Santa Clara County Parks PixInPark Challenge: Harvey Bear Ranch

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At least since 2014 Santa Clara County Parks has hosted an annual trails challenge to encourage the public to visit parks and open spaces for healthy outdoor activities.  Although I have been intermittent in my participation in this particular program, I am planning to complete all 7 hikes in the 2018 Pix In Parks challenge.

I have participated in other trail challenges (e.g. East Bay Regional Park District and Tahoe Rim Trail Association, in addition to Santa Clara County Parks) over the past several years, and I found them to be an enjoyable “excuse” to go for a generally short-to-moderate hike.   Participation in a challenge can make it easier to decide where to hike on those days when I know I want to hike but don’t have a specific destination that calls to me.

In any case, I recently completed my first Pix In Parks hike for 2018, and I selected the hike in Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch County Park just east of Gilroy.  Based on the park name and park entrance names, I gather that the park is a combination of two former ranches (Mendoza Ranch and Harvey Bear Ranch) as well as a 635-acre lake (Coyote Lake).  The park is nearly 4600 acres and includes some 30 miles of hiking trails, many of which also support biking and equestrian activities.

For the challenge, the idea is that you hike a specific trail, generally a loop, which passes a specific location where you take a picture (e.g. a selfie) to post on social media with specific hash tags.  If you complete the hikes by the deadline, in this case December 1, you can receive a T-shirt.  Since I often hike on my own, taking a selfie with the appropriate background showing the correct location is not usually possible.  And on the day of my hike, when I arrived at the designated location I was the only one there, so there was no one to recruit to take my picture.  So I decided to take a picture of my hiking poles instead.


image of PixInParks challenge hike photo spot at Coyote Lake - Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

PixInParks challenge hike photo spot at Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

The challenge hike is staged at the Harvey Bear Ranch entrance on San Martin Ave.  The 4.4-mile loop goes up into the hills following the Willow Springs, Town Springs, and Harvey Bear Trails.  This is the larger loop on the east side of my GPS track, where the orange dot shows the parking area.  An alternative 2.4-mile loop, along the paved Martin Murphy trail, is available for ADA participants or simply as an easier option, though it does not pass the photo location.  I decided that I should be able to manage both loops.

GPS track

GPS track

As might be expected, there was a bit of climbing involved in the main loop.  As it turns out, the trail climbs from about 350 feet to 1000 feet elevation with a few small rolls.  My total elevation gain and loss for both loops was about 820 feet.  The grade for the upper part of the climb was a little over 6%, which is moderate.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Shortly after leaving the parking area the Willow Springs Trail begins a gentle climb into the hills, and after 0.4 mile reaches the junction with Harvey Bear Trail, where the loop completes.  After another 0.6 mile enough elevation has been gained to provide nice views of the surrounding hills, which were in a typical early winter shade of “getting green”.  The day was mostly cloudy but was very comfortable for hiking.

image of view of hills in Coyote Lake - Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

View of hills in Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

Another view, looking back along the trail, hints at the floor of the Coyote Valley.  A little bit to the north Loma Prieta and Mt Umunhum are visible on the skyline across the valley.

image of view toward the Coyote Valley

View toward the Coyote Valley

After the trail loops around to the west, about 1.4 miles from the parking area, there is a nice view down the hillside toward San Martin, an unincorporated community just north of Gilroy.  The prominent straight road is San Martin Ave.  The park access road is just visible and leads to the parking area, which is obscured by several trees.  The flat open area is ringed by the paved Martin Murphy Trail, the second loop of my hike.

image of view toward the community of San Martin

View toward the community of San Martin

At this point I was on the Town Springs Trail at the bottom of the 1-mile climb to the highest point of the loop.  Shortly I noticed what looked like some seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) on the uphill side of the trail perhaps 10 yards away.  As soon as I left the trail to get closer I realized that the ground was pretty wet and wondered if the area was part of Town Springs.  The wet conditions made it easy to confirm the identity, though I was surprised to see monkeyflowers so early.  (In fact, according to the Calflora web site, the blooming season is April through June.)

image of early-season seep monkeyflower

Early-season seep monkeyflower

In the same area of the trail there were some spectacular trees.  Here is what I presume to be a valley oak (Quercus lobata), with characteristically intricate branches bare of leaves during the winter.  Many branches can be adorned with mistletoe.

image of valley oak with a view of the valley

Valley oak with a view of the valley

Valley oaks are considered sturdy, some living for as long as 600 years, and resistant to wildfire.  On older trees the main branches can droop toward the ground.  This tree seems to have grown sideways and is now supporting itself on the ground!

image of another valley oak with an unusual growth pattern

Another valley oak with an unusual growth pattern

Later on I saw other valley oaks with substantial branches at ground level providing accessible climbing opportunities for young children.  I don’t know if these beautiful trees prefer to grow a certain distance from each other, but it was interesting to note that they seemed to be too far apart to be accounted for by falling acorns.  On the skyline in the background of this picture, Loma Prieta is a bit left of center and Mt Umunhum is a bit right of center.

image of valley oaks on a hillside

Valley oaks on a hillside

Near the end of Town Springs Trail I noticed some toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) perhaps a couple hundred feet off-trail.  I zoomed in for this picture showing the leaf pattern and familiar orange-red berries.

image of toyon


The Town Springs Trail tees into the Harvey Bear Trail, and I turned left to return to the parking area.  This junction is the highest point of the loop, at 1000 feet elevation.  Close to this junction I was a bit surprised to notice some hayfield tarweed (Hemizonia congesta). Basically I simply don’t expect to see wildflowers blooming in January.  However, a quick check of Calflora informed me that the blooming season is from April through December, so the blooms I saw were only a little bit out of season.  With such a long season, I hope individual plants get adequate rest to produce more blooms.

image of hayfield tarweed

Hayfield tarweed

Near the beginning of the descent the trail passes near a small pond that made a bright contrast to the surrounding grassland.  I presume it is a watering hole for cattle that graze in the area.  Although most cattle I’ve noticed do not seem to care, they would have a lovely view of the valley floor.

image of pond for watering cattle?

Pond for watering cattle?

A bit later I happened to notice a dead oak that had a typical fate: it had become a granary for acorn woodpeckers, which are known for their habit of creating rows and rows of storage places for acorns in dead oak trees.  Actually, this may be more of a former granary, since all of the holes appear to be empty.

image of (former) acorn granary

(Former) acorn granary

As I got closer to the junction that marked the beginning/end of the loop I had a good view of a landslide that I’d noticed earlier.  The trail is just visible at the intersection of two gullies at the lower right of the picture.  This view is a much better overview than I was able to appreciate from close-up.

image of Landslide near the lower end of the loop

Landslide near the lower end of the loop

When I was close to the parking area I took one of a few short spur trails that connect to the Martin Murphy Trail, and I started walking this trail in the counterclockwise direction.  It turns out that it is a par course loop; I think I counted 5 stations, each with suggestions available via QR code for exercises to perform.

Not far along the loop I noticed a pair of yellow-billed magpies (Pica nuttalli) feeding in the open area inside the loop; I imagine this is a cattle grazing area.  I stopped for a few minutes to watch them alternately run in the grass and then pause.  These magpies are common in open oak woodlands in central and southern California but are found only here, nowhere else in the world.  They are easily identifiable as magpies by their handsome black-and-white coloring and they are distinguished from other magpies by their yellow bill and eyes.

image of yellow-billed magpie

Yellow-billed magpie

The park map shows a viewpoint about halfway around the loop, and I was interested to discover what was intended.  From the far side of the loop there is indeed a nice view, across the grazing area, of the hills in the main part of the park.  I especially liked the lumpy contours of the skyline.

image of view from Martin Murphy Trail loop toward the hills of the park

View from Martin Murphy Trail loop toward the hills of the park

The second half of the loop roughly parallels two roads: Foothill Ave and San Martin Ave.  Along Foothill Ave there are several small, presumably family-owned and -operated, wineries.  Or perhaps this is just a really nice private residence.  In any case, I was struck by the rows of palm trees lining the driveway.  It was kind of an “only in California” moment.

image of palm trees lining a driveway adjacent to the park

Palm trees lining a driveway adjacent to the park

Just over 2 1/2 hours after I set out, I arrived back at my car at the end of a quite enjoyable hike.  I plan to complete the other 6 hikes in the challenge, though I haven’t decided yet which one will be next.

