Dan and Hannah Hike the South Kaibab Trail at the Grand Canyon

SK map of GC wide view

Unseasonably warm weather has come to Arizona this first week of March; a blessing for our hiking plans.  Instead of another hike in the desert, which is no sacrifice at all, we are able to travel north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

SK map of G

Loaned crampons (a metal plate with spikes fixed to a boot for walking on ice) to deal with any ice on the north facing rim trails on this late winter day, we learn at the ranger station that though we’d need for them for the first mile of the Bright Angel Trail, there is no need for them for the South Kaibab Trail.  That confirms our decision to take Donna and George’s lead to hike the South Kaibab Trail.

SK 1C shuttle bus

Parking at the Visitor Center, we have access to the amazing shuttle bus system at the Grand Canyon.  Every 13 minutes a bus takes hikers and rim walkers to the South Kaibab Trailhead.  Since no private cars are allowed at that trailhead, we have a sweet ten minute ride for our hiking adventure du jour.

SK 1B H taking pictures at rim

Before we head down the trail switchbacks, Hannah surveys the rim crowd to see if anyone might need a picture to capture the moment.  Offering to take a Grand Canyon South Rim photo for a group of four, she immediately gets a “yes” and garners smiles all around.  The foursome has no idea that they have “hired” a pro.  She takes multiple shots as she considers lighting, the background, and gets close enough so the quartet are not as small as bugs in the photo.  And for all that, she doesn’t charge a thing.

Sanded ice on the trail

Sanded ice on the trail

The South Kaibab Trail descends in switchbacks along the canyon wall, a stunning architectural achievement to be sure.  Though there is a little ice for the first four switchbacks, the trail has been sanded and it is easy for us to step around.

Switchbacks of the South Kaibab Trail

Switchbacks of the South Kaibab Trail

Despite the numbers near the top, soon there are far fewer descending into the canyon.  The hikers are either heading to the Cedar Ridge plateau 1.8 miles into the canyon or heading, as we are, to Skeleton Point three miles away.  Others will spend the night in cabins at the Colorado River itself.

Hiking into the canyon can give you a false sense of your own hiking proficiency.  With every step being downward, there is an Easy Peezy feel as you get mesmerized by the landscape of dominating reds and oranges.   Immediately we are dazzled by the depth and breadth of the canyon.   At 270 miles, the Grand Canyon National Park is as long as Switzerland.

SK 2J H on trail with GC backdrop

My childhood friend Paul from Radburn emails later that he finds the Grand Canyon the most beautiful place in the world.  It is stunning.  The descending trail is sandstone sandy with logs placed across the trail to minimize the erosion.


Always looking for pictures of animals for our grandsons, Owen, almost four, and Max nearly 2, today we have mules.   Six mules with riders are returning up the canyon.   The rule of the trail is that mules have the right of way and hikers are to step to the inside, follow the directions of the wrangler, and remain quiet and stand perfectly still.

SK 3B mules on trail

As we watch the mules pass, a 50 year old dowager yells at Hannah in a scolding tone, Where is your water?

Really?  What’s up with that?  Is she actually going to give Hannah some of her water if Hannah has none?   Is this some shaming going on?   It turns out that Hannah’s long sleeve tee shirt wrapped around her waist is hiding her fanny pack with two bottles of water.  Perhaps riding a mule makes this biddy feel  a little high and mighty?

SK 2C GC from trail

Cedar Ridge, nearly two miles down the trail has toilets, but as with any place on the trail there is no water.  Having dropped 1200’ in elevation, we have another 1000’ to Skeleton Point, which we can see one mile in the distance.

Stronger than you might think

Stronger than you might think

The sandstone is soothing to our feet and the trail is so obvious that we are in no danger of getting lost as we did yesterday on the Arizona Trail outside of Flagstaff.  With very little vegetation, we have the north facing walls of the canyon for the occasional shade.  As we descend we have view after view of the distant North Rim canyon walls.  The trail sign, Your safety is your responsibility, is important to take to heart, though it never feels perilous on the trail.

SK 2K more of trail

Beneath Cedar Ridge the switchbacks are longer and soon become lengthy stretches of near level trail.  Clearly the South Kaibab Trail is the gentler, kinder sister to the Cruella Deville that is the Bright Angel Trail.  The Bright Angel is the other main South Rim access to the canyon further to the west. The switchbacks of the South Kaibab Trail aren’t as steep and there are long stretches of mellow level trail.  (Click on the “Arizona” category to the left of the blog to see how eight years ago the Bright Angel kicked my butt and left me begging for mercy.)

SK 4A D at SP sign

Arriving at Skeleton Point in less than ninety minutes, we have the Colorado River beneath us and views of the canyon north and south from this high desert plateau.  Choosing to return to Cedar Ridge before we lunch, we begin the steady climb out.

Leaving Skeleton Point at 5000’ elevation, my breathing becomes more labored as we steadily advance to the rim.  With my head down, I am not as chatty as I was on our descent.  In my ever present Ithaca College shirt, we pass two grads who are pleased to tell us of their recent graduation.

SK 5B climbing out

But the steady climb up to lunch at Cedar Ridge has me staring at the sandy trail, trying to keep a hiking rhythm.  With far greater effort required to ascend the trail, it is important that hikers climbing out maintain their rhythm up and out.

