Birds and Blossoms: Two Gems in California’s Central Valley

Snow Geese in flight at Llano Seco Wildlife Refuge – February 2019

As I write this post, we are preparing to leave California tomorrow for Arizona with Tucson as our destination. We had originally hoped to get there several weeks earlier, but Mark’s dental appointments kept us longer. We now leave at a stressful time with all the life changes and uncertainty this country and of course the world is facing over the Coronavirus. We had hoped to travel to Southern California first to visit with our son/daughter-in-law and see some other relatives as well, but had to put that off for later when things are more stable. While in Tucson we will be staying at the same mega RV park (even the same space) as last year. We really liked the park a lot because they have an abundance of activities, clubs and events. In addition, we really enjoy the desert scenery. We are going to look into buying what is called a “park model” which is stationary and bigger than an RV but smaller than a mobile home. We could be “snow birds” and stay during the winter months and then continue to travel around the U.S. with our trailer when it warms up. We will see what awaits us when we reach Tucson, as the situation with this virus changes daily as new requirements are put into place.

Luke and Levi looking for birds on the boardwalk at Cosumnes River Preserve

In this post I thought I would share some thoughts and photos on two bright spots in California’s Central Valley. Hopefully this will give a bit of a break from all the virus news and bring some cheer to our readers. Since I have written a number of other posts about my interest in birding, it should not be a surprise that I have more to share today. Each November they come along the Pacific Flyway as wildlife refuges and wetlands fill with geese, ducks, shorebirds and sand hill cranes. Going out to see the birds was a winter ritual for me every year when we were living in California. On our recent stay we hit a few of our favorites to see how the birds were doing.

Levi tries on some antlers at the Cosumnes River Preserve Visitor Center

It is always fun to help the younger generation learn about birding and our two grandsons Luke and Levi seemed to enjoy a few trips to Cosumnes River Preserve near the town of Galt. We checked out the small visitor center and then took to the trail wandering through an oak forest and by wetlands before ending up at the largest marsh full of ducks and white fronted geese. Luke and Levi did great learning how to use the binoculars and identify some birds they had not seen before. They also diligently marked off our finds on a list.

Checking off the bird list
Greater white-fronted Geese
Black-necked Stilt in flight
Green-winged Teal

We stayed for the sunset and to watch the sand hill cranes fly in, one of the most exciting birding sights. Unfortunately, I had left my long camera lens at home during our sunset visit, so missed getting a shot of them landing.

Shannon, Luke and Levi enjoying a rest on the boardwalk before sunset
Watching for the sand hill cranes

One afternoon Mark and I headed south to the Merced Wildlife Refuge to drive the auto tour route. We saw a variety of shorebirds, ducks and the highlight – hundreds of snow geese blanketing the water. For us, this has been the best place in the Valley to see these geese.

Mark on the observation platform at Merced Wildlife Refuge

When the sun was setting they lifted from the water to a neighboring field for the night.

Snow geese filling the sky at sunset

One of my favorite ducks is the Northern Pintail which was in great abundance when I visited Llano Seco Refuge near Chico with my parents the day after Christmas. We had also hoped to see snow geese as they are frequent visitors but on this day there were none around.

Northern Pintail – the most elegant duck

It almost never snows in the Central Valley, but there is a snow like quality here each February when thousands of almond trees burst into bloom. It is quite a sight driving the roads and seeing all these orchards of white. Blossom time was one of my favorite “seasons” when we used to live here. Sometimes when I was still working I would take my lunch break by driving the nearby country roads, pulling off at a good spot to admire the beautiful trees.

Miles and miles of orchards like this one fill the Valley with “snowy” blossoms

Almonds are one of the biggest crops in this part of California which still relies heavily on agriculture. Blue Diamond Almonds is a name most people recognize and they have a large plant here.

As I close, wishing all of you the best of health and stability in the weeks ahead! We will be thinking and praying for you as our world heals.

A Magical Day on Steep Ravine Trail and Dining in Sausalito

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is finding trails or pathways to walk or hike. I have a reason to believe my friend Arlene feels the same and together over the years we have done a variety of hiking and walking trips around California. We have hiked the high country of Yosemite National Park, enjoyed a number of San Francisco stairway walks and several years ago set ourselves the challenge of doing 10km walks created by the California Volkssport Association in each of California’s counties. Out of 58 counties, we were able to complete about 40 walks and along the way learned a lot about the history and attributes of this great state. The Steep Ravine hike was a trek Arlene introduced me to some years ago and while recently spending time back in Northern California, we decided to walk this trail again towards the end of January.

Me at the beginning of the trail
Arlene walking amongst the redwoods

The Steep Ravine Trail is located in Mt. Tamalpais State Park, in a hilly area of Marin County north of San Francisco. As my title suggests, the walk is magical as it enters a lush redwood canyon amass with ferns and a rushing stream. We were fortunate to go at just the right time after the area had received some significant rainfall, meaning there would be water in the canyon. In addition, we had a sunny, fairly warm day so the conditions could not have been better.

Lots of little waterfalls along the Steep Ravine Trail

The narrow rocky trail descends (sometimes rather steeply) almost the entire way through the canyon with lots of steps to navigate. That meant of course a steep climb back up. But not for us as we had other plans in mind you will see later in this post.

