Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hikers do it for free!

Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland Parks & Rec

All things being equal, most hikers like to walk on a well-maintained trail with beautiful scenery; with enough of a challenge involved so that we get a good workout (but don't need three days to recover); that it be reasonably close to home; and that it not cost anything.

While there are hundreds of trails in the Greater Bay Area that fill the bill--East Bay Regional Parks, State of California Parks, National Parks and Preserves, various county and city parks, and more--sometimes we're interested in a particular trail, yet the park's entrance fee makes us go elsewhere. 

If getting into a park free that usually charges an entrance fee sounds good, check out these: 

Fee-free admission days in 2014 to entice:

National Parks and Forests:
April 19-20. National Parks Weekend (National Parks free)

June 14. National Get Outdoors Day (National Forest free)

August 25. National Park Service Birthday (National Parks free)

September 17. National Public Lands Day (All Federal Public Lands free)

October 12. National Wildlife Refuge Week (National Wildlife Refuge Week)

November 11. Veterans Day (All Federal Public Lands free)

Some other days to celebrate: 

May 1-Sept 10--Sierra Club members: LeConte Lodge in Yosemite is looking for volunteers to help with seasonal operations (one week minimum). Free entrance to the park and free camping in the group campsite during the time you volunteer.

May 10. Audubon members: Polewalking: Special session for birders. Learn how to use hiking poles with Jayah Faye Paley ( in Pacifica, CA. Go to

June 7. National Trails Day. Open to all. Thousands of organizations, across the country, will offer free activities ranging from guided hikes to whitewater paddling. 

June 1, 2014. Cal Academy of Science, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Chase Bank sponsorsquarterly Free Sundays--first come, first served. The Academy is free to everyone on selected Sundays throughout the year. Admission is on a first-come, first served basis, and early arrival is recommended due to the likelihood of high demand. Please note that final entry to the museum is one hour before closing.

Varies by zipcode: "San Francisco Neighborhood Free Days."  415-379-8000. (The Spring 2014 dates currently appear/check back for later dates.)  

Have fun, hikers!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Celebrate Spring with a special hike in the Bay Area

There's an abundance of hikes planned for the spring! Consider one of these unique offerings in your greater Bay Area: 
Explore Mt. Diablo State Park, Contra Costa County (Susan A.) 
Saturday, April 6, 2014. 8:30* OR 9:30** A.M. – 2 PM. Natural & Cultural History Walk.  Hike on Mt. Diablo with Doc Jim Hale, wildlife biologist and naturalist. Hale will interpret the fire ecology of the recent Clayton Burn, wildlife, geology, wildflowers, and the material culture of the Native Americans, their useful, edible, and medicinal plants. We will visit bedrock milling stations, as well as a village site and pictograph site. 

Hiking level is easy. Bring lunch and liquids. We will carpool from the garden at 8:30* A.M. or meet at 9:30** A.M. at the John Muir Picnic Area just below the summit of Mount Diablo. 

A park entrance fee applies at both the north and south entrances. Cost for this class: $10/individual; $20/family tax-deductible donation to Lafayette Community Garden. Register: Sponsored by the Lafayette Community Garden and Outdoor Learning Center. 

Birds-Eye Gilia (Doug Wirtz) King-Swett
Saturday, April 12. 9 A.M. – 1 P.M. Hike the King-Swett Ranches. Join naturalist Jim Walsh to hike the the hills between Fairfield, Benicia, and Vallejo; this area is otherwise closed to the public.Walsh will share insights about the birds and other wildlife that call this area home, and he’ll give you a great workout! 

On a clear day you can see views across the Suisun Marsh to Mount Diablo, the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Tamalpais, the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, the Napa River and marshes, perhaps even the Sierras.  

Hike is free; donations are appreciated.  No reservations are necessary but an RSVP would be appreciated to Jim at 916-870-4824 or

All ages are welcome, but participants must be prepared for a strenuous pace hiking 4-6 miles off-trail, up and down rugged, steep, and slippery hills that are full of sticky seeds, thorny plants, and thistle, passing free range cattle along the way. Bring a backpack with plenty of water and snacks; boots or sturdy closed-toe shoes with good grip for rugged, steep, and slippery off-trail terrain; long, sturdy pants and layered clothes that you don't mind getting dirty; and protection from sun, wind, fog and rain.  Binoculars, a camera, bug repellent, hiking sticks and gaiters are also recommended. Very heavy rain cancels the hike. Call Jim if the weather is uncertain.

