"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Upcoming Hike for February 2014: Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland Hills

Redwood Regional Park
Credit: Our Oakland
Join my husband and I, and friends John and Rebecca, and all of our little kids for a group hike at Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills

We will walk on a stroller-friendly trail, a mile in and a mile out, along Redwood Creek where towering redwoods, fragrant bay laurels, and beautiful madrones grow. 

  • Sunday February 16th
  • Arrive at 10:45. We'd like to start walking at 11. 
We start at Canyon Meadow, close to the park office, fire station, and a historical fishway interpretive site, a historical landmark. You'll find Canyon Meadow just through Redwood Gate, off of Redwood Road. 

We will walk the Stream Trail where the air is clean and moist. Stream Trail is only 0.9 miles long, and its asphalt surface easily accommodates strollers. We'll visit a meadow with a play structure (bars and slides) for the kids to explore. If we're lucky we might see deer, or a rabbit, or hear a Great Horned Owl. 

Note that there is a $5 parking fee, and if you bring your very friendly dog, that'll be another $2. 

Redwood Regional Park
There are 1,800 acres in this important watershed park, and it's just a short distance from the bustle of Oakland. Back in the mid-1800s, loggers cut down the biggest redwoods to supply the demand for building materials, for homes and ships, during Gold Rush times. Though the redwoods you'll see on our hike are second and third generation, they are nothing to sniff about, reaching over a hundred feet tall. 

Hill Babies--What's this hike about?
No hidden agendas, just some old-fashioned fun. Though we go at a four-year-old's pace, big kids are encouraged to come and go as fast as they like. Sometimes it's all about just getting out of the house and meeting up with some people who want to be outside with kids, and in Mother Nature's playground. 

Directions from San Francisco

View Larger Map

Directions Going eastbound on I-580 in Oakland, take the 35th Avenue Exit. Turn left, going east on 35th Avenue, which becomes Redwood Road. Go about four and a half miles, crossing Skyline Boulevard, and look for park entrance signs. The main entrance, Redwood Gate, is on Redwood Road, about two miles east of Skyline Boulevard. 

Good Links

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rancho Corral de Tierra

Old Pedro Mountain Road

Rancho Corral de Tierra is less than half an hour south of San Francisco by car, situated close to the Pacific Ocean, off of Highway 1, and straddles the mountains behind the communities of Montara, Moss Beach, and El Granada. There's 4,000 acres here, criss-crossed by creeks flowing through the chaparral and coastal scrub habitats. In certain spots the view of the western horizon is so expansive, one can see the curve of the earth along the blue Pacific Ocean.

Who says strollers are for kids?
I came here for my first time in January of 2014, brought by a friend and former co-worker, Mike Cadigan.We worked as special education teachers and led the school's hiking club, and recently re-connected at the Hill Babies group hike in December of 2013 on Bayview Hill in San Francisco. Mike has always been the one to ask about hikes on the peninsula. He still leads hikes with ICO, and I think the Sierra Club too. So when we asked if I'd been to Rancho Corral de Tierra, and learned that I hadn't, he suggested a Hill Babies hike here. Though he doesn't have little kids, he brought his seventeen year old pooch, replete with a doggie stroller.

The hike began in the parking lot of Farallone View Elementary School in Montara. Though it was the weekend, the school's playground was open to use, and local kids and parents were having fun. We walked to the end of Le Conte Avenue, passing alpacas standing in a field to our right, and the kids grabbed brooms of pampas grass and shook them high (yes, pampas grass is a terrible, invasive species, and I know better than to let kids strew the seeds everywhere, but they're kids and it's fun).

There were two trails at the end of Le Conte Avenue, and we took the one branching to the right.

The little bridge
We headed northeast on a trail through the dense foliage, ending at intersection of Tamarind and Edison Streets. The trail continued where Tamarind Street ended, over a footbridge and into the woods.

The bulk of our hike was on an old road turned into a trail, still called Pedro Mountain Road. According to this article on Wikipedia, Pedro Mountain Road was first mentioned in 1769 when it was described as "a very bad road"---those these days it's just perfect for strollers and anyone wanting to walk with a little elbow room around fellow hikers.