I love hiking among redwoods, in a rainforest environment with moss covered trees and ferns dripping with water. Steep Ravine offered us all of that and it was a picture perfect walk. The bonus was all the little waterfalls along the way with the biggest next to the fun part: A ladder propped next to a rock for us to descend before continuing along the trail.

We had our only mishap of the hike when Arlene threw her walking sticks down before climbing the ladder. She had meant for them to hit the trail, but one of them splashed into the pool in front of the waterfall. While I contemplated whether to wade in and retrieve it, a “knight in shining armor” came to our rescue. A young man arrived who had better balance than us and bracing himself against a tree next to the pool, was able to grab it from the water.

It was easy to dawdle in this forest, taking in all the beauty and sounds of water burbling over rocks and logs. We crossed so many bridges I quickly lost count. When hiking I am always so grateful when bridges are securely in place and no fording or rock hopping is needed!

Our dawdling though meant that we might miss our plan to be at the town of Stinson Beach before 3:00. The Steep Ravine Trail leads out of the forest with expansive views to the ocean below. Even though we had been here before, we were still surprised once we got out to the open how far away it looked, so we needed to start power walking down the hillside. We also had one more lush green forest (this time oaks) to traverse before hitting the town.

View of Stinson Beach

Our goal was the bus stop with a 3:00 pickup and we got there with just a minute to spare. The whole walk down we were hoping the bus would be running late. It came right on time so luckily we were there because we did not want to walk back up the ravine. For just $2.00, the bus took us back up to the parking lot where we left our vehicle – what a great deal!

View from one corner of the Spinnaker Restaurant
View of the Bay from our table
The San Francisco skyline

Our next plan of action was driving to the little town of Sausalito and a great dining spot called the “Spinnaker.” Just eating here for the views is worth it because the restaurant sits right on San Francisco Bay with lots of windows on three sides. In addition, the food and service is very good. When we arrived we were treated to skyline views lit by beautiful late afternoon light.

Outside view of the City next to the restaurant

We dined on wonderfully prepared scallops while watching the sunset and lights come on in the City.

City view with part of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge on the left

It was indeed a magical day in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thanks for checking in – next time a post on two California Central Valley treasures!

Rambling Around Beverly and Hollywood Hills

Standing near the “Pink Palace”

While visiting Matt and Emma a year ago in Southern California, Matt and I took off to explore a few swanky hotels in Beverly Hills. Our first stop was at the Beverly Hills Hotel also known as the “pink palace.” This was my second time to visit here, the first several years ago in early December. Of course, it was not to stay there as room prices vary from about $800 to $1100 per night. After all, I am just a simple RVer living in a small travel trailer 😀 . My rent is often less than that for a month. But the hotel is gracious and doesn’t mind visitors who just want to come in and soak up some atmosphere for awhile.

Matt walking on the red carpet up to the hotel’s entrance

The Beverly Hills Hotel has been around for awhile, even before the city of Beverly Hills existed. It opened in 1912, created with the idea of a place for people to stay while looking to buy property in the area. It became popular with Hollywood celebrities and other famous types and has hosted world leaders. Many movies have also been made here.

I was thrilled to find fresh blossoms on a stairway

During my first visit, the hotel was wonderfully decorated for Christmas, but this time in January, I found other decorations to delight me. My favorite was the flowers that covered the banister from the first floor down to a conference room, bouquets of roses and other freshly cut blooms.

There are several places to eat at the hotel and we decided to try the Cabana Cafe which is located outdoors in a patio setting next to the pool. The legendary pool opened in 1938 as the “Sand and Pool Club” with real sand to make it feel like a true beach club. Eleven cabanas line the private poolside. Matt eyed the cabanas longingly and said he would be interested in having one if he stayed at the hotel. But, of course they come with a hefty extra price tag as well. No photos are allowed down in the pool area or at the cafe, so I only took one as we descended the stairs.

The ambience came at a price so we shared a more “affordable” pastry basket that cost about $25.00. When chocolate chip cookies cost $12.00 a piece, you can imagine what the breakfasts and lunches were like. The setting was beautiful with the hotel’s color scheme of pink contrasted with dark green and white stripes in the decor and furniture. We enjoyed basking in elegance for awhile.

Matt relaxing at one of the Beverly Hills Hotel outdoor seating areas

After exploring around the hotel we left to find another hotel to hang out in. We had thought about stopping at the Beverly Hills Wilshire, but driving down Doheny Drive we saw signs next to the Four Seasons Hotel advertising the 2019 Golden Globe Awards and decided to quickly pull in. We had the car valet parked and as we got out cameras were clicking, since celebrity types were coming and going for the upcoming awards show the next day and you never know who might be arriving. Plus, Matt has been told he looks a little like the actor Matt Damon 😊 .

The grand Four Seasons Hotel
Matt striking a pose next to Marilyn Monroe
Golden Globe display inside the hotel lobby

We saw they were offering a buffet in the garden but when we tried to go out to see if we could join in, for some strange reason we were not allowed 😃 . Turns out it was for a private party so we headed to the bar area. Matt thought we would get a drink and see if we could spot any celebrities. He soon made a sighting and asked if I recognized him. Sadly, I did not recognize Randy Jackson, a television personality who was a former judge on the hit show, “American Idol,” a show I had never watched. He sat at a nearby table talking to several people. I realized ahead of time that I make a poor celebrity spotter since I haven’t watched many of the “newer” TV shows and although I do go to the movies 🎥 occasionally, I rarely keep up with film stars.