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2018 National Figure Skating Championships, San Jose

The 2018 National Figure Skating Championships were recently held in San Jose, California.  It was the third time that Nationals had been held in San Jose, with previous events hosted in 1996 and 2012.  For Bay Area figure skaters and fans this Nationals had special significance since, promptly after the conclusion of each of the top-level events (ladies, men, pairs, and dance), the 2018 Winter Olympic team would be announced.  These elite skaters would shortly be doing their final preparations and traveling to the PyongChang Winter Olympic Games.

National champion medals were contested in the 4 categories just mentioned at five levels: Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, Junior, and Senior/Championship.  I had purchased an all-event ticket almost as soon as they were available, so that I would be able to attend whichever sessions I was most interested in and that fit my schedule.  In practice, this meant that I spent the better part of 10 days at the championships.  Between official practices and competition sessions, up to 3 ice surfaces were in use at two different facilities.

In addition I decided to be a volunteer, in part reprising a role I was able to fill in 2012.   Specifically, several of my volunteer shifts involved accreditation, which is a fancy term for generating official badges for competitors, coaches, chaperones, judges, media folks, and other skating officials.  It is an interesting and fun way to interact directly with people that I don’t normally get so close to.  And when you’re on duty – and in uniform – you’re expected to treat everyone the same, even if you’re tempted to tell your favorite skater you hope they crush the competition!  I have to admit I was flattered by a brief encounter with a skater parent/chaperone for whom I had also made a badge in 2012: as I smiled and said “welcome to San Jose” as he approached my station he looked at me, smiled, and said “I remember you (from 2012).”  Moments like these, being able to help people get a good start to the championships, illustrate why it’s rewarding to be a volunteer.

There were numerous memorable moments throughout the skating events, largely concentrated on skaters, their performances, and their stories.  As usual I intended to take pictures, but it is famously difficult to get good action shots of skaters: they are relatively far away and they are generally moving fast!  I ended up getting most of my pictures by photographing the Jumbotron at the SAP Center, venue for the Junior finals and Senior events.  However, I managed a nice shot of Maia and Alex Shibutani, a sister-brother championship-level dance couple, as they took their initial position prior to a run-through of their Short Dance at an official practice session.

photo of Maia and Alex Shibutani preparing to practice their Short Dance program

Maia and Alex Shibutani preparing to practice their Short Dance program

One of the joys of watching the so-called lower-level events is the knowledge that some of the skaters will progress to the higher levels and perhaps to international competitions.  Though I am quite an amateur, it is interesting to note which skaters seem to show that special promise and fire, even at the Juvenile level.  Of course, even though I have been a recreational ice skater for longer than any of the competitors in the entire championships (except perhaps for one…), I would be more than thrilled if I could skate 10% as well as any of the Juvenile-level competitors.

There is an interesting story behind the 2018 Junior Dance champions.  As it turns out, there is a local connection, and I was a little embarrassed that I did not recognize the young man as I checked him in to receive his badge, though I was quite familiar with his name.  Anthony Ponomarenko is the younger son of Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, who earned Olympic medals (bronze, silver, and gold in 1984, 1988, and 1992 respectively) representing the Soviet Union and the Unified Team in ice dance.  They live in the Bay Area and coach locally, and several of my skating friends have trained with them and/or taken classes.  It is especially interesting to see this next generation of ice dancer – one of my friends insists that Anthony was born with skates on.  Here are the Junior Dance medalists during the medal ceremony.

photo of Junior Dance medalists

Junior Dance medalists

As a volunteer, in addition to several shifts in accreditation, I did some shifts as “shuttle concierge”.  The competition ran shuttle busses between the two main hotels in downtown San Jose and the two main rink facilities where practice sessions and competition events were held.  My job was to make sure potential riders knew the schedule, the exact arrival and departure location, had the appropriate credential available for the shuttle driver to check, and got on the correct shuttle (by the end of the week there were 3 separate routes).  One morning shift started at 7:00am, even though the first shuttle would arrive at 7:30 without any passengers and the next one would not arrive until 8:30.  (I brought reading materials and located a chair outside, so I could sit down in relative warmth when there wasn’t much else to do.)  Because of the early hour, I was able to enjoy a dramatic cloudy sunrise from the back entrance to the practice facility.

photo of dramatic cloudy sunrise during a volunteer shift

Dramatic cloudy sunrise during a volunteer shift

Of the senior/championship level events, the first to be contested was Ladies.  As is often the case, there were a few ladies who had just moved up from juniors and were completing their first season as seniors.  These are the young women most likely to be the next stars to emerge on the national stage.  In my opinion – and I’m hardly alone – one of the next stars will be Starr Andrews.  In addition to exceptional skating skills she has that special something that draws in her audience and makes them take notice.  She is pictured here, via the Jumbotron, in the Kiss and Cry area at the moment that her score is posted.  She hasn’t yet realized that she is (temporarily) in first place.  She ended up in 6th place, which is more than respectable for her first year as a senior.  She was later named to the World Junior Championship team.

photo of Starr Andrews viewing her score, a moment before it truly registered

Starr Andrews views her score, a moment before it truly registered

As a side note, Junior and Senior are skating skill levels, but there are age requirements for the corresponding world championships.  The 2018 junior ladies champion, Alysa Liu, is another skater to watch in the future.  She was not named to the 2018 Junior Worlds team because, at just 12 years of age, she is too young to qualify.

Later in the ladies competition the top ladies skated; the current practice is for the warmup groups for the long program to be seeded according to the results from the short program, with the top skaters in the last group.  Mirai Nagasu moved up to seniors ten years ago, won the national championship, and has placed up and down, between 2nd and 10th, in the years since.  She is one of only two American women to land the triple Axel jump in international competition (a third American woman has landed this jump at Nationals).  In a warmup session just prior to the Senior Ladies event I watched her land 4 out of 5 triple Axel attempts.  In her competition she was unable to land cleanly, but otherwise she skated extremely well and was overcome by emotion at the end of her program.  (She was famously, and controversially, not included on the 2014 Olympic team and was doing her very best to unequivocally earn a spot on the 2018 Olympic team.)  Here she waits for her score in the Kiss and Cry area.  I thought it was interesting that the staff running the Jumbotron were being fed – in real time – tweets with the hashtag shown.  Mirai placed second and was subsequently named to the 2018 Olympic team.

photo of Mirai Nagasu waiting for her score

Mirai Nagasu waits for her score

Next to skate was Karen Chen, the 2017 national ladies champion and a local Bay Area skater. She had a few technical issues in her program (note that her scores are almost the reverse of Starr’s) but overcame the pressure of defending her title with a bronze medal and selection to the Olympic team.  At times the wait in Kiss and Cry seems awfully long – this can be due to commercials during the live TV coverage, review of jumps by the technical specialists, or both.  I was amused and somewhat in awe to note that Karen and her coach had the presence of mind to pose nicely for one of the TV cameras just after her score was finally posted.

Karen Chen posing for TV cameras with her coach

Bradie Tennell was the leader after the short program and drew the final position to skate her long program.  She had been considered something of a dark horse, so it was both expected that she would do well but a bit unexpected to lead after the short program.  She skated her Cinderella long program very well and, like the other top women, was emotionally happy as she finished her skate – and then again when her first place score was posted.  It was nice that she had the presence of mind to acknowledge the audience’s support.

photo of Bradie Tennell, new national ladies champion, waving to the crowd

Bradie Tennell, new national ladies champion, waves to the crowd

Immediately after the long program of each event (20 in all: 5 levels in 4 disciplines) there was a medal ceremony.  The 4 medal winners were introduced and there was a formal protocol of presentation of medals, Radix pins, special awards, flowers, congratulations by event officials, official photographs, and finally unofficial photographs.  For the junior- and senior-level events the medal ceremonies were in the big arena with television lights and professional photographers.  For the so-called lower level events the medal ceremonies were in the smaller rink where those competitions were held.  For some reason I am amused by the row of official photographers in a row with their big cameras and long lenses pointed at the medalists, and I think of them – in a gentle way – as paparazzi.  For the lower level events the photographers seem to be mostly parents and friends with cell phones.  This was the lineup at the side of the rink for the Juvenile Pairs event, the first medal ceremony of the Nationals.

