Dublin Sightseeing Walks

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My eachtra aisling Éireannach (Irish dream adventure) began with a  4-day stay in the Dublin area, during which I went on 3 sightseeing walks. The first was kind of a brief initial exploration, the second was a more extensive walk through the Temple Bar and River Liffey areas, and the third was a revisit to the center city area after completing the half marathon. All of these walks began and ended at my hotel. True its reputation, the weather presented a variety, with changes happening fairly rapidly, including light rain.

Prior to the first walk I’d been on the ground only a few hours, and I needed to go to an exhibition hall to pick up my half marathon participant materials (bib, shirt, goodie bag, and so on). Fortunately this was only about 1½ miles from my hotel – it was a convenient distance to walk to get some fresh air, stretch my legs, and hopefully help keep me awake until a decent hour in the evening. Before I set out, the hotel concierge kindly marked a map for me with the hotel and exhibition hall locations, as well as a suggested walking route.

Note: Since my GPS software does not include any maps in Europe, my GPS tracks for this trip will all be displayed in Google Earth. In the track for the first day’s walk the hotel is at the left and the exhibition hall is at the right; the track is displayed blue.

GPS track for Aug 2 walk

GPS track for Aug 2 walk

I had gone just a couple of blocks when I heard a bird chattering and saw it fly away from the sidewalk into a tree on the grounds of an apartment complex. It turned out to be a magpie: in Europe it’s called a European or Eurasian magpie, and in the US it’s called a black-billed magpie. Apparently it’s the same species (pica pica)!

On my way to the exhibition hall I passed through a mostly residential area, including a parish church (Church of Ireland, Parish of St Bartholomew). In one of the driveways I noted a car restoration project. There was also a local commercial area with – of course! – a pub or two.

photo of neighborhood pub

Neighborhood pub

The River Dodder passes through this area, and the designation Ballsbridge refers to an actual bridge, Ball’s Bridge, originally built in 1791. Along the edge of the river I saw what I think were black-headed gulls, as well as a grey heron.

picture of grey heron feeding in the River Dodder

Grey heron feeding in the River Dodder

At the Health Expo where I picked up my half marathon numbered bib, I was amused to note that one of the exhibit booths was basically a cupcake stand; usually the food items in the Health Expo are more like race nutrition and organic foods. There were at least 10 or 15 types of cupcake available, and I couldn’t resist trying one!

For my second day’s walk, I headed the other direction to visit Trinity College, the Temple Bar district, the River Liffey, Christ Church Cathedral, and Dublin Castle. The hotel is at the lower right of the GPS track, which is again shown in blue.

GPS track for Aug 3 walk

GPS track for Aug 3 walk

My path to the city center crossed the Grand Canal and passed through St Stephen’s Green, a 22-acre public park in the Victorian style (see the green square almost in the center of the GPS track image). Each of the 4 times I walked through St Stephen’s Green I took a slightly different route, enjoying trees, lawns, magpies, flower plantings, and a small ornamental lake with swans, ducks, and herring gulls.

My first major stop was Trinity College, created by royal charter in 1592 and formally titled College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin. Near the main entrance is a beautiful campanile, or bell tower.

image of campanile, Trinity College

Campanile, Trinity College

I was hoping to view the Book of Kells, housed in the Old Library building. This involved waiting in an imposing-looking queue. Fortunately the queue moved steadily and everyone was friendly and seemed equally excited to get in to see the exhibit. The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript, which means that various ornamentations (initials, borders, and miniature illustrations) have been added to the text. It contains the four Gospels in Latin. Created in a monastery around 800AD, it is considered by some to be Ireland’s finest national treasure. Seeing it was well worth the half-hour wait!

After exiting the exhibit, I continued directly to the famous Long Room, which houses some 200,000 books, a mere 4% of the entire Old Library collection. The Long Room is simply magnificent, 65 meters long with a high, arched ceiling. There are two galleries, with lettered alcoves lining both sides of the central hall. Beautiful spiral staircases allow access (by staff only!) to the upper gallery. Each alcove contains two floor-to-ceiling sets of shelves, with each shelf labelled. So every book housed in the Long Room can be located to its shelf with just two coordinates. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a bit of a musty odor, associated with the number and age of the books housed there.

photo of Long Room, in the Old Library of Trinity College

Long Room, in the Old Library of Trinity College

There was a special exhibit about Brian Boru, Ireland’s most famous king, and the Battle of Clontarf, where he was killed in 1014. A special, permanent, exhibit, is one of three surviving medieval Gaelic harps, known as the Brian Boru harp.