While Matt was checking out celebrity sightings, I was distracted by the beautiful fresh flower bouquets placed throughout the hotel lobby.

Matt saw someone working there that he knew and he offered to take us on a tour of the hotel, but alas we had already asked the concierge desk to get the car, so we had to pass on a tour.

Exploring the Hollywood Hills

Another day we took off to explore the Hollywood Hills. Matt who is an adept driver negotiated well the twisty turns and steep ascents as we weaved our way around, taking in the fancy homes and gorgeous views from high up. I know I could not drive that well in this area, but Matt is used to it and he was a great tour guide.

At one point we drove past a residence and Matt asked if I had seen the gorilla out front. I had missed it, so he did a quick U-turn and went back. Yes, a stone gorilla with piercing, red eyes aglow standing guard out front was a first for me.

Home once owned by my grandfather

Matt had been doing some genealogy research and found the home my grandfather once owned in Nichols Canyon many years ago. This was an interesting stop for me as I had never seen the house before. My mother spent her growing up years in the Hollywood Hills, although I don’t think in this home.

Griffith Observatory

After tackling the hills of Hollywood, we moved on to the Griffith Observatory, one of the most popular places to visit in the Los Angeles area. We parked below the building and got some exercise walking up the hill on the canyon road for a mile to the top. From there the views were magnificent and the building lovely as well. Lots of folks were there as it was getting near to sunset. In the photos below, we checked out the Los Angeles skyline.

From the Observatory is a great view of the famous Hollywood sign seen at left corner of photo

Although a lot of people come for the views, there are quite a few exhibits inside related to astronomy. There is also a planetarium offering shows and telescopes to check out at night.

Matt ponders an exhibit on the sun

It is a must to be here at dark when the views become even more magical with thousands of lights from downtown Los Angeles.

Our next stop after the Observatory was the Glendale Americana at Brand which still had wonderful decorations from the holidays that were fun to see. This is a popular shopping, eating and entertainment complex. Among other things was a huge Christmas tree and delightful water fountain show. I read that they even have snow falling and carolers in the evenings before Christmas. My favorite was the trolley zipping down the street also decked out for the holidays. The very large chandelier at the entrance was also quite cool.

I hope you enjoyed some of our Los Angeles area exploring! Next time I thought I would do a little different post – notable RV parks during our two plus years exploring. Stay tuned!

Exploring Venice Beach Promenade and Canals

Mark and Matt strolling the promenade

Venice is a great place to hang out in the L.A. area and that is what we did one day a year ago while visiting our son and daughter-in-law. Although I am a California native and grew up in Southern California, I had never visited Venice. So I was looking forward to exploring this popular beachside town. We started out with the 2-1/2 mile ocean front pedestrian walk, a fun place where people shop, eat, skate board, bike and Segway. Vendors sell crafts in booths and artists showcase their creations along the sidewalk. The sound of live music adds much to the atmosphere.

A little piano music along the Venice promenade
An artist making name plates shaped like surfboards. We got two for our grandsons

The shop I thought the most interesting was “Titan,” which mainly sells two kinds of things – hats and large transformer models. It was fun to take photos next to several of the metal “monsters.” They were pretty creepy looking!

Transformers at Titan
Trying on hats at the Titan store

In 1905, Mr. Abbott Kinney, developed this area calling it “Venice of America.” It became a resort beach town with a pier and carnival attractions. He also developed the Venice Canals which are a short walk from the beach. By the time the depression hit, the amusement industry wasn’t doing well. Then oil was discovered and the beach was transformed into a drilling field. Pretty soon it wasn’t the lovely beach town any more but polluted with oil waste and called the “Slum of the Sea.” Drilling continued in earnest through 1932 but then dropped off. By the 1990’s the beach oilfield was finally depleted and the derricks torn down. Once again Venice became a tourist Mecca.

Matt debates getting a hat

Venice is also known as a home for bodybuilders and has been called
“Muscle Beach.” One area along the promenade is still set up with workout machines and weights. It was here that Arnold Schwarzenegger (actor, famous body builder, former California governor) came in the late 1960’s after immigrating to America. I watched a video that Arnold did from several years ago talking about his days in Venice. Although he and other body builders liked working out at nearby Gold’s Gym, they often came to Muscle Beach because it was a great place to get a tan to look good for competitions. He reported that they would work out on the machines and then run over to the ocean and jump in the waves to cool off. Although the body building area didn’t look as big or dramatic as I imagined, it was still interesting to see this historic sight. Mark loves him from his old athletic days when he was a budding weight lifter himself and used to read some of Arnold’s books. Plus, I am a bit of an Arnold and Terminator movies fan.

Muscle Beach Gym where the public can get a day, month or year pass to work out

It was like stepping back in time to see the beautiful Venice Canals, a picturesque area. It was also much more peaceful than the promenade and beach area. People have charming homes along the canals and this is one area of L.A. that I think would be neat to live, especially since I love being near water. I would keep a kayak or canoe docked near my cottage and take to the water from time to time.

Today there are six main canals, four that run east to west and two north to south. When Mr. Kinney first developed them they were modeled after Venice, Italy. Gondolas piloted by gondoliers traveled the waterways with more canals than remain today. At first people called this “Kinney’s Folly” as they didn’t think he could make much from the beach marshland. But he succeeded in selling plots of land for homes and drawing many visitors. By the 1920’s when cars had become popular, the canals were seen as outdated and filled in for paved roads.

