Monday, February 24, 2014

Trippin' In The Tide Pools - The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve near Half Moon Bay

Wear Shoes With Good Treads - Not Like These!
If you explore the tide pools at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, be sure you wear sturdy shoes with good treads! My daughter and I were in the midst of pointing out various sea anemones when suddenly she slipped and came down hard on her hands. Luckily, she didn't break anything, but the meaty area of her hand - below the thumb - swelled up fast and hurt so badly she actually got dizzy. Poor thing! I'd told her that morning to put on her good tennis shoes, but she left wearing her Converses and I didn't make her change. Bad Mom!

We went back to the car, iced her hand, drank water, ate lunch and after a bit she was ready to explore again. This time we stayed more on the sand and less on the rocks but she still managed to slip (not fall) three more times! Something to do with moving too fast plus slippery shoes . .

Slow Down Little Imp!

Anyway, back to the tide pools. . The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is located in Moss Beach, ten miles north of Half Moon Bay and about 40 minutes south of San Francisco. It is definitely worth visiting during a low tide. There are a lot of tide pools to explore here and even Harbor Seals to see. This is a reserve, so if you go, please don't take or move anything in the tide pools (put things back where you found them) and stay 300 yards away from the seals during pup season, which is going on now.  Also stay out of any areas marked off with orange cones. But don't worry! This still leaves plenty of room to view the seals and sometimes on the weekend, rangers will have telescopes set up so you can view the seals up close. We got to view them that way, as well as through my telephoto lens.

Harbor Seals Snooze During The Day And Feed At Night

Please Don't Disturb My Nap!

If you go: Pick a day and time with a low tide, anything under 1 foot is good.
 Here are the directions; be sure to wear layered clothing, sturdy shoes (did I mention that??), and put on sun screen. Parking is free! There's a tiny visitor center (not always open) and restrooms. There's also a few picnic tables in the parking area. Have fun!

Stairs Down To The Tide Pools From The Parking Lot

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hiking From Muir Beach To The Tennessee Valley Beach!

     I had an idea for a family hike; it had one criteria, we had to end up at The Pelican Inn near Muir Woods, so my husband and I could enjoy a beer in its' English pub. The hike I chose starts from Muir Beach, heads south along the Coastal Trail, then west along the Tennessee Valley Trail, finally ending at the Tennessee Valley Beach. You return the same way. It's a 7 mile hike of ocean views and was labeled by one website as "moderately strenuous."  "Perfect!" I thought, "We'll just take our time and rest as needed."

Muir Beach Overlook and Trail Head
Muir Beach is located in the Marin Headlands, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. We arrived around 9AM; it took us almost 1.5 hours to drive there from the South Bay. We brought a large picnic lunch, one bottle of water each (not enough!!), hats, jackets and sunscreen. Then off we set.

The trail started out fairly easy, the views were wonderful and the breeze refreshing. We passed people on the trail but there weren't so many that it ever felt crowded. Some had dogs (yes, they're allowed on the Coastal trail and at Muir Beach) but they were all well behaved and friendly (the dogs I mean, but so were the people!).

Why, this is easy!
 After about two miles, we took a detour down a steep and muddy path to see Pirates Cove. The cove was tiny, rocky, and the tide was high, so we sat back on the rocks, had a snack and enjoyed watching the waves smash against the rocks.

Pirates Cove

Don't swim in Pirates Cove!
The climb back up was steep and after we got back on the path, the trail got even steeper. Did I mention this hike was labeled "moderately strenuous?" Well, let me just say that for my kids - yes, it was moderately strenuous; for my athletic husband it was just a walk in the park; but for me - who's coming back from a 5 month illness - it was decidedly strenuous! Walking up that hill, my legs started to burn! Luckily, there was a fantastic flat grassy area at the top, a perfect place for a picnic.

Picnic Spot on the Coastal Trail
It was a tad windy!
Not too tired yet . .
After our picnic, we headed down, then up, then down, then up, till we came to a view of the Tennessee Valley and beach. How could we stop now?