Ready for some fresh air, I headed for the adjacent Temple Bar district, where I walked along Fleet Street past a TGI Friday’s on my way to the River Liffey, which winds through the center city. The river is relatively narrow, and over a dozen bridges cross it in center city. First I crossed the O’Connell Bridge, known for being wider than it is long. I walked a bit farther north to view the Spire, a cone-shaped sculpture some 120 meters tall, with a diameter of 3 meters at the base and 15 cm at the top. It is thought to be the world’s tallest sculpture.

picture of Spire of Dublin

Spire of Dublin

Next I walked a couple of blocks southwest to cross the Ha’Penny Bridge, viewed here from O’Connell Bridge. Ha’Penny Bridge was the first pedestrian bridge in Dublin, built in 1816. It was originally a toll bridge; its half-penny toll was exactly equal to the fare for the about-to-be-redundant ferry. It was the only pedestrian bridge across the river until the nearby Millennium Bridge was built in 1999.

image of Ha’Penny Bridge

Ha’Penny Bridge

Something that both impressed and amused me was the prevalence of indications, painted right on the street pavement, reminding pedestrians which way to look before crossing the street. Clearly there are many visitors from countries in which the driving conventions differ from Ireland (where you drive on the left)!

photo of Look to the right to avoid being run over

Look to the right to avoid being run over

After enjoying the River Liffey and the 3 bridges I walked across, I continued southwest to Christ Church Cathedral (at the left of the GPS track), which was probably founded around 1030. Some of the building dates from the 1100’s but there has been extensive rebuilding over the centuries.

picture of Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

Not surprising for a church of its age, there is a lot of history associated with Christ Church. For one thing, music has been very important; there are several plaques and other exhibits. The choir was founded in 1480, and in 1742 a combined choir with St. Patrick’s Cathedral gave the world premier performance of Handel’s Messiah, conducted by the composer. Here is a beautiful group of stained glass windows in the nave.

image of stained glass windows, Christ Church Cathedral

Stained glass windows, Christ Church Cathedral

While walking around the interior, when I got to the area where the choir typically sits, I was surprised to see it signed “Quire”. Later I learned that this is an accepted alternate spelling for this area in a church or cathedral. (Live and learn…)

The crypt is very interesting. Dating from the 12th century, it is thought to be the oldest structure in Dublin. It was restored in 2000 and opened for public visits. One interesting exhibit is a collection of sliver gilt plate presented to the cathedral by King William III and Queen Mary following the king’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Another is a display of a mummified cat and rat, which apparently became trapped together in an organ pipe in the 1850’s and were found sometime later.

photo of the cat and the rat, Christ Church Cathedral crypt

The cat and the rat, Christ Church Cathedral crypt

I had been hoping to have afternoon tea in a little tea room in the crypt, but unfortunately it wasn’t open. Continuing on my itinerary, I started back toward the Temple Bar area. Along the way I passed a large bike rental facility and was passed by various tour buses. The most interesting was this one, which apparently has an amphibious aspect to it – and participants are encouraged to wear Viking hats while on the tour.

picture of Viking hat, anyone?

Viking hat, anyone?

A short distance from Christ Church is Dublin Castle, which has been continuously inhabited since its founding in 1204. I briefly visited the Chapel Royal and viewed the adjacent Record Tower. Most interesting, however, was an exhibit of sand sculpture in the Great Courtyard. The exhibit included 3 sculptures with a theme of black, white, and grey. I particularly liked the sculpture corresponding to black, which depicts a portrait of Albert Einstein stretched over the event horizon of a black hole (on the other side of the sculpture).

image of sand sculpture at Dublin Castle

Sand sculpture at Dublin Castle

After a break for a late lunch, I started back to the hotel. As I walked along King Street, which, like many others in Dublin, has a particular name for only a few blocks, I passed the Gaiety Theatre. I was interested to note that the 20th Anniversary Tour of Riverdance was playing there.

After passing through St Stephen’s Green again, I continued along Leeson Street Lower. I began to pay attention to the variety of colors of front doors to apartments or other units in the buildings, and I captured quite a few images before I crossed the Grand Canal and arrived at my hotel.

photo of colorful doors of Dublin

Colorful doors of Dublin

My third walk was the following day, in the afternoon after completing the half marathon in the morning. Once again I went to the center city and River Liffey area. This time the weather was relatively clear and dry.

GPS track for Aug 4 walk

GPS track for Aug 4 walk

I took my time and just enjoyed the day. When I got to the Grand Canal I walked along the side for a few blocks. The surface of the water was smooth like glass.

picture of Grand Canal

Grand Canal

I spent some time observing a moorhen walking around by the edge of the canal and in the grass. Its feet seem exceptionally big!

image of moorhen

Moorhen

I continued to St Stephen’s Green, where I enjoyed watching a mute swan swimming in the lake.

photo of mute swan in St Stephen’s Green’s lake

Mute swan in St Stephen’s Green’s lake

I continued through the Temple Bar district to the River Liffey. This view is from Ha’Penny Bridge looking toward O’Connell Bridge.

picture of River Liffey

River Liffey

After strolling along the riverfront for awhile, I retraced my way through the Temple Bar district and along Grafton Street. There were several street musicians and other street performers. This group was particularly interesting; there were actually people in these unusual costumes, in stationary poses.

image of unusual street performers

Unusual street performers

After a break for a snack I walked through St Stephen’s Green one final time. There were plenty of Dubliners enjoying the beautiful summer early evening. There was even a young woman practicing cartwheels!

photo of practicing cartwheels

Practicing cartwheels

My time in Dublin was too brief to be able to visit as much as I would have liked. Indeed, on the third day it would have been too rushed to visit any museums or indoor venues, so I simply enjoyed walking outdoors in the beautiful weather. I would enjoy having an opportunity for a return visit.

