Sunrise, Sunset: Weekly races with the sun.

ImageAt start, the air is cold, the sky is black, and the trees stretch their dark, shadowy fingers over the dirt path as a pair of not-yet-awake feet crunch along.

It’s 6 a.m. on a Tuesday and I’m out on the trail, climbing my way up to the top of Madonna mountain, racing the sun to the edge of the sky, and fighting every bone in my body willing me to turn around, head home, and curl back up in the safety of my warm, soft bed.

So, why am I climbing a 1,292-foot mountain at the break of dawn? A friend of mine decided as part of some new resolution to watch the sun rise and set once every week. It seems like his attempt of sorts at finding some deeper connection with nature and experiencing every moment left in SLO to the fullest. Upon hearing this resolution, I deemed him crazy. The sunsets are understandable: in California, watching the glorious hues of the dying day is already a famed romantic past-time that is easy to watch on any day of the week. But watching the day begin? Crazy. I mean, it doesn’t even rise over the ocean. That’s practically half the point of watching the sun set. There was, however, some allure to discover his reasoning, and I was curious to see what “deep” inner peace I may find joining him on these hikes.

So, there I was, 30 minutes into the hike, stumbling over rocks, cursing my curiosity and secretly hoping some sent-from-heaven saint had a bed waiting for me on top of the peak.

What I found up there was even better than some 600 thread count linens.

As we neared the last bend in the path, the sun had just stretched its’ rays over the far hills beyond San Luis Obispo. The sky was a pale, pale lavender and the fresh day’s light was just beginning to paint its colors on the town below. Perched high above the world, with a few practiced early-morning hikers already deep in meditation at my side (a clear sign this whole “sunrise” thing was a path to inner peace) we watched; still, calm, quiet as the magnificent ball of light found its way into the sky, announcing a new day. And, I realized my crazy friend was right: watching the sunrise once a week is therapeutic. It releases the fears and stresses and pressures of the workday; a reminder that even the most predictable event in the world, the rising of a new day, can also be one of the most ethereal ones.

And so, Tuesday mornings I wake in the wee morning hours and join the sun in welcoming the new day from the hills and peaks of the central coast. But don’t get me wrong–I wouldn’t complain if I was welcomed at the top with a nice queen-sized bed. Image

Bob Jones City to The Sea Trail

Walked this path with a group of friends last week; it’s a fun, easy way to get outside. The entire path is paved and wildlife surrounds either side of the trail. It is flat the whole way, with no hills, so this walk was relaxing but still got me exercising and outside in nature.

The end of the trail also crosses through a golf course. There were people with strollers, cyclists, and others rollerblading or running, but most people I saw were simply walking the trail, enjoying the sunshine. The end of the trail also crosses through a golf course.

 

The trail is a mile and a half each way, going from a parking lot located near Avila Barn and opening up at Avila Beach, just before the Sea Life Center.

 

From SLO, we took the 101South, exited right at Avila Dr., and turned onto Ontario Rd. where signs led to the parking lot. There are bathrooms located in the parking lot, at the restaurant found about halfway into the trail, and at Avila Beach.

Afternoon Hike up Bishop’s Peak

Class was canceled today, so spent a few hours this beautiful Tuesday afternoon hiking up Bishop’s for the first time! Parked the car at the top of Highland and began the hike from there. The scenery was breathtaking the entire time, and while the switchbacks towards the top were never-ending, the gorgeous view kept our eyes occupied. Bishop’s is a playground of rocks; we found plenty of spots for climbing along the way. Also loved climbing around on the rocks at the top, though the wind sure did get strong up on the peak! Here’s my pictures from the day:

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A little jog on Johnson Ranch Trail

Well, I just got back from exploring another trail, Johnson Ranch. It was a nice, easy trail in the grasslands next to the freeway and South Higuera St. in SLO. Unfortunately I forgot my camera this time, so there are no pictures to share.