Venice Canal Association best dressed home contest

Thankfully, in 1993 the canals were restored with walk ways and bridges renovated, a six million dollar project.

One of the lovely canal bridges decked out with flags of the world

I have always been intrigued by the little libraries that have become popular in recent years and are located in front of homes or businesses. If I lived here I would also have a little library like we found on a floating dock. People could easily paddle their craft up and check out a book.

Matt checks out a little library along one of the canals
Hoping for world peace, health and prosperity? Leave a wish on this bridge

As we walked back from the canals we came upon this delightful residence. The owner had decorated her shrubbery and palm trees with hand knitted “socks.” We visited a little admiring her handiwork.

There are plenty of intriguing eateries in the Venice and Santa Monica area. We finished off our exploring with dinner at the adorable and tasty little Caribbean cafe called “Cha Cha Chicken.”

Thanks for coming along with us as we explored Venice. Stay tuned for another post exploring the Beverly Hills and Hollywood area.

Looking Back – Fun Stay at Hollywood RV Park

Matt and Emma at Hollywood RV Park
Emma and our grand pup Harry

Towards the end of the year in 2018, I called Hollywood RV Park to see about making reservations to stay there a week or so in early January 2019. When I reached one of the office staff, she thought for a bit and said she wasn’t sure they would have a space since it was just after the holidays. As we spoke I mentioned that our son Matt and daughter-in-law Emma were staying at this park. She immediately said, “Why didn’t you tell me in the first place! We love Matt and Emma” and started to list all the reasons why. So, it ended up they were able to find us a site after all.

Hanging out with Matt and Emma

Hollywood RV Park is located in the city of Van Nuys and close to Hollywood, Burbank, Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles. When we came, Matt and Emma had been staying there for several months while working as travel nurses in the ER of an area hospital. They really enjoyed this park, the atmosphere, owners and close proximity to lots of interesting attractions. They enjoy the L.A. area, so this was a great fit. We were also looking forward to staying for a short while in the place they were calling home. I know I am writing about this long after the fact, but in early 2019 I was bogged down trying to catch up on blog posts from our travels in the latter part of 2018. But now I am glad I delayed writing about our stay there. It is fun reminiscing about the park, our sightseeing and especially going through all the photos.

Lots of murals to discover at the Park!

Hollywood RV Park caters to people working in the movie industry, travel nurses, hospital patients and overnighters coming to visit the L.A. area. RV parks are few and far between in this part of California, something we have discovered during our travels. In populated places parks are often located on the outskirts, so finding one so close to all the action is rare. Movies and TV shows have been filmed at the park and shelves in the office hold awards (won by park residents), including an Oscar (the real thing) for the music to Star Wars. A number of people live here permanently including a few that were in the movie industry and one original occupant from 1976.

Forklift getting our trailer into place

Checking in was a little different than other places we have stayed. Since the lanes and sites are a bit narrow, RVers do not back themselves in but are moved in by a fork lift equipped with a trailer hitch, eliminating the need for a tow vehicle. A number of times in the past few years Mark and I have had to struggle to back in to tight fits …… well, I say Mark and I but it is Mark who is doing the backing in as I admit I could never do it. So, it was nice to be able to get in so easily! Although the sites are a little narrow, once in we didn’t feel cramped.

The Park is decorated with cute signs as each lane has a name – ours was Hollywood Blvd. There is also a lot of original art work on backboards at the sites and a large painted mural at the end of each lane. This is a fun setting to walk around and look at what has been created.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road
One of the cute decorated areas
Matt getting swallowed up!
I was so happy to find a Lucille Ball mural – one of my favorite actresses

The park has a neat club house where you can relax and watch TV as well as see live performances on their stage. More art work can be found on the walls as well as books and information on the history of Hollywood.

Hanging out at the clubhouse

Each site had a little something nice to offer. Our spot had a Meyer lemon tree that was loaded with lemons. I am always excited to have any fresh picked fruit and I got busy making lemonade and slicing lemons into water.

Entering the park you must pass this guard on his police motorcycle. Looks like he isn’t getting enough of that California sunshine!

Stay tuned for more fun exploring near Hollywood RV park when we visit the beachside community of Venice in my next post.

A Year of Exploring Comes to a Close

In Northern California, jumping in fallen leaves even happens toward the end of November!

As 2019 comes to a close, I reflect back on our holiday season here in Northern California. We are fortunate to stay in a nice RV park while taking a break from our roaming and exploring around the United States to spend time with family and friends. Some RV parks have a time limit, so being able to land several months in one place is a real blessing. It seemed once we got here a few things started to fall apart. Our reliable and hard working Ford truck developed several alarming “symptoms” including a worn wheel bearing that turned out to be a potential safety issue. Luckily, it didn’t happen while we were traveling on the winding coastal roads of Oregon or another far flung area. We were able to take the truck to a repair shop we trusted in Modesto and after several days our truck was back to normal. Another major issue was Mark’s teeth which became problematic a few days after arriving. After several visits to two dentists, it became apparent that much more dental work remains to be done. We are glad this is happening while planning to be in one location for awhile. Suffice it to say, that it looks like we will be staying in our spot even longer than intended to get all the dental work completed. But now, on to some fun activities we have enjoyed the past few months.

