Sunday, June 25th found us packing our camping gear for a quick trip to the Sonoma coast. One of our goals was to look for dog friendly beaches. We had reserved a campsite at Gualala Point Regional Park, a walk-in site, since that was what was available at the late date we decided to go camping; a lovely site on the river and quiet. This park is managed by the Sonoma County Regional Parks. Unlike the state parks that are not open to dogs on trails, most of the Sonoma County Regional Parks are open to dogs on a leash. There is also beach access at a number of places along Sea Ranch. Our beach explorations took us through redwoods and along fern lined trails and out to the coast. A refreshing get-away for two humans and a dog.
On May 4 we made this hike into a 3.4 mile out and back, from the trail head on House Rock Valley Road to the narrows of the slot canyon. Our dog Carson was happy to hike with us off leash, one of the advantages of hiking in remote areas of the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. The trail does connect with the Buckskin Gulch system, so you can certainly make a longer hike out of it. The hike follows a wash for about a mile before you enter the narrows. We walked through the narrows until we came to a large bolder with a 10 foot drop. At that point we turned around, hiked back out of the canyon and found a trail going up and and around the narrows, at which point we entered the canyon again from the other end, hiking back to the bolder. While in the canyon, I broke out the camera and tripod to see what I could do with the sculpted sandstone. The light and shadows and vertical sandstone walls give this canyon an other-worldly experience. Two-wheel drive with high clearance is recommended and we had no problem driving the road in with our Subaru Forester. The road was dry. Wet weather might be another matter so check with the BLM office regarding road conditions.
With family in town we decided to take the dogs for a walk in our local regional park, Tilden Park, heading to a familiar spot along Lake Anza. As many times as we’ve hiked locally, we found a trail today that we have never walked before. Several of us tried to find a trail map on our iPhones. With little reception though, we didn’t have much luck with our digital trail finding. Not that we were at much risk of getting lost. Lake Anza is a small lake and it’s a short hike. Gorgeous day to be outdoors. Felt like we discovered a hidden jewel of a hike right in our own back yard.
The idea of hiking to the Wave has captivated me for years. This is a rock formation on the Utah-Arizona border and photos of the formation are awe inspiring. That said, the idea of making the hike has intimidated me. To begin with there is the heat and the risk of getting lost or perishing in the desert. Second is the difficulty in obtaining a permit. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issues permits for 30 people a day, and those permits are hard to obtain. And third is the location; the trail head is 800 miles from home.
This year we managed to make our way to Kanab, Utah, on a road trip to explore Southern Utah. We decided we’d take a chance on obtaining a permit to hike the Wave by taking part in the “walk-in-lottery.” We set up camp just out of town so that we could make the 8:30 AM lottery. There were over 100 people applying for permits so the chances of getting a spot were slim. I was dumbfounded though when they called number “29.” That was my number, and low and behold we were on to do the hike on the next day, May 5.
The next morning, we broke camp early and headed to the Kanab Creek Bakery for breakfast arriving at about 6:45 AM. Great food and good coffee and then we were on our way to the trail head. From Kanab, it’s still a bit of a drive. We were on the trail at 9:45. I had prepared ahead of time by downloading the hike to my iPhone navigation app, GaiaGPS, and I had a copy of detailed hiking instructions I had found on the Internet. The BLM folks caution against using GPS or other tail finding methods. They provide an excellent guide that consists of photographs with instructions. The photos feature landmarks and you simply have to look for the landmark in the photo and hike from landmark to landmark. The hike took us two hours to cover the three miles, on par with what the BLM suggests. We carried plenty of water for the two of us and our dog Carson. As it turned out there were several pools of water on the hike, and Carson took advantage of the water to drink and cool off. I wouldn’t want to count on any water being available later in the season. We spent an hour at The Wave, taking photos and eating lunch in the shade of on of the canyon walls. The return hike took an additional two hours, with temperatures in the mid-eighties by mid-afternoon when we returned to the car.
I can imagine the hike might be difficult if the weather had been any warmer, and I’m glad we had relatively mild weather. We saw many wildflowers on the hike, cactus, yucca, paintbrush and a number of others. The desert was in full bloom.