Hence the guideline – hikers climbing out have the right of way.   Many descending hikers know the protocol of stepping aside, but many others do not.  My observations this morning indicates that there is a generational divide on following this rule of the trail.  The chatting away younger ones in their 20s and 30s just barrel down the trail oblivious to others hiking out while the older hikers step aside (perhaps appreciative of the break).  I eventually conclude that the humorous approach is the way to deal with the young’uns by saying “Old folks coming through.”

SK 5A shoes

Desocking and debooting at Cedar Ridge, we settle under a tree with my lunch of peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches as Hannah dines on trail yogurt, cheese and crackers.  I feel it a badge of honor to have our shoes Grand Canyon red.  The mellow climb to Cedar Ridge has left us plenty of energy for the final 1200’ feet of elevation to the rim over the next two miles.


No way around it, it’s a grind on this sunny, shadeless trail.  Having seen the fantastic views during our hour and a half climb into the canyon, we are now on mission to just get out.  When climbing out of the canyon the old cliché holds.   No whining and just keep putting one foot ahead of the other.

SK 5E trail out

And all of a sudden, we are at the rim energized by our three hour workout in one of the prettiest spots in the world.

Click on this link of the South Kaibab Trail for more information.

And just like that the South Kaibab Trail ties for first with Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park as one of our two favorite hikes of all time.


PS 1 Waiting for the bus shuttle back to the Visitor Center we fill our water bottles with ice cold Grand Canyon water, which is as good as I ever tasted.

PS 2 Bonus video as we approach Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail

Dan and Hannah Are Lost on the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona

Old Man Winter’s Nicer Uncle Sol has bestowed a gift upon us this first week of March.  Rather than the normal highs in the upper 40s, today in 7000’ Flagstaff, Arizona, we have been promised 70F.  Driving north from Tucson, we have plans to hike in Flagstaff 260 miles away today and then tomorrow – the Granddaddy of them all- The Grand Canyon.

BP map of AZ better

Waking early in the pitch black of the desert before rush hours, we head north on I-10 past Picacho Peak, Casa Grande, and Florence.  Arriving in the Phoenix Metro morning rush hours, we have the highway gods smiling on us!  There is an HOV lane!   While we cruise along at 65 mph, traffic to our right is crawling along at 15 mph.   Feeling like lottery winners, we are soon past congested Tempe and on through Phoenix itself.

Taking I-17 north on another beloved HOV lane without even a hiccup, we soon are tooling into the parched landscape past Black Canyon City and Verde Valley.

BP 1 D at breakfast

Arriving at our Hotel Aspen Inn Suites in Flagtown this off-season Wednesday, we check in early, hoping that we are in time for the motel breakfast.  The clerk smiles and says we are.  With 15 minutes to spare, we slip in for huevos rancheros and home fries drenched in salsa complemented by homemade biscuits!  A road trip trifecta.

BP map of BP

Nearby Buffalo Park is a 215 acre open space within the city limits of Flagstaff with a two mile walking/running loop.  With views of the 12,000’+ San Francisco Peaks as a backdrop, this park is ideal for moms and dads pushing strollers as well as friends out for a mid-day walk and talk.

Rocking the zip-off hiking shorts in Buffalo Park

Rocking the zip-off hiking shorts in Buffalo Park

A little after the noon hour, we bisect Buffalo Park on the Arizona Trail.  Within a half mile we are at the entrance to the Coconino National Forest and its system of trails.  For the most part, the trail has little variation in elevation as we wander through pinon pines and scrub brush of this high desert below the mountains.

BP map of AZ trail

Highly popular with mountain bikers high above the city, our trails will lead us to the Duck Pond 3.7 miles away.   The Arizona Trail (technically the Arizona National Scenic Trail) is a continuous 800+ mile trail through Arizona from bottom to top, from Mexico to Utah.  As part of the 6,875 mile Great Western Loop, which includes the 2900 mile Pacific Crest Trail, the Arizona Trail links deserts, mountains, and canyons.

BP 1B  D at trail sign

Winding past the junction of the Rocky Ridge Trail, we hike along the foothills of the mountains.   And then, for no explicable reason, the trail dumps us on a paved road.  Doubling back to see where we may have lost the trail, we come up empty.  Stumped, we return to the road hoping we’ll pick the trail’s scent.

BP 2A  more of trail

After a quarter mile it just doesn’t seem right to be walking on this tarred semi-suburban road; so we make a sharp right and just start bushwhacking up the hill to where we think our trail should be.  Soon I spot mountain bikers above us; stomping over logs, we step around scrub brush in search of that trail.

BP 3B bikers

Hannah with some bad dude bikers

At a vista overlooking mountainside homes in Flagstaff, we come upon the aforementioned mountain bikers taking a break.  Asking, Where are we? they respond, The Ridge Trail.  We think, How could we lose as major a trail as the Arizona Trail?  We are not rookie hikers.  Perhaps we need to reassess.

BP  3  H on trail

Abandoning any thought of reaching Duck Pond, we trek back to the Buffalo Park trailhead having had enough of our misguided wandering.  Skirting the face of the mountain, we come to a junction that identifies the Rocky Ridge Trail as one in the same with the Arizona Trail.   Perplexed, we just want to head for our rental car at the trailhead and call it a day.



Since we have been on this trail just an hour ago, we put our heads down and motor on.   Soon we are hiking higher and higher on a trail that is increasingly foreign to us.  Once more we double back looking for our original trail.

BP 4  h on trail

Growing weary, we are frustrated with the poor signage, but notice a gully that looks familiar.  At a previously passed “0.9 mile to Buffalo Park” sign, we feel confident that we can follow this trail back.

And then we are not.