Luke judges the decorated cupcakes to pick out a winner

The two big events in November were our grandson Luke’s 9th birthday which was a lively bash with friends making pizzas and decorating cupcakes and Thanksgiving. For the holiday, we got together with family at our niece Elaine and husband Philip’s house. Philip smoked two turkeys for the event and they were the best I have ever eaten. I told Mark on the way there that turkey (although good) is usually my least favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal as the sides are so good, but this time the turkey was as good as the sides. Our holiday meals are usually served with a large dish of teasing and I think this time we laughed more than usual until our stomachs ached 😆 😂. An ever expanding coconut cream pie was one culprit.

From left to right, three lovely ladies at Thanksgiving – Niece Elaine, daughter Shannon and sister Barbara. They had no idea ahead of time that they would be color coordinated!

I am usually asked to provide a cheese board and this year I decided to make a little competition out of it. While staying near Medford, Oregon I found out about the Rogue River Creamery, known for making blue cheese. This year one of their cheeses won a world championship in Italy out of more than 3,800 entries from 42 countries. This was the first win for an American cheese company. I put this cheese out as well as others and asked family members to guess which one was the champion.

During November it was a lot of fun getting to see our grandsons play with their basketball teams as the season came to a close. This was our first opportunity to see them play this sport. They love the game and often practice out front of their home. I have even tried to play a few pickup games with them and am glad they put up with my lack of agility!

Grandson Luke
Will Levi make the hoped for basket?

Our grandsons both participated in their holiday church musical, titled, “The Little Drummer Dude.” It was quite a production with kids from the ages of 5 to 15 participating. There was singing, choreographed dancing and they both had speaking parts. We were proud grandparents! Luke played one of the wise men and Levi was in the chorus. I found myself humming songs for some days after the show.

Luke on far right in blue/purple robe
Levi is bottom center with brown striped sweater
Family picture after the performance

In December, both boys had their piano recitals featuring holiday music played at a local retirement home. Levi has only been taking lessons a few months, so his teacher played a duet with him. Luke has been playing about four years and has made excellent progress. It was another proud grandparent moment listening to them perform.

Luke playing “Little Drummer Boy”
Levi takes a bow after playing “Silent Night”

As can be imagined, it is hard to have a Christmas tree in a 21 foot travel trailer. But it was even more fun to help decorate the tree at our grandsons’ house. During travels, their family has collected ornaments from a number of places and it was fun to once again see what they had found.

Gingerbread house decorating (and eating?)

Celebrating the holidays together is often about scheduling and since Shannon and Jonathan were going to Texas at Christmas time to be with his family, we celebrated early. Because our son and daughter-in-law are nurses living in Southern California, their schedules are also challenging, but we managed to all get together one evening and had a great time catching up while enjoying food and gifts. Our grandsons love creating things and enjoyed making something for each person that included puzzles, stories and/or games for us to try.

Shannon with a homemade activity page from the boys
Mark and Levi hamming it up
Matt and Emma – Emma models her eye mask and travel pillow – perfect gift for the world travelers who are headed for a trip to the Middle East in January.

Christmas was spent in Chico with my parents who I am happy to report continue to be hale and hearty! It was a peaceful few days enjoying their company. Thanks to Trader Joe’s for the best ham ever! Mark and I have been happily creating several meals from the remains this past week. And it wouldn’t be a holiday in Chico without homemade berry cobbler, yum!

Christmas Day in Chico with my folks

When you live near the Pacific Flyway you have to go out and see waterfowl each winter. The day after Christmas we headed to Llano Seco Preserve, only about 20 minutes from my parents’ home. They were a bit disappointed there were no snow geese when we arrived, as they had seen hundreds of them there several weeks before. But we encountered the most Northern Pintail ducks I have ever seen on a birding trip. There were hundreds of those, one of the most beautiful species of ducks in my opinion. We also saw an eagle as it flew around landing at different places while scaring other waterfowl. It was a bit of a mystery to us and others visiting that day. We didn’t know if it was a golden eagle or an immature bald eagle with its dark coloring and lack of white head. Birding is like that, you often leave puzzled but glad you came out to be with the birds!

My parents checking out the many ducks

Although we won’t be doing much sightseeing in the next few months, I have plenty more posts to write and catch up on. I have two more related to our Oregon trip and then want to do some posts from travels of the last year or two. I didn’t write about these places due to time issues.

Wishing everyone a very happy and healthy 2020 and a thank you for following along with us on our journey! We have really appreciated your interest in our travels and kind comments!

Hiking the Redwoods in Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve and includes two state parks, Prairie Creek Redwoods on the southern end and Jedediah Smith on the northern end. We stayed near the southern end of the Park near Prairie Creek Redwoods. In a previous blog I wrote about exploring Fern Canyon which is located in Prairie Creek. There are a number of other trails in Prairie Creek so in this blog I will write about hiking three.

Trillium Falls Trail – Redwood National Park

One of my all time favorite nature experiences is walking through the redwoods. There is nothing else like these tall trees in their lush green forests. It is pure magic walking among the tallest trees on earth. Coast redwoods can grow to over 300 feet and live to be 2,000 years old although most live from 500-700 years. My favorite hike during this trip was the Trillium Falls Trail and except for the first 1/2 mile or so, I had it all to myself. I was in awe of the redwood groves here. I thought this was the perfect redwood hike – a little up and down for some exercise and change of scenery but nothing difficult. The scenery was spectacular, the redwoods magnificent.