We got off the 101 South at Higuera and right there was a nice little parking lot at the start of the trail.

This trail is very people-friendly with a big bulletin marking the beginning and displaying a map of the trail and describing the history behind this Open Space path. All along the trail are little creeks and footbridges crossing them, and on any slippery or muddy parts cement blocks are laid across the path to help hikers keep their footing. Every so often signs marked the trail, warning about conditions, or pointing the right direction. Like I said, this hike is very welcoming to people.

The one picture I took with my phone before we set off on the trail...

It was a fairly short hike, there are two loops, but we only did the first big one. The path is easy for hikers, and we decided to run it. Johnson trail is awesome for cross-country running; we saw many other joggers and runners out there, with dogs and families accompanying them. There were people of all ages on the trail this morning.

The only downside to this trail is that for a portion of the time it is right next to the freeway, so any “natural escape” sounds are muffled by the loud noise of cars rushing by. However there is still plenty of wildlife, including cows (watch out for droppings!!), lizards, birds, poppies, wildflowers, and keep a look out for wild pigs- I saw lots of signs warning about them!

Tomorrow I plan to go back and try running the full two loops of the trail!

Ontario Ridge and Sycamore Crest Trail, Avila Beach

The view from Ontario Ridge

I was told about Ontario Ridge by another hiker we met at the top of Madonna Mountain and decided it would be a fun new trail to try. The hike was a total of 4.73 miles (check out the googlemap snapshot to see the trail loop from above!), and we started at 12:50 p.m. and got back to the car around 3:50 p.m.

google map of hike

We parked at Pirate’s Cove and started the hike through the gate that dead-ends the road. This brush-filled path led us to a cul-de-sac street lined with ocean-view mansions and a walking path.

Following the long row of grand houses, we turned left onto shell beach drive, where there was a little parking area. This was the beginning of the real hike.

The beginning of Ontario Ridge Trail

The start was a short but very steep climb up to the ridge that followed some telephone lines to the left side of the trail. The entire Ontario Ridge hike is literally on the “ridge” of the hill, and follows the steep dips, and peaks of the ridge. While the terrain is challenging, the view is spectacular. To our left we saw the ocean and a bird’s eye view of shell beach and all the large homes adjacent to the hill. And to our right, trees shading the ground and plants covering the hillside.

bottles should be in recycling, not on the trails! grrrr....

We saw a tiny Monterey Ring-Neck snake on the trail, and lots of pretty flowers along with the occasional butterfly.

Monterey Ring-Necked snake photo credit: Brad Alexander

In the middle of the hike we passed through what looked like a radio tower of some sort.

After a few miles along the ridge, the path came to a fork. We decided to go right, heading gradually downhill into the shady tree-lined path. There were quite a few other hikers on this path, and even a couple biking. Halfway down we found a bench at the side of the trail. Eventually we found ourselves at the bottom, where, much to our surprise, we discovered that the trail ended at the Avila Hot Springs.

So, we turned around and headed back up, taking a little break at the bench on the way.

Sycamore Crest Trail

It turns out that the shady trail we turned onto at the fork is a different trail called Sycamore Crest trail, and is three quarters of a mile each way.

The resting bench

Back at the top and once again in the afternoon sun, we took the left side of the fork. This took us straight down the steep hill to the parking lot of Pirate’s Cove.

The hill down to Pirate's Cove

Going down the hill was a slow process, complete with a few slips and slides along the way.

yellow wildflowers with Avila in the background

But we had the ocean in front of us, a view of Avila to the right, and tall yellow flowers lining the trail the whole way down.

not quite the yellow brick road...

At the very bottom we hopped over some low barbed wire, but I’m pretty sure that there is a gate located a little further to the right at the bottom of the path, away from the parking lot.

There are three places that you can park if you want to do the entire hike:

– Pirate’s Cove (that’s where I parked)

– Shell Beach Road at the start of Ontario Ridge

– Avila Hot Springs (next to the green bridge that goes over the road)

Best part: all the parking is free!