We have no idea where we went wrong, but wrong is where we went.  None of the trails look familiar, but we figure following the base of the mountain can’t get us too far off-track.  Seeing two women walking dogs in the distance, we step up our pace but never catch up with them to ask where the hell we are.  Unaware that we are pushing west and north of where we should be, we still never feel “lost lost;” just lost.

BP 2E h on more trail

At last we see a small barn in the distance and beeline for it, believing it must lead us to some city streets of Flagstaff.   Spotting an idling tow truck, we approach and ask of the whereabouts of Buffalo Park.  The helpful young man with his girlfriend on the front bench seat says that we are just 6 to 7 minutes away… by car!  He guesses we are an hour or two away by foot.  What he doesn’t do is offer to squeeze us into the front seat and take us there.

BP 5 streets

Checking WAZE, our GPS navigational system on my iPhone, we learn we are 1.7 miles away from the Buffalo Park trailhead.  With nothing else to do but to put one weary foot in front of the other, we walk side by side on city sidewalks, talking little, just ready to be back at the trailhead parking lot.

BP 5A  highway

Climbing a ¾ mile hill with cars passing at 50 mph, we eventually bushwhack to the trailhead parking lot.  Nearly an hour after we expected to be here, we pull off our hiking socks and shoes, slip on our sandals, and most fortunately have but a 2.5 mile drive back to the motel.   We cannot spin our weariness into something positive…yet.

BP 6 Hotel inn suites

After a shower and brief nap, we partake of the free happy hour at the Hotel Aspen Inn Suites.  A cold Bud Light away out West never tasted so good.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Seven Falls in Bear Canyon near Tucson, Arizona

After being dragged and beaten yesterday (early March) at Picacho Peak’s death-defying, hike-grabbing cables, I am ready for something a little mellower.  Getting our Zen on, Hannah and I have come to hike the Phone Line Trail in Sabino Canyon near Tucson, Arizona one more time.

7F 2C more saguaros

Sabino Canyon holds a dear spot in my heart as I hiked here with my Arizona State roommates, Big Steve, Nobes, and Rich, in 1970.  Unprepared for the overnight near-freezing January temperatures, we slept on the concrete floor of the men’s room with no padding other than our clothes.  As nights go, that was a long one.

7F 1E arty saguaro

Hiking Sabino Canyon whenever we come to Tucson, this time Hannah and I spend two nights with our friend Sally, who’s Mom Hannah cared for, as her hair stylist, until her recent passing.  Leaving from Sally’s home in central Tucson on the first day of March, we have a 25 minute ride out to the Santa Catalina Mountains and Sabino Canyon.


7F sabino canyon map

The Bear Canyon Trail takes us to Seven Falls

Pulling into the parking lot on this workday Tuesday, I am stunned to see 100 cars or more already in the lot at 9A.  Snowbirds!  We retirees from the northern tier of the USA have descended on the desert Southwest like a plague of grasshoppers.  The story goes that you need to arrive by 7A on the weekends to find a parking place to hike Sabino Canyon.

Lathering on the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen recommended by my dermatologist (and Ben Afleck’s ex, Jennifer Garner), I pack two bottles of water and sport an OR protective floppy hat for this full-sun day in the mid-80s.

Our destination - Seven Falls

Our destination – Seven Falls

Checking in at the modern visitor center, I learn from the ranger that she has an alternative hike for us to consider – Seven Falls.  This eight mile round trip hike with 750’ of elevation gain has seven river crossings and ends with seven falls from the snow melt of nearby 9157’ Mount Lemmon.  Dropping the Phone Line Trail like a bad habit, we take out for the falls four miles away.

Dan and his prickly friends

Dan and his prickly friends

On a wide sandy trail among the saguaro, ocotillo, barrel, and fishhook cacti, we have hard-packed sand that is easy on our feet.  Parallel to the trail is the road for the shuttle buses that takes visitors 1.5 miles into the interior; if hikers are so inclined, riding the shuttle reduces the Seven Falls hike to five miles round-trip.

The initial trail out to Seven Falls

The initial trail out to Seven Falls

Wanting the exercise and abundant sunshine, we hike with very little elevation gain for the first 30 minutes.  This contrasts significantly with the vertical climbing we did yesterday at Picacho Peak a mere forty miles away.   I’m still not over the throw down Picacho Peak administered to me yesterday. (Let it go, Dan)

7F 2 D at seven falls trail sign

At the turnaround point for the shuttle, we pick up a rocky, sandy trail along the flowing Sabino Creek to our right.  With saguaro cactuses as our trail mates, we are in another world.  Native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and parts of Mexico and California, saguaros can grow 45 to 50 feet high.

7F 2B H among many saguaros

The first of the seven river crossings is a piece of cake as the trail makers have set flat rocks in a row across Sabino Creek.  Ascending the north side of the canyon just slightly above the flowing river, we cross six more times before we hike the final half mile climb to Seven Falls.

7F 4 crossing the stream

Rising above the river bed, we have a narrow trail which never seems perilous or threatening.  With other AARP-ers as well as University of Arizona students on a busy trail, 90 minutes later we see the falls from across the valley.

7F 5 D and H in water

Traveling past the falls, we circle back and do a little rock scrambling to arrive at the pool at the base of the Seven Falls.  A little after 11A, some 30 people are lunching as they cool off in the pool of ice melt from the snows of Mount Lemmon.  Mount Lemmon was named for botanist Sara Lemmon, who trekked to the top of the mountain in 1881.  It is reported that Mount Lemmon Ski Valley receives 200 inches of precipitation while the desert below averages a mere seven.