Mom's trailing now . .

Hugging Dad

The Tennessee Valley, Lagoon and Beach
I wish I'd taken some photos of the beach, but at this point I just wanted to rest. But let me assure you, it's a great little beach and it has black sand! It would have been pretty hot there but the ocean breeze was cold, so we couldn't decide if we were cold or hot. All I can say is, bring plenty of water. We had to ration our one bottle each. It would have been much better if we'd had 2 or 3 bottles each. Next time, each person carries their own backpack and water!

Our return trip was tough - for me that is - everyone else seemed re-energized. I slowly plodded up the hill, stopping now and then to rest my screaming leg muscles and sometimes take a photo. My son had to learn that a non-stop stream of verbal "encouragement" is not welcome when it's taking everything to put just one foot in front of the other!

"You can do it, Mom! Don't think about your legs, don't think about how much they hurt . ."

Can anyone name this flower? I can't . .

I'm guessing a thistle . .?
Finally (Glory, Hallelujah!), we returned to our car at Muir Beach. Then we drove 100 yards or so to the Pelican Inn for two well deserved beers, a root beer and a kids' sunrise. BTW - the Pelican Inn is a lovely, romantic place to stay. My husband and I stayed here years ago. It is not however, a budget inn nor is it a place that young children will appreciate. Save this one for the adults.

The Pelican Inn - a "real" English pub!
This hike: not recommended for young children or people who are really out of shape.

The Beaches: strong tides and rip currents - too dangerous for swimming.

If you go:  Allow at least 4 hours; bring sunscreen, plenty of water, food, and layers of clothing.

Directions:  From San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and drive north on U.S. 101 for four miles. Take the Mill Valley/Stinson Beach/Highway 1 exit and continue straight for one mile. Turn left on Shoreline Highway and drive 5.2 miles, then turn left on Pacific Way (by the Pelican Inn). Drive 0.5 miles on Pacific Way to the Muir Beach parking lot. The trail begins near the parking lot restrooms.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mission Santa Clara and the De Saisset Museum

I am ashamed to say, I wasn't aware of beautiful Mission Santa Clara de Asis, let alone the free De Saisset Museum, that exists in the middle of Silicon Valley. Now I am and I must say, it is worth visiting.
Mission Santa Clara de Asis at Santa Clara University Campus

Mission Santa Clara lies on the grounds of the Santa Clara University - "a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university" founded in 1851. The mission was the 8th of 21 Franciscan missions founded by Padre Junipero Serra. It was established in 1777 near the Guadalupe River and was the first mission named after a woman - St. Claire of Assisi. Due to floods, fire and earthquakes, the mission relocated five times, finally ending up at its' current site in 1822. It went through six remodels, the last one due to a devastating 1926 fire, finally ending up with something close to its' original 1825 appearance.

My daughter and I spent an enjoyable two hours appreciating the campus buildings' mission revival architecture, exploring the mission sanctuary and viewing the art exhibits at the De Saisset Museum. I would not however, recommend this trip for young children. I think it would be appropriate for 4th graders (studying California missions) and up.

There is a brochure offering a self guided tour of the mission and grounds. We didn't do it, though I would like to another day.

Interior of Sanctuary

     The main reason we visited Santa Clara University was to see an exhibit at the De Saisset Museum by local artist Michele Guieu, called Sip. Do Not Gulp. Michele's exhibit takes up an entire room and is quite wonderful to see. She painted a mural directly on the walls, laid out a huge acorn statement/rug, set up a continuous video and included a way for viewers to participate in the ongoing project. The result is a beautiful display of the "interconnectedness of food and water throughout Santa Clara Valley's long history."

The acorns represent the Ohlone Indians
Participants invited to add their own observations via blue paper plates
Mission Santa Clara De Asis

     We also viewed an exhibit by artist Corinne Takara called, A Serving Of Shapes: An Exploration In 3D Printing.  This exhibit consists of a documentary video showing the process of 3D printing, and display shelves with little plastic food and animal shapes. The artist's stated purpose is to "weave together art, history and technology to reflect on Silicon Valley's past identity . . and it's present identity . ." There were past workshops letting people participate in the process of 3D printing, but unfortunately there don't seem to be any more scheduled.