Walking in these woods I thought about the healing power of trees and Shinrin-yoku. I wrote about Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) in a blog last year about Lum’s Pond in Delaware. We had camped at the state park there and I spent some time walking the forest trail around the lake. It was the perfect place to try out forest bathing which is the art and science of healing the mind and body by immersing one’s self in the forest. This involves leaving the distractions of our lives and using all the senses – sight, sound, touch and taste to experience nature. Forest bathing is supposed to reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, increase energy, improve mood and concentration.

Walking by exposed redwood roots – Trillium Falls Trail

To learn more about this practice I read an informative and interesting book written by Dr. Qing Li called “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.” Dr. Li is considered an expert in forest medicine and has worked with patients at forest bathing centers in Japan. If you are interested in learning more about this practice I highly recommend this book. I got the book on Kindle and it includes beautiful photographs of Japanese forests. I had never thought before of Japan having such gorgeous forests! The book will change how you view a walk in the woods, time spent among trees and the importance of nature in our well-being.

Perhaps the most well known trail in Redwood National Park is the Lady Bird Johnson Trail. The former First Lady came to this site and dedicated Redwood National Park on November 25, 1968. She returned on August 27, 1969 to be honored by President Nixon with this grove of trees. This was in recognition of her devotion in protecting and creating natural habitats for the public to enjoy. At 1.5 miles the trail is short and easy to do, so many visitors to Redwood National Park like to walk it. Unlike the other redwood hikes I did that were lowland trails, this one is located at 1,200 feet on a ridge.

Hiking the Lady Bird Trail – Redwood National Park

Located at this grove is a signboard with a photo of Lady Bird standing on a hill surrounded by a clear cut redwood forest. It was a sad situation that heavy logging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries destroyed much of the old growth forest. Today, most of the trees in Redwood National Park are second growth, although some old growth do remain. I am so thankful for our national park system and the efforts made by conservation groups to save lands that without their efforts we might not have today. Redwood National Park was saved through the efforts of the State of California and Save-the-Redwoods League that acquired hundreds of groves. As I walked the trails, I often came upon memorial groves that were purchased and dedicated to civic groups, family members and friends.

Mark dwarfed by the redwoods on the Lady Bird Trail

Starting at the Prairie Creek Redwoods Visitor Center are several trails leading into different parts of the forest. I chose the recommended Prairie Creek Trail which follows through some of the most impressive stands of trees and lush forest.

Tree tunnel on the Prairie Creek Trail

At one point I met two women hikers, one was down at the creek looking for something. It turned out they were salamander hunting. They said the salamanders are quite large here but so far they had only come across a baby one. I walked with them for awhile as they turned over rotting logs and searched the water’s edge with no success. We did find many mushrooms and large orange wood decay fungi on a downed tree. I actually saw little wildlife on my redwood hikes, not even banana slugs which are usually a sure sighting in a redwood forest.

Wood decay fungi

I came across one of the park’s oddities – the unusual Corkscrew Tree that has four intertwined trunks reaching for the sky.

Corkscrew Tree

As I have said before, in my opinion there can never be too many ferns in the forest.

I hope you enjoyed a look at some of the hiking possibilities in Redwood National Park – one of my favorite places to walk! In my next post we travel on to the Oregon Coast with our first stop in Bandon.

Camping With Elk on California’s Redwood Coast

Elk Country RV Resort and Campground

After leaving Chico for our road trip to Oregon our first camping spot was at Elk Country RV Park between Trinidad and Orick, California. Besides a location near the redwoods, I chose this park because it advertised having a herd of wild elk that roamed the camping area. It is not often you get to camp near elk so this was the spot for us. The elk did not disappoint. Although they frequently moved around and at times were not seen, they usually made a showing some time each day.

While checking in, the campground office gave us a paper called “Elk Rules.” The page was actually full of information such as the following: “DO NOT approach the elk, keep your distance from them, give them their space by staying about 75-100 feet away. DO NOT look an elk in the eye, they consider this a challenge. Look away if they are staring at you. Calmly but quickly walk away from them. Elk live here, or rather we live with them. They will graze anywhere within the campground, schoolhouse, barn and pasture. Elk are often grazing around RV’s, tents and cars. Take a look before you go outside your trailer or tent.” My favorite was the following: “If the herd prevents you from returning to your site, you can always go up and wait at the store porch or find an Elk Country Rv Resort staff member and they can help you.”

It is true that if the elk had decided to hang out at our camp site we would not be able to chase them off and go back into our trailer. We talked to one couple who were camping with a tent and they had that happen to them. They returned one day to find their tent surrounded and had to just wait it out until the elk left. In the photo below, about six males decided to relax right next to a motor home. They were there for quite awhile.

One of the main things visitors want to see when coming to Redwoods National Park (RNP) are the elk. There are a few meadows in RNP where they hang out but I never saw them at those places. The elk found here are actually called Roosevelt Elk, named for our former president Teddy Roosevelt who worked to preserve them. He created what is now Olympic National Park mostly as an elk reserve. Roosevelt Elk can be found in the Northwestern states, on the coasts from Northern California up into British Columbia. I read that these elk are a success story as at one time they were hunted almost to extinction with only a few hundred animals left. Today they number in the thousands. There are four subspecies of elk and the Roosevelt are the largest in body size. Rocky Mountain elk though have the largest antlers.