Don’t forget sunscreen and a camera, the hike is exposed to the sun but the views are amazing!

First-time hike up Madonna Mountain

Today my hiking buddy and I decided to spend our beautiful, early morning hiking up Cerro San Luis, more commonly known as Madonna Mountain.

This was my first time up the mountain, so we did not know exactly which paths to take, but whichever way we went must have worked because we definitely made it to the top!

We began around 9:10 am, got to the top at 10:30, and finished the hike about 11:30. I would say it’s a little over a two-hour hike, but that is including all the times we stopped to take pictures and admire the view as we headed up. So, the total time could be shorter/ longer depending on your hiking style.

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The hike started at the Laguna Lake Dog Park off of Madonna Rd. At first we walked along a grassy, flat trail that was surrounded by these tiny yellow flowers that just blanketed the fields. The openness here was absolutely unreal, and my buddy even remarked that the beginning of the hike looked like a completely different country.

After sliding through some muddy spots and winding up a little (compared to the mountain itself) hill with a fun rock to play on halfway up, we made it to the bottom of Madonna Mountain.

We hiked up the backside of Madonna, with Laguna Lack at our backs pretty much the entire way up. It was a fairly steep hike, but the view from the top was worth it.

Along the way we passed many other hikers, got passed by a few bikers, and even had a run-in with a little snake in the middle of the path. I’m pretty sure it was a garter snake, but I’m not very knowledgeable on the topic of snakes, and it weaved its way out of sight before we could get a better look.

Anyway, at the very top of the mountain, there are some rocks you can climb on top of, and then the entirety of San Luis Obispo is in eyesight. It’s the perfect spot for getting breathtaking pictures. The sight up there is incredible, and we just sat and took it all in for a little while before heading back down the mountain.

The hike ended in the field of yellow flowers and an accompanying slight breeze, a peaceful ending to a picture-perfect hike.

Little Falls, Big Adventure

To celebrate the Cesar Chavez holiday, my roommate and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful Thursday weather and go for a hike to some waterfalls near Lopez Lake.

This was my first visit to the falls, so the drive there was half the adventure.

Little Falls Trail

After driving past quintessentially central coast vineyards and around Lopez Lake, we turned right onto a skinny road called Hi Mountain Road, then headed past the end of the lake, turning left onto Upper Lopez Canyon Road- an even skinnier, windier drive. This road traveled up and around the hills for about six miles. The view from here was absolutely spectacular (and a bit frightening!)

Eventually the road took a steep turn downhill and we kept driving until we hit a turn in the road. We found that at this point the straight path was actually private property and not the right road to the falls. Instead, we had to turn right and begin the next part of our journey- on unpaved paths.

For a while we drove through lush, green tree canopy shading the road. Horses caroused the ranches on either side of the road, and we rolled down the sunroof and hummed along to mellow tunes on the radio.

Crossing four little streams gave way to bouts of laughter as water splashed up next to my car. At that point, we thought that was the extent of any water-crossing adventure for the day.

…That is, until the road hit an actual creek- we bounced along over the rocks and water, screaming and laughing even more. This happened at least four more times, each time an adrenaline rush leading to fits of laughter on the other side. The creeks were a couple feet deep, some wider than others. (One creek we literally had to drive upstream to get to the other side of the road.)

sign marking the beginning of Little Falls hiking trail

About 1.5 miles of off-roading later, we saw a sign on the right of the road that read “Little Falls,” so we pulled over, jumped out of the car, and began the second part of our adventure.

One of the creeks we crossed

The hike itself was fairly easy, and not very long. We splashed through about four  ankle-deep streams, cooling off our feet in the crisp water, and then found our first little waterfall. It was tall but delicate, and ran down the slate rock in such a way that it made the most tranquil sound while falling into the small pool below.

