Año Nuevo State Park

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Welcome back to National Parks and other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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Año Nuevo State Park  is about 55 miles south of San Francisco on Highway 1, and is known for its elephant seal breeding colony. This is one of the world’s largest colonies for the northern elephant seal. The seals swim  an average of 2000 miles every year on their migration from the Arctic to Año Nuevo.

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We were there on the very first day of what is considered ‘Juvenile Haul Out Season’, which begins after the April-August Molting Season. To see the babies, you need to take a guided hike with a docent during breeding season which is mid-December through March. The park is closed for two weeks at the beginning of December when the pregnant females arrive to give birth.

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When it’s not breeding season, you must hike from the visitor center over about 3 miles of sand dunes to the seal viewing platform. We were concerned that my disabled cousin wouldn’t be able to do that hike with her cane and unsteady feet. I checked into the state park’s Equal Access program and was able to reserve a docent-guided tour that bypassed the sandy hike.

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We arrived in the midst of a blistering heat wave, a little early for our scheduled tour. We perused the exhibits in the Visitor Center and watched the short film. The journey the elephant seals make each year is remarkable!

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Then we boarded a van and our guide drove us on unpaved park roads to the Equal Access Trail. This is a quarter-mile boardwalk trail out to the viewing platform. Our guide walked with us, pointing out various flora and fauna along the way.

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What a wonderful service this is for the disabled! We are so grateful to the park and our docent for providing us with this amazing experience. We learned a lot about the elephant seal life cycle and saw some huge bulls on the shore.

Location: 1 New Years Creek Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060

Designation: State Park

Date designation declared: 1985

Date of my visit: September 2017

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Año Nuevo Island is just off the point and is part of the State Park and Reserve. The abandoned buildings are the remains of a 19th century light-keeping station.

Fort Point National Historic Site

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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After exploring the Marin Headlands on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge (you can see my post on the Marin Headlands by clicking here,) we drove across the famous bridge to visit Fort Point nestled under its southern side.

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Fort Point was built during the Gold Rush by the United States Army to defend San Francisco Bay against foreign attacks. It was completed just before the start of the Civil War and never saw battle.DSC02578

Renowned for its fine masonry, it was saved from demolition in the 1930s . The Golden Gate Bridge architect designed the span to arch over the fort instead of razing it.

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The fort is now protected as Fort Point National Historic Site, signed into law by President Nixon in 1970. It is administered by the National Park Service as a unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

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We tagged on to the end of a ranger-led tour and explored the three levels where there are historical artifacts on display. There are great views of San Francisco and Alcatraz from the roof. And this view of the Golden Gate is quite a different perspective from the usual bridge vista.

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Location: Long Ave & Marine Dr, San Francisco, CA 94129

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 10/16/1970

Date of my visit: August 18, 2012

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Top 10 Posts of 2018

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! As 2018 draws to a close, I’d like to do a year-in-review post. It’s been a great inaugural year here on the blog, with 113 posts, over 5000 visitors and over 600 people following along on the journey. I am grateful for and humbled by your support.

Here are the top ten most popular posts from 2018 (you can click on each title to go to the original post):

10: Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Clingman’s Dome (Tennessee/North Carolina)DSC05739

9: Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)IMG_5657

8: Muir Woods National Monument (California)F-_2012_2012-08-11-San-Francisco_DSC02511

7: Crater Lake National Park – Garfield Peak (Oregon)Day7-IMG_6122

6: Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)DSCN0953

5: Flathead National Forest – Whitefish Mountain (Montana)IMG_1677

4: Acadia National Park – Loop Road Highlights (Maine)IMG_1355

3: Acadia National Park – Jordan Pond and the Bubbles (Maine)2007_0527(009)

2: Glacier National Park – Running Eagle Falls (Montana)IMG_1792

And the most popular post of 2018….Capitol Reef National Park – Cathedral Valley (Utah)IMG_8712

Happy New Year everyone and here’s to happy exploring ahead for 2019!

Happy 50th to the Trails, Rivers, etc…

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Remember that classic TV show where the pregnant wife has gone into sudden labor and the husband gets pulled over for speeding  while trying to reach the hospital but then the quick-thinking police officer provides an escort with sirens blazing for the expectant couple? Perhaps cliche, but fifty years ago today, that scene played out for my parents and I narrowly avoided charging into this world on the city streets thanks to the NYPD.