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Irish dream adventure (eachtra aisling Éireannach) – overview

Eachtra aisling Éireannach means an Irish dream adventure. That’s an apt description of the trip I recently completed. Here’s how it came about:

Almost two years ago I began to develop the notion of doing a half marathon overseas. I’d participated (by walking) in several relatively local half marathon events (as well as Bay to Breakers), and I thought it would be interesting to participate in a half marathon in a more exotic location. Part of the experience, in my mind, would be to stay after the half marathon for some sightseeing and perhaps some hiking. Eventually I decided to sign up for the 2014 Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Dublin, Ireland. I’ve just returned – and it was, indeed, a dream adventure!

When I began planning my trip, a friend suggested going up to the north coast to see the Giant’s Causeway, one of the top sightseeing destinations in Northern Ireland. As I did more research I learned about several interesting-sounding hiking trails not far away. Soon I had the following general itinerary planned:

I would arrive in Dublin 2 days before the half marathon – enough time, I hoped, to adjust to the 8-hour time change and do a bit of sightseeing. For the day after the half marathon I signed up for a day excursion to a Neolithic site called Newgrange, which is part of a larger complex called Brú na Bóinne. After the tour I would take the train to Belfast, overnight there, and continue to the small resort town of Ballycastle, where I would headquarter for 6 days of hiking on the Coastal Causeway Walk, the Moyle Way, and Rathlin Island. Then I would return to Belfast, hopefully with time for one final short hike near Belfast Castle before returning to the Bay Area.

The map gives a geographic overview. Dublin and Belfast, both on the east coast, are shown with stars, as capitals of Ireland and Northern Ireland respectively. Near the top right is a small boomerang-shaped island, which is Rathlin, just a few miles from Ballycastle.

map of Ireland

There were some notable highlights for the trip:

  • People were friendly and helpful. If I asked a question, or even looked confused or lost, someone would be happy to offer information
  • Ireland really is as green as its reputation! This is clearly due to the frequent rain (the cover photo for this post is from an umbrella that I couldn’t resist purchasing)
  • By serendipity I met up with two couples in town for the half marathon, and we ended up carpooling to/from the event, warming up together, and waiting for each other at the finish – a truly special part of the event
  • The day of the half marathon was sunny and dry
  • The places I’d decided to visit were interesting and beautiful
  • In particular, the coastal scenery was stunning
  • Each day I got more proficient at keeping myself and my gear dry, and at way-finding on the trails

By the numbers: Here is a summary of my walking and hiking during the 12 days I was in Ireland and Northern Ireland. As is my usual practice, I carried a GPS to track my walking/hiking route and distance. When I added everything up, I was a bit startled to see that I’d covered 130 miles!

stats - Ireland

I plan to post write-ups of my adventures, so stay tuned!

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Bowman’s Hill Tower and Wildflower Preserve

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As a child growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate the local historical and natural features surrounding me. But certain memories were deeply imprinted and have remained through my adult life in California. One of my fondest memories is the numerous Sunday afternoon family visits to Bowman’s Hill Tower and Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, both located in Washington Crossing Historic Park. This is the real, historic Washington Crossing, where General Washington and Continental Army troops crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, on their way to a surprise attack and defeat of Hessian troops several miles downriver near Trenton, New Jersey, leading the way to a turning point in the Revolutionary War. For my siblings and me, visiting the park almost always included a walk on some of the trails in the Wildflower Preserve and a climb – probably a race, when we could get away with it – to the top of the tower. We also often stopped off in a special room in the Visitor Center with a window wall facing bird feeders and the adjacent wooded area, for some up-close bird viewing.

Recently I made two brief visits to the park: one to climb the tower and visit the bird viewing room, and another to walk along some of the wildflower paths. For the visit to the tower, my siblings were all present, and that made it a truly special occasion. The tower sits atop a 400-foot hill overlooking the Delaware River and its valley. The tower is surrounded by trees, so you really can’t get an overview view of it except looking upward from the base.

picture of Bowman’s Hill Tower

Bowman’s Hill Tower

The tower was built between 1929 and 1931 as a commemorative to Washington, his army, and the Delaware River Crossing. It looks like a lookout tower, and it certainly seems as though this hill might have been a good place for a lookout to be located. The tower is 125 feet tall. Today an elevator goes ¾ of the way to the top, but we were delighted to discover that the original staircase, which spirals around inside the shell of the tower, is still in place. Needless to say, we all walked up the stairs. The final 23 steps are inside a smaller diameter tower (at the left, in the photo) in a very tight spiral.