photo of paparazzi (unofficial photographers) for the Juvenile Pairs event

Paparazzi (unofficial photographers) for the Juvenile Pairs event

The second senior/championship level event was pairs.  In certain respects this is the most dramatic event, due to the inherent drama and risks associated with overhead lifts, throw lifts, and throw jumps.  The lady has to have an immense amount of trust in her partner’s ability to throw and catch her safely.  The ladies tend to be tiny and the men taller and extremely strong.  One pair was especially interesting since the lady, Deanna Stellato-Dudek, is 34 years old and, I believe, the oldest skater in the entire competition.  She has only been skating pairs for 2 seasons, having returned to skating after a 16-year hiatus.  At 4’11” tall she is particularly petite, and her enthusiasm radiates over the ice and into the seats in the arena.  She and her partner, Nathan Bartholomay, shown here as their scores were posted, won the bronze medal.  They have been named to the 2018 Four Continents Championship and are first alternates for the 2018 World Championships.

photo of Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay receiving their scores in the Senior Pairs event

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay receive their scores in the Senior Pairs event

The gold medal performance in pairs was clearly delivered by Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Christopher Knierem.  They also have an interesting story, as they missed almost the entire previous season due to illness/injury after being 2016 national champions, and were thrilled to be able to be at Nationals this year.  They had been able to revive their signature move, the quadruple twist lift (actually, a lift into a throw), only at the end of November.  And they performed it admirably in their long program, as shown here.  (Note: photo is credited to US Figure Skating and appeared in a social media post.)  This is a great example of the trust that the lady has to have in her partner’s ability to throw her properly and catch her safely!

photo of Alexa Scimeca-Knierem and Christopher Knierem performing a quadruple twist

Alexa Scimeca-Knierem and Christopher Knierem performing a quadruple twist

As noted above, the skaters, their coaches, and sometimes their choreographers wait in the Kiss and Cry area for their scores to be posted.  In the concourse of the main arena there was a mock Kiss and Cry area where spectators could pose for photos.  During one of the ice cuts, while making my rounds of the concourse, I ran into a friend near the Kiss and Cry and suggested that we have our pictures taken together.  She was game, and even suggested that we should try to make hearts with our fingers like some of the skaters do.  We recruited a random nearby person to take the photos.  It was fun, though our efforts demonstrate that we both could use a little more practice.

photo of posing with a friend in the spectators’ Kiss and Cry area

Posing with a friend in the spectators’ Kiss and Cry area

Next up were the men.  And there was more drama as well as controversy.  The Olympic team selection criteria included not only these national championships but also the skaters’ international and national competitive record over the past year-plus.  For these reasons, and his competition record, Adam Rippon was one of the three men named to the Olympic team, even though he placed 4th at Nationals.  (The men generally try riskier jumps than the ladies, and there were many falls throughout the programs.)  This made him the first openly gay US athlete to be named to a Winter Olympic team.  Although it is widely known that there are many gay male figure skaters, it is more common for them to come out as gay after their competitive career is finished.  Adam came out two years ago.  He has a great fan base, and there was a lot of support in the audience at Nationals.

photo of audience support for Adam Rippon

Audience support for Adam Rippon

Jason Brown is another hugely popular skater.  Unfortunately he did not skate his best at this competition, ending up in sixth place.  I am impressed that, no matter how well he skates, he seems to genuinely appreciate the crowd’s response.  Here he waits for his scores with his coach and choreographer.  If I remember correctly, the heart is a reaction to one of the tweets that had just been displayed on the Jumbotron.  Jason was later named as first alternate on the 2018 Olympic and World teams and to compete at the upcoming Four Continents Championship.

photo of Jason Brown appreciating his huge fan base

Jason Brown appreciates his huge fan base

The men’s gold medalist was Nathan Chen, whose extraordinary skating skills have made the skating world take notice.  At the 2017 national championships he essentially ran away from the rest of the competitors by landing 7 quadruple jumps in his short and long programs and by winning the event by an unprecedented 55 points.  He had a couple of technical errors near the end of his long program, but to a certain extent they were compensated by improved artistic scores compared to 2017.  In the Kiss and Cry area he almost looked nonchalant as his scores were posted, but until the last two seasons a total score of 300 points was too crazy to comprehend.  This time he “only” won by 40 points.  If the top men all skate well at the Olympics the final placements will be much closer!

photo of Nathan Chen’s final score, which was over 300 for the second time at Nationals

Nathan Chen’s final score was over 300 for the second time at Nationals

For a number of years it has been a custom for fans to throw gifts onto the ice at the end of a favorite skater’s program.  Clearly it’s dangerous for the next skater if there is any debris associated with the gifts – flowers used to be common, but are no longer allowed, even if fully enclosed/wrapped.  Instead, stuffed toys are popular.  Also, large fabric flowers were available for sale in the arena concourse area.  For events at which there is an expectation for toys to be thrown on the ice, sweepers are in place to collect them.  Young skaters are very excited to be chosen as sweepers.  For the senior/championship finals there were 6 sweepers for each event.  For popular competitors, the sweepers had to be very efficient to clear the ice before the scores were announced and the next skater would be introduced.

Here is an example of sweepers working hard to clear the ice: Vincent Zhou, a local Bay Area skater who eventually placed second in the men’s event, received a shower of gifts after his long program.  There were just as many toys at the far end of the rink, as well as all along the sides.  The small red fist-sized toys were strawberries provided by Smucker’s, a long-time Nationals event sponsor.  I learned later that the strawberries were segregated from the other toys and sent back up to the concourse to be recycled as handouts for later events.

photo of some skaters (here, Vincent Zhou) receive many stuffed toys from their fans

Some skaters (here, Vincent Zhou) receive many stuffed toys from their fans

You might notice that one of the sweepers is holding a basket into which toys could be placed, allowing for improved efficiency.  At the ice entrance adult sweeper chaperone volunteers (in white jackets) wait with plastic bags for the larger toys.  After the cleanup from Vincent’s skate, the chaperones more or less dispensed with the baskets and sent the sweepers out with plastic bags so they could be even more efficient about clearing the ice.  Never mind proper appearance, it was more important to keep the competition moving on schedule!

I am not sure what was done with the bags-ful of toys that were collected for some skaters.  Jason Brown has donated many of his to children in local hospitals where he skates.  I read that, for Nationals, many would be donated to families affected by the recent North Bay fires.  Here a sweeper brings an armload and basketful of colorful items that had been thrown for Jason Brown.

photo of sweeper carrying an armload and basketful of stuffed toys thrown for Jason Brown

Sweeper carrying an armload and basketful of stuffed toys thrown for Jason Brown

The final championship-level event was dance.  The technical requirements are less restrictive than for the other disciplines and, as a result, there is more creativity.  The biggest emphasis is on edge quality and step sequences, both of which are more challenging for the general public to assess than jumps or throws.  Dance lifts, compared to pairs lifts, are lower (not above the man’s shoulder height) and with less duration, but with more turns (sometimes the couple practically spins) and with much more variety.

I was particularly taken with one element performed by Elicia and Stephen Reynolds, a brother-sister team.  I think it must be called a choreographic element, since it seems too close to the ice to be a lift.  In any case, I saw them do this move in one of the practice sessions and was looking forward to see it in their long program.  I was at a very bad angle to capture it live on my camera, but I was able to photograph the Jumbotron during the replay after their skate.  Surely this is their signature move! – and it was quite interesting to see the entrance and exit.

photo of Elicia and Stephen Reynolds performing their signature move

Elicia and Stephen Reynolds perform their signature move

Another dramatic element for dance couples is the synchronized twizzle sequence.  Basically these are like very controlled traveling one-foot spins with perfect synchronization of both partners’ rotations.  In the sequence the couples rotate in one direction, then in the opposite direction on the other foot, and typically change back, for three sections, each with different free leg and arm positions.  For each section there is a minimum of 4 rotations.  Maia and Alex Shibutani added some difficulty and risk to the twizzles in their short dance, with 4 sections and a total of 20 rotations – and they were excellently synchronized.

For the last few seasons the top three US dance couples have been fairly close to each other in their scores.  At the 2017 Grand Prix Final, held in December, their scores were separated by only 0.85 point.  At these nationals, their scores were even closer, separated by just 0.52 point.  It is entirely possible that these three couples will be the main contenders for the bronze medal at the Olympics – if so, it will be an especially exciting competition.  Here are the Senior Dance medalists preparing for the official photographs at the end of the medal ceremony.

photo of championship/senior dance medalists

Championship/senior dance medalists

Typically it is several years, if not longer, before the National Figure Skating Championships return to a given host city.  Of course, it’s not known yet when Nationals might return to San Jose.  In the meantime, there are many memories to cherish of an event that had the extra sparkle of an Olympic Team selection event.