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October of 1968 was also a fruitful month for our public lands. On October 2nd of that year, the National Trails System Act and the Wild and Scenic River Act were both signed into law.

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The Tomales Point Trail is a National Recreation Trail contained within the NPS Point Reyes Unit.

The National Trails System Act initially designated two national scenic trails, the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, and made provisions to study 14 other trails for inclusion. The Act was later amended to include historic trails and rail trails. Today there are thousands of miles of national trails including 11 National Scenic Trails and 19 National Historic Trails. The trails are managed by five different government agencies and more information can be found on the Partnership for the National Trails System Website.

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The Rogue Wild and Scenic River in Oregon was one of the original 8 rivers named under the Act in 1968.

The National Wild and Scenic River Act initially designated eight rivers and today protects over 150 rivers. These are managed by four government agencies and more information can be found on the National Rivers Website. To see my previous post on the Middle Delaware click here (posts on the Rogue and Flathead National Rivers are coming soon.)

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The Smith Wild and Scenic River in California runs through parts of Redwood National Park.

Redwood National Park was also designated on October 2nd, 1968. To see my post on that park, click here.

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Other park sites (which I have yet to visit) and are turning 50 in October include:

  • Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Washington.
  • North Cascades National Park, Washington.
  • Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Washington.
  • Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, North Carolina.
  • Biscayne National Monument, Florida. (Re-designated Biscayne National Park in 1980)

Found this video clip I must have accidentally taken on my waterproof camera while kayaking down the Smith River:

 

 

Muir Woods National Monument

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

Muir Woods National Monument is an old-growth coastal redwood forest and is part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 12 miles north of San Francisco. Being the most accessible redwood grove to tourists visiting San Francisco, it is insanely popular.

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Because the crowding and traffic up the narrow, winding mountain roads were becoming unmanageable, the NPS has recently implemented a policy that requires all visitors to either reserve a paid parking space in advance or buy a ticket on a shuttle bus (also reserved in advance.)

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The last time we visited Muir Woods was 2012 and it was definitely busier than it had been on any of my previous visits. We had to park on the road quite far from the visitor center and hike in, hoping no one would hit our car while we were gone. (Did I mention the roads are narrow? And winding?)

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But once we got past the throngs at the entrance, we enjoyed a peaceful walk on the loop trail, past Redwood Creek and through the awesome Cathedral Grove. The loop trail is level, easy and a great way to experience these magnificent giants.

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We’d picked up a junior ranger booklet and helped my daughter fill it out as we followed the trail. It was a sort of scavenger hunt to figure out a code to unlock the junior ranger box back at the visitor center and get the ‘badge’…really just a lame sticker, no ‘swearing-in’ ceremony with a ranger like at other parks. There are just too many visitors here for that, but I thought the scavenger hunt was a unique alternative.

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The woods were shrouded in fog as we began, typical due to the proximity of Muir Woods to the ocean. It lifted at some point on our hike back.

Muir Woods was saved from destruction by William Kent, a US Congressmen in the early 1900s. In order to save the last Redwood Groves in the area from being cut down by the logging industry, he purchased the land. When a water company took him to court because they wanted to build a dam on Redwood Creek, he donated the land to the federal government on the condition that they protect it and name the new monument after John Muir, the naturalist.

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Interesting fact: the remade Planet of the Apes movies were partially set in Muir Woods (that’s where the evolved apes make their new home at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) but those scenes were mostly shot in British Columbia. The monument does make a cameo or two, though.

So, bottom line…If you are planning on exploring the Marin County side of the bay, do incorporate Muir Woods into your plans. But advance planning is required because of the new reservation policy and this park should not be your ultimate destination for visisting a redwood grove in California.

We have seen groves in Redwoods National Park in the far north of the state and in State Parks south of the Bay Area….all of them were far more peaceful and immersive experiences than getting to and walking through Muir Woods.

That said, Muir Woods was where I saw my first AMAZING giant redwood back in the 80s, and for some it might be their only chance to see one…if that is the case, you can’t miss a visit to Muir Woods.