7F 7F itself

After not quite two hours on the trail, we desock and deboot and settle in to soak our feet in the melting snows.  A gregarious 50-something convinces us to get in the pool of snow melt  for our waterfall picture; it is refreshing in an icy cool way.

7F 6 trail home

After munching on coconut granola bars and handfuls of gorp with raisins, nuts, and cashews on the smooth rocks at the base of the falls, we return to the river crossings and cactus-loving trail.  With temperatures in the sun in the 90s, we are comfortably dry in the heat of early March.  Now summer would be another story

7F 120F temp

Some who have never lived in the Arizona desert, think that since it is a dry heat, it is somehow comfortably hot in the dead of summer.   Not even close!  By the time we would walk across the street from our home in Tempe from May through September, we would be sweating.  When we took our two-year old Molly to the park with its playground equipment in the summer, we had to arrive before 7A.  Any later in the day and the metal slides were scorching hot.  Let’s be clear, that the summer dry heat is like sticking your head into an oven. (Not that I actually have done that.)

7F 4B H on trail again

After nearly four hours of hiking, we return to the visitor center for Hannah to buy postcards and for me to find out the elevation gain for the Seven Falls hike for my blog.   The ranger takes the time to show me the book of elevations, and then notices my ever-present Ithaca Bombers shirt.  She asks if that is in New York?  I nod yes, and she mentions that she’s from nearby Rochester, New York.

I point to Hannah buying postcards and say, I married a Rochester girl.  Knowing that people often say that they are from Rochester when they are from a surrounding town, I mention Hannah was from Fairport.  Julia knows it well.

Hannah and Julia

Hannah and Julia, one of 5000

While I buy her postcards, Hannah and Julia talk of childhood memories of the area.  When I return to Hannah and Julia, who looks our age, I say, Did you know Dr. Kraai, Hannah’s dad?   It is not as an off-the-wall question as it might seem since Dr. Kraai was the family doctor for the town of Fairport who, into his 70s, made morning house calls, had office hours at the family home well into the evening, and delivered 5000 babies to boot over the course of his career.

Julia is stunned and looks directly at Hannah, Dr. Kraai delivered me.  Hannah, whose dad died 30 years ago, tears up immediately and says, I have goose bumps.  Julia says, I do too.

Small world.

Dan and Hannah Climb the Bad, Bad Picacho Peak near Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro cactus in Phoenix

Saguaro cactus in Phoenix

Returning to the Valley of the Sun, Hannah and I come home to where we spent the first ten years of our married life – Tempe, Arizona.  It’s a nostalgia tour as we walk by our first home at 542 West 16th Street and our second home at 1206 East LaJolla Drive.  Our first house cost $21,000, fully furnished!

Strolling the campus of Arizona State University where we are both proud alums, Hannah and I think of Arizona as an excellent place for us to grow up as twenty-somethings, far from the shadows of our quite successful parents.

map of tempe 2


Our first night is with our longtime amiga Lorrie who cares for us like long lost friends.  Her hubby Lynn set in motion the writer I am and writing teacher that I became.  Our second night is with Nan, Hannah’s mentor for her Health Education Masters at ASU.  For dinner Nan brings her sister Susie and friend Shirley to what turns out to be a magical night of conversation and friendship, which helps me complete my mission of book sharing.

Morning Hannah with Saguaro cactus in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

Morning Hannah with Saguaro cactus in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

On a mission to give away five copies of my book, Sweet Dreams, Robyn, on this nine day hiking vacation, I noted in last week’s blog that I gave one copy to Anahi, a Wildcat Willies waitress in Springdale, Utah, and a second one to Joan and Russell of Idaho whom we met on the Observation Point Trail at Zion.   Connecting with these three women tonight, I know right away that they are the ones for copies three, four, and five.

PP map of picacho peak 2 better

After 24 golden hours with my former teaching mate Diane and her hubby Targe in Phoenix , we drive south on I-10 to Picacho Peak State Park.  Known locally as the setting for the one battle of the Civil War in Arizona, Picacho Peak saw a Rebel scouting party get the best of Union soldiers.

Forty miles north of Tucson, Picacho Peak sits by the Interstate taunting me to give it one more try.  You see, I also have some history with this bad boy myself.  Eight years ago on a blistering hot day in March, we set out on the Sunset Vista Trail for the summit of Picacho Peak.

Earlier that day, I spent the morning catching up with the aforementioned Diane over coffee.  By the time I got to the base of the nearly vertical cables, I was wobbly and dizzy from five cups of high test coffee as well as the direct Arizona sunshine.  Eventually I sat down and could go no further; Hannah carried the torch and made it to the summit.

Now eight years later, and a veteran of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, I am ready to give Picacho Peak one more shot.

Picacho Peak in the distance

Picacho Peak in the distance

Parking at the Hunter’s Trail trailhead on this late February Monday, we stare up at a mountain wall of switchbacks.

Looking back down the Hunter Trail as the trail begins

Looking back down the Hunter Trail as the trail begins

After a few hundred yards of the gently rising trail, we now begin to take the steep, rocky steps in a direct assault.  Meeting an elderly couple who have turned back, we are reminded by them that gloves are recommended for the cables up the mountain.   We have heard that before, but Hannah made it without gloves the last time so we think we are fine.

Climbing the Hunter Trail

Climbing the Hunter Trail

Grabbing conveniently located cables along the Hunter Trail, I follow Hannah, breathing more heavily, in a steep climb.  We pass a young man who has turned back after reaching the Saddle of the mountain; he felt shaky.  His situation might have given us pause, but it doesn’t and we press on.