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San Francisco Bay Trail: Dumbarton Bridge and Shoreline Trail

stats box

On a day when I wanted to go for a hike but preferred something less strenuous than usual, I decided to walk across San Francisco Bay.  That may sound ambitious, but it actually wasn’t!  The Dumbarton Bridge crosses the bay at a narrow point near the southern end, and it’s actually only a mile and a half from shore to shore.

I have a bit of a fascination with walking across bridges that cross the San Francisco Bay and its major connected waterways.  In fact, I have previously walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, the Carquinez Bridge, the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, and the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.  Bridge crossings are neither remote, parklike, nor urban, and frankly they are unsuitable for a walk-and-talk type stroll.  They are inherently noisy due to the proximity to traffic.  But if you accept the limitations, bridge crossings provide unique viewpoints to the region.  And, like other types of hikes, you are letting yourself slow down and view the experience in a different way than when you whiz by in your car, intent to get to the other side and your possibly more distant destination.

The day of my hike was a bit tricky for photography.  It was a spare-the-air day, with some haze floating over the Bay most of the day.  In addition it was mostly overcast, which made for flat lighting except when the sun – briefly! – burst through the clouds.  Finally, between the late December early sunset time and my mid-afternoon start, I only gave myself 2 to 2 1/2 hours to complete my walk with some daylight.  But I was surprisingly well rewarded with interesting sights and views.

As I walked along a shoreline path after the bridge crossing I came upon what I presumed to be construction debris: a few large sections of pipe, mossy from years of exposure to bay air and fog.  Some of the local shorebirds seemed to be using the pipe as a lookout point to keep an eye on the bay.

picture of shorebirds on a mossy pipe

Shorebirds on a mossy pipe

The route of my hike/walk was a small portion of the San Francisco Bay Trail, a system of trails that is envisioned to ring the bay.  When complete, it will be over 500 miles long.  In general it is quite close to the shoreline – and it crosses, or is planned to cross, all 7 major bridges that cross the bay and its major connected waterways.

I had previously walked on the San Francisco Bay Trail to the western end of the Dumbarton Bridge, and I viewed this walk as a continuation across the bay.  Since I knew the bridge itself was relatively short, I planned to continue into the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is a “unit” of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuges.  As it turned out, a bit less than half of the distance was actually on the bridge.  The GPS track shows my route, with the orange dot denoting my starting point in one of the sections of Ravenswood Preserve at the west end of the bridge.

GPS track

GPS track

In general, the topography of a Bay Trail section is pretty flat.  I’m including this elevation profile mainly to illustrate the elevation of the bridge above the water (about 85 feet at the apex).  Of course, the portion of my walk in the Don Edwards NWR was not under water, but the elevation numbers simply reflect the fact that my GPS unit interprets changes in barometric pressure as elevation changes.  Ignoring all of the hash, I estimate that the total elevation gain and loss was about 200 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

At the Ravenswood (west) end of the Dumbarton Bridge there is some nice-looking and informative interpretive signage about the bridge.

picture of Dumbarton Bridge signage

Dumbarton Bridge signage

After checking out the signage I climbed a short flight of steps from a small parking area to the cycling/pedestrian lane of the bridge, just past “liftoff” from ground level.  About 3/4 mile across the water to the southeast there is an abandoned railroad bridge formerly (1910-1982) used by the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The swing-arm section of the bridge that could be opened to allow boats to pass has been welded in the open position.  The small white cube near the right side of the picture is a pumping station for the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct pipeline, which runs mostly under the Bay carrying water from Yosemite to the peninsula.

picture of former Southern Pacific Railroad bridge

Former Southern Pacific Railroad bridge

I was interested to note several metal box enclosures along the bridge.  Per their numbered labels as seismic enclosures they contain equipment to monitor seismic activity within the bridge structure.  I presume that this equipment was installed as part of the major seismic retrofit project that was carried out roughly between 2010 and 2013.  Unless the numbering system is based on the designation of the bridge piers below, there are at least 60 such enclosures on the bridge (since I noted an enclosure labeled 60 at the eastern end).

picture of seismic equipment on the Dumbarton Bridge

Seismic equipment on the Dumbarton Bridge

Daily vehicular traffic on the bridge is well over 80,000 vehicles per day, so on a weekday afternoon the traffic is constant in all three lanes in each direction.  There is little boat traffic so far south in the bay, but other things to look at include power lines that cross the bay parallel to the bridge, 3 radio station towers on the east side, and views of the Coyote Hills (on the east side) and the peninsula hills (on the west side).  Signs near the apex of the bridge note the Alameda / San Mateo County line.

At the east end of the bridge the roadway and pedestrian/cycling lane gradually return to ground level.  The pedestrian/cyclist lane veers away from the roadway and connects to a paved multi-use path with signage indicating bike-path mileage to Newark and Fremont.  I knew from my research that, in order to access the levee trail I was interested in, I would need to backtrack at ground level and find an underpass.

As I began the backtrack I noticed a great egret (Ardea alba) walking along the edge of the water between items of litter.  These elegant birds are always a joy to see, and I can’t help thinking it must be bad for them to be searching for food among human-generated trash.

picture of great egret

Great egret

A short distance along the backtrack there is a parking area that provides access to the Dumbarton Pier, the only current remnant of the original Dumbarton Bridge; the current bridge replaced the original in the early 1980’s.  A quick exploration of the parking area revealed a welcome sign for the pier and access to the levee trail, which is signed as Shoreline Trail and is part of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Almost immediately after exiting the underpass under the bridge I found a snowy egret (Egretta thula).  Snowy egrets are smaller than great egrets, and they have black (rather than yellow) bills and often a bit of characteristically fluffy white tail feathers.  Another distinctive characteristic is bright yellow feet.  Both egrets are common in the Bay Area.

picture of snowy egret

Snowy egret

A short distance later I encountered the mossy pipes mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Both on the pipes and on the nearby shoreline there were many willets (Tringa semipalmata), along with a few marbled godwits (Limosa fedoa).  The willets are greyer in coloration, while the godwits are browner.  In this picture, I wonder if the willet closer to the water is blinking.

picture of willets


Later on I passed a group of northern shovelers (Anas clypeata) generating small wakes as they swam.  Shovelers are so-called dabblers, and they tend to feed by tipping their heads under water with their rear ends sticking straight up out of the water.  They are easily identified by their relatively long bills that are broader at the tip than at the base.  I think the coloring of the males is quite handsome.

picture of northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

The Shoreline Trail levee is at the edge of the bay, with a salt evaporation pond on the land side.  About 1.6 miles from the Dumbarton Bridge I decided I needed to turn around.  I had originally been hoping to make it as far as the No Name Trail in Coyote Hills Regional Park, but I didn’t have enough time.  Since I like to turn around at easily recognizable locations, in the absence of a trail junction I turned around at a distinctive curve in the levee.

As I headed back toward the bridge I immediately had a great view of it rising and falling gently, with the peninsula hills – actually the northern part of the Santa Cruz Mountains – in the background.  Barely an hour before sunset, the clouds were already beginning to turn pink.

picture of Dumbarton Bridge

Dumbarton Bridge

In the relatively calm waters of an evaporation pond there were pretty reflections of the brightness between clouds.  Note that the skyline of the peninsula hills is topped by a wispy-topped fog bank getting ready to pour over the top.  This is the famous marine fog that so often resides along the California coast, waiting for overnight to steal inland.

picture of reflection in an evaporation pond of San Francisco Bay

Reflection in an evaporation pond of San Francisco Bay

For the remainder of my walk I would continue to enjoy the interplay of clouds and remaining sunlight.  About 20 minutes later I noticed a hole in the clouds with sunlight pouring through and creating a concentrated reflection on the water.  Because of the clouds and the approaching sunset, the local shorebirds were flying around in groups and getting ready to settle down for the night.

picture of sunlight shining through a hole in the clouds

Sunlight shining through a hole in the clouds

As I approached the bridge access I again passed the mossy pipes, along with moss-covered rocks, an enormous discarded tire, and groups of sea gulls and shorebirds (willets and godwits) gathering on the shoreline.

