Monday, May 26, 2008

Marin Headlands: Hill 88 and Pt. Bonita Lighthouse Loop

"In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous."

Locale: Marin Headlands Hill 88 Loop to Lighthouse, Sausalito, Marin County, CA
Date: Sunday, May 25, 2008
Duration: 8.6 miles (5+ hours due to wait at lighthouse)
Price: Free
All in All: Arguably the most beautiful hike the Bay Area has to offer
Rating: *****
Maps & More Info:

This long and heavy-moderate hike was my favorite of all hikes completed thus far. It has a touch of everything - ocean, beach, gorgeous views of the golden gate bridge, history. This particular hike begins at the visitor center. Go across the Golden Gate from the south or Hwy 101 from the north, get on the first exit before or after the bridge (depending upon which way you're coming) at Alexander Ave. Turn onto Conzelman rd and follow a few miles passed bicyclists and tourists, turn left at the bottom of a hill and soon you'll see the presidio-like buildings, one of which is the center. Follow the signs to the visitor center parking lot. I highly encourage you to go inside before your hike. You'll see artifacts, stuffed birds and a convenient gift shop where you can buy anything from hiking books to t-shirts to snacks. If you do not feel like purchasing a big map of the area, there's a free paper map on the counter for this hike.

Begin at the end of the parking lot by the bathrooms and follow trail to the right, cross the road to the warehouse and start on Miwok Trail which is to the right of the warehouse. You will stay on Miwok for the next 1.6 miles, it will be flat for the first .5 mile or so and then will steadily climb away from the water, curving up the hills bringing vast views of the headlands.

After climbing the first long hill, turn left onto Wolf Ridge Trail which is a single track trail (you may be glad to get rid of those fast bicyclists). Wolf Ridge continues to go uphill steeply, be careful of footing in places. At 2.7 miles into the hike, turn left on Coastal Trail to the top of Hill 88, you already will get a prized view of the Rodeo Beach and the Pacific side of the bridge. As you go up the paved walkway to the top of Hill 88, you will start hearing the lighthouse which is only open Sat through Monday from 12:30-3:30. At the top of Hill 88, you will see marvelous views and graffiti laced buildings. The graffiti ranges from standard gang tags to x loves y to political statements.

Now go back down the way you came and continue down on the paved Coastal trail to the beach below. You will pass bunkers and continue on dirt and paved trails. Before getting to the beach walk through the Battery Townsley tunnels, here is where one of the missile launching sites was. Continue downwards to the beach.

You may feel a bit out of place as we did crossing the beach in our camelbaks and trekking poles but with a sunny warm day and tides coming in, who cares? Continue to trek alongside the beach to the other side where you will go up the bluffs nearest the water. Keep right to go towards a bunch of green buildings - this is the YMCA staff buildings. Go right after the lot to the rd up to the Battery Mendell which looks like this:

Climb up the stairs to the top and explore the building before continuing on the dirt trails behind it. You are now 6+ miles into the hike but the best is still yet to come. Walk alongside the dirt path on the cliff through some brush to the radar tower. Next to it is another graffiti painted building. You can go up to the second story but DONT LOOK DOWN IF AFRAID OF HEIGHTS. Below is a 100 foot fall or more to a private beach where rough waves hit the rocks and pieces of metal from an old shipwreck are still ashore. After going down the steep stairs, continue on the dirt path around the fence. Go left on the dirt trail, you'll see tourists walking down the paved road towards the lighthouse. Follow them.

The paved road will take you downhill onto a fenced bridge and then through a tunnel. Be sure to get there when the lighthouse is open or else you'll be SOL. We managed to get in line (at the other end of the tunnel) about 15 minutes before closing. A volunteer will be talking to you about the lighthouse as you wait. The suspension bridge to the lighthouse was built in 1953 and is a bit... unsteady. In fact they only allow 2-3 people at a time to go across it as it is starting to erode and it does bounce when you go across. Once you are to the other side, explore the lighthouse, it can get a bit chilly here as well so have a sweater handy. You'll wait in line again to cross the bridge. After, continue back the way you came until to the parking lot. Now follow the road to the left, cross the road and go up the dirt track to the Battery Wallace. Go through the tunnel and turn left and follow the road until it curves downhill, you'll see the beach to the left and the familiar buildings. Turn right at the stop sign and follow the road back down the next .5 miles to the visitor center. When leaving on Field Rd, there is a 5 minute stoplight in front of a bike tunnel to enjoy. Hopefully you're hike will be a fulfilling as ours and with history and beauty that this hike brings, we'll most likely be back.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Samuel P. Taylor State Park