Pedro Mntn. Road
We followed Pedro Mountain Road down, down, down, traversing chaparral and coastal scrub habitats. The sun shone brightly. We were far from the forest now. We walked over a mile it seemed, gradually downhill. In the back of my mind I was thinking, "Oh boy, this is gonna be a long uphill trek at the end of the day," but I was curious to see where the road would lead, and what the day would be like. Kids ran around, playing and laughing, and babies giggled.

We reached a horse farm that delighted the kids who could watch the geldings and mares stand in the sunshine and swish their tails. I was impressed that the kids didn't mind at all the stench of horse crap as a group of them, my eldest daughter included, stood on the edge of a very large manure bin and admired the horses.

The "Troll Bridge"
We followed Pedro Mountain Road over a bridge that we called the Troll Bridge, a good twenty feet over a deep ditch. I believe, though I'm unsure, that this is where Martini Creek must flow during wetter winters than this one. Though there weren't any sounds of running water, the slope to the creek bed was lush and thick with plant life. Overhead the eucalyptus rustled in the breeze.

Across the Troll Bridge, the trail forked at North Peak Access Road. We went left, and a dozen yards up, connected to the right back onto Pedro Mountain Road. I could see a port-o-pottie in the distance, so conveniently placed.

At this point, over an hour into the walk, still under the hot sun, the kids were dropping like flies. I mean it. For them, this had become the Bantu Death March. Down dropped a family, right into the road. "The kids... Hungry... Tired," they said as they unwrapped sandwiches and popped container lids. Overhead a hawk circled.

"Mike," I said, nudging my old co-worker who was pushing along his happy-go-lucky dog. "Maybe we should stop now for lunch?"

"Just beyond that port-o-pottie is an amazing place," he said, pointing at the road curving out of sight beyond the chaparral. "It's just a quarter mile up. You can make it."

The picnic spot
And I did, and so did several other families. Once we rounded the bend in the road you could see a grassy field and picnic tables, a few Monterey cypress scenically poised, and beyond, the big oceanic blue contending with the paler wash of late afternoon light in a blue California winter sky. It was lovely.

We ate, and then we played. We brought along a parachute for the kids to dance and jump underneath, brining back memories of doing the same in my childhood.

Good hike!
We retraced our route, this time going uphill on Pedro Mountain Road, though the walk seemed shorter. At some particularly whiny point, the tiniest babies were taken out of their strollers and carried on their parents' backs, while the three and four year old set piled into the strollers for a first class ride back up Pedro Mountain Road. Little prince and princesses!

Back at Farallone View Elementary School, the kids wanted to play at the playground, and we adults were happy to oblige. We left a few hairs before sunset. The kids were finally pooped, while us adults actually felt like we got quite a hike. I'd like to return here again, and explore Pedro Mountain Road more, going uphill, as far as it can go, though I might have to hire a babysitter for the kids.



Monday, December 30, 2013

Upcoming Hike: Rancho Corral de Tierra


Celebrate the new year with a mellow walk at Rancho Corral de Tierra in beautiful Montara, less than a half hour south of San Francisco.

  •       Saturday January 4th
  •       Arrive at 10:45. We would like to begin the walk at 11:00.
  •       Meet at the parking lot of Farallone View School, 1100 Le Conte Ave, Montara, CA 94037. Cross street: 3rd Street.
We start at a public school in Montara (Farallone View Elementary), adjacent to an easy, beautiful trail -- some of it is an old paved road -- paralleling the Coast Highway from a half-mile distance.  This land, called Rancho Corral de Tierra, is now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Check out this link:  http://www.nps.gov/goga/rcdt.htm. Look at the second map on that page for a close-up.

Our route is mostly flat. Strollers should be able to manage. We’ll see horses and an alpaca farm, and plenty of coyote brush and maybe some wildflowers. An hour out is an area with picnic tables where we can have lunch. Also, dog friendly, but must be on-leash.  Before or after, if needed, there’s a good independent coffee shop nearby too.