As I ascended on the bridge I periodically turned around to view the east side of the bay, particularly the Coyote Hills.  I presume because of the hole in the clouds, as well as the sun getting lower in the sky, I noticed that the Coyote Hills were awash in sunlight.  Even with the bridge and its traffic and light poles in the foreground, the hills were beautiful.

picture of Coyote Hills

Coyote Hills

Note the disparity in the amount of traffic, typical of the afternoon commute: much heavier traffic eastbound.

Almost halfway across the bridge I paused to study the activity at the outer end of the Dumbarton Pier.  It is a popular spot for fishing, and there was a group of 3 men just finishing their day; the pier closes at sunset.  Just after I took this picture, literally within a minute, according to the time stamps on my other pictures, they finished packing up and removed their poles.

picture of fishing on Dumbarton Pier

Fishing on Dumbarton Pier

Since it was the afternoon rush hour, I was not too surprised to encounter several bicyclists riding across the bridge toward the East Bay.  Commuting via bicycle is one way to get some exercise and – I presume – avoid the bridge toll.  Most of my pictures of cyclists were blurry, due to low light levels and their speed.  This was my best attempt and illustrates good use of safety clothing and equipment.

picture of cycling commuter on the Dumbarton Bridge

Cycling commuter on the Dumbarton Bridge

The hole in the clouds that I’d been monitoring gradually revealed a small patch of blue sky, with just some residual glowing from sun reflections off the wispier clouds at the edge of the hole.  Note how prominent the top of the fog layer is above the hills.

picture of blue sky peeking through a hole in the clouds

Blue sky peeks through a hole in the clouds

I took this picture about 13 minutes before “official” sunset time – I did not know that at the time; I just knew I needed to keep moving to get back to my car before it got too dark.  With the heavy cloud cover, my expectation was that twilight would be, or appear to be, relatively short.  As I descended from the apex of the bridge the car headlights grew brighter, and I could see – but not photograph – some shovelers getting a last bit of nourishment, as well as a few gulls and willets in the very shallow water at the edge of the bay.

This bridge crossing turned out to be even more eventful than I had anticipated.  I do still have a few more bridges to go, so stay tuned.

Posted in Alameda County, San Francisco Bay Trail, San Mateo County | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Bay Area Ridge Trail – Milagra Gate to Mussel Rock through Pacifica

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Recently a new 2.5-mile section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail was dedicated in Pacifica, about half in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) north of Milagra Gate and half along streets, almost to the Daly City border.  I had an opportunity to hike the new trail section with a small group of Ridge Trail enthusiasts on what turned out to be a perfect day.  While there can be many definitions of a perfect day, for hikes along the San Mateo County coast one definition is weather so clear that the Farallon Islands are visible; they are often hidden in a bank of coastal fog.

Of course, when the Farallons are visible the views of Mt Tamalpais, the sleeping maiden, are spectacular.  This was the first view of Mt Tam, which is about 20 miles away and almost due north, looking across the Pacific Manor neighborhood of Pacifica.  This early view set the stage for continued wonderful views during the hike.

picture of Mt Tamalpais, with part of Pacifica in the foreground

Mt Tamalpais, with part of Pacifica in the foreground

The GPS track shows the entire hiking route, which was just over 9 miles total, out and back.  For parking convenience the meeting point for the hike (the orange dot on the GPS track image) was on the campus of Skyline College, and the first mile or so was a walk across the beautiful campus.

GPS track

GPS track

After crossing campus we arrived at Milagra Gate, an entry point to the Milagra Ridge section of the GGNRA.  Milagra Ridge was previously a site for Nike missiles and other defense installations.  During the hike we passed a small concrete bunker that might have housed a small gun, or perhaps provided shelter to as many as a half dozen soldiers in cramped quarters.  It is noteworthy that the GGNRA has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in recognition of its outstanding, unique, and highly diverse terrestrial, coastal, and marine environments.  It is truly a wonderful local treasure.

Although I have visited Milagra Ridge once, before the Ridge Trail section was designated, I hiked a different route.  The Ridge Trail route is signed Milagra Ridge Road and is initially a paved route for full multi-use (hiking, cycling, and equestrian).  After a fairly gentle mile and a half the trail begins a steady 500-foot descent from the ridge down to the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

As might be expected, in clear weather the views are beautiful during the entire descent.  Shortly after the descent begins there is a great view south along the coast line, with Mori Point in the foreground and San Pedro Rock in the background.  This photo was taken at an elevation of about 600 feet.

picture of San Pedro Rock behind Mori Point

San Pedro Rock behind Mori Point

From the higher elevations the Farallons were a bit easier to see than from lower elevations.  Thanks to the zoom on my camera, I was able to get a pretty good image, here at 500 feet elevation.  The Farallons are about 30 miles out in the Pacific Ocean and the highest point is 200 feet.  It is always a treat to be able to see the Farallons from the mainland!

picture of Farallon Islands

Farallon Islands

Although most of the flowers I saw during the hike were cultivated (e.g. in residential landscaping) there was some coast buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium) blooming somewhat later than its usual blooming period.

picture of coast buckwheat

Coast buckwheat

At the edge of the GGNRA property there is a newly constructed staging area in the adjacent residential neighborhood.  After this point the Ridge Trail follows sidewalks and streets for about 1.2 miles.  The route leads to a pedestrian-bicycle overpass across busy Hwy 1, which is a multi-lane freeway through this part of Pacifica.  The ramp to the overpass makes a graceful circle at each side of the highway.

picture of overpass ramp

Overpass ramp

The Ridge Trail route makes a short jog over to Esplanade Drive, the last street before the bluffs that drop to the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  Bay Area residents may remember that two apartment buildings along this street were evacuated several years ago and demolished in early 2016, as a result of years of erosion of the cliffs.  Another apartment building is about to suffer the same fate.  Several pieces of demolition equipment seem to be waiting for their next instructions.

picture of demolition equipment along Esplanade Drive in Pacifica

Demolition equipment along Esplanade Drive in Pacifica

These buildings are, or used to be, between the street and the cliff.  But there are areas where the distance from the sidewalk to the cliff edge is now only a few yards.  When you see this in person it is obvious that the buildings had to be evacuated and condemned, though it must have been a painful experience for all who were affected.  The houses that remain, on the “inland” side of the street, are modest in appearance, but the views are spectacular.  On the other hand, one can only wonder how many (or few?) more years it will be before the street itself begins to fall into the ocean.  Surely this is Mother Nature at work.

The north end of Esplanade makes a short jog to the east and tees at Palmetto Avenue.  The intended Ridge Trail route follows Palmetto north to the Daly City border.  However, along Palmetto there is mostly no sidewalk, so the route has not been designated as official Ridge Trail.  Our plan was to continue walking along the street, being extra careful about vehicle traffic.  Along Palmetto there were a few places with pretty views of the bluffs, with lush green plants contrasting with the bluffs and the blue water.

picture of coastal bluff along Palmetto Avenue

Coastal bluff along Palmetto Avenue

Palmetto changes name at the Daly City border but continues into Mussel Rock City Park.   The parking lot is the staging area for the next section of Bay Area Ridge Trail through Daly City.  We spent at least 20 minutes exploring a bit of the park and enjoying the views.  The coastline view, with bluffs and breaking waves and with Mt Tamalpais and Pt Reyes in the background, was breathtaking.

picture of San Mateo County coastline and Mt Tamalpais

San Mateo County coastline and Mt Tamalpais

Before we arrived at Mussel Rock Park, I had noticed what looked like a small crowd of people.  I had not realized that there is a popular paragliding area in the park.  And the breeze was sufficient that there were several paragliders enjoying the day.  There were at least 3 parasails, with different people apparently taking turns with them.  It was quite a treat to see two at a time floating around with Mt Tam in the background!

picture of colorful parasails flying in front of Mt Tamalpais

Colorful parasails flying in front of Mt Tamalpais

If you look closely at the person flying the blue parasail you might notice that (s)he seems to be dressed in red.  Sure enough, that’s a Santa suit, complete with black boots and a white beard!

picture of Santa flying a parasail at Mussel Rock Park, Daly City

Santa flying a parasail at Mussel Rock Park, Daly City

After enjoying watching the paragliders and ocean/Farallon Islands views our hiking group began the return trip to Skyline College.  When we got back to the parking area I stopped to take a closer look at Mussel Rock, for which the park is named.  According to a Wikipedia article the rock formation type is called a stack (I had also seen stacks off Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland a few years prior).  Also, apparently Mussel Rock is the land location closest to the epicenter of the 1906 Great San Francisco Earthquake: the San Andreas Fault re-enters the mainland after traversing several miles of the Pacific Ocean roughly southeast from Point Reyes.  At first I thought the stick-like objects might be rebar, but now I think they may be related to seismic equipment on the rock.

picture of Mussel Rock

Mussel Rock

One more point of interested related to Mussel Rock: at the edge of the parking area there is a bench where you can sit and enjoy the ocean view.  From the bench I noted that the Farallon Islands are almost directly above/behind Mussel Rock, on the horizon.  I took a few pictures with both, but of course the Farallons are too small to see clearly.