Meet Walsh promptly beside his white "TruGreen" pickup truck, at the Park-and-Ride lot where McGary Road, Hiddenbrooke Parkway, and American Canyon Road intersect (on the Hiddenbrooke side of the American Canyon/Hiddenbrooke Parkway exit, off Interstate 80).  Be ready to carpool or caravan from there to the trailhead. Sponsored by

Saturday, April 12. 8:30 A.M. - . Lafayette Hiking Group invites participants to the join them on an easy to moderate walk of 3-4 miles in Paso Nogal Park, Pleasant Hill. Walk trails meandering among oak trees, native plants and some neighborhood streets with nice views of Martinez, Concord, Pleasant Hill and Mount Diablo. Dog friendly trails. Some easy hills. Leader: Linda On. 

Meet in the parking lot out from Lafayette BART’s main entrance at 8:30 A.M. We form carpools to the trailhead.  Bring lunch or snacks, water, layered clothing, good walking shoes, sun protection and money to contribute toward gas, bridge tolls and parking.  ($3 local, more if further). Questions? Email

Incidentally, Lafayette has just released an updated "Recreational Trails Map" of all the trails in Lafayette, and new maps of the individual City trails. The are available at the Lafayette Parks, Trails & Recreation Office at 500 Saint Mary's Road, the City Offices, Chamber of Commerce and on the City website at (search on trail maps).

Saturday, April 26. 9:00 A.M. - 2:00 P.M. Early Settlers History Hike at Deer Creek Hills. Join Deer Creek Hill's historian David Scharlach as he will tell of the amazing first owners of DCH, including a cowboy Casanova, a drunken scoundrel and murderer, the intrepid teenage daughter of George Donner, and the last owner whose fight over the property went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The hike will take about 3 and a half hours. All ages are welcome. $10. Register online: Sponsored by the Sacramento Valley Conservancy. 

Saturday, April 26, 6:30 P.M. -10:30 P.M. Globe at Night Hike in Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness. How dark is the night sky? We’ll engage in a little citizen science as we hike our way up hill and over dale and through spring constellations in search of the marvels of local planets. About three miles, some up. 

Sunol Regional (Susan Alcorn)
Meet at the Old Green Barn Visitor Center. Reservations required by Thursday, April 24. Course #4944 To make a reservation: By phone: 1-888-327-2757 option 2 (Monday through Friday) Or online:

Wear sturdy shoes with textured soles for hiking on slippery slopes, dress in layers, wear sunscreen and a sun/rain hat and bring water and a trail snack to share. We meet RAIN or SHINE, but will moderate our adventure to accommodate the weather. We encourage and can often help arranging carpools. Parking fees may apply. Be prepared with change or small bills for parking fees and/or machines at park gates. 

Please contact Naturalist Katie Colbert if you have any questions about the hike or the trail. (510-544-3243 or

This hike is part of the East Bay Regional Park District’s Women on Common Ground program. If you would like to receive Women on Common Ground program information via email please call 510-544-3243 or send a note to

Directions: (Please confirm all directions with a map). To reach Sunol-Ohlone: From Fremont, drive north on Hwy. 680 and exit at Calaveras Rd. (near the town of Sunol.) Turn right on Calaveras and proceed about four miles to a left turn onto Geary Rd. which leads directly into the park. From Oakland-Berkeley area, drive east on Hwy. 580 to junction with Hwy. 680. Take 680 south and exit at Calaveras Rd./ Highway 84 just south of the Sunol exit. Turn left onto Calaveras Rd. and proceed as above. From Walnut Creek/Danville area, go south on Hwy. 680 and exit at Calaveras Rd/ Highway 84 just south of the Sunol exit. Proceed as above. To reach the Old Green Barn take the first left after the park entrance.

Hope all of your spring hikes are as wonderful as these promise to be! 


Friday, March 28, 2014

Who knew volunteering would pay back? part 2

part 2: "It's off to work we go"            
(Click here to read part 1.)
Marla & Patti bag Sahara Mustard
On the first day of our volunteer work project in Mojave National Preserve with Wilderness Volunteers, I pried myself out of bed barely in time to get into the breakfast line. It seemed like everyone else had little problem arising early enough to meet the 7:00 a.m. serving time. Ralph had brought me a cup of tea while I was still in our tent, so the small amount of caffeine that it afforded helped keep me from grumbling (have I mentioned that I am not a morning person!). Breakfast was instant oatmeal—of several varieties—which we could enliven with raisins or other dried fruit. This being our typical backpacking breakfast, I couldn't complain.