Kid-friendly and without hidden agendas or costs, we go at a 4-year-old’s pace. Two hours, more or less. Come and go as you please. Socialize with the wider group or just commune with your kids and Mother Nature. These hikes have been organized simply to meet other people who love the outdoors and who are connected to kids in some way. Bring food and water, and dress in layers.

This hike will be co-led by Michael Cadigan, one of Jess’s former teacher-colleagues who has also been involved with organized hiking groups, like ICO (Inner City Outings) and Sierra Club, for years.

--Jessica :-)

View Larger Map

Monday, November 11, 2013

Upcoming Hike! Bayview Hill in San Francisco--11/16/2013

Back by popular demand---the hike on a hill with yo' baby or kid!! This is a good one: stroller friendly, views from Mount Diablo to San Bruno to Mount Tamalpais, and probably a place you've never been to before in San Francisco.

Bayview Hill

November 16th, 2013
On top of Bayview Hill
  • Meet at the east end of Key Avenue (cross street: Jennings)
  • 9 am to 12 noon. Try to arrive by 8:45 to factor in the limited parking on Key Avenue. 
Bayview Hill in San Francisco is a great place to walk, especially with a fun group of kids and adults. There is a short distance (less than a quarter mile) uphill, on a wide, paved, pedestrian-only road. Once we reach the top of the hill, there is a flat, circular road---long abandoned, gravelly, and slowly being broken by plants--of no more than half a mile.

Bayview Hill, a 44-acre park, has an interesting history, and is a significant designated natural resource area in our city. The last stand of Islais cherry, a food source for the Ohlone indigenous people, still grows here, as do rare lupine plants that attract very special butterflies, like the Mission Blue. You can often see raptors--hawks and kestrels--flying overhead, or in the trees. There are also wall and staircase remnants of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) from the 1930s, and an Art Deco radio tower building from 1934.

Pack a lunch, water, and dress in layers. We'll still walk if it's light rain (but the forecast looks fine).

If you're in doubt about bringing your baby, rest assured: our eldest came here when she was 13 days old, and our newest--six-month-old twins--are coming up here for their first time.

For more information about Bayview: http://hillbabiessf.blogspot.com/2009/10/nearly-secret-hike-bayview-hill-of-san.html

Download a brochure with map here: http://sf-recpark.org/ftp/uploadedfiles/wcm_recpark/Volunteer/Brochures/BayviewHill.pdf

Directions to the Meeting Location
Key Avenue & Jennings
Public Transit:
  • T-3rd Light Rail
  • CalTrain, Bayshore Station
Heading south on 101:
  • Exit towards Cow Palace/3rd Street
  • Follow signs for 3rd Street/US 101 N/Bayshore Blvd N
  • Stay right at the fork, follow signs for 3rd Street/Bayshore Blvd S
  • Left on Bayshore Blvd
  • Continue on 3rd Street
  • Right at Key Ave
Heading north on 101:
  • Exit 429B/3rd Street
  • Right at Key Avenue

View Larger Map

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Let's Play in McLaren Park

On Saturday October 12th there are two great things happening in McLaren Park: the opening of a new playground at Peru and Burrows Street, and a reggae concert at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater. 

Both are free, and you should come! 

My friend, Chuck Farrugia, and his wife, Trilce, have been the galvanizing forces to create this particular playground. I know they credit a lot of other people in the making of this playground, and that's to be expected, but I think of it as a real triumph for neighborhood activism which they spurred on. Check out http://helpmlpark.weebly.com.

As for the concert, it's one of many in a series of concerts this year at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater. Just last month Charity and the Jamband played for a crowd of screaming toddlers. Check out http://savemclarenpark.org.

12:30--Playground Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Peru and Burrows Street, McLaren Park

2 pm--Reggae show at Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, McLaren Park

There are trails leading between the two destinations, so park your car by Peru and Burrows, or take the # 44 bus. Check out the playground. Bring your picnic lunch. Later, wander in the direction of the reggae music, or just pick your own trail and explore the park. 

This is not a guided hike, by the way--I'm still adjusting to getting outside and about with two young twins and a four-year-old. This is just an open invitation to all who are connected in some way to Hill Babies, or who like to hike and play and be with children.