This year’s rain produced a spectacular display of wildflowers on the Carrizo Plain. Here’s a small sampling from the thousand-plus photos I captured on visit. You can see more photos here.
We spent three days on the Carrizo Plain arriving on Sunday afternoon April 9 and leaving the afternoon of April 11. There were two of us and our dog. Yes, the Carrizo is dog friendly. Our first order of business on arriving was to locate a camp site. With the all the press the wildflower bloom has received we were not surprised to find our preferred camp ground, Selby Camp, full. We did manage to squeeze in on the fringes, and the next morning, moved our camp to a regular site with a table, fire pit and awning when it became available. Selby Camp also has water. Monday we set out to explore Elkhorn Road and the wildflowers on the Temblor range, stopping at Wallace Creek to do a short hike to explore the San Andreas Fault. There are few places in the world where you can see the effects of a fault that are as dramatic as Wallace Creek. From there we drove south a few miles and found a spot we could hike up into the hills. The array of wildflowers is just astounding. On Tuesday we spent our time around Soda Lake.
The park is a bit off the beaten path. It’s situated at 2000 feet of elevation between the Caliente and Temblor Mountain ranges. From the west you can approach from Highway 101 or from the East from Interstate 5. There is not much in the valley in the way of services, so make sure you top off your gas tank before entering the valley, perhaps on Highway 101 or I5. It’s 50 miles from the park headquarters to the nearest gas station, and you can easily run up your mileage while exploring the park. It’s an expansive park. I carry food and water for my stay in the valley. There is water at the park visitor center and at Selby Camp, but in years past water hasn’t always been available. Besides Selby Camp there is another camp ground, KCL camp further south. There is also dispersed camping off the valley floor in areas that were previously disturbed. There is also a motel, the California Valley Motel on Soda Lake Rd North of the park.
While the Carrizo Plain is noted for spring wildflower displays, there are also other sites to visit when the wildflowers are not in bloom. There are several rock formations with displays of Indian petrographs (images painted on rock). Most of these rocks, including Painted Rock are off limits in the spring when birds are nesting. Pronghorn antelope, coyotes, and a number other birds and animals inhabit the plain also.
The Carrizo Plain has been called California’s Serengeti It’s a broad plain, most of which has not been disturbed by modern agriculture and irrigation. It represents what the Central Valley May have looked like before agriculture.
I made my first visit to the Carrizo Plain in 1988 when The Nature Conservancy hired me to photograph, what was then ranch land, and since then it’s become one of my favorite places to visit. Untrammeled, broad open spaces and remote.
While the San Francisco Bay Area is home to over seven million people, there are plenty of of opportunities to step away from the crowds find some peaceful open space. One of our favorite haunts is Tilden Park in Berkeley, which is more or less in our back yard. On Saturday we had family in town and with two dogs we headed to Tilden Park to take advantage of the calm between rain storms. This is a great time of year to take a walk in the park. The hills are green and some of the trails offer spectacular views of the Bay Area. The wildflowers are also starting to bloom. We saw poppies, lupine and a few other flowers. Tilden Park is a great place to walk with dogs, and several of the trails will accommodate dogs off leash as long as your dog is well behaved. The park encompasses over 2000 acres and in addition to trails there is a botanical garden, a steam train, a merry go rounds, a golf course and a number of other activities.
Walking, paddling, meditating. What is it you do to maintain a sense of grace and compassion? In the midst of a chaotic world that would have us succumb to fear and anger what do you do to maintain sanity? Nothing seems to renew my sense of grace more than walking. I’m not sure that it’s simply the fact that I’m moving forward, one foot after the other, or that while walking, the problems of the world seem more distant.
I was out walking the dog this morning when I stopped to talk to a neighbor. She expressed concerns about where 2017 might lead us, and I was reminded of a piece I wrote in September “Keep on Walking.”
As part of my “walk” through 2017, I’m going to offer my services one day a month, pro-bono to help support social or environmental causes. With the changes we face in Washington, it’s going to be up to use as individuals to make a difference in how we act as stewards of God’s creation. I’m looking forward to the new year, to the new people I’ll meet on the journey ahead, to new connections I’ll make in the global community and to new opportunities that will arise.
Blessings to all for 2017