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

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 :-)

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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

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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

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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

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review! Best Hikes With Kids: San Francisco Bay Area

Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area
By Laure Latham

Copyright: 2011
General subject matter: hiking, California, family recreation
Laure’s blog: http://frogmom.com

I have a fairly good book collection about local hikes and outdoor places, and one of the superior ones is Laure Latham’s Best Hikes with Kids San Francisco Bay Area. Someone once recommended this book long before I acquired it, and at the time I shook my head, thinking the hikes would be too easy. Little did I know. Easy doesn't mean boring, and when you have children, easy to moderate hikes that are full of interesting things to see and do are what turns recalcitrant children into inquisitive, happy beings. Once I acquired Laure's book, I loved it! The reasons are numerous: it has an intelligent introduction, comprehensive chapters, great organization, family focus, and breadth of trails, many which are new to me.
(credit: randsco.com)

Dad, 2-month-old baby, 4-yr-old kid
Laure believes all ages can and should hike. In her introduction she expands on Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods book and his philosophy to bring children into outdoor spaces by advocating that even babies should be taken hiking, claiming “they are the best hikers.” Laure shares her positive experience hiking with a seven week old baby in Yosemite (which triggers fond memories of taking my thirteen-day-old baby around Bayview Hill in San Francisco).

Laure emphasizes having fun. Some of the tips she has for motivating children include having them hike with friends, telling stories out loud (she’s got a great list of recommended books), doing arts and crafts on the trail, building fairy houses, and bringing lots of snacks. Practical tips, but potentially forgotten or de-emphasized by tired parents in their rush to get out the door, or finish a trail.
Kids on the go! (credit: durangogov.org)
A hundred hikes are divided between neighboring counties of San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Solano. There’s a map in the beginning of the book to show you where the hikes are, stretching as far north as Guerneville, as far south as Gilroy, and east from Fairfield.

Each hike has a “Before You Go” info box about maps and relevant web resources, and an info box about the hike’s vital points: length in miles, estimated hiking time, elevation, season, and level (easy, moderate, difficult). There are awesome detailed maps and a photo for each hike.

at Candlestick Point, SF
It seems that Laure likes the trails less traveled, and I must say, I’m quite pleased Laure gave so much attention (two out of ten hikes) to the southern parts of San Francisco: McLaren Park and Candlestick Point. It’s amazing to me how many San Franciscans haven’t been to McLaren or Candlestick, even outdoorsy natives. (Conversely, it’s always a thrill when people say they have gone to these spots). Laure touches on interesting historical points about these parks, like Candlestick’s creation in the wartime of the 1940s, their natural features, like Yosemite Creek which flows through McLaren, and somewhat secret destinations, like the stone labyrinth on top of Visitacion Knob in McLaren Park.

Tarantula (frogmom.com)
Because of Laure’s penchant for less beaten paths, I trust her to lead me someplace great. For instance, she has a fascinating write-up about Mount Diablo’s tarantulas, which you can encounter in the fall on a 2-mile hike in Mitchell Canyon in Contra Costa County.

I love water and walking, but with newborn twins and a double stroller, I’m a little stymied for ideas of where to go to swim and stroll. I appreciate Laure’s write up about a 2.2-mile trail with a paved path at Spring Lake Regional Park in Sonoma County.

Smittle (credit: westernwildflower.com)
Laure describes a flooded town underneath Lake Berryessa in Napa County, and a 1.5-mile loop there at Smittle Creek, including how to identify an osprey nest, and where to get a Junior Ranger activity book for your kid. I appreciate that she recommends the best season to check out a particular trail, and in this case it's in the spring because of the vibrant flowers growing among the green grass. 

Monarch butterflies fascinate both my four-year-old and myself, and we’ve always wanted to see flocks of them. But when, and where? Laure tells where to find monarchs in Santa Cruz County. She recommends an easy 1-mile loop at Natural Bridges State Beach during certain migration months (and one is coming up!). On this hike you’ll also see amazing rock formations (Laure gets into describing the geology too) and get a chance to explore tidepools.

Yes, this is Laure Latham! :-)
One day in early 2010 an editor from The Mountaineers Books contacted Laure because of her blog, Frogmom, which is about kids, creativity, and the outdoors. The editor asked her to write this book, proving that writing about what you love, even through a blog, could give you some awesome cerebral adventures.

Laure created three rules to guide her research and writing:

"First, I wanted my book to be fair to each county and represent the diversity of the Bay Area wherever you lived – not just for San Francisco families. That way, you could take the book with you on a day trip to Sonoma or a day trip to Santa Cruz and still find stuff to do. That meant popular Marin hikes would not be included but people would be able to discover the green side of Napa or Solano.

"Second, I wanted to include sightseeing and nature facts sidebars because I love to combine trails and travel. Seemed like seasonal events would be cool additions too.

"Third and last, I wanted each hike to have specific kid appeal – animal farm, cool nature fact, animal migrations, historic buildings, famous children’s books locations, shipwrecks, native American way of life, etc."

Laure and her book! (credit: frogmom.com)
Nine months later Laure basically gave birth to a manuscript (lol) after having walked 400 miles and 110 hikes. She submitted it to The Mountaineers Books, and it rolled out onto bookstore shelves nearly a year later. You can read Laure’s story here: http://frogmom.com/2011/09/best-hikes-with-kids-san-francisco-bay-area-my-book-is-out/

And better yet, because the written word on printed page shall never die or go out of style, Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area is available and fully able to be stashed in the glove compartment of your minivan, in your baby's diaper bag, or in the undercarriage basket of your stroller.