Fortunate on this cloudless mid-80s afternoon, we are soon shaded from the sun by the mountainside and hike on comfortably.  The first half of the climb of the Hunter Trail is a workout but not stressful at all.

Climbing down from the Saddle

Climbing down from the Saddle

Arriving at the Saddle of the mountain with a view of forever to the west, we are surprised and I am bummed to see that we now are to descend five hundred feet holding on to mountainside cables that steady our steps over the crumbly rock.  Going down to reach the summit is counter intuitive, but we grab the cables hand over hand to make our way down the sunny west side of the mountain.

PP 4 PP itself

Without hiking gloves, the cables, which might be hot in the summer, are comfortably cool but slick and require a strong grip.  Once to the bottom of the cabled descent, we have a hike up, grasping more cables on the sunny side of the mountain.  We stop regularly for water breaks knowing our muscles need the lubricating fuel of H2O in the unshaded 90 degree direct sunshine.

PP google cables

And then my Waterloo appears.  The parallel cables rise along the mountainside at an 80 degree angle.  I am ready.  Without a second thought, I follow Hannah up the steep climb, squeezing the cables and occasionally pausing to calm my heavy panting.

The western slope

The western slope


More cables protect us from an untimely descent and we are soon within a few hundred yards of the rocky summit.  Taking off our boots and socks, we have taken 80 minutes to climb two miles to the top.   We have no idea it will take even longer on the way down.  With the sun filling the western sky at 4P, we still have two plus hours until sunset.

PP 4B h on cabled trail

The descent is a bitch.  At my Waterloo, an 80 degree double cable descent, I decide to go backwards pressing my feet against the mountain rock as Hannah does.  And then there is an eight foot section that I can’t feel any footholds with either foot.  With muscles weakening and five seconds from panicking, I pull myself back up and reassess.  Facing forward to the sky, I slide on my butt grabbing on to the cables for dear life.   Hiking gloves would have really helped me from slipping so.

PP 5 D and H at top

Second time is the charm for the Ithaca Bomber

On the way down one of my water bottles is dislodged from my fanny pack and goes bouncing down the steep incline into the mountainside as had one of Hannah’s minutes before.

The mountains of Tucson in the distance from Picacho Peak

The mountains of Tucson in the distance from Picacho Peak

The sun is bright on the western side of the mountain and Hannah’s rock scrambling skills keep us on track.  Hannah agrees that the descent, grasping cables and bracing each step with our knees, is far more difficult than climbing up.  Finding the proper toe hold while holding on to the cables while descending backwards is a challenge for both of us.

Climbing back up to the Saddle

Climbing back up to the Saddle

Approaching the final assent to the Saddle, we muster all the strength we have to pull ourselves up the mountain side set of cables.  Seated at the Saddle bench, we survey the eastern sky with the final rocky switchbacks still ahead of us.  With thirty minutes of knee bracing descent to the trailhead below, we both agree that we will NEVER do this climb again.

PP 7 mountain itself

The Bad Boy Himself

We are hikers not climbers.  Any trail that recommends hiking gloves is not for us.  Picacho Peak is a tough, mean, nasty climb.  It tested our strength, spirit, and creativity to find the correct footholds.

No doubt Picacho Peak has its advocates, but I am not one of them.  The park guide calls it a “difficult but rewarding hike!”  Be forewarned that this is one Tough Mudder who takes no prisoners.  I escape with Hannah to Tucson with the jailer of a mountain having just missed nabbing one more victim.

Dan and Hannah Take on the Hidden Canyon and Observation Point at Zion National Park

Don't miss breakfast at Wildcat Willies in Springdale, UT

Don’t miss breakfast at Wildcat Willies in Springdale, UT

There is no better way to start a day of hiking at Zion National Park than with a Wildcat Willies breakfast in Springdale, Utah.  As a part of our stay at the Bumbleberry Inn, we get a free breakfast at Willies.  For the second day in a row we have Anahi, the $10 waitress from yesterday, who is just so upbeat and attentive, serving Hannah chicken fried steak with home fries, eggs and wheat toast and me bumbleberry pancakes.  Married for a hundred amazing years (actually nearly 44) Hannah and I split the breakfasts and we won’t need much lunch on the trail today.

Zion mountains behind our Bumbleberry Inn

Zion mountains behind our Bumbleberry Inn

Having brought five copies of my book, Sweet Dreams, Robyn, to give away to people who we connect with on our hiking vacation to Utah and Arizona, we give the first one to Anahi.  When Hannah delivers it to her later as we head to Zion, she taps her chest and smiles thankfully.

AL map of zion

Driving down the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive the last week in February, we pull into Weeping Rocks, which is the trailhead for both the Hidden Canyon and Observation Point Trails.  In the past I have been spooked by hikes that required holding on to chains above this canyon floor like we will have today at Hidden Canyon.  That all changed now that I am Daniel, Le Conquerant of Angel’s Landing.

The icy trail begins

The icy trail begins

Today’s combination Hidden Canyon/Observation Point Trails rises steeply on switchbacks and we are soon well above the parking lot where our no frills rented Nissan Versa sits.  Highly motivated to climb both these “strenuous rated” hikes on this red sandstone paved trail today, we step purposefully on a mid-50s late February morning that is going to 70F.  Fifteen minutes on the trail, we see the sign to the left to Observation Point, while we go right on the Hidden Canyon Trail.