From the top, the views of the river and valley are quite beautiful. Here is a view looking roughly northwest and showing two bridges crossing the Delaware River.

photo of view northwest from Bowman’s Hill Tower

View northwest from Bowman’s Hill Tower

Turning to look downstream, here is a view looking roughly southeast toward Trenton. These two views illustrate what a nice lookout hill this might have made.

image of view southeast from Bowman’s Hill Tower

View southeast from Bowman’s Hill Tower

As it turns out, while descending the tight spiral at the top of the tower, I mis-positioned one foot on a step, lost my balance, and tweaked my ankle. I walked the rest of the way down to ground level – it would have taken a more severe fall to cause me to abandon the walk – but we all decided to defer a wildflower walk until another day.

Instead, we went into the Wildflower Preserve’s Visitor Center and spent some time in the bird viewing room. Almost immediately we noticed several rose-breasted grosbeaks taking turns at one of the feeders. Here is one of the males, showing off his beautiful coloring.   The photo is not the best, but a wire net between the windows and the feeders – which kept the birds from flying into the window panes – made it difficult for me to convince the autofocus on my camera where I wanted it to focus.

picture of rose-breasted grosbeak (male)

Rose-breasted grosbeak (male)

I had a little better luck with this tufted titmouse, a favorite visitor to the feeders we’d had outside our living room window at home.

photo of tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

I returned another day with my sister and brother-in-law for a short walk on some of the paths in the Wildflower Preserve, which is at the base of Bowman’s Hill. I was impressed to learn that the web site lists flowers in bloom for each month of the year (well, just one or two covering November through February), and the Visitor Center staff have copies of a list that is updated frequently, including which trails are likely places to find each wildflower that “you may find in bloom today”. We were especially hoping to find a jack-in-the-pulpit, a beautiful childhood favorite. We were unsuccessful, but enjoyed a leisurely walk along several trails.

GPS track

GPS track

Most of the trails are quite short, with frequent distance markers. From the Visitor Center we started up the Cabin Trail, which goes to a cabin, and then took the Azalea and Millrace Trails, which meander next to Pidcock Creek. The trails are well-signed, and many are named for wildflowers that grow along them.

image of sign denoting Azalea Trail

Sign denoting Azalea Trail

At 0.4 mi in length, Millrace Trail is one of the longer trails in the preserve. We decided to walk its entire length to see what we would find along the creek. We saw many forest plants that we did not recognize, as well as lush ferns enjoying the moist environment. We found one particular log on the ground with an interesting assortment of different shaped and colored fungi growing on the cross-sectional surface.

picgture of fungus growing on a log

Fungus growing on a log

It was delightful to walk along and listen to veeries, wood thrushes, catbirds, and other forest birds. Just after we had reached the far end of Millrace Trail and turned around, we heard an eastern wood pewee singing its distinctive “pee-a-wee” song over and over. It seemed close to the trail, and soon we saw it fly from one perch to a different tree, where we could actually see it.

photo of eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

After we returned to the Visitor Center we walked a very short distance along the park road to the Marshmarigold Trail, one of the “target” trails in our search for jack-in-the-pulpit. While we didn’t find a jack-in-the-pulpit, we did find several pretty wild irises.

image of wild iris

Wild iris

Next we crossed Pidcock Creek and walked the (short) length of Violet Trail, again looking for jack-in-the-pulpit. Then we crossed the park road to explore Gentian Trail, a trail name I could almost hear my dad talk about in my memories. Along this trail we found skunk cabbage, with its extra-large leaves, and these pretty, small, light-green bell-like flowers just a few millimeters across. I think the small leaves near the center of the picture belong to the flowers, while the larger leaves, which remind me of Solomon’s seal, are from an adjacent plant.

picgture of small bell-like flower

Small bell-like flower

We also found a pretty spider web glistening in the filtered sunlight.

photo of spider web

Spider web

Returning from the end of the Gentian Trail loop, we walked along Azaleas at the Bridge Trail and Aster Trail back to the Visitor Center. The entire wildflower trail walk was only 1.8 miles, but it was a wonderful walk down memory lane.

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Core Creek Park – Second Exploration

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This was a second exploration of Core Creek Park, a 1200-acre county park in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, close to the retirement community where my mother lives. My first exploration of the park was two years ago, and I enjoyed walking a portion of the perimeter of Lake Luxembourg, a major feature of the park. This time I was hoping to be able to walk all the way around the lake, even though I had a vague recollection from the earlier walk that there was going to be an impediment. As it turns out, it was National Get Outdoors Day, and my walk was a great way to celebrate the occasion.

I learned that there is a trail through the woods that partly surround the lake on the east side. However, part of the lake shore essentially abuts two roads, so in the end it became necessary to walk along the shoulder of several roads in order to complete my circumnavigation. The portion of my walk that was actually within the park was only about 3.7 miles, or 40% of the total mileage for the walk.

GPS track

GPS track

Because of the proximity to the lake, there was relatively little elevation gain and loss: just 400 feet or so in my 9-mile walk.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I started out at the main entrance to Pennswood Village, which is just across PA-413 from the park. The shortest path to the park’s entrance on Tollgate Rd is almost exactly 1 mile. I turned in at the park entrance and started walking along the main park road. Just past the entrance there is a very nice fenced-in dog park, complete with benches, doggie-bag dispensers, trash cans, trees, and – in the middle of the grassy area – a red fire hydrant! There were several visitors in the dog park, one playing chase-the-frisbee.