The team members that had signed up for dishwashing had it fairly easy that morning because there weren't any big pots to clean--but they did have to set out the lunch materials so that we could put together our own midday meals. After we all ate, we were expected to wash our own plates, cups, and utensils. We followed a "Leave No Trace" method. Three pails had been set up: #1 was filled with hot soapy water and had a strainer sitting in it to collect particles of food, #2 was filled with hot rinse water, #3 contained cold water with a capful of bleach added. We each moved down the line doing our cleanup. Afterwards, the dishwashing crew dumped the particles of food into a pit, threw the untreated water into the bushes, and threw the water with bleach on the semi-paved parking lot.

NPS leader, Annie Kearns, relaxes after a long day.
After tidying up our tents and so forth, we gathered again to learn more about our work project. Our National Park Service leader, Annie Kearns, explained that we were going to be locating and pulling out a highly invasive annual plant, the Sahara Mustard. Our project had been timed to have us on site when new plants had emerged, but before their seeds had been dispersed. (In other words, we were to pull any plants that we found and hopefully before seeds had been dropped (or blown) that could create the next year's crop.)

She explained that parks to the south, namely Anza Borrego and Joshua Tree, had been massively invaded by this mustard and that Mojave Ntl. wanted to avoid that problem. She was particularly concerned that the Kelso Sand Dunes—"singing" sand dunes that rise 650 feet about the surrounding desert—be kept free of the invasive plants that could quickly push out the native vegetation.

On Monday and Tuesday of our work week, we collected our sunscreen, hats, and gloves, formed carpools, and drove north along Kelbaker Road. We made stops at a few sites where Annie had previously spotted the invaders—then fanned out to scour the landscape. It wasn't long until we found an area with plenty of the non-natives.

Some of the bushy Sahara Mustard specimens were a couple of feet high and at least as wide. Usually finding a large one meant that there were a couple of dozen newly emerged plants hidden nearby. We were to put any plants that we pulled into large plastic bags—a challenge given the wind. (However, the wind did keep the temperatures in the low 70s.) We did a lot getting up and down as we crawled into some of the sheltering plants such as the creosote bush and other scrub to reach the seedlings. Despite my long-sleeved blouse, my arms soon were battle-scarred.

Desert Tortoise in Mojave Ntl. Preserve
Seeing any animal life in this arid climate was exciting—so we all ran to take photos when any wildlife was spotted. Most of us saw desert cottontail rabbits and plenty of lizards, but seeing a rattlesnake and a desert tortoise was special. Even though I normally jump or shriek when I see a rattlesnake, the small coiled one that we discovered seemed rather cute. Finding a tortoise was even more exciting because we knew that they are a threatened species and not commonly seen.

Viewing a young rattlesnake from a safe distance
At the end of each work day, we all found it very satisfying to see the "fruits of our labor," —dozens of filled bags sitting roadside awaiting a park service truck that would soon pick them up.

Wednesday was a day of leisure and then we worked another two days. Those final days were near the sand dunes and our teams searched through the areas by walking side-by-side following a grid pattern. We found very few of the Sahara Mustard. Annie said that this was a very good thing, but some of us felt a bit of a let down—we didn't have the same sense of accomplishment that we'd had when we saw our big bags full of pulled weeds. Silly, of course, but there it was!

Co-leader Caroline prepared excellent meals
On Saturday, most people packed up and headed home. Most of us had been strangers to each other at the start, but by week's end most had bonded. We knew that we had accomplished a lot and we were impressed with how well-organized the project had been and how important Wilderness Volunteers' work is. WV says that "Our mission is mission is stewardship of America's wild lands through organizing and promoting volunteer service in cooperation with public land agencies."

I was glad to have been part of it—able to "pay back," and be rewarded at the same time.

++ Wilderness Volunteers offers dozens of work projects throughout much of the year and throughout the U.S. There are three levels of difficulty: active, strenuous, and challenging (our Mojave trip was rated "active"). Most projects last for five days—with participants working two days, free time one day, then working two more. The $299 fee covers your food and central commissary, pays some expenses of the leaders, overhead, etc.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Who knew volunteering would pay back? part 1

Part 1: Settling in.

Crew setting up a solar shower
When you think about volunteering, you usually think you are "giving back" to some cause or another, but in reality, you are likely to also "get back." It's like a circle wherever massages the back of the person in front of them--it feels good to everyone.

Last week Ralph and I went to the Mojave National Preserve in southern California to work on a Wilderness Volunteers project--which turned out to be searching for and pulling an invasive plant--the Sahara Mustard. I had been somewhat apprehensive about signing up for a work project from the start--both because I had never done this sort of thing before and because I am not exactly used to doing manual labor for eight hours a day. 

I jokingly told my friends that it would be okay, however, because the worst thing that could happen to me would be that I got fired (and lose the money that I had paid for this privilege.)  

My apprehension increased as the day for departure to the desert neared and my back "went out" (painful spasms). Six days before we were due to make the drive I called my chiropractor (Dr. Richard Teel with offices in San Rafael and Novato). He came to the rescue--once again his "adjustments" worked. 

On Saturday March 8, we threw everything including our folding plastic basin (sink) into the car and took off. (Car camping has its advantages: you can throw in everything you own, and its disadvantages: you can't find anything you need in a hurry because it's buried in the mound of junk.) 

The drive could have been done in one long day, but we elected to break it into two so we stopped in Tehachapi overnight. I counted myself lucky that we were traveling when we were--a month earlier the trees along Hwy, 5 would have been bare and the hillsides would have been dry and brown. A recent rain had turned everything green and many of the fruit trees were blossoming. 

The old Kelso Depot in Mojave Ntl. Preserve 
Our crew met at the old Kelso Depot within the reserve and then we drove out to our camping area, which was off Kelbaker Road, near Baker, and near an extensive lava tube. Once there, we set up our tents and established the camp kitchen. We were in a lovely site--surrounded by mesquite and other scrub and with a reddish-colored cinder cone as a backdrop. 

As evening approached, we enjoyed the first of many tasty meals (mostly vegetarian), started learning each others names and getting acquainted, and signed up for kitchen duties for the week. I had yet to do any work and I was being rewarded with a delicious hot meal prepared by our leaders.

As soon as the sun dropped behind the cinder cone, the temperature dropped too and the breeze picked up. We ran for our layers of fleece and down so that we could continue sitting out while we shared tea, coffee, dessert and more stories. 

Daylight savings time had just begun and we were all loath to go to bed at what had been 7 P.M., but we knew that Monday, our first workday, would start early. I grumbled, to myself, about the fact that we would be expected to be ready for breakfast at 7 A.M, the old 6 A.M. My sleep was restless; I was still unsure if I could pull my weight and I hadn't worked enough during the day to be very tired. I lay in the tent enjoying the moon and the stars that I could see through the translucent fabric. 

Co-leader Patricia in the kitchen
I awoke to the sound of coyotes and then forced myself out of bed when the shuffling of pots and pans in the kitchen signaled that I had to rise and shine if I wanted to eat before our day began. 

In part 2, you'll experience the desert--including the flora and fauna that make this part of the world so "otherworldly" and intriguing. 

Note: Many people, it appears, still do not appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of much of our arid lands and continue to see them as wasteland unworthy of protecting, and a dumping ground for any project that they don't want to encounter on a daily basis. I was surprised to read today that the BLM is supporting the establishment of a 6.5 square-mile solar development within a half mile of the Mojave Preserve.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Go fly a kite!

Go fly a kite at the 6th Annual Lynch Canyon Kite Festival
photo by Karlyn H. Lewis
Media alert from Solano Land Trust:
SOLANO COUNTY, CA — "Bay breezes, grassy hills, and open fields make for ideal kite-flying conditions at Lynch Canyon Open Space Park’s 6th Annual Kite Festival on Saturday, May 3, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. All you need to bring are your kites and kin. All ages and ability levels are welcome. The festival is free, and parking is only $5. Your family can bring a picnic lunch to enjoy while watching the kites.

"National Kite Month is March 29 to May 4. Lynch Canyon’s annual kite festival is the legacy of its founder, Mike Rydjord (September 8, 1946 – November 2, 2013), who enjoyed helping first-timers get airborne and discussing technique with more experienced flyers. Rydjord’s involvement was a natural fit since he was a C-5 and US Airways pilot and a flight instructor at Travis AFB; He loved the air, the wind, and the land.

photo by Dave Reider

"People around the world have been flying kites for centuries. Kites have been used to fight evil spirits, bless harvests, carry messages, advance science, win wars, learn about wind and weather, teach kids about science, and last but not least, to bring joy. Learn more about kiting and its history, and how to get started as a novice at

DETAILS: Bring your own kite, food, and water. The festival is free; parking is $5 per vehicle.
Lynch Canyon is at 3100 Lynch Road, near McGary Road, between Vallejo and Fairfield. To get there from I-80, exit at American Canyon/Hiddenbrooke or Red Top Road, and follow the signs to Lynch Canyon. (Map at Bring the whole family when you visit, but leave the pets at home as they are not allowed due to wildlife and free-range cattle ranching.

"Lynch Canyon is owned by Solano Land Trust and, thanks to support from Solano County Parks, is now open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round."

Other highlights of the season ahead at Lynch Canyon:
March 16: Full Moon Hike
May 3: Kite Festival
June 7: Trail Run and Community Hike
July 4: Fireworks Viewing Hike

ed.: This festival is a ways off, but you need to have advance notice in order to build your high-flying kite!!!  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On striving to be a Momentarian

Kids are more likely to live in the present.
While at a nearby coffee shop, Ultimate Grounds, yesterday, I looked through a pile of magazines and newspapers for something I hadn't read previously. There were several copies of a neighborhood newspaper, a yoga-type magazine, and a copy of Common Ground Magazine (a weird coincidence, perhaps?). All were free, throwaways I believe they are called. Since Common Ground was the only one I hadn't read previously, I picked it up to flip through while I enjoyed my berry scone and Diet Coke (yes, I know, also weird!).

The first time through the magazine, I skipped right over the article entitled, "The Wizdumb of Puppetji," an interview by Rob Sidon and Carrie Grossman, because the title was in a font that didn't make for easy reading. It wasn't in a code like Wingdings 2 ( The Wizard ), but it wasn't much easier to decipher -- at least by someone who had never heard of Master Puppetji.

According to the article, Puppetji is "a popular guru, joyologist, momentarian, and public speaker." -- who knew? Turns out, a surprise to unenlightened me, Puppetji is all over the Internet. Much of what the foam puppet says is silly, but true. Silly: "they made a typo; it should have been "celebrate," not "celibate." True: "I speak the truth and have no idea what I am talking about...only I admit it." [emphasis mine]. Maybe Puppetji is popular because he speaks common sense, which seems not all that common these days. 

Why don't we adults play more often?
It was, however, the word momentarian that leaped out of the page as I was reading. Momentarian. I don't know his/her translation, but I take it to mean "one who lives in the moment," and I love the concept.  I may have to make this my mantra (no others have stuck); maybe it should even be my new religion. 

(You can read the entire interview in the November 2013, "Humor" issue, of Common Ground Magazine.) 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

National Park Service hosts Junior Ranger Day on Alcatraz

Alcatraz cellblock
Press release (Feb. 18, 2014) courtesy Molly Blaisdell, Hook Line & Thinker 

The National Park Service recently announced plans to host two Junior Ranger Day events and interactive programs on Alcatraz Island on Saturday, March 1 and Sunday, March 2, 2014.

The purpose of Junior Ranger Days is to highlight the Alcatraz Junior Ranger Program, including special ranger walks and other youth specific activities. In addition, Junior Rangers may purchase a Junior Ranger Book for a $2.00 fee at the retail stores located on Alcatraz Island. The booklet includes a variety of site specific activities. Those who complete the activities will be sworn in as Junior Rangers and receive a Junior Ranger Badge.

gardens on Alcatraz

A limited number of complimentary tickets are available for children between the ages of 5 and 11 years of age. There is a maximum of four complimentary child tickets per group or family. Children must be accompanied by at least one adult, age 18 or older.

(Note: tickets for Junior Ranger Day are not available online nor at the Pier 33 ticket booth).
To book Junior Ranger Day tickets, please call the Alcatraz Cruises Group Services Department at (415) 438-8361 by no later than February 26, 2014. 

Alcatraz Cruises is the National Park Service concessionaire of ticketing and ferry transportation to Alcatraz Island, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Alcatraz Island attracts more than 1.4 million visitors annually and is a top visitor destination in San Francisco.

Backpack45 last toured Alcatraz on January 18, 2014 with the Bay Area Travel Writers (BATW).