The second waterfall on the hike

We turned left and trekked up a steep path following the creek on our left below, until approaching a the top of a bigger waterfall. This one was powerful, and plunged into what looked like a fairly large pool about 35 feet below. Further upstream, little waterfalls fell into tiny ponds, all traveling towards the larger waterfall.

To our right, massive walls of slate rock towered above us, the white rock contrasting the dense greenery surrounding the falls.

The entire hike was relaxing and full of nature. We saw salamanders, California poppies, bugs bugs bugs, and incredible geography in the rock structure.

This hike was not even the extent of what the falls offers, and I am excited to come back and explore deeper into the trails, including Big Falls, which is a couple more creek crossings down the road.

Driving Directions:

To get here from San Luis Obispo, we took the 101 South, exited at Grand/ 227 in Arroyo Grande, and turned left heading on the 227. This took us around Lopez Lake until we turned right onto Hi Mountain Rd. Further down, turn left onto Upper Lopez Canyon Rd. Then the real adventure begins. The pavement ends after about six miles, and after some creek crossings and about 2 miles, you will see the sign for Little Falls.

Some tips:

  • bring bug repellant!!
  • there is no phone service here, so don’t rely on phones for navigation
  • a car with 4-wheel-drive is highly recommended
  • wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet
  • there is a lot of brush, so wear clothes that will protect you (like long pants)

Happy exploring!

9 birds you’ll find on the central coast

1. California Quail

photo by Joyce- elfin.forest

2. Pelican

Pelican- photo by mikebaird

3. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl- photo by brendan.lally

4. Western Seagull

Western Seagull- photo by jessicafm

5. Great Egret

Great Egret- photo by mikebaird

6. Red Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk- photo by badjoby

7. Spotted Sandpiper


Spotted Sandpiper- photo by barloventomagico

8. Western Meadowlark


Western Meadowlark- photo by Terry Spivey

9. Blue Heron

Blue Heron- photo by mikebaird

The northern Channel Islands: an island escape close to home

The northern Channel Islands’ waters are home to diverse marine life, incredible geological features, and great diving. But the islands themselves also offer some fantastic adventures.

While 2,000 plants and animals call the Channel Islands home, there are over 145 species that are only found on the Channel Islands. Just exploring the wildlife on the islands is reason alone to go visit.

To get to the northern islands, you need to book a boat from Ventura or Santa Barbara. Once there, you can hike, bird watch, camp, and backpack.

The terrain varies on all of the islands; some islands have sharp cliffs, and others flat plains. Anacapa has magnificent hiking, though only East Anacapa has trails. The best part about hiking Anacapa is the opportunity to see the last permanent lighthouse built on the west coast. The trail to this is a little under a mile roundtrip.  My favorite part of Anacapa is the sloping hills painted white from the abundance of birds inhabiting the island.

Santa Rosa has many trails, and offers intense, long hikes for those up for a challenge. For a more leisurely hike, try hiking at Water Canyon Beach. It is relaxing and beautiful! If you are looking for a long hike, though, I have heard that the East Point trail is extremely tiring (about 15 miles) but extremely worth it!

On San Miguel Island, National Park Service recommends that you hike Cuyler Harbor Beach, Cabrillo Monument, and the Lester Ranch Site. All other hiking requires a park ranger. To arrange a hike, call (805) 658- 5730

For an awesome camping experience on the Channel Islands, Santa Cruz is the number one island that I have heard people talk about. Here you can camp at Scorpion Ranch. Make sure you have reservations before you go. When you get off the boat, you hike about a half-mile to the campground. There is often a ranger at the campground that can provide an overview of the island and take you on a short nature walk. The boat comes twice a day to Santa Cruz, so plan your camping trip accordingly.

If you would like to try camping on the other islands, there is a campsite on the east side of Anacapa, at Water Canyon on Santa Rosa, and above Cuyler Harbor on San Miguel.

While visiting the Channel Islands, you can find tide pools, go bird watching (talk to the rangers for information), go hiking, or just lose yourself in nature.

Happy hiking!