About ½ mile inside the park the main road turns right, but if you continue straight you shortly arrive at a boat launching ramp, with nearby parking for vehicles with trailers. From this area I noticed some of the on-water activities. First I noticed a colorful small sailboat skimming along through the water in a pleasant light breeze.

picture of sailboat on Lake Luxembourg

Sailboat on Lake Luxembourg

I also noticed a couple of kayakers, alternately dipping their paddles to one side and then the other. They were pretty well synchronized! Also there was a pedal boat nearby. It looked like fun activities for a warm summer day.

image of kayaks and a pedal boat

Kayaks and a pedal boat

I wasn’t sure how I was going to learn about a possible path around the lake, so I was happy to notice a couple of park rangers sitting in their vehicle observing the park visitors. I learned that, a few parking lots farther along the main park road, a trail takes off and goes through the woods. It’s not an improved path, but more like a single-track trail that is used by cyclists and walkers. It sounded perfect, so I continued on my way.

Along the way I walked over to another parking area near the lake shore. From here I had a nice view along the length of Lake Luxembourg.

photo of Lake Luxembourg

Lake Luxembourg

I continued along the main park road, crossing Core Creek. About 1 mile past the road to the boat launch, I found the trail and started off into the woods. Almost immediately I was treated to the songs of cardinals, catbirds, and common yellowthroats.

picture of trail through the woods next to the lake

Trail through the woods next to the lake

There was lots of honeysuckle. Perhaps I’ve been living in California too long (?!) but I’d forgotten how beautiful and fragrant it is. Usually the blossoms come in pairs, but I saw an occasional triplet and even a quartet.

image of beautiful and fragrant honeysuckle blossoms

Beautiful and fragrant honeysuckle blossoms

I also found crown vetch, as well as this pretty, small-sized yellow pea-like flower that I think is birdfoot deervetch.

photo of birdfoot deervetch

Birdfoot deervetch

As I walked through the woods I was a bit startled to notice the sound of a couple of helicopters flying very slowly over the area. I couldn’t help hoping that they weren’t looking for anybody in particular in the woods!

I noticed a very distinctive plant: distinctive because there were 7 lobes on a single platter-like leaf. Among other names, it is commonly known as may apple. Although may apples do flower, I haven’t yet seen a flower.

picgture of may apple

May apple

In the moist woods there were lush ferns and a few logs or tree trunks with interesting fungus colonies growing on them. This colony was growing at the base of the trunk of a tree.

image of fungus on a tree trunk

Fungus on a tree trunk

There were some “social trails” as well as the intended bike trail, and I did get off-trail a couple of times. Eventually the trail led to the edge of the road that goes roughly northwest along the edge of Core Creek Park, Woodbourne Rd. At this point I was 5 miles from my start, and I decided to continue along the shoulder of the road in the direction to continue my circumnavigation of Lake Luxembourg. Within another ½ mile I turned left at Ellis Rd, figuring it was the best way to get back to Tollgate Rd. Ellis tees at Fulling Mill Rd, where I turned left to get closer to the lake, followed by a right turn onto Tollgate Rd. Along the shoulder of the roads there were some more wildflowers. I particularly noticed some pretty, brilliant pink flowers. These beauties were about 1 cm in diameter.

photo of bright pink flower

Bright pink flower

I also passed a couple of places where the edge of Lake Luxembourg comes right up to within several feet of the road. These places are the impediments I was vaguely aware of, and which prevented a full circumnavigation on park paths.

At 6.9 miles from the start I again passed the entrance to Core Creek Park. My entire Lake Luxembourg circumnavigation, including a couple of short detours and nearly 2 miles along the shoulder of public roads, was 5.9 miles. On my way back to Pennswood I decided to walk up two short dead-end residential streets, near the 413 icon on my GPS track image. As soon as I turned on the first street I noticed some beautiful flowers in a front yard next to the street. According to a neighbor, they are called sundrops, and in some ways they reminded me of the spectacular blazing stars I had recently seen on a hike in an open space preserve in the San Francisco Bay Area.

picture of sundrop

Sundrop

Both streets dead-end at private property at the edge of Core Creek Park. As I approached the end of the second street I noticed a deer, initially grazing on the grass but almost immediately at attention to my approach. I continued to approach slowly, and shortly she turned and ran off.

image of deer

Deer

My circumnavigation of Lake Luxembourg evolved into a very pleasant walk through Core Creek Park and its woods, along roads lined with wildflowers, and briefly through a residential area. On my way back through Pennswood property, I walked along part of the perimeter pathway to enjoy a bit more of a pleasant afternoon on National Get Outdoors Day.

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Tyler State Park

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Tyler State Park is a 1700-acre park in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, located near where my mother has lived for the past 15 years. I learned about the park while researching nearby places to walk, and I learned that there is an annual half marathon event that runs through the park. Recently I had the opportunity to visit the park and walk the half marathon route, which takes place on paved paths.