On to Hidden Canyon

On to Hidden Canyon

Soon the first of the chains attached to the mountain wall appear.  The chains are useful, but in no way does the canyon fall off 1500 feet as it does at Angel’s Landing across the valley.  Immediately I think this is the perfect “pilot trail” if one wonders whether they may be up for the Angel’s Landing hike.

Some of the chains of Hidden Canyon

Some of the chains of Hidden Canyon

Three to four times we grab stretches of chains but never does it feel scary or intimidating.   This trail goes into the interior and ends at a sandy, shallow mountain pool.   There, a sign notes that the park service no longer maintains the trail after this point; we head back to the main trail since we have no interest in bushwhacking this fine morning.

OP 4 OP trail snow

On to Observation Point

In fifteen minutes we are back on the trail to Observation Point.  Once at the top, we will have the Virgin River Valley to our west and even look down on Angel’s Landing across the valley floor.  On this north side of the valley we run into snow on the trail.  Much of it has been covered by sand and we step easily through and around it.

OP 4C closeup D in canyon

Finally hiking into the sunlight, we climb and climb some more.   Last year we hiked this same trail (see to the left of this blog under Utah for the blog describing last year’s initial assent of Observation Point).  The climb is steady and relentless with 2100′ of elevation gain as we hike on the exposed cliffs of the mountainside facing the Virgin River Valley.  Last year I hugged the mountainside in fear, leaning into the mountain at a 75 degree angle for reassurance.

Valley side of the Observation Point Trail

Valley side of the Observation Point Trail

Today I wonder what the big deal was.  These trails at Zion are for folks who have a respectful fear of heights not the “severely debilitating fearful” kind.  And always, as the sign at Zion says, Your safety is your responsibility.

The Virgin River Valley from Observation Point

The Virgin River Valley from Observation Point

The final half mile to Observation Point is basically a level walk on the high plateau.   For the third day in a row in southern Utah, the sky is bright blue without a cloud within 500 miles.  At the summit, ten others, mostly couples are lunching and enjoying the view and the sunshine.

Unfortunately, sunshine is no friend for mid-day picture taking, especially looking down the Virgin River Valley into the afternoon sun.  We ask Joan, who we will learn is a farmer with her husband Russell in Pocatello, Idaho, to snap our picture.

Atop Observation Point

Atop Observation Point

Talking for twenty minutes about potato farming, travels, and children with her, I feel the connection that makes me want to make them the second recipients of a copy of Sweet Dreams, Robyn.  Alas, we have not packed a copy for the trail and the ones we do have are in our rental car four miles down below at the trailhead.

Descending on the Observation Point Trail

Descending on the Observation Point Trail

Packing up to leave, we don’t see Joan and Russell and guess that they must have left five to ten minutes before us.  On a mission to get them a copy of Sweet Dreams, Robyn, we rocket down the trail and know we will easily catch them.  Cruising along at three miles per hour down the mountainside, we don’t see them after 20 minutes or even 30 or 40.  What the hey?  They must be some super hikers.  And then it hits me – they never left the summit and are still exploring above us.

Coming down the mountain

Coming down the mountain

So we on to Plan B – we’ll just look for the car with the Idaho plates and leave a book on their windshield.  Easy Peezy.

Once at the trailhead parking area, we begin to scour the lot with a mere 25 cars, which should make it easy pickens to find their Idaho car.   Returning with news, that unbelievably, there are three vehicles with Idaho plates, Hannah is not dismayed.   We’ll do some sleuthing to figure which is their vehicle.  The first Idaho vehicle is a Subaru Outback that has a rear sticker indicating it was bought in Florida.  Not likely theirs, though farmers might like its all-wheel capability.

The second is a Lexus with a Go Irish Notre Dame vanity plate.  Dubious.   The third is a pickup truck.  Nothing says farming like a double cab pickup truck.  Checking the license plate holder it says Hirning but nothing about Pocatello, Idaho.

OP 6C looking up to mountains

Figuring I’ll just google Hirning on my iPhone to see if Hirning is a Pocatello car dealer, I am quickly aware that deep in Zion with mountains 2000’ above us, I have no cell service.  Giving it our best shot, we guess that theirs is the pickup and leave a note and a business card with a copy of Sweet Dreams, Robyn under their windshield wiper.  Once back in town within cell phone range, I’ll google Hirning to confirm our suspicion.

At the Zion Visitor Center, Hannah looks for animal post cards for our grandsons Owen and Max while I google Hirning.  Immediately our dear friends at Google come up with the electronic information that Hirning is indeed a Buick dealership in Pocatello.   Bingo!

Post script Anahi, the Wildcat Waitress.  One month later she met our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip who had come to Utah to hike Angel’s Landing.  Molly mentioned her parents and Anahi beamed with a reminder of our visit.

Springdale Neighborhood B and B

Springdale Neighborhood B and B

Post script Joan and Russell, the Idaho farmers.  It was their car.  Joan emailed two days later that she had read parts of Sweet Dreams, Robyn to Russell while they were driving.  It seems they themselves have a daughter who beat childhood cancer and next year is off to college.

Son of a gun, small world!  Now just three more copies of Sweet Dreams, Robyn to give away!  Who’s next?

Dan and Hannah Take Another Crack at Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing – It looks daunting from below.

Presence is not about winning.  It’s about approaching your biggest challenges without dread, executing them without anxiety, and leaving them without regret.  – Amy Cuddy, TED superstar

Amy has thrown down the gauntlet.