Elk traffic jam on Highway 101

The historic one room Stone Lagoon School is located on the campground in a large meadow. This is a popular elk hangout and can be seen by travelers driving up Highway 101. I remember on my first trip up the redwood coast many years ago seeing this building with the elk nearby.

Stone Lagoon School

Besides having the elk as neighbors, we really enjoyed this large and lovely campground. Although we never saw elk at our site, we did have a flock of quail come to visit. Mark also alerted me to a fox that ran by and I followed it near a grassy area where it posed for some photos taken with my long lens.

Hard to imagine we have lived in this little trailer for over two years!
Gray Fox

We were fortunate to be less than a mile away from a really nice, secluded beach in Humboldt Lagoons State Park. It had been awhile since we had been on the Pacific Coast as our travels the past few years have been focused so much on the Eastern U.S. It was great to be close to a Northern California beach again. Here are a few sunset photos from our visits there.

Orick was the town closest to our campground but it didn’t offer much in services and appears to have seen better days. There are no gas stations here but a general store had one ancient gas pump with a price of a mere $4.69 per gallon. Yikes! We got the minimum amount and decided to get a full tank in the town of Klamath further north. The owner herself suggested this. I was surprised that a town bordering the southern end of Redwood National Park did not have eateries and gas stations. Redwood carvings are popular here and the shop next to the one pump store had some fun looking ones.

Redwood National Park offered some great scenery and walks, so stay tuned for my next post!

Did we make it through the tree? Nope, not even close

Exploring the Wonder of Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park on the California Redwood Coast is loaded with ferns. I love seeing the forest floor and hillsides full of them. But one place in particular really celebrates fernery and is aptly called Fern Canyon. The first time I came here was over 18 years ago during an Oregon/Washington road trip with my sister, daughter and niece. We were all amazed by our visit and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Mark and I also came here some years ago and it was still just as wonderful. A return to Fern Canyon was definitely in order. I would love to visit this place every year if I could as it is that special.

My $6.00 Walmart rubber boots saved the day

I am glad we talked to the rangers before driving out to the Canyon. We visited the Redwood National Park Visitor Center a few days before and were told that the Canyon was accessible, but the footbridges over the creek had been removed for the season. A visit guaranteed wet feet. I decided we should bring our rubber boots and it was the best decision as we were able to walk through the creek and keep dry.

Creek Crossing on Davidson Road to Fern Canyon

Getting to Fern Canyon is a bit of an adventure as it involves driving for some miles (about 10) on a winding, narrow dirt road with a couple of creek crossings. One of the creeks was rather wide but it was no problem for our truck. Once we reached the parking area it was a short walk before entering the Canyon where Home Creek flows. Since it is later in the year, I was a little surprised at how well the creek was flowing. As I said earlier, I was very happy about our rubber boots. While others were rock hopping and enduring soaked shoes, we could happily splash in and out of the creek. I think I spent most of my time walking in the creek, as it was just more fun that way.

Fern Canyon is well known for having 50 foot walls covered with ferns. These walls and all the fallen logs and branches give the Canyon a primeval look and feel. It is not surprising that several movies have been filmed here including “Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs” and “IMAX: Dinosaurs Alive.”

There are five different kinds of ferns growing here including five fingered, sword and lady. The National Park Service page describes these ferns as an “ancient species” dating back over 325 million years. In addition, there is lots of other foliage giving the Canyon a lush, tropical look. In some areas moss covers the walls and misty sprays from the top keep everything soaked.

Water sprayed down on me and the moss was soaked and dripping

Although the Canyon is fairly open most of the way, at one point there was a tangled mass of downed trees, stumps and logs. It looked like we wouldn’t be able to go further but we were able to pass under the trees and continue on.

A few obstacles in Fern Canyon
A few more logs to climb over

Fern Canyon can be done as a loop hike with steps that lead up the hill to a trail in the forest and back to the beginning. We didn’t want to leave the creek and fern covered walls though and decided to continue further up the creek until there wasn’t any where to walk and go back the same way. This was a perfect walk, I just wish it had been longer as it is under a mile each way and I hated for it to end.

The Canyon narrows and the trees/shrubs get thicker

On this trip I took this walking stick that I am embarrassed to say I have been meaning to use for close to two years but keep forgetting to take it along. This stick has a bit of a story. When we were staying at a campground next to the Mississippi River we met one of our neighbors. Although we only had the opportunity to talk to him a few times, he kindly surprised us with this stick. On the river’s edge he found a willow branch which had been gnawed by a beaver. He turned it into a walking stick, writing in pen the date and place it was made (Vidalia, Louisiana). A thoughtful gift that shows we have met some of the nicest people on the road.

It seems to us that Fern Canyon is one of the more difficult places to take photos because it tends to be dark and shafts of light beaming in wash out the photos. I say this because I don’t think pictures can do this place justice. It needs to be seen to be appreciated. If you haven’t been I hope you will consider a trip here some day. There is also lots more to see in the area since it is part of Redwood National Park. The redwoods are incredible and the beaches are pretty great as well. Check out the gallery below for several more Fern Canyon photos.

In my next post more about our stay on the California Redwood Coast!