GPS track

GPS track

The start and finish lines are near the tree symbol in the lower left of the GPS track image. The half marathon includes 2 loops around the larger loop and one pass on the semi-loop to the right. I decided to modify the route by including the out-and-back detour at the top of the track, in order to see a covered bridge that is an unusual feature of the park. I only went around the loops once, bringing my total distance to 9.8 miles. The park is located in rolling countryside, so the 700 feet of elevation gain and loss is quite moderate.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Compared to my usual hiking territory in California, the most dramatic differences are the trees and the lush green. At home, summer means golden brown hills, and forests are generally mixed deciduous (often oak and madrone) and evergreen. Here the vegetation is almost entirely deciduous, with different types of trees. And I grew up calling this type of environment woods (not forest). Many places along the trail were lined with lush ferns. Here is a view of the paved trail passing through the beautiful woods.

photo of trail passing through the woods of Tyler State Park

Trail passing through the woods of Tyler State Park

Not surprisingly, the wildflowers are different also. There were quite a few that I didn’t recognize. I assume that most, if not all, of the flora and fauna I encountered are common in the area. For example, I passed numerous bushes festooned with small, pretty white flowers; after asking a passer-by what they were, I was somewhat chagrined to learn that they were wild raspberries or blackberries. My immediate thought was that there would be a bumper crop of wild berries this year! There is also a lot of honeysuckle. Here is another, which I decided to call a white ball flower.

picture of white ball flower

White ball flower

Where the semi-loop branches off to the right, the trail crosses a small causeway across the Neshaminy Creek. On warm summer days, many park visitors enjoy wading in the creek to cool off. The out-and-back part of the semi-loop follows along the serene Neshaminy Creek for about ½ mile.

image of Neshaminy Creek

Neshaminy Creek

In the middle of the creek there was a portion of a dead tree, with a branch sticking up out of the water. And sitting on the branch was a fairly large bird. It was so still that, at first, I thought it might be an elaborate decoy. Then I saw it move its head occasionally. I was able to get several good pictures with the super-zoom on my camera and make the identification afterwards. It turns out that it was an immature double-crested cormorant. The overall body coloring and orange skin below the beak are distinctive. I thought it was interesting that none of my bird sources mentioned the blue color of the legs and feet!

photo of immature double-crested cormorant

Immature double-crested cormorant

A short distance farther along the trail I was startled to notice a sign indicating “next tee” with an arrow. It turns out that Tyler Park has a 27-hole disc golfing course. I decided to check out the 6th hole, since it was right next to the paved path. Here are a few views of the hole: the sign indicating the tee, some information about the hole (and the path through the woods from the tee to the bucket), and finally the bucket itself. Later I heard a group playing one of the other holes.

picture of disc golf at Tyler State Park

Disc golf at Tyler State Park

Continuing to follow the half marathon route, the path emerged from the woods and continued parallel to the nearby road along the edge of an open meadow for about ½ mile. In the meadow there were several bird boxes, with a red-winged blackbird sitting on one of the boxes. I have gotten so used to the coastal California race of this bird, which does not have the yellow border below the red patch, that I was pleasantly delighted at the novelty of what is actually the more typical coloration!

image of red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

The meadow area was also brightened by some brown-eyed Susans.

photo of brown-eyed Susan

Brown-eyed Susan

After the path passes alongside the meadow it passes and curves around a school and next to another road. In this area I particularly noticed a pretty-looking pink flower – it turns out the same flower was in many other places as well, especially alongside roads and other hiking paths. It is a crown vetch, often planted for soil erosion control but in some instances considered an invasive plant.

picture of crown vetch

Crown vetch

The path turns left once again and re-enters the wooded portion of the park. Along this section I was struck by the presence numerous trees with poison ivy growing up their trunks: not poison oak, but I knew better than to suddenly become a tree-hugger! And then I noticed another tree with even more greenery growing up its trunk – in this case the greenery was Virginia creeper, which has “leaves of 5” rather than “leaves of 3”.

image of trees with poison ivy (left) and Virginia creeper (right) growing up their trunks

Trees with poison ivy (left) and Virginia creeper (right) growing up their trunks

A particularly delightful aspect of this walk was hearing so many birds in the woods. There were quite a few common species, such as cardinals, catbirds, robins, house wrens, song sparrows, mourning doves, and mockingbirds. Others, such as wood thrushes, veery, and oven birds (“teacher, teacher” call), reminded me more of deep woods. At one point I heard some tap-tap-tapping on a hollow stick, checked it out, and found a (possibly immature) male downy woodpecker pecking on a relatively small branch; perhaps it was just practicing its technique and didn’t care about its location? I also heard common yellowthroats (“witchery, witchery” call).