"This is the foundation of all. We are not to imagine or suppose, but to discover, what nature does or may be made to do."
-Francis Bacon

Locale: Samuel P Taylor State Park, Laguintas, Marin County, CA
Date: Saturday, May 9, 2008
Duration: 7 miles (4 hours)
Price: Free
All in All: A rainforest-like hike to the peak with glorius sunny views to the bottom.
Rating: ****

Getting to this trailhead is fairly easy. Go onto Hwy 101 from San Francisco or 580 from East Bay, past the San Rafael Bridge and take the Sir Francis Drake exit. Follow Drake for about 17 miles through small towns, after Laguintas you will see Samuel P Taylor Park entrance, keep going one mile until you see Devil's Gulch Camp on the right. There's a small dirt lot on the left, park here, admire the swimming hole/creek then cross the road to the camp to start the hike. The first .1 mile of the trail is paved blacktop and the creek will below on your right. Turn right at onto the wooden bridge. Now turn left onto Bill's Trail. This is the trail that will take you to Barnabe Peak. Over one hundred years ago, Samuel Taylor inhabited the area where he set up one of the first papermills in California alongside his wife and eight children. He also invented the first paper grocery bag. Barnabe Peak is named after his beloved mule Barnabe. The 4 plus mile climb to the peak is easy (until you reach the fire tower area).

The climb to the summit is filled with wildlife surprises as well as cool comfortable shade. The 4 miles to the summit are forthe most part quite easy. There are quite a number of small foot bridges and switchbacks but the trail is graded ever so slightly and you don't even notice you're gaining altitude if it wasn't for the hills levelling off with your point of views and the creek getting lower beneath you.

After a mile or so you'll see the step waterfalls trail, take this for a short dead end to see the waterfalls which when we went were just above a trickle. We could see where the water flows through and makes a crevace during the winter months but on our hike, just a long trickle of water flew down to us. After stopping here, return to Bill's Trail and go left to continue onwards.
We saw many lizards, garter snakes and a few squirrels on the trail.

After about 4.2 miles, you reach a wide open area with nothing in front of you but some grass, a wide dirt trail and a breathtaking view of forest lands, San Pablo Bay, and hills. To the left the trail continues up to the fire tower station. This part is optional, you may either climb the moderate stretch to the top or continue down back to the trailhead. We continued to climb up to the tower. From now on there will be very little shade so put on the sunblock. The short rest of the climb to the tower was much steeper but brief. The tower was closed up but here we found better views. A 360 angle of lush landscapes surrounded us. If it wasn't for a small parking lot below full of cars, I'd say it was perfect. Continue back down the wide trail. The somewhat steep descent will bring you to Samuel P. Taylor's gravesite on the left. Stop here to read more about him and his wife. I mysteriously have been choosing state parks with cemeteries on them lately, hmm. After stopping at the bench, return to the trail and follow it back to the wooden bridge you crossed earlier, turn left onto the paved road and cross Sir Francis Drake to your car.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Jack London State Park

"I write for no other reason then to add to the beauty
that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason
then to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate."
-Jack London

Locale: Jack London State Park, Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, CA
Date: Saturday, May 3, 2008
Duration: ~6 miles (took us 3.5 hours)
Price: $6
All in All: A hike that takes you back into the early 1900's
Rating: ****
Maps and more info:
For those who have read London's most famous books ("Call of the Wild", "White Fang") in school to those who are avid London fans and even to those whom never heard of Jack London, this hike offers a great treat. Nearly one hundred years ago, London bought this 1400 acre ranch in Glen Ellen along for almost $27,000 with his second wife Charmian. It was his dream home that brought charm, happy memories and tragedy as well. A few days before the couple was to move in, a fire took place burning their original plan of the home. Later they moved into the wooden cottage which is found near the parking lot.