Location: 1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941

Designation: National Monument

Date designation declared: January 9, 1908

Date of my visit: 8/11/2012

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Golden Gate National Recreation Area: Marin Headlands

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Welcome back to National Parks with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area protects over 80 thousand acres in Northern California. For this trip, we decided to explore the Marin Headlands section. The Marin Headlands is a peninsula just north of San Francisco on the Marin County side of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’d been to San Francisco many times before and had seen the bridge from that perspective, but this was the first time for all of us viewing the bridge, Alcatraz and the city from this vantage point. There far fewer tourists here and we enjoyed the view that much more, even though the bridge remained mostly shrouded in fog.DSC02528

We stopped in two places. The first was Point Bonita. We hiked down the steep half mile trail through a tunnel in a hill and across a bridge to Point Bonita Light. There was a ranger on hand whose grandmother had lived in this lighthouse as a child. We spent a lot of time talking to him about the lighthouse which was constructed in 1855 as the third lighthouse on the West Coast. It is still active today and managed by the coast guard.DSC02538

The second place we stopped was the Marine Mammal Center.  Thank goodness for places like these! Our group felt it was well worth the visit and admission just to support the organization’s efforts to rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals.
That said,we didn’t spend very long there. Our agenda for the day was pretty packed and we were there in between tour times. You can self-guide, but this is really not a zoo/aquarium. The animals are unwell and too much noise and commotion is not good for them. They can be viewed from a distance, but without the narrative from the docent on success stories, it was really too sad to linger for long. DSC02561

On the drive to the lighthouse, we found a pullout with a seal rock that was close enough for us to really see the seals without binoculars.

Location: 948 Fort Barry, Sausalito, CA 94965

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: August 12, 2012

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Redwood National & State Parks

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Welcome back to National Parks with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

Redwood National Park is unique in that it is a spread out confederation of state parks along the Northern California coast. It was established to protect not only the giant redwoods, but prairies, rivers and coastline.

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In order to experience as much of the park as possible, we stayed in the White Rock Resort, just south of the Oregon Border, for a few days. What a wonderful, homey cabin, right on the Pacific! It was the perfect jumping off point for our daily activities. We had cabin 9  with an ocean view and our cousins were in the cabin next door. The freshly baked bread in the bread maker when we arrived was such a nice touch. The kids slept upstairs in the loft and were kept occupied with the TV and movie library up there. We all enjoyed the hot tub on the deck… Glorious! We went for a walk on the beach each morning.

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For our first day in the park we took an awesome 1/2 day kayaking tour through  the Redwoods with Redwood Rides

Our group is not the most physically fit, so this was the perfect excursion for us. We met the Redwood Rides van by the Chevron station and were driven upstream so we could paddle with the current. Our excellent guide showed us how to paddle more efficiently, how to navigate the small rapids and no one capsized!
Our guide spoke about the surrounding geology and nature as we enjoyed this serene and scenic journey. No motorboats are allowed on the Smith River, so it really was peaceful. We encountered only a handful of people swimming, fishing, and tubing along the way.
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Mid-way into the ride, we pulled up to a beach and took a short walk with the guide into the Stout Grove of redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. He was so knowledgeable about these trees and wow, are they amazing! Pictures can’t do this place justice (especially since all I had with me was a waterproof point and shoot.) It’s amazing to walk among some of the world’s oldest living things. And there weren’t throngs of tourists here as we have seen in Muir Woods, so it was peaceful.
I highly recommend Redwood Rides… They made this the most rewarding experience of our vacation. You will be sore, you will get wet (waterproof cameras only and wear river sandals) but you will have fun and learn a thing or two.

Day4-IMG_5833The next day, when our sore muscles had somewhat recovered, we drove to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (under joint operation with the NPS.) We went into the visitor center, got the pin I collect from every park we visit and got our bearings for our hike. We intended to take the Prairie Creek trail and loop back on Cathedral, but a mile down prairie creek trail it became too much for our disabled cousin and we turned back. This is a flat wide trail, so don’t be discouraged… Most can easily make it. The part that we did walk was beautiful with many big trees (though not the official ‘Big Tree’) a couple of bridges, a cut out in a fallen tree to walk through, the creek and myriad photo opportunities. We encountered maybe three other families along the way, having the park to ourselves most of the time.

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While in the area, we also visited the Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City. This light is only accessible at low tide. It is continuously staffed by a different couple in residence each month.
We did have to wait a bit to get in as they can only take 8 people at a time. They have the tour organized so that one group gets in as the previous group moves to the next room of the tour. Well worth the suggested donation of $3 per adult, the tour lasts about 45 minutes, culminating with a visit to the tower.

Location: Humboldt & Del Norte Counties, California

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 8/27/1969

Date of my visit: August 2016