As we left the parking area we had a great view of the coastline to the south, with sunlight reflecting brightly off the water in front of Montara Mountain.  There was also a plume of mist/fog extending up toward Sweeney Ridge inland from the Pacifica city pier.

picture of Montara Mountain down the San Mateo County coast

Montara Mountain down the San Mateo County coast

We stopped for a break at the Chit-Chat Café, midway along Eslpanade Dr.  It’s a friendly neighborhood café that was bustling with customers at lunchtime on a Sunday.  There was even a group of 4 musicians playing toe-tapping music.  Since some of us had dogs with us we sat outside in the pleasant weather to eat, drink, and enjoy the music.

picture of musicians performing at the Chit-Chat Cafe

Musicians performing at the Chit-Chat Cafe

After the break we continued making our way back to the meeting point on the Skyline College campus.  It had been a very pleasant “in-town” hike on a perfect hiking day.

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La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve: Harrington Creek Trail

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It’s always a special treat to hike a brand new trail shortly after it has been opened to the public – sometimes I’ve hiked the trail the same day, and sometimes within a week or two.  On this occasion, I was able to hike the trail the day after its dedication, on the first day it was open to the public.  The trail was the Harrington Creek Trail, the primary trail in a section of La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve newly opened for public access.  The preserve is owned and managed by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.  It began in 1984 with a modest 255 acres and, after several additions, is now over 6100 acres.

The Harrington Creek Trail is in the southern, lower elevation, portion of the preserve.  It almost traces 3 sides of a square, passing through hilly grasslands that include active ranching activities and distinctive flat-topped Ray’s Peak.  The trail follows ranch roads, rather than being a single-track trail.  Pretty much as soon as you leave the parking lot you feel that you are hiking in ranch land remote from cities, even though the preserve is only a few miles west of Skyline Blvd (CA-35) on the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains in San Mateo County, at the western edge of the populous San Francisco Bay Area.  This is a typical view of the southern area of the preserve, looking roughly southeast from a spot about a mile from the parking area.

image of view of La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve

View of La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve

The new trails include Harrington Creek Trail and Folger Ranch Loop Trail, which together form a semi-loop or balloon trail configuration, as shown in the GPS track.  The orange dot on the track shows the parking area.  The Folger Ranch Loop Trail is at the far end of the Harrington Creek Trail.  The total trail mileage is just under 6 miles, and my hike was 9 miles.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation gain and loss are about 1800 feet, so the average grade of the trail is about 7.5%.  This is a reasonable grade, but it’s certainly not negligible.  At the lowest elevation (500 feet) the trail crosses Harrington Creek, and at the highest elevation (1100 feet) there are lovely views toward the Pacific Ocean, which is barely 5 miles away.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

As if to reinforce the existence of active ranching activities in the preserve, barely 1/4 mile from the trailhead parking area the trail passes within view of a barn, pond, and corral.

image of ranching activities near trailhead parking area

Ranching activities near trailhead parking area

There are several segregated areas for cattle grazing, with adjacent areas separated by fencing and gates.  The gates on the ranch road are generally closed and locked, with separate hiker gates several yards off the road.  This view shows the gate at the parking area, with a typical configuration of a wider gate across the road and a separate hiker gate.

image of one of several gates on the trail

One of several gates on the trail

About 1 mile from the parking area, after a gradual 150-foot ascent the trail bends to the west and begins a somewhat steeper descent to the creek crossing.  In the moister environment not far from the creek I noticed some colorful poison oak and a few California buckeye, or California horse-chestnut, trees (Aesculus californica).  The buckeyes are about half the size of my fist and really stand out against the bare branches.  Buckeye trees produce leaves early in the spring and lose them well before fall.

image of California buckeye

California buckeye

After the creek crossing the trail climbs steadily, gaining almost 600 feet in 1.3 miles.  Near the end of the climb the trail makes a bend to start heading south, and there is a pretty view of the hills to the east.  This view will be spectacular later in the winter after the rains turn the hills green.

image of eastward view of hills from the Harrington Creek Trail

Eastward view of hills from the Harrington Creek Trail

As expected for early December, I saw almost no wildflowers in bloom.  However, perhaps unfortunately, I did see some purple star thistle (Centaurea calcitrapa), which is considered an invasive non-native species.  (In spite of the invasive designation, I happen to think the flower heads themselves are pretty.)

image of purple star thistle

Purple star thistle

About 3 miles from the parking area the Harrington Creek Trail crosses over a slight ridge at an elevation of about 1100 feet.  From here there is a great view across a few remaining hills toward the Pacific Ocean.  To me it’s always special to see the ocean, even when the day is not perfectly clear.  From this viewpoint it was possible to see waves breaking on the shore at Tunitas Beach, San Gregorio State Beach, or perhaps somewhere between these two beaches.

image of view from the highest point on the Harrington Creek Trail

View from the highest point on the Harrington Creek Trail

A short distance farther, about 3.2 miles from the parking area, there is a Y junction, with the Harrington Creek Trail going slightly left and the Folger Ranch Loop Trail going slightly right.  I continued on the Harrington Creek Trail, going around the loop clockwise.

Soon after I passed the Y junction I encountered nearly a dozen cattle grazing next to the trail and/or resting on the trail, including this calf that was clearly more interested in keeping an eye on me than on the fantastic view behind him.  Whenever I encounter cattle on or near the trail I approach slowly and with what I hope is nonthreatening body language.

image of calf checking me out as I hiked past

Calf checking me out as I hiked past

It is a little over a mile to the bottom of the loop, and the trail descends 200 feet.  This view shows the trail making a curve to the right (west) toward the bottom of the loop and the junction with the Folger Ranch Loop Trail.

image of Harrington Creek Trail approaching the southern junction with the Folger Ranch Loop Trail

Harrington Creek Trail approaching the southern junction with the Folger Ranch Loop Trail


About 0.1 mile before reaching the junction I passed what appeared to be an abandoned ranch wagon overlooking a small valley, through which Bogess Creek runs on its way to San Gregorio Creek, and a few low-elevation hills dropping down to the ocean.

image of abandoned ranch wagon near the south end of the loop

Abandoned ranch wagon near the south end of the loop

Nearby there was an interesting-looking somewhat rusty pole that I think may be a hitching post.  It is noteworthy that, at the junction, a permit-only equestrian trail proceeds south about 1.2 miles to an equestrian staging area on CA-84.

image of hitching post? – interesting, in any case

Hitching post? – interesting, in any case

Once I reached the junction I proceeded north on the Folger Ranch Loop Trail, which descends to about 600 feet elevation before climbing back up to the Y junction at 950 feet elevation.  The return trip to the parking area was along the Harrington Creek Trail.  During the descent to Harrington Creek I took note of a perfectly shaped tree next to a corral.  The base of the trunk appeared to consist of a cluster of several trunks, rather like some bay laurel trees, but the leaves were more reminiscent of eucalyptus.  In any case, I remembered noticing the corral on my outbound hike, but not the tree!

image of perfectly shaped tree next to a corral

Perfectly shaped tree next to a corral

The remainder of the hike back to the parking area was very pleasant and was uneventful.

This hike was my first real exposure to the historically common agricultural environment in San Mateo County – I’ve been more aware of redwood forests and associated historical logging activity at higher elevations near Skyline Blvd – so in this respect it was especially interesting.  I haven’t yet explored the northern section of the preserve, which is open by permit only, but I’ll make a point to return sometime in the future.