Another wildflower I saw along the trail that I thought was pretty is this one. I don’t know what it’s called, but it reminds me of the pattern of some fireworks displays, so for now I’ve dubbed it the fireworks flower. A quick online search tells me that there are several completely different flowers, none like this, also commonly called fireworks flowers. (Update: it is similar in appearance to water parsnip and the highly toxic water hemlock.)

photo of ”fireworks flower”

”Fireworks flower,” or perhaps water parsnip

About 5.2 miles from the start I crossed the causeway again and continued around the large loop. About 1.4 miles later I left the half marathon route to check out the covered bridge I had read about, just over ½ mile off the route. The Schofield Ford Covered Bridge crosses Neshaminy Creek. Originally built in 1874, it burned down in an arson event in 1991 but was subsequently rebuilt and reopened in 1997.

picture of Schofield Ford Covered Bridge

Schofield Ford Covered Bridge

In the picture there are 4 small dark diamond shapes, which turn out to be windows. The view of the creek out the windows was especially pretty.

image of Neshaminy Creek through a window in the covered bridge

View of Neshaminy Creek through a window in the covered bridge

Soon after returning to the half marathon route I noticed these pretty daisy-like wildflowers next to the trail. The flowers are about ¾ inch in diameter and they seem to be in groups. Once again I don’t know what they are called, but they were quite distinctive.  (Update: they appear to be daisy fleabane.)

photo of daisy-like wildflowers

Daisy fleabane

The half marathon route makes a few turns to stay within the boundaries of the park. Along the northern edge of the park I happened to find a small bit from a tulip tree, perfectly posed on the trail. This brought back special childhood memories, as my brother once brought home a tulip tree sapling, and he and my dad planted it in our yard. Years later, it is now the tallest tree in the yard!

picture of tulip tree leaves and blossom

Tulip tree leaves and blossom

I continued around the loop and finished where I started, at the Center for the Arts. This was a most delightful walk, which I hope to have an opportunity to repeat. (Note: I returned 2 weeks later for another pleasant walk through this local park.)

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Skylawn Cemetery Trail

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Every year new segments are added to the Bay Area Ridge Trail. This year a newly-dedicated segment passes through Skylawn Memorial Park in San Mateo, connecting to the Fifield-Cahill Trail at the north end and CA-92 at Skyline Blvd at the south end. According to plans, a future segment of trail will proceed south across CA-92 into San Francisco PUC watershed lands.

I hiked this new section of trail on the day of its dedication, which marked the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the first two segments of Bay Area Ridge Trail in 1989. Currently only a portion of the segment is truly open to the public: the portion that passes through Skylawn Memorial Park. The rest of the segment is on PUC watershed lands and is not regularly open. For the dedication, trail users were able to traverse the entire 1.6-mile segment to Cemetery Gate as well as a short section of the Fifield-Cahill Trail.

GPS track

GPS track

The new trail section passes essentially along a ridge line, with gently rolling topography. The entire out-and-back hike included less than 400 feet of elevation gain and loss. There were wonderful views of the San Francisco Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the ridges that run along the Peninsula.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The dedication ceremony took place outside the Funeral Home building, on a portico from which it is possible to see Mt Umunhum, 35 miles away to the southeast. After a few speeches, there was a ribbon-cutting at the trail head. Everyone was invited to stand behind the ribbon with the official folks, with several people at-the-ready to photograph the actual ribbon-cutting. Since I was behind the ribbon, I got to photograph the photographers!

image of photographers ready to record the ribbon-cutting

Photographers ready to record the ribbon-cutting

After the formalities there were outings to experience the new trail, which runs along a service road in the memorial park and onto watershed land. There are some reminders that you are in an active cemetery: on the day of the dedication there was also a burial, and as we started up the trail we soon encountered a casket being transported down the service road.

About 0.3 mile from the trail head, as the trail climbs slightly higher on the ridge, there is a pretty view of the East Bay hills across San Francisco Bay, with Crystal Springs Reservoir in the foreground and CA-92 snaking up the hill to I-280. I did go several yards off the service road on a sidewalk at the edge of a landscaped area of the cemetery to take this picture. The East Bay skyline includes Mission Peak and, farther south and 40 miles distant, Mt Hamilton, as well as Mt Diablo farther north.

picture of East Bay hills across San Francisco Bay and Crystal Springs Reservoir

East Bay hills across San Francisco Bay and Crystal Springs Reservoir

Less than 100 feet further along the trail there is a spectacular view of Half Moon Bay and the Pacific Ocean across a portion of the memorial park.

photo of Half Moon Bay and the Pacific Ocean across Skylawn Memorial Park

Half Moon Bay and the Pacific Ocean across Skylawn Memorial Park

Among the wildlife in the area are killdeer, which make plaintive calls as they fly around. Here, one has paused on a decorative rock.

image of killdeer

Killdeer

About 0.6 mile from the trail head the trail curves to the right. Approaching this curve there is a nice view of the edge of the forested watershed property. The service road that serves as the Ridge Trail passes just outside the forested area along the ridge top.

picture of forested watershed lands

Forested watershed lands

Shortly past this curve there is an older, interesting-looking, house on the hillside to the right of the trail. It appears that there is some renovation work ongoing, but I didn’t learn the history of the structure.