We love us some Angel’s Landing hiking.  In fact, it is our #1 all-time hike.  Grabbing on to chains 1500’ above the Virgin River Valley floor last year, I had an Outward Bound experience that challenged my own limiting, self-defining behavior.   Last year, I hiked to the 25’x25’ perch of Angel’s Landing hanging on for dear life, throttling the chains, and squeezing any joy out of the experience.   Today we are back to see if I can enjoy this thrill ride.

Angel's chains above the valley floor

Angel’s chains above the valley floor

Flying from Boston to Las Vegas in the last week of February, Hannah and I have six hours snuggled into our Jet Blue seats.  Speaking of air travel, I will not use the airlines as my punching bag.  People belly ache about the cramped seating, extra charges for bags, and the few chocolate chip cookies or pretzels they throw our way.  True, true, and true.

Zion National Park in southern Utah

Zion National Park in southern Utah

But …  today, we leave Maine at 530A for the Boston airport for our 10A Jet Blue flight.  Six hours later we are in renting a car in Las Vegas for our three hour drive to Springdale, Utah.

Voila, we are at Zion National Park 16 hours after leaving home on Chases Pond Road.  Where would we be if we were driving?  Let me see, maybe western Pennsylvania?  Maybe the Buckeye State?  And still with three or four or five days of driving ahead!  Thank you Jet Blue, Delta, and Southwest.

The red sandstone trail to the summit begins

The red sandstone trail to the summit begins

Preparing to hike to Angel’s Landing this morning, we wake early due to the two hour time change from Maine.  After a little meditating to calm the soul for the challenge ahead, we walk the quiet predawn streets of Springdale bundled up against the 32F morning chill before our breakfast at Wildcat Willies.

A wily friend at Wildcat Willies

A wily friend at Wildcat Willies

By staying at the Bumbleberry Inn ($61 per night for a couple of seniors here in the off-season), we get a full breakfast at Wildcat Willies as part of the deal.  It’s a triple egg omelet with home fries and sour dough bread for $9.95 each.  With coffee and tea, our bill is $25+, all included in our $61 per night motel charge.   We royally tip our upbeat and attentive waitress Anahi and then head down route 9 to Zion National Park not two miles away.

The Angel's Landing perch itself

The Angel’s Landing perch itself

From November to March 15, private cars have access to all parts of the park, especially the popular Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which goes to the Zion Lodge and the trailheads of the major hikes.  Other times of the year, visitors and hikers are shuttled to the various Zion venues.  Being here in late February unimpeded, we cruise into the park but never talk about our hike ahead to Angel’s Landing.

In 1995, clueless as parents, we took our 8, 10, and 12 year old kids on this trail.  In 2006, I got to the brink of the chains and turned back.  Then in 2009, I didn’t even think about trying Angel’s Landing seemed so daunting.

The canyon to her left

The canyon to her left

But then last year (2015), I got the courage to try Angel’s Landing with Hannah.  By the way, Hannah was always up for this hike.   Last year I choked the chains with both hands as I leaned in at a 75 degree angle to the mountainside wondering what the hell I was doing, muttering to myself; gripped by fear, I never looked down and went hand over fist until…until I made it to the rocky top and felt like the king of the world.  (See the categories on the left side of the blog, click on Utah to see about this triumph on Angel’s Landing last year.)

The switchbacks leading to the staging area for the final half mile assault to Angel's Landing

The switchbacks leading to the staging area for the final half mile assault to Angel’s Landing

Today my goal is to enjoy, not just endure, the hike to Angel’s Landing; leave behind the fear, trepidation, and self-doubt of last year.  Still with a kernel of wondering how I would do on this climb, neither of us bring up the subject as we ride into the park.

Paved red sandstone path to the summit

Paved red sandstone path to the summit

The trail to the summit of Angel’s Landing is paved with red stone quarried from the nearby hillsides.  With few on the trail this Wednesday late in February before the season begins, we continue to sidestep the conversation about the chain-hanging part of the hike.

AL 2H H on sandstone steps of trail

The trail climbs steadily and the switchbacks make the climb comfortably doable.  Soon the switchbacks get steeper, and we take off our sweatshirts and long sleeve tee shirts to accommodate our rising body temperatures.

Hannah Banana with her costumed namesake on the trail

Hannah Banana with her costumed namesake on the trail

After two miles of hiking over 40 minutes we arrive at the staging area where all the hikers make the decision whether to go on or this is quite enough thank you.  By a pine tree just off the trail, we stow most of our clothes and fanny packs to prepare for summiting of Angel’s Landing.  Surprisingly, all I feel is excitement of the possibility that this will be a fantastic experience.

The chains begin

The chains begin.  It’s a long way down.

Rather than choking the chains with two hands, I grab with one hand and balance with the other.  Of course, I never look to the canyon floor below, but there is a growing confidence that this is my day to release my quasi-fear of heights.  If it was a debilitating fear, I would never have even started, and I empathize for those with such fear.

Here are 7 seconds more video of the trail

With Hannah in the lead, I follow closely.  Stopping to take pictures and videos this time, I start to think this is so cool!  It is really not the big deal that I made it out to be in the past and am cruising along.  Last year, I didn’t want Hannah to even talk to me while we were holding on to the chains; I needed every ounce of attention to move forward.

Seated in the same position on the trail but shot from a slightly different angle

Seated in the same position on the trail but shot from a slightly different angle

Warned of ice on the trail, we see that it has been sanded and is between stones and easy to navigate.  This time I can be the chivalrous one to allow others to pass back down the mountain as I wait, not worried about what’s ahead.  To all the ones returning from Angel’s Landing, I congratulate them on a job well done.  It could be that they just may have conquered a fear and this will be one of the highlights of their year.  Nay, their life!