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Redwood Grove at Henry Cowell State Park

Six people fit inside the base of the gigantic coast redwood tree, and with a ranger's flashlight we peered into the deep, high center of the trunk where a fire had hollowed out the inside and blackened the walls. You could fit a queen-sized bed and a couple of night tables in here. Or an explorer and his group of men. Or better, a large bear and her cubs.

"Let's pretend we're bears," I whispered to my four-year-old as the other day-trippers trickled out and back into the forest.

"You're the momma, and I'm the baby," she said, growling and laughing.

We were in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County this Labor Day, during a long weekend in the mountains. My husband and I wanted to go on a walk in the shade with the kids, and we wanted to use the double stroller since it was muggy and hot.

The Redwood Grove Loop Hike, a 0.8 mile trail in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, was exactly what we wanted for a short amble under towering redwoods. There are quite a few trees that you can actually go into, or through, hollowed and carved as they are from fires that once blazed through here. One of the tallest trees is more than 270 feet high (the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet tall). You'll see fairy rings of young trees growing around parent trees--my kid was thrilled to see anything associated with the word "fairy."

At the start is an awesome Visitor Center, free and fun for kids with stamp pads of animal prints, pelts to touch, taxidermy on display, a perpetually running movie, and a 3-D topographical map of the area. Borrow one of their brochures about things to see on the Redwood Grove Loop Hike before starting your walk. It points out the Doug firs, tan oaks, and bays enriching the forest; the big burls protruding from the redwood trunks; the sorrel carpeting the forest floor; an albino redwood and much more.

Right next door is Roaring Camp Railroads, an awesome steam train that traverses redwood forest and chugs down to Santa Cruz's beach boardwalk. Last time we were at Henry Cowell, we rode the train too (it's super pricey but was worth the thrill for the kid and myself, both train aficionados). The sound of the train's whistle reverberates through the redwood forest.

Felton is about an hour and a half south of San Francisco. I recommend taking 280 down to CA-85 South to Highway 9, which is a little slower than CA-17 but more scenic. (We also were renting a cabin in Ben Lomond, which is right on 9) By taking 9 you can easily drive to outdoorsy places like the headquarters at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Loch Lomond Recreation Area, and Castle Rock State Park.

What Else? Where to Eat in Felton
A lady inside the visitor center recommended the Cowboy Bar and Grill in Felton when I asked about places to eat outside. We ended up eating inside, and nobody gave a flying fig that we took forever to eat and bottle feed our babies. The waitress brought coloring pages, crayons, and plastic cowboy and Indian figurines for our big kid. We totally chowed down on a great big salad with pulled pork, a bowl of pozole soup, slabs of honey-drenched cornbread, iced tea, and pint-sized margaritas. This place, I recommend.

What Else? Where to Stay Nearby
If you know of a good place to stay that won't break the bank, tell me. We booked two nights at Jaye's Timberlane in Ben Lomond, right up Highway 9, because it had little cottages, but it was a dump for over $100 a night. I leaned on a wall and it sounded like it was about to crack. If you fiddled with the shower head the whole thing'd pop off and laser-jet you in the head with water. The fridge wasn't cold. Our kid sat on the Adirondack outside and a rung popped off. But still, our kid loved the place, loved the fact that there was a pool, and didn't want to leave, ever.

Redwood Grove Nature Trail
Two men. Two babies.  
Map to Henry Cowell Park and Roaring Camp Railroad

View Larger Map

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Little Pond on the Ridge

 My quest with twin newborns is to find trails wide and flat enough to accommodate a double stroller. I want to feel like I'm far from the city, but I don't want to drive over an hour. An easy level trail isn’t bad either, considering I'm still sort of recovering from giving birth. Finally, since my mom accompanies me on occasion, and hiking isn't her thing anymore (once upon a time we trekked the Himalayas, but that was a long time ago), I'd walk with my kids no more than a mile while she read a mystery novel at the trailhead. 

Alpine Pond met all criteria. It has a wide, flat trail. It's less than an hour south of San Francisco. 