Posted in Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Peninsula, San Mateo County | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park – High Ridge Loop and Tolman Peak

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For Black Friday 2017, I decided to participate in REI’s well-publicized #OptOutside campaign by going for a hike in the East Bay.  I had been thinking about returning to Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park in Alameda County to visit an area of the park I didn’t get to on my most recent hike: Tolman Peak, in the southeast part of the park.  I found a description of a 9 1/2 mile hike in one of my hiking books.  Because the East Bay Regional Park District had announced that parking fees would be suspended for the day, I decided to begin the hike at a secondary trailhead, rather than the primary parking area in Garin Regional Park, in the hope that I would be more likely to find a parking space.  Luckily, I arrived in time to snag the next-to-last spot in the May Rd parking area.

The day was a beautiful one to get outdoors for some exercise, and my efforts were well-rewarded by many views of the surrounding hills and the San Francisco Bay.  This picture was taken less than half a mile from the beginning of the High Ridge Loop Trail: well worth the effort!

photo of San Francisco Bay

San Francisco Bay

I hiked a slight modification of the route described in the book, starting from the May Rd staging area instead of the main Garin Regional Park staging area.  The route includes two loops with a 1-mile connector trail, as shown in this overview.  The orange dot shows the May Rd staging area.  I went clockwise around the big loop and counterclockwise around the smaller loop.

GPS track

GPS track

Both the High Ridge Trail and the Tolman Peak Trail climb to about 1000 feet elevation and have wonderful views of the Bay.  The total elevation gain and loss for the hike was about 2200 feet, so the average grade was about 7.5% over the 11.2-mile length.  My hike was longer than the route described in the book mainly due to two side trips: one to Gossip Rock and one to the top of Tolman Peak.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The first part of the hike was kind of a traverse from the May Rd staging area to a trail junction near the main Garin Regional Park staging area, including a gentle climb of about 250 feet over 2 miles.  I went left at the first fork and right at the second, to take Meyers Ranch Trail past the former Meyers Ranch site.  One mile from the trailhead I went left on Dry Creek Trail, which follows the Dry Creek North Branch.  In the next 0.8 mile there are 3 foot bridges at creek crossings.   The bridges have been deliberately constructed to be very narrow, just wide enough for hikers, so that equestrians need to either ford the creek or take an alternate trail (I’m not sure which is done in practice).

photo of hiker bridge across Dry Creek

Hiker bridge across Dry Creek

When I reached Jordan Pond I turned right to walk past a pretty picnic area that was busy with families enjoying holiday picnics.  Near the north end of the pond a red barn serves as a visitor center.

photo of Garin Barn Visitor Center

Garin Barn Visitor Center

It is worth noting that Garin and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks are contiguous, and the park boundary is invisible – not even a sign – since both parks are part of the East Bay Regional Parks system.

From the point near the barn I located the lower end of High Ridge Loop Trail and began a steady 1.5-mile climb of 750 feet (10% grade).  Along the way I was somewhat surprised to see a few wildflowers in bloom: late November is not the usual time of year to expect to see wildflowers!  One was bristly ox-tongue (Helminthotheca echioides), which is common along nearly the entire California coast.  I also found some hayfield tarweed (Hemizonia congesta), which is native to California.  When I checked out these species in Calflora I was surprised to find that both have unusually long blooming seasons that extend into December.

photo of hayfield tarweed along High Ridge Loop Trail

Hayfield tarweed along High Ridge Loop Trail

Near the top of the climb there is a sign indicating a side trail, Whipsnake Trail, that leads to a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  From this elevation, 1125 feet, the views of the San Francisco Bay are even more spectacular, with the cities of Hayward and Union City in view below.

photo of San Francisco Bay, Hayward, and Union City viewed from the High Ridge Loop Trail – Whipsnake Trail junction

San Francisco Bay, Hayward, and Union City viewed from the High Ridge Loop Trail – Whipsnake Trail junction

The High Ridge Loop Trail continues along the ridge top for about a mile, with views in different directions of the surrounding hills.  For example, there is a higher ridge to the east.  About half a mile past Whipsnake Trail there is another side trail; this one leads to Gossip Rock.  The side trip, which includes a loop around the rock, is about 0.9 mile.  Gossip Rock appears to be a small isolated exposed rock formation with a couple of stately trees growing among the rocks.  This is a view from the south end of the loop.  Although I walked to the rocks themselves for a snack break, the trees actually blocked my view so I made my stop a short one, instead enjoying the views as I continued to hike.

photo of Gossip Rock, viewed from the bottom of the loop

Gossip Rock, viewed from the bottom of the loop

After the Gossip Rock loop, the High Ridge Loop Trail begins to descend from the ridge, with pretty views of the neighboring hills.  I think this view is to the east.

photo of beautiful hills in (or nearby) Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park

Beautiful hills in (or nearby) Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park

About 0.5 mile past the Gossip Rock loop I departed from the High Ridge Loop Trail to descend on a trail signed FD 143.  After about 0.8 mile it tees at Tolman Peak Trail, where I turned left to head east toward Tolman Peak.  This connector trail is about 0.9 mile long and climbs about 100 feet.  Along the way I noticed a few bushes with stark white berries.  I’m pretty sure this was snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), though the identification was a little tricky because some of the foliage in another picture was apparently blackberry.  It’s always trickier to do an identification of an unfamiliar plant when it grows intertwined with another plant!

photo of pure white snowberries

Pure white snowberries

Along the same connector trail I encountered a pair of equestrians enjoying the beautiful day.

photo of equestrians enjoying the Tolman Peak Trail

Equestrians enjoying the Tolman Peak Trail

At a trail junction the Tolman Peak Trail goes left and the South Fork Trail goes straight.  I continued on the South Fork Trail to go around this loop in the counterclockwise direction.  After a bit of climbing there was a pretty view toward Tolman Peak, previewing the upcoming 500-foot climb.

photo of view toward Tolman Peak

View toward Tolman Peak

During the climb up South Fork Trail, the trail passes through a short forested section, in contrast to the open grassy hills of the first part of the hike.  There were a few shrubs or trees with a bit of fall color.  And not far from the top there were some cattle grazing on the grasses.  After 1.3 miles on the South Fork Trail I arrived at the highest point in the loop, where there is a bench with wonderful views to the southwest.

I paused at the bench for another snack break and then decided to go cross-country the short distance to the top of Tolman Peak, where there was a rock outcropping and a few trees, rather reminiscent of Gossip Rock.  To get to the peak I followed social trails, or perhaps cattle trails, up the remaining 50-100 vertical feet.  I needed to walk around the trees and outcropping to see the best views, but they were worth it.  These hills are directly south of Tolman Peak, and to the right are the Quarry Lakes in north Fremont.

photo of view of hills from Tolman Peak

View of hills from Tolman Peak

Although it was only abut 2:45pm the sun was getting lower in the sky, and it produced the beginnings of a pink sky over San Francisco Bay.  Note that the bench where I’d paused along the trail is visible near the bottom of this picture.


photo of San Francisco Bay viewed from Tolman Peak

San Francisco Bay viewed from Tolman Peak

After enjoying the views I made my way back to the bench, continued a short distance to the Tolman Peak Trail, and followed it back toward the trailhead.  Just past the lower end of the FD 143 trail I noticed an American egret (Ardea alba) walking carefully through the grass, presumably hunting for a meal.  I was a little surprised to find an egret in this location, a few miles from any substantial body of water.  (The closest was probably Jordan Pond.)

photo of American egret hunting for food on a grassy hillside

American egret hunting for food on a grassy hillside

I continued along the Tolman Peak Trail and the lower portion of the High Ridge Loop Trail back to a short spur trail to the May Rd staging area.

This was a very pleasant hike that seemed to be a perfect way to celebrate an opportunity to spend Black Friday outdoors.

Posted in Alameda County, East Bay, East Bay Regional Park District | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

PCT Section O: Burney Falls to Peavine Creek

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The fourth and final day of a four-day hiking trip covering most of Section O of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was originally forecast to have showers in the afternoon.  My friend, with whom I was doing the hikes, and I were hoping for minimal showers, late enough that we would already have finished our hike.  While we did have cool temperatures, we fortunately did not have rain during the hike.  We had hiked through light rain most of the first two days, so we were grateful for drier weather after that.