Our Time in Chico, CA and Fall Plans

Pool party time – my parents and daughter
Our grandsons Luke and Levi enjoying lunch after a swim

I thought I would update on what we have been up to the past few months. From the end of July to the first part of October, we stayed in Chico so we could be near my parents. My mother had to have emergency surgery and we are so thankful and pleased that she had a full and quick recovery. For some time she has been back to her normal activities – she is a tough one! When we first arrived in Chico we stayed at the RV park where we usually stay when visiting my parents – Almond Tree RV Park. This park is less than two miles from their house and is a really nice spot for short stays. Unfortunately, they have a two week stay limit and we wanted to be in Chico longer than that. I did some research and found another RV/trailer park about a mile down the road. It was reviewed as once being a “problem” place full of questionable residents that gave the Park a bad name. Enter a man named Eddie who became the manager, rousted the ones who wouldn’t follow the “law” and peace ensued.

Mark and I showed up to see if we could convince Eddie to take us in as residents. At first he was doubtful as our RV is smaller than ones usually accepted there. But it happened that a small site was being vacated the next day that could perfectly accommodate our rig. After filling out the rental agreement and other necessary paperwork we were accepted. We affectionately nicknamed it the “gravel pit,” because well, there is nothing but gravel there. But this place was just what we needed. It was very quiet and peaceful, close to my parents’ house and also close to shopping, restaurants and other businesses. In addition, the monthly cost was very low and Eddie was a great landlord.

Yeah – we finished it!

Our two plus months in Chico were filled with lovely visits with my parents, sharing meals (my mom is a very good cook) and great talks full of reminiscing. Together we watched many baseball games as my dad is a big Giants fan and catches all the games. Mark and I never watch sports so this was a new thing for us and I learned some things I didn’t know (or had forgotten) about the game. Watching baseball games is more fun than we thought (except for all those looooong commercials 😞 ). During the games (and other times) my mom and I worked on this puzzle of the Anza Borrego Desert which was rather challenging, more so since we did it on a flowered table cloth and it was too long for the end of the table!

My dad and I at the Food Locker – making sure shelves are stocked and bags are packed

Staying in Chico meant attending church with my parents and helping out on Wednesdays at the Food Locker which is sponsored by the Catholic Ladies Relief Society. Food and other provisions are provided to the needy and my mother has volunteered here for 20 years 😃 .

Heirloom tomatoes at the Chico Farmer’s Market
Lots of stands have flower bouquets for sale at the Chico Farmer’s Market

I had been missing the food and restaurants in California and Chico has an abundance of good ones. There were great lunches at Sierra Nevada Brewery, Beatniks, Priya’s Indian for the buffet, Hula’s Mongolian Grill and Great Harvest Bread. We liked getting Italian food at California Pasta Productions which makes their own homemade noodles and sauces. On Saturdays I made sure to go to the Farmer’s Market which is one of my all time favorite outdoor markets. Among other things, the tomatoes, nectarines and bread were standouts.

Diving in without first getting used to the water – pretty good for an almost 86 year old

My parents live in a beautiful, tree filled neighborhood that comes with a clubhouse and large pool. That pool was a welcome treat in the hot summer weather and my dad and I took advantage of it on several occasions. We arrived at Chico when temperatures were often in the mid to high 90’s, even breaking 100. Our trailer air conditioning couldn’t handle the heat by mid afternoons and often shut off. Getting exercise outside was not a popular option for us so we headed to the local mall to walk inside. It was the perfect place to do some laps and I got in some fast power walks, getting in a little better shape than when I arrived. Sadly, the Chico Mall like so many around the country are becoming like ghost towns with fewer and fewer shoppers. Who knows how long many of them will hang on.

Walking with my dad under the tall oaks in Bidwell Park

When the temps cooled down after August we walked in Bidwell Park which in my humble opinion is one of the best parks in any town/city I have visited. The Park features amazing huge oak and sycamore trees and is very large (11 miles in length) with a road and many paths for walking, biking and horseback riding. The focal point of the Park is Big Chico Creek which flows year around. Due to the beauty of the trees, the original “Adventures of Robin Hood” movie starring Errol Flynn was filmed here in 1938.

Big Chico Creek flows through Bidwell Park
My dad at one of the bridges over Big Chico Creek

The best part of our Chico stay were all the family get togethers. Besides my parents, we were able to visit with my sister, brother-in-law, son, daughter and family, two nieces and a great-niece. It was such a blessing to see everyone again.

From left: Mark, niece Emily, daughter Shannon, son-in-law Jonathan, son Matt, grandsons Luke and Levi

We celebrated my dad’s birthday while we were there. Our family has always enjoyed gag gifts and years ago when our son Matt was a pre-teen, my parents gave him a broken tennis racket as a gag gift. Matt was wanting a new racket for Christmas and he was known for having busted a few while playing. This year Matt decided to return the favor and give his grandpa (once an avid tennis player) a busted racket. It brought lots of laughter from everyone when he opened his gift.

My dad with his bent tennis racket
My dad enjoying a homemade sniff and scratch birthday card from the great-grandsons
My dad with his great-grandsons

We also enjoyed trips to visit at the home of our daughter, son-in-law and grandsons who live south of Chico near the Sacramento area. We enjoyed their new spa and beautifully renovated backyard. It was great to be together again.

As I write this we are sitting in our little trailer in an RV park in Bandon on the Oregon Coast. We just arrived here today, the 37th state of our RV travels. After leaving Chico we stopped near Redwood National Park on the Northern California Coast for five nights. We had a wonderful stay there which I will be writing about in future blogs. For the rest of October and into early November we will be exploring Oregon, first making our way up the coast. Stay tuned!