 And so it was that on a fine mid-week afternoon where fog hung over the city most of the day but sunshine blazed on the peninsula, that we--my mom, my kids, and I--set out. 

We drove south on 280, west on 92, and then south on Skyline Boulevard, also known as Highway 35. The road wound through forests, including redwoods, and as we traversed swathes of coast chaparral we got jaw-dropping views of the Pacific and the peninsula.

I’d visited Alpine Pond many years ago with a group of teenagers when I was a teacher and one of the leaders for our school’s hiking club. We had hiked Skyline Open Space Preserve, an area that seems epitomized by golden hills, oak trees, and views, but today with babies, a four year old, and my 72-year-old mom, we’d just roll around Alpine Pond. 

We were the only folks there, so it was particularly quiet, even meditative.  It was a great way to spend time outside with kids, have a little picnic, and not tax the elders.

The trail around Alpine Pond
The Trail
We parked in a lot where a friendly motorcyclist affirmed, “Oh yes, Alpine Pond is the way to go for a stroller.” He gave us a park brochure and told us we could find evidence of Ohlone culture, mortars chiseled into a boulder, located off a trail (he wasn't sure which) near the pond.  

A long ramp, perfect for strollers or wheelchairs, led from the parking lot to the main trail, starting under Alpine Road. 

The tunnel under the road
We walked through a tunnel with corrugated walls, the breeze making the air distinctively cool. My big kid found a stick, enjoying the tat-tat-tat-tat sound of wood on metal. 

The trail was less than a quarter mile to Alpine Pond, and it passed one informational sign listing the different critters one could find her, and passed under a large, gnarled, and moss hung oak.

At the pond's edge is the David C. Daniels Nature Center, some picnic tables and benches, and a water fountain. There's an observation platform on pontoons, a little weeble-wobbly as you walk on it, but it gets you past the reeds and up close with the water. 
Floating observation deck

The David C. Daniels Nature Center looked intriguing from the outside with its bulletin boards and placards, but it's only open on the weekends, noon to 5 pm from April to mid-October, and 11 to 4 from mid-October through the last day in November. It's free too. Though we didn't go inside since it was closed, a sign proclaimed attractions such as a "touch table,"an aquatic lab, a "skull and skins" display, and a pet gopher snake. 

The trail around Alpine Pond is wide and flat (0.5 miles), just what I wanted. The sun beat down, my babies sweated, and my big kid whined a bit, but it was a good walk. Iridescent dragonflies zipped around us. A duck cruised into center lake. Cattails waved. All around other trails branched off, inviting and interesting, one of them leading to those Ohlone "bedrock mortars" carved into a boulder, but they meant for other days and bigger adventures. 

Dusk and Dawn 
Coming in the middle of the day when it's 80-plus degrees isn't the optimal time to see wildlife, but that's when we were there. If possible, check out the pond in the evening or the morning and maybe you'll spy raccoons, deer, or rabbits. Coots, ducks, and herons might be swimming. This is also mountain lion territory, but one would have to be really lucky to get a glimpse of one of those big cats. 

Alpine Pond was a spring that was dammed in the Fifties for livestock. It's now 25 feet deep in the middle, and has become a water source for wild animals instead of cows and whatnot. Long before the ranchers of the 1800s, the Ohlone lived, hunted, and traveled through here. The bedrock mortars that you can find near Alpine Pond were used to pulverize acorns into a flour that'd be turned into an edible mush.

From San Francisco head south on 280. For the prettiest drive, go west on 92 to Highway 35, then south on Highway 35. About 13 miles down Highway 35 you'll pass Skylonda, a sweet little rest spot with food, gas, and water. Sally on 9 more miles to the intersection of 35 and Old Page Mill Road. Turn right onto Alpine Road. You'll immediately see a parking lot for the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, where you'll park. Grab a map, use the port-o-pottie, and head for the ramp.

David C. Daniels Nature Center
Old Page Mill Trail
La Honda, CA 94020
(650) 691-1200

Big kid and grandmom
Three kids on a picnic table
Kids in the shade around Alpine pond
Map to Alpine Pond

View Larger Map