Thursday, June 30, 2011

Golden Gate Bridge - Fort Baker Hike

At the beginning of April we went for a hike to Fort Baker, located on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a short but very nice hike, surprisingly not overcrowded with tourists. Surprisingly, as the beginning of the hike is located at the Vista Point, which probably 99% of tourist to San Francisco visit.

It is amazing that all tourists prefer to walk on the bridge, surrounded by unbearable noise of passing cars, rather than get under the bridge and walk along the bay, which is beautiful, quiet and offers equally amazing, if not better, views of downtown.

All the better for us. For the two hours that we hiked, we could enjoy serenity of nature undisturbed by human presence. It did feel truly amazing, more so that the hike is located just within a half an hour drive from our house. We felt very lucky and privileged to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Golden Gate Bridge and downtown SF from Hawk Hill:

Beginning of the hike - passing under the bridge:

The bridge and downtown:

Downtown through the bridge:

Golden Gate Bridge and a rock:

Golden Gate Bridge and sailing boats:

Golden Gate Bridge and spring flowers:

Golden Gate Bridge and Battery Yates:

Golden Gate Bridge and ocean:

California Poppies:

Downtown and rocks:

Fort Baker:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pinnacles NM - East To West Loop Hike

On the second day of our stay in Pinnacles we went for a 10-mile loop hike connecting eastern and western parts of the park. The loop was made of: Old Pinnacles, High Peaks, Tunnel, Juniper Canyon, Balconies, Balconies Cliffs, and again Old Pinnacles Trails. The first part of it was pretty strenuous as we had to climb 1540 feet over 2.5 miles. The rest of the loop was downhill or flat. It took us around 5h to complete it, but we took a liberty to stop here and there and enjoy the views.

I would definitely recommend this hike to anybody. It is pretty long, but it leads through all major park's highlights: High Peaks and Balconies Area. Most visitors to the park access it from the Eastern side and this hike allows them to explore also the Western part, which, in my opinion, is more beautiful and serene. Sadly, during this trip, we did not manage to visit the Balconies Cave as it was flooded. Maybe that's good, at least we have a reason to go there again.

We got pretty lucky with the weather. Even though the forecast was calling for heavy rains, it only started pouring in the late afternoon, during the last half an hour of our hike. We did not mind it much as by then our feet were wet anyway... The last part of the hike led along West Fork of Chalone Creek, which we had to cross more than ten times. The creek was so swollen with water that there was no way we would manage to cross it without getting wet. At certain point we gave up trying to jump from stone to stone (especially that there were not enough of them) and we adopted a strategy of running through the creek (at it shallowest place, of course). This strategy left me knee-high wet. But it was fun.

High Peaks Trail:

At the end of the climb Anil was a bit tired:


High Peaks:

Balconies again:

Wildflowers on the way:

Balconies area:

More wildflowers:

Anil crossing Chalone Creek:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pinnacles NM - Bear Gulch Area

After the elephant seal guided walk we planned to go to Julia Pffeifer Burns SP, but there was a mud slide on Hwy 1 blocking access to it, so we decided to go to Pinnacles NM instead. We arrived there in the late afternoon, with enough daylight hours left to go for a short hike.

I wanted to hike to the Bulch Gear Reservoir and explore Bearch Gulch Caves on the way, but due to extreme rains that we had in California during the previous five weeks, both proved to be impossible. The Bear Gulch Cave was completely flooded, and the upper part of the trail leading to the Reservoir was not passable either as it became a waterfall... It was pretty scary actually and as soon as we saw it, we started running in the other direction, fearing for our lives.

Still, the hike was lots of fun. It was beautiful, lash green, and there were no other people. I guess most of the other tourists got scared by the weather forecast. Also the campground was almost completely empty, even though usually during this time of a year it would be completely full.

Blooming trees in Hollister, on the way to Pinnacles:

Picnic tables in Bear Gulch Area:

Moses Spring Trail:

Entrance to the Bear Gulch Cave:

Recent rains created many seasonal waterfalls:

Sun + rain = rainbow:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Swanton Berry Farm

What a fabulous find Swanton Berry Farm was!

After the elephant seal tour at Ano Nuevo SP we felt like having coffee. We thought we would have to drive all the way to Santa Cruz to find a nice coffee place, but then we saw "Home-made Pies" sign on Hwy 1. We figured that home-made pies might come with home-made coffee, so we pulled into Swanton Berry Farm.

From the outside the place did not look too inviting and Anil was ready to leave without checking how it looked inside. I convinced him to give it a chance and as soon as we entered it we got enchanted by it.

Swanton Berry Farm is a union-operated place where you can find delicious and cheap coffee or cocoa, as well as SUPER-DELICIOUS cakes, scones, truffles, jams, and more. Suffice to say that we loved every single item that we tried there! Everything was fresh, not too sweet, and made from organic produce. Also I was very impressed that they have an honor-based system for payments. It's up to you to calculate how much you should pay and there is nobody who is going to look over your shoulder to make sure you did not make a mistake. So if you go there, please leave a generous tip!

Swanton Berry Farm has an honor-based system for payments:

Delicious jams (and a photo of Cesar Chavez):

Don't judge book by its cover. Even though Swanton Berry Farm does not look fancy from the outside, it is definitely worth a visit:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ano Nuevo SP - Elephant Seal Guided Walk

At the end of March Anil and I went to Ano Nuevo SP for a guided walk to learn more about elephant seals. I saw elephant seals twice before and I read a little bit about them, but it was a first time that I would be seeing them on an organized tour, with a guide.

Ano Nuevo SP is the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant seal. Here, between December 15 and March 31, thousands of them come ashore to battle for mates, give birth, rest, and mate again. During that time the park can only be accessed via guided three-mile walks that lasts about two and a half hours. The tours are extremely popular, so advance reservations are a must.

I had high hopes for the tour, but unfortunately they did not get met. It seems to me that in order to enjoy the tour one would have to have close to zero knowledge about elephant seals, or to have never seen them before. The animals are truly impressive, but spending over 2h listening to a guide who does not tell you anything that you do not know is rather painful. And no, it was not a fault of our guide. She definitely did her best and tried to be funny and entertaining. I think there is a more general problem with the tour organization and I would suggest to the park to shorten them to 1h. The same information content could be transferred during that time, and it would be less boring both for adults and kids.

So if you are planning to go on one of those guided walks, I suggest you do not do your homework and do not read any information on elephant seals that is offered e.g. on the park's website and in the visitor's center...

Rugged coast south of Ano Nuevo:

Ano Nuevo SP is located on the former area of a dairy ranch:

Droplets of rain on leaves:

A shipwreck:

An abandoned building on Ano Nuevo Island:

A couple months old elephant seals:

The bravest weaners are taking first dives and learning to swim:

The elephant seal bulls are fourteen to sixteen feet long and weigh up to 2.5 tons: