Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Two Sides of the Coastal Mountains

This past 3 day Labor Day weekend provided Max and I with an opportunity to hike the coastal mountains. On Saturday we headed north to Marin to the back side of Mount Tamalpais on the eastern slopes of the coastal mountains. The eastern slopes of these mountains are on the “Hot and Dry” side of this range. You often hear of the summertime fires that rage through the California mountains. This hike fairly well described why those fires take place. You have to understand that we haven’t had any real rain in San Francisco since February. During the winter months these mountains are lush and green, but that was 5 months ago.

One of my absolute favorite things about this time we are spending on the "left coast" is all the hiking we are able to do. Just a short drive from our apartment north, east, or south we can land at a trail head of yet another hike through a forest, up a mountain, beside a creek or on a vista. Absolutely unbelievable! We tried to find hiking trails near Cincinnati- and let me tell you- there just aren't many- and almost none of any length (rather than just a walk through a park) that don't require an overnight stay. Not here- We have a book that actually lists 60 trails that can be reached from San Francisco and hiked all in the same day- And the book is hardly inclusive. This area is a hiker's paradise- even old hikers that don't really want to do the ones listed as strenuous. Ultimately when we leave this adventure that is San Francisco I will miss the Bay (Grama Max's Bay if you ask Reeder but we haven't heard that there is an official name change in the works) and the fog and the hikes. Though we've enjoyed many more parts of this adventure, the parts that I'll forever miss are these- the Bay, the Fog, and the Hikes!

We started our hike at Phoenix Lake, a small lake in the mountains that provides water for the area. We hiked part way around the lake and then headed off up the hills and away from the water.

As you can see from these pictures, these hills are steep and very dry right now. The grass is fairly thick and very brown. The few green trees are mostly Manzanitas and live oaks.

This hike was hot (temperatures in the 90’s) and very dry. I'm really out of practice with HOT- we just don't get HOT that often. The range of temperature here is pretty narrow- mid 50's to mid 70's most every day here in San Fran- So when we get hot- and we were hot enough on this hike I actually worked up a bonafide sweat!
We had planned for a hike of about 5 miles, but once we got to about the first half of our loop, the trail was closed, so we had to head back the same direction and then finish our walk around the lake

You can see how dry it is in this pictures and how steep the hills are. You can imagine how a fire would sweep up through this dry grass. On top of the dry hills, these coastal areas also have significant winds that come up every afternoon. I can't think of better conditions for fires.

For reference, this next picture is looking down the hill from the trail.

And, as we were about to complete our trip around the lake, I came upon this Manzanita tree. These trees shed their bark in flakes that look like peeling paint to reveal a wonderfully smooth under layer that is smooth and a beautiful reddish brown color.

On Monday (Labor Day) we drove south down the peninsula to Portola State Park. This park is on the western or ocean side of the coastal mountains. This side of the mountain slopes down to the Pacific Ocean. It gets the cool coastal breezes and most importantly the fog that blows in off the ocean. This creates an environment that is very different from the eastern slopes. Here it is much cooler and the fog provides a significant amount of moisture that keeps the area green and promotes the growth of redwoods and Douglas Fir.

The trails were again narrow and cut out of steep hillsides, but the temperatures were wonderfully mild.

The trees were absolutely magnificent in this forest. Although must of it was second growth there were still a number a very large redwoods and Douglas fir.

Even better, it seemed we were almost alone in this forest. In the 7 miles of hiking we did, we only saw 4 other small groups of hikers. As we walked on the trail the only sound was the wind in the branches above and the sound of our feet on the soft carpet of leaves and redwood needles. It couldn't have been better. This is absolutely my favorite hike we have taken to date. The trees were breathtaking- and there was a such a peaceful quiet that was so refreshing. This is certainly a hike- and a park I want to visit again.

Toward the end of our hike we took a detour from the trail to visit TipToe Falls. We were told that the best time to see the falls is in winter during the rainy season, but we walked the extra half mile anyway to make sure we took in all that there was to see. Below are two photos of the "falls". If you look closely at the close-up, you can see that there is some water gushing over the cliff that is right in front of Max.

I would be remiss if I didn't include the big trees. There are a few groves of old growth redwoods in this park. Below is the senior tree of this park. The tree is 12 feet in diameter, approximately 280 feet high, and estimated to be 1200 years old.

I'm sure you all that have read many of our posts understand that I think these trees are some of the most wonderful examples of the beauty of our natural environment. These trees are among the oldest living organisms on this planet. We were lucky to save them from the saws of progress. It would truly be a shame if the only remnant of these magnificent trees were siding on our houses and decks in our back yards.

But of course all adventures for me always include FOOD! We stopped at a restaurant Alice's Restaurant on our way home. For a bit I thought it might have some connection to Woody Guthrie's song "Alice's Restauant"- it isn't- a disappointment since Woody Guthrie from Oklahoma- and I thought perhaps there was a little piece of home. But the restaurant is a favorite spot for local biker's and hikers.
And only in California can you have a Biker hotspot that has a great Veggie Burger on the menu as well as garlic fries!


fiddleheads said...

its so awesome to have in-laws the enjoy the great outdoors! it is wonderful that you are really taking advantage of the amazing and varied landscapes around SF. there is so much too see and you are doing such an impressive job with how much you are getting out there and seeing it all.
Don- i love the manzanita shot with your new lense. can you send me a bigger version so i can see more of its detail?
Max- yummy...i want a veggie burger now...

Beyond The Strip said...

So glad to hear that you are enjoying your hiking, and great pics! Nothing finishes a long day of hiking better than garlic fries and burgers! Great selection. love,b

Anonymous said...

I miss you guys more with every post... hurry and come home! (but I guess I am glad you are having such a grand time.) Although i wish I were there for a long weekend to enjoy it too. I would LOVE the hiking and the trees too.