The London's Cottage.

To get to Glen Ellen (a small quaint town with cute restaurants and shops named after Jack London) get onto CA 37 from either Hwy 80 east or from 101 N, from 37 get onto CA 121 and go straight for about 7 miles, continue straight at a 76 station onto Arnold Drive. This is also CA 116. Follow this into Glen Ellen which will be about 9 miles after the gas station. On your left go to London Ranch Road and follow it to the kiosk.

Feel free to first park in the lot on the left of the kiosk. Here will be the museum, grave sites, and wolf house. Visit the museum for some really interesting tidbits about the Londons. The House of Happy Walls was built following Jack London's death by his wife. There are rooms with her old clothes, artifacts from their adventures, helpful park employees and even an opportunity to buy or peruse his books. After leaving here follow the signs to the grave site. It's about .5 miles from the museum.

At the grave site, look to your right. You will see a picketed fenced square with two grave stones (most likely the original wooden markers). These two siblings were young children who died in the 1800's. Their names were David and Lillie Greenslaw who were pioneer children living on the ranch. Illness cut their lives short. London found these graves one day and soon announced to his family that when he died he wished to just be buried in this place with a boulder over him. This is precisely what happened in 1916 when 39 year old London perished in his cottage. Some still believe suicide was the root of his early death but his death certificate states uremic poisoning. Charmian placed his ashes nearby and placed a boulder over them. In 1955, Charmian died at the ranch and also had her ashes buried here.

From here, if you like may continue .15 miles to the wolf house then follow the road back to the parking lot. Once back at the lot you may either drive or walk to the other parking lot on the right side of the kiosk where you drove in. Follow the path up past the picnic benches and grills and you will now see barns and London's cottage. Proceed into the house and donate a few bucks to the save a park foundation who are trying to earn money to restore London's lake.

London's writing room.

Apart from the front desk and tourists in modern day clothing, it is exactly the same as it would've been ninety years ago. The hallway especially feels as if you were transported through time. The writing room caught my attention the most. On the right there was his safe where he put his drafts in case of fire and on the left was a sleeping porch in which he died. After leaving the cottage, tour the area and look at the barns, the old workers' quarters, and what is that? Cacti?
London did many experiments on his farm, many failed, including growing spineless cacti for the horses. Read the sign at this site for more interesting insights before continuing on the main path past the vineyard.
Past the vineyard, tour the pig palace and silos and return to lake trail. Continue on Lake Trail for about a half a mile then continue on it by turning right at the cattle gate. Climb slightly up another half mile until you reach the lake at the right (you'll have to climb a small grade to see it). Here is where London took his guests fishing and swimming. Today it looks very unappealing. It's full of moss and sediment. It has shrunk to half it's size. There are brochures if you wish to help donate money to restore the lake.
After the lake follow Mountain Trail. The next 2.5 miles to the summit of the park. Sonoma Mountain actually continues passed the park on private land. We actually went about 2/3 of the way up Mountain Trail which is actually not too steep for being labeled a 'mountain' until we saw a sign stating the summit was closed for restoration. We were going to continue anyways but were short on time as the park closes at 5. We were disappointed that there wasn't a sign at the lake but never the less we continued back down through the redwoods. If you wish to reach the summit, ask or call ahead to see if it's open. On the right you will see Quarry Trail, go on it for about .5 miles and then turn left on Vineyard Trail and Vineyard Rd until you get to a cougar crossing. Continue up the bank until you're back at the lake. From here go back the way you came back to the parking lot.
Leaving the park, we stopped at Jack London Village for dinner and free chocolate samples. It hit the spot after a nice hike that took us back into literary history. I encourage you to do the same. We ate at Bluegrass Restaurant presumably known for their great BBQ. After the first few hundred yards of hiking a new why London called his ranch magnificent. With all the wildlife and acres of redwoods just feet from my front door, I would be content as well.