There are no chains over the last 200 yards as we walk easily on the wide sandstone ridge to the 25’x25’ rectangle of Angel’s Landing.  Only five others are there to witness my personal triumph.   Taking pictures from every angle, I shoot this video to commemorate the moment.

I can’t believe I am saying this, but the hike was a joy without end, amen.  I’d do it again tomorrow!  I have been able to take it in all the beauty of this spectacular aerie 1500’ above the canyon floor.



The half mile return to where our clothes and fanny packs are stowed is a celebration as we are now passing folks choking the chain themselves, with the same fear of heights I once had.  To everyone we meet, I do not joke but congratulate them on their success so far.  Nearly all say thank you for they may be in the challenge of their lives.

AL 6 H against sandstone wall

Hundreds make this hike every day. Why not me?  Why not you?   Hundreds more get to the staging area and say they just don’t want to go any further.   As the trail sign says, Your safety is your responsibility.  I have been on both sides on this mountain of fear and applaud everyone who steps up and congratulate all those who step back.  Know thyself.

So with this victory, what lies ahead for me?   The cables of Picacho Peak near Tucson, Arizona with its 1500′ of elevation gain over two miles that we will hike this coming Monday.   It’s another mountain I’ve tried and stepped back from eight years ago.

Two for two?


AL Molly and Tip

And by the way,  one month later our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip climbed Angel’s Landing.


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 the Coastal Trail at Point Reyes


Though the rain pours throughout the morning at our Quality Inn in Petaluma, CA, 23 miles to our southwest on the Pacific Ocean the forecast is for clear skies at Point Reyes National Seashore.  By 11A, we take to the winding Point Reyes/Petaluma Road through farm country so green are the valleys that you would think we are Hanny and Danny O’Rothermel of the Old Sod.

CT 1 D at sisn

The San Andreas Fault bisects Point Reyes National Park; the floating molten crusts of the North American Plate rumble west against the Pacific Plate which is moving and grooving north.  That collision caused the Big One in San Francisco in 1906 when the ground lurched 20’ in less than one minute.  The Big Two is acoming.  100 years?  1oo days?

cam map of park

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend in our rearview mirrors, we have the park to ourselves this Tuesday.  The winter is the quiet off-season here as we drive, passing just a car or two down Limantour Road, to the Coastal Trail trailhead at the Point Reyes Hostel.  On their website they explain their no Wi-Fi decision.  “We are a small, intimate hostel in a quiet natural setting where we try to encourage interaction between our guests in the common spaces we have. It is the perfect place to truly “unplug” (there is also no cell phone service around the hostel).”

CT 1A H at C

Selecting the five mile hiking loop beginning at the Coastal Trail, we have a wide soggy fire road to the ocean.   By choosing shorter five mile hikes when we hike, we have the opportunity to freelance; we can explore the beach further or take an alternate trail up a nearby cliff or linger with folks we meet on the trail without a time or mileage deadline calling us.

CT 1B H on wet trail CT

Level and wide enough for mountain bikers and hikers, the Coastal Trail, thanks to El Nino, has puddles and more puddles due to last night’s soaking rain.  At times we slop into the trail side grass and brush to avoid the swamped trail.  My low cut hiking shoes get soaked immediately while Hannah’s high cut boots keep her dry.  Fortunately, I am wearing wool blend socks that wick dry quickly.

CT 1C H on sandy trail to beach

Nearly two miles of hiking with very little elevation gain, we take an unmarked side trail to the beach.  Here, the wide beach stretches for miles and we don’t see a soul.  Usually, we are not fans of beach walking – you know, the slopiness of the beach to the water and the mushy sand of taking two steps to move one step forward.  Ah, but this California beach is different, being relatively level with hard packed sand near the water.


CT 2A H at beachJust this morning I see on the local news a man being rescued after he came to a beach to take a picture and all of sudden the water cut him off from behind.  That could be me as I search for the right picture to complement my hiking blog.


CT 2B sandy beachAs we walk south on the beach, the waves crash to our right as the tide pushes inland.  Looking behind us, we see nearly impregnable walls of what looks like calcified sandstone.  The beach is wide at this point and we are always aware where we could exit if the tide threatened.

CT 3 river divides beach

Due to El Nino, streams of water from the mountains bisect the beach making it nearly impassable, without slogging through a foot of water or more, to continue our beach walk.  Heading inland along the river bed, we eventually find the bridge across the storm-driven stream.

CT 4 D at end of beach

Hiking back to the beach, we have an afternoon of sandy nirvana.   Eventually, we bushwhack along a narrow trail of grass up to the bluffs above the beach.  Taking to the Fire Lane back to the trailhead, we have streams of water flowing down the trail as we easily step to the right or the left to avoid them.

CT 6E lake on trail

After a mile of the Fire Lane (really a trail), we head for the trailhead on the more level Laguna Trail.  More level means the rains of the past month pool in many spots on the trail; that includes 50 foot stretches where the thick gorse on either side of the trail means we have no choice but to slop through the water.

CT 5A H above the beach

Another sweet hiking day in California.  With one more day on the trail, we are off to the Matt Davis Trail 15 miles to our south at the Mount Tamalpais State Park tomorrow, all just 35 minutes from the City by the Bay.   Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but mine is here with Hannah on the trails of the Pacific coast.

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 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.