3D Printing Shapes

Both exhibits run through March 16th and there is a reception on Thursday, February 13, from 7:00 to 8:30pm.  I also recommend viewing the permanent downstairs exhibit on California history that includes the "founding of Mission Santa Clara de Asís, through the Gold Rush, and the early years of Santa Clara College." I was not allowed to take photographs but I highly recommend visiting. BTW, Admission to the museum is free!

Final thoughts:  Regarding Sip. Do Not Gulp, I would have liked to have seen some innovative ideas on how we can counteract water shortages in California besides references to how much water a single chicken or cow requires; but to be fair, I believe the artist's intention was to increase awareness of the history and importance of water, not to offer solutions.
     Regarding A Serving Of Shapes,  I think it would have been much better if an actual printer and workshop were going on; the video didn't hold our interest. Also, I found it rather ironic that this display was next to one that talks about conserving water, because 3D printers result in plastic products that as far as I know, can't be recycled.

De Saisset Museum - Admission Free!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Palo Alto Baylands

Palo Alto Baylands in the Winter

 Sometimes it may seem as if you can't get away from the traffic and noise of the Bay Area; even the natural areas are often full of people, but there is one place you are sure to find moments of peace and quiet - the Palo Alto Baylands. This 940 acre wetland preserve is one of the largest in the San Francisco Bay. In the spring and fall it is a haven for birds, which use it as a stopover on the Pacific route of their migratory flyway. Winter brings high tides, which means closer viewing of the birds and photographic scenery.

Northern Shovelers
 To get there: From highway 101, take the Embarcadero Road East exit. Drive 3/4 mile to the end of the road. Turn left to enter the preserve. There are several parking lots down the road.

Green Winged Teal

There are fifteen miles of trails, great for birding, walking, running and biking. Dogs are allowed on leash, sailboarding and canoeing/kayaking is also allowed. My favorite activity at the Baylands is photography (sans kids). I've spent many wonderful hours there misidentifying birds and taking photos that aren't quite sharp enough. It is very peaceful listening to lapping water and bird song, if it wasn't for the planes that fly to and fro from the neighboring Palo Alto Airport, it would be perfect. If you have the time (and a babysitter),  I highly recommend spending a few hours by yourself unwinding from the stress of everyday life.

Anna's Hummingbird

If you do bring the family, be sure to visit the EcoCenter -a building that looks like a huge riverboat - located across from the main duck pond. Some of its' many activities include touchscreen exhibits, natural history displays, science and nature talks and after-school programs for children. Winter hours are Saturdays, 10 -3pm. Regular weekday hours will resume March 1 (no info yet on what those will be).

The EcoCenter

The other building to visit is the Lucy Evans Interpretive Center, located within site of the Palo Alto Airport.  It's open Thurs - Sun, 2 - 5 pm and offers nature walks and classes and has a boardwalk trail that takes you out over the wetlands (where you could not normally walk).  In the spring, my favorite activity at the Center is watching the hundreds of swallows frantically trying to fill up their hungry babies, chirping from nests under the building's eaves.


Lucy Evans Interpretive Center

The Palo Alto Baylands has the kind of beauty that you must take time to appreciate. At first glance, it may seem empty and boring, but if you take the time to walk around and really look at the plants and birds, you will see how beautiful it is. And the best thing is, each time you visit it will be different; the tide will have changed, the sky may be sunny or gray, the air still or windy and you will probably spy birds you haven't seen before. Once I saw a Burrowing Owl, another time I saw a Ring Necked Pheasant. There are Great Herons, Night Herons, White Pelicans, various ducks, plovers, hawks - there is a reason it is considered one of the best birding spots on the West Coast.
I hope I've inspired you to visit!

White Tailed Kites

Anna's Hummingbird

Northern Shovelers