Section O of the PCT covers the area between Burney Falls State Park and Castle Crags State Park at I-5 near Dunsmuir.  It is mostly in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern Shasta County.  This National Forest covers much of the area bounded by CA-89 on the east and north, I-5 on the west, and CA-299 on the south – PCT Section O is within this area – as well as additional areas in several other northern California counties.  I would characterize the area as hilly but not mountainous: the elevation ranges from about 2000 to 6000 feet, both on the PCT and in the general area.

On the first two days we had hiked southbound from I-5 to Ash Camp, and on the third (previous) day we had hiked northbound from Peavine Creek to Bartle Gap.  We were reserving a 24.5-mile section between Bartle Gap and Ash Camp for a possible marathon day hike in early summer with longer daylight hours.  At the time of these hikes the time difference between sunrise and sunset was only about 10 hours, and we limited our planned hike distances accordingly.  Because we were doing day hikes we had to allow for positioning and retrieving cars, and we made a point to find our way to unfamiliar trailheads during daylight.

Although the weather was dry, we were still above or within the elevation range with clouds and consequently did not have many distant views.  However, the mid-November weather was comfortably cool, and we did not need to contend with either heat or the flies that are rumored to inhabit the area during the summer.  In fact, with the recent rains we saw so much mist and moss that it was a little difficult to imagine the area being dry as a bone during the summer.

One of the best views was this one to the southwest, overlooking valleys containing tributaries of Rock Creek or the Pit River; the names seem to change as more tributaries join.  At 3100 feet elevation we were above the bottom of the cloud layer.

image of view overlooking the valley of Rock Creek or the Pit River

View overlooking the valley of Rock Creek or the Pit River

The hike covered 13.7 miles from a trailhead in Burney Falls State Park to another trailhead at Peavine Creek, where we had stashed a car the previous morning before beginning that day’s hike.  Using mileages from the PCT data book we hiked from mile 1423.6 to mile 1437.7, or 14.1 miles.  It is not uncommon for my GPS mileage to differ from the official mileage by a half mile or so.  Sometimes my mileage is shorter and sometimes longer, but it seems to average out pretty well.  The GPS track image shows an overview, with the orange dot showing the location of the Burney Falls State Park trailhead.

GPS track

GPS track

The trail was relatively flat for almost 5 miles prior to the climb of the day: a little over 2000 feet over nearly 8 miles.  Overall the elevation gain was about 2800 feet with a loss of 1000 feet, resulting in an average grade of 5.2%.  With this kind of moderate grade, even an 8-mile climb was straightforward.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The trailhead at Burney Falls State Park is 1.7 miles along Clark Creek Rd west from CA-89 and is kind of a back entrance point to the park.  When we’d hiked to Burney Falls from the south earlier in the summer we had taken the short detour over to see Burney Falls itself.  While the waterfall is a spectacular sight, we decided to skip it this time, since the weather was sufficiently overcast that the views would be disappointing compared to the previous visit.  Not 100 meters from the trailhead parking the access trail to the falls crosses the PCT, and the junction is marked by a large sign indicating the distance to Canada and Mexico.  The mileages indicate that this junction is about 93 miles north of the midpoint, which we’d hiked past previously.  I imagine it’s interesting for through hikers to track their progress using signs such as this one.

image of sign indicating PCT distance to Mexico and Canada from Burney Falls State Park

Sign indicating PCT distance to Mexico and Canada from Burney Falls State Park

The PCT passes through Burney Falls State Park and parallel to Clark Creek Rd; after about 1.4 miles it reaches the Pit Number Three dam in the Pit River, which forms Lake Britton.  Clark Creek empties into another arm of the lake.  From the PCT there were views of Lake Britton, which was very calm and generated pretty reflections of the area on the north side of the lake.

image of Lake Britton

Lake Britton

The PCT crosses the dam at the lowest elevation of the hike, about 2800 feet, and then follows along the Pit River.  With clearer weather we would have had better views of the river after climbing a couple hundred feet.  The trail follows along the Delucci Ridge and then curves to the northwest to follow Rock Creek.

Along the way we began to see diamond-shaped signs, sometimes called confidence signs, marking the route of the trail.  In the PCT section along the Hat Creek Rim south of Burney Falls I had noticed numerous signs that had been decorated with cartoons and verbiage.  These signs, or at least the markings, had stopped but were now resuming.  There were two signs along the route of this hike that were notable because they had creative interpretations of PCT: one said “Persistence Creates Toughness” and the other said “Piece of Cake Trail”.  Clearly their creators were amusing themselves while generating interest for hikers.

image of “P” “C” “T” signs

“P” “C” “T” signs

About 2.5 miles from the trailhead the trail crossed a gully that impressed me as simply being messy, with pieces of down trees strewn around and an occasional bigger tree crossing the gully.

image of untidy gully next to the PCT

Untidy gully next to the PCT

A bit later there was a nice view into the forest, notable for the many skinny, branchless tree trunks and minimal forest understory.  I was fascinated by the variety of views into the forest, and I have found that I enjoy such forested hikes.

image of forest view

Forest view

Most of the deciduous trees (mainly oak and maple) had already dropped their leaves, but there were a few trees still hanging onto their leaves.

image of a bit of fall color

A bit of fall color

On the Delucci Ridge there were also some open areas where the PCT passed through brush fields of manzanita.

image of PCT passing through manzanita

PCT passing through manzanita

Before the main climb the trail approaches, then crosses, Rock Creek.  When we reached the bridge we’d been hiking for about 2 hours so it was a good time to take a break.  This is a nice view of the bridge that crosses Rock Creek, marked with my hiking companion’s blue day pack.

image of bridge across Rock Creek

Bridge across Rock Creek

We were glad that the earlier morning mist had lifted sufficiently that we could enjoy our immediate surroundings, and we decided to take a 15-minute break sitting on the rocks at the upper left of the picture and enjoying a nice view of Rock Creek.  For some reason – perhaps the cap I was wearing – this picture reminds me of my dad, who enjoyed the outdoors via hikes and at least one long-distance cycling adventure.

image of taking a break by Rock Creek

Taking a break by Rock Creek

In the picture it’s a little hard to see, but my hiking pole tips are full of leaves that had accumulated as we hiked through areas thick with fallen leaves.  I cleaned them off several times and they continued to collect leaves as I hiked through the forest.

The next several miles entailed the sustained climb from 3000 to 5000 feet elevation.  In this section of the hike I noticed different kinds of acorns on the trail surface, from the same trees whose leaves continued to collect on my pole tips.  We also noticed quite a bit of scat, at least some of which I thought was bear scat.  In any case, when my friend and I got out of sight of each other we made sure to have our walkie talkie radios turned on, so that we could communicate quickly if needed.

The terrain alternated between forest and occasional open areas with more distant views, such as this view to the south toward the Pit River.

image of view to the south from the PCT

View to the south from the PCT

In some areas there was light grey-green lichen hanging from bare tree branches.  In other areas there were clusters of moss-covered rocks next to the trail.


imageof moss-covered rocks

Moss-covered rocks

A little above 4100 feet elevation there was a sign indicating Upper Jake Spring 0.1 mile off-trail.  Although we always carry enough water on day hikes to make it through the day, I’m sure backpackers and especially through-hikers appreciate directions to nearby off-trail sources of water. Not much farther there was another sign indicating the way to Screwdriver Creek, again 0.1 mile off-trail.

Most of the day was cloudy.  However, the sun came out briefly just as I passed some fallen tree debris next to the trail, covered in bright moss.

image of sunlit moss-covered log

Sunlit moss-covered log

After about two hours of hiking after crossing Rock Creek, we stopped for a second break and then resumed the climb.  When we reached an elevation of 4700 feet we crossed the road we’d driven up the previous morning on the way to Peavine Creek.  A notable aspect of that road crossing was a pair of cairns at the sides of the road, indicating where the PCT arrived at and departed from the road.  (It was not a straight-across road crossing.)  During the drive to Peavine Creek we had noticed two pairs of cairns cairns and presumed they indicated PCT crossings.  They did!  After crossing a minor ridge marking the high point of the hike, we came to the second road crossing with cairns.  It was a gentle 1-mile descent from the ridge to Peavine Creek, where our car was waiting.

We then drove back down to Clark Creek Rd to retrieve our other car.  Since this was the end of our four-day hiking adventure, we headed home to begin planning our next PCT hiking adventure.

Posted in Pacific Crest Trail, Shasta County | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments