is little for us to do but enjoy the hell out of another hike on the Mendocino coast. We have the same serpentine, cliff hugging drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Mendocino. Exiting west, we take a 10 mph one-way road back under the PCH to the Russian Gulch parking area. While beaches to our right are closed, we head inland on the campground road past a state park crew replacing a water main.

RG Russian Gulch signAt Russian Gulch, the tourist season has not begun and the state park campground is yet to open for the season. The overcast and fog are thick and we’ll be needing our sweatshirts.  As we hike east away from the Pacific Ocean, we wonder if this sopping, shaded trail beneath the towering redwoods and pines ever gets sunshine.

On the Fern Canyon Trail among the redwoods

On the Fern Canyon Trail among the redwoods

Native American Pomos lived in this part of northern California for 3000 years. Eventually they were drawn into the mission system in the early 1800s. The Spanish missions comprised a series of religious and military outposts that were established by the Catholic Church to spread Christianity among the natives. A generation of conflict and exposure to European diseases decimated the Pomo population.

RG3A  more redwoodsRussians who established Fort Ross in 1812 were probably the first white men to explore and chart this area. It is believed that U.S. government surveyors later gave the name “Russian Gulch” to honor these early pioneers.

Everything is soaked, from the campsites to the paved campground road with puddles that we easily step around and through. After a half mile, we begin the Fern Canyon Trail. It, too, is paved, as we step around dripping ferns along a rushing canyon creek.

RG2A  start of trailThe Fern Canyon Trail begins quite level following the Russian Gulch Creek Canyon, wide enough for us to walk side by side. As a bonus day on our California hiking vacation, we never give the snows of New England another thought.  Here, a mid-December deluge caused blowdowns that the state park crews have already sawed into chunks and moved from our path.

It is a banquet of redwoods again for two and a half miles.  Being before the season, we find few others on the trail – a retired couple here, another one there, here in the Amazon rainforest north.

RG3B more redwoodsAs you might guess, lumber mills for the redwood flourished here in the 19th century. Redwood was cut for railroad ties, and Russian Gulch produced many of the ties used on the transcontinental railroad. Once the lumber industry died here on the northern California coast, the state government fortunately stepped in to save the wilderness for the many, rather than have it exploited by the few.

RG4A H on trail w redwoodsSoon we take to the Falls Loop Trail anticipating the waterfalls ahead. Hiking at a 2-3 mph pace, we descend the rocky trail by the falls. There, the once hidden waterfall tumbles 36 feet below. Far too cold for skinny dipping, the pool beneath is ideal for an iPhone video.

RG4C H by stream by trailThe seven miles of hiking today does The seven miles of hiking today does not require one to be an uber hiker. There are climbs, but it’s a walk down a boulevard of redwoods. Once my Maine sweatshirt broadcasts where we are from, everyone comments about the storm in the East with sympathy and understanding. Despite three days of anticipation, as we hike this Monday morning, the storm still hasn’t even started in New England.

Virginia Commonwealth University  v. George Washington University

Virginia Commonwealth University v. George Washington University

Returning to Tree and Scott’s nest for another VCU basketball victory over George Washington University, we later hot tub it and sleep contentedly as we know there is little we can do about the storm. Thanks to the snow gods we have two more days in California – one to hike again in Mendocino County and then a full day to travel to Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco before we take a red-eye to Boston and all its snow.

It’s all good.