The trail continues 0.2 miles or so to the northeast before turning northwest again. The views to the left are along the canyon formed by Pilarcitos Creek, which exits Pilarcitos Lake – one of the PUC watershed reservoirs – and flows to the ocean. In this area the creek makes a right-hand turn. This view looks upstream toward the watershed lands. The more pointed hill on the skyline may be Ox Hill or Scarper Peak.

photo of view across Pilarcitos Creek canyon

View across Pilarcitos Creek canyon

After the trail turns left and follows the fence line, it is on PUC property. There are ongoing views down the Pilarcitos Creek canyon, and several types of wildflower along the trail. I noticed poppies, thistle, Douglas iris, ice plant, and a few others. At 1.6 miles from the trail head there is a locked gate, designated Cemetery Gate. Some of the PUC outings, notably wheelchair outings, use a small parking area just inside the gate as a staging area. In this area there are beautiful trees, with many spindly branches radiating from the trunk starting rather close to the ground. I always think of these trees as the ghostly trees, because of the branch structure.

image of many-branched trees in the watershed

Many-branched trees in the watershed

For the dedication day outing, hikers entered Cemetery Gate and walked about 0.4 mile further along the Cahill Ridge Trail to its mile marker 2, where we turned around. Near the turnaround point there was a log near the trail with three banana slugs. On the return trip, as we passed the second curve there was a pretty view across the heart of the memorial park to the hills beyond.

picture of view of hills beyond CA-92 to the southeast

View of hills beyond CA-92 to the southeast

The hills on the Bay side of Skyline Blvd south of CA-92 are also part of San Francisco PUC watershed lands. Future plans include more Ridge Trail traversing this watershed, eventually connecting to the Phleger Estate section of Golden Gate National Recreation Area several miles away – something to look forward to.

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Garin Regional Park

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Garin and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks are two adjacent open spaces in the Hayward foothills just behind Mission Blvd, CA-238. They share a network of trails that offer several opportunities for loop hikes up to at least 7 miles in length. I visited Garin Regional Park with a friend to do a 4½ mile hike on a beautiful spring day.

Starting at the Garin Ave entrance, we hiked a semi-loop route around Vista Peak Loop Trail, about 3.7 miles, then followed a second 0.7-mile loop trail around Jordan Pond.

GPS track

GPS track

The highest point on the Vista Peak Loop Trail is a little over 900 feet in elevation, about a 600-foot climb from the trail head. The grade on the trail is moderate, with the steepest parts perhaps a 10% grade on well-constructed trails.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Near the visitor center there is an interesting exhibit of ranch machinery. The item in the foreground of this picture reminded me of an insect. And, for some reason, I found it amusing to see the machinery under a palm tree. Perhaps only in California?!

image of old ranch machinery near the visitor center

Old ranch machinery near the visitor center

As we followed the Vista Peak Loop Trail clockwise around the loop we noticed a few wildflowers: not abundant, but pretty. Along the way we saw a thistle as it was being visited by a bee.

picture of bee visiting a thistle

Bee visiting a thistle

Heading toward the right turn at the northwest part of the loop (see GPS track) we had a nice view of San Francisco Bay between two hills. Hayward and/or Union City are in the foreground, and the Peninsula is in the background. When I took the picture I thought that might be Alameda Creek Trail, where I’ve done several longer-distance training walks, in the center of the picture. I subsequently identified it as a flood control canal next to Industrial Pkwy that later empties into Ward Creek or Old Alameda Creek on its way to the Bay.

photo of view across Hayward and/or Union City and San Francisco Bay toward the Peninsula

View across Hayward and/or Union City and San Francisco Bay toward the Peninsula

Looking farther south along the Peninsula, we could barely see Loma Prieta and Mt Umunhum, roughly 30-35 miles away. As we walked we also enjoyed a few poppies and some mustard grass near the trail.

Just before the turn there was a slight rise in the trail, where there was an unexpected view of Mt Tamalpais, with downtown San Francisco visible below and to the left. The view certainly made the short climb worthwhile!

image of Mt Tamalpais and downtown San Francisco

Mt Tamalpais and downtown San Francisco

Although we felt as though we were walking in a more remote location than we actually were, there were occasional signs of the nearby cities (besides the view across the Bay). Every so often a commercial jet flew overhead, on approach to the Oakland Airport.

The Vista Peak Loop Trail goes around one hill and over the shoulder of another. Near the view of San Francisco we looked back southeast along the loop toward the hilltop that the trail loops around.

picture of hilltop within the Vista Peak Loop Trail

Hilltop within the Vista Peak Loop Trail

As we continued around the loop we passed over the shoulder of a hill, with the high point of the loop trail at about 920 feet elevation. We had a brief view of the very top of Mt Diablo, about 15 miles away, barely peeking over the intervening hills. We were also treated to views of nearby hills. The trail in the background may be High Ridge Loop Trail in Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park.

photo of hills in Garin and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks

Hills in Garin and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks

After returning to the visitor center we continued southeast on a shorter loop trail around Jordan Pond, with tall grasses along the shore and a pretty backdrop of hills to the east.

image of Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond

This was a pleasant walk through an open space that is literally just a half mile or so from a major road in the East Bay, CA-238. It is a treasure, especially for residents of Hayward and Union City, but also for anyone